Friday, 21 October 2016

Agawa Canyon Awesomeness

Even when I was a kid, I knew that everyone raved about the Agawa Canyon railway day trip out of Sault Ste. Marie -- but I had never ridden it. Day 7 of our trip, October 6, seemed like the perfect day to change that. We managed to get to the Soo almost exactly at leaf colour peak, and the train was only running for about 6 more days.

Train info, in case that is all you are interested in:

  • The train ride is a full day. You have to show up at 7:30 AM for an 8 AM departure, and it doesn't get back until 6 PM. Ticket pickup is simple, but the ticket office can be as much as 1 km from the car you're on.
  • The train is an "out and back" -- northbound in the morning, southbound in  the afternoon, on the same track
  • Cars are added or removed from the train depending on demand; we had 16 passenger cars, 2 dining cars, one snack car, and 3 engines, which is about as big as it ever gets.
  • The cars are of varying vintages, but mostly early 1960's rolling stock. The toilets are "spartan" but functional
  • To manage the crowds, they call car numbers in order for breakfast service. We didn't partake of the food for sale on the train nor check out the dining cars, so can't comment on them. Lunch service is also available, but it is first come, first served. You're not supposed to bring your own liquor onto the train; they sell it starting at 10 AM
  • You are assigned to a car on the train, but not a seat; seats are first come, first serve, and you stay in those seats up and back (meaning you stay on the same side of the train all day).
  • Seats on the train rotate 180° so you always face forward -- except emergency exit seats, which do not rotate. The rotation of the seats means that a seat centred on a window in one direction will be centred on a post the opposite direction.
  • Everyone is eager to see the scenery on the ride up; they are far more tired on the way back and tend to just sit still; many nap.
  • The train stops for 90 minutes at mid day, which I will describe later.
My best advice is to:

  1. get a good window seat on the trip up;
  2. sit on the right hand side of the train for better views; sit on the left for better photography;
  3. make friends with the people who sit across from you to swap seats on the way back, giving you a different view northbound and southbound;
  4. Pack a lunch and breakfast snacks to maximize your "looking out the window and exploring" time. 
The right side of the train has better lake and canyon vistas (the left has good ones; the right are better and more numerous). The downside to this strategy is you are always shooting pictures into the sun (and you will shoot a lot of pictures; we did a combined 877).

The train platform spans a road in downtown Soo, and many, many bus tours were on our train.
A long train
We had a slightly foggy morning, which made for interesting views until about 10 AM.
Colourful trees in fog
Fog in the low lying areas 
Fog in the evergreens 
A lake in the mist 
The fog breaks to reveal some colour 
More rising fog
Once the fog had risen, the colours exploded.
Just passing by 
More reflections
The train rises and falls in elevation repeatedly, and moves from colourful mixed hardwood forests to aspen parkland/evergreen forest and back. Depending on aspect and elevation, aspen and tamaracks we past were green or yellow/gold.
The aspen parkland 
Back into colour 
Serious colour
Still lakes 
Colour speeds by
Bright hills
The train goes over only 2 trestles; the first offers views over to Lake Superior (fogged in during our morning journey, but for the afternoon view, stay tuned). The second crosses the Montreal River at a dam, offering splendid views. The train slows crossing both to allow time for photos.
The crossing of the Montreal starts 
Accros the reservoir 
Downstream from the dam 
Megacolour on the hills 
Looking back -- the train is long 
Down into the valley 
Across the valley
After the Montreal trestle, the train starts a gradual 400 m descent to the Agawa River canyon. The canyon was created by a fault, the west side thrusting up over the east, and the river sits in the middle of the fault. This creates 300 m tall walls and a narrow canyon.
The Agawa Canyon Park

A quiet platform 
The beautiful river valley 
Colour on colour 
Orange hills & red trees 
Engines swapping ends 
Karen, alone on the viewing platform
Now, understand how hard it was to get the above photo of Karen. The train arrives about noon, and you have 90 minutes off the train to enjoy the park. Here's what you can do in the park:

  1. Stay near the train, enjoy the grass nar the river, and have a picnic;
  2. Visit the twin Black Beaver Falls. They say allow 30 min to get there and back
  3. Visit Bridal Veil Falls. They say allow 45 min to get there and back
  4. Climb the 325 stairs to the canyon overlook where the above photos were taken. They say allow 30 minutes for the climb, and warn you repeatedly it is strenuous.
I had already figured out that the canyon overlook would be great, but you had to get there before the other 900 people on the train did -- and probably, one-third of them would head there first. So we leapt off the train and started climbing. By stair 200, puffing and panting, we had passed everyone else. I made it to the top in 6 minutes, Karen slightly after, and we were the first to the top. We had the lookout platforms to ourselves for less than a minute, but enough time to get pictures. After 5 minutes, so many people had made it to the top, you could barely move, so we started down. While we had the stairs to ourselves on the way up, on the way down, it was solid people barely moving their way up from the top to the bottom. Six minutes for us to get up, but almost 15 to fight our way down through the crowds.

Once at the bottom, we hoofed it to the Black Beaver falls through a pretty forest.
The forest 
North Black Beaver Falls 
South Black Beaver Falls
More South
We crossed the tracks...
Folks just hanging to the river, and headed for Bridal Veil Falls.
The river view 
Maple reflections 
The falls come into view 
The falls 
Downstream colours 
The falls in context
Until that moment, I was not aware that these falls were the subject of a Lawren Harris painting. Harris was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven, artist who in the mid 1900's changed how Canadians painted and saw Canada.

Having hit all the "attractions" in the park, we headed back along the river to the train.
Did I mention the place was beautiful?
Looking upstream 
And downstream 
Folks enjoying the pretty picnic grounds
The have "sweepers" -- employees to make sure you get back and on the train, because the park is only accessible by train and if you miss it... well, I hope you can swim.

Back on, and headed south. The scenery doesn't change from the morning, but the lighting does.
Glorious hill colour 
Lake Superior on the upper left, Hwy 17 in the upper left centre 
Over a small stream 
The Montreal River power station and valley 
More of the beautiful Montreal River valley 
Afternoon on lakes 
More lake afternoons 
The colours rush by
Painted trees 

The train goes out of cell coverage 30 minutes after leaving the Soo, and returns to coverage about 30 min before arrival. At 5:15, just as cell service returned, I called Chris to inquire about my tires. They were "on the road" and scheduled to arrive tomorrow sometime. There was hope we could make Bancroft on Friday. 

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