For years I’ve observed the railroad tracks that hug the base of Chuckanut Mountain. The line crosses the Samish Flats from Mount Vernon then curves along the coast right at the waterline. From the tracks you can see across Samish Bay toward the San Juan Islands. Even more intriguing to me was the fact that Amtrak runs along these rails. I knew this was something we had to do while we were out here, and we got that chance this past Tuesday.
We made plans for our trip. This would be a day trip to Vancouver, BC, leaving from Mount Vernon. We would head north on the Amtrak Cascades in the morning and return later that evening. That wouldn’t give us much time to explore Vancouver, but the point of the trip was to ride the train.
We arrived at Skagit Station in Mount Vernon in plenty of time. The parking lot was busy with parents dropping off groups of students. I was a bit worried as to how crowded this train might be.
As we entered the station waiting room I got another surprise. There was a plaque commemorating construction of the station in 2003. It turns out that my friend and fellow Scottish musician Skye Richendrfer was mayor of Mount Vernon at that time. I had no idea.
We need not have worried about the crowds of students. The sixth graders were headed the opposite direction – south to Seattle for a field trip. When our train arrived we were the only two boarding. The conductor stepped off and called, “Tom? Laura?” It felt special being called by name like that.
We were directed to seats at the very back of the train. Fortunately these were on the left side where we would have the best views of the coast as we headed out. We crossed the Skagit then headed out over the farms.
At Colony Creek the scenery changes dramatically. The rails hug the coastline at the base of the mountains. In addition to the coast there are curves, tunnels, and rocky outcrops. From our seats we could see the San Juans and ships in Samish Bay and had a close up view of the oyster farms at Taylor Shellfish. The tide was quite low as we passed.
We had a brief stop at the Fairhaven Station, then continued on up through Bellingham.
The train leaves the coast for a bit north of Bellingham. It crosses the Nooksack River at Ferndale and continues through rural land in Whatcom County.
At Blaine the tracks regain the coast just in time to cross the border into Canada. The town of White Rock is just on the Canadian side, and it looked like a quaint seaside town with interesting shops.
Past White Rock the track heads north, then turns east along the coast. It was still low tide and at this point eagles had gathered along the rocks, hunting in the tide pools. We lost count, but we’re sure it was over a hundred eagles.
Around the cove the tracks headed north, then west toward Vancouver. Soon we were heading east along the banks of the Fraser River. I’ve taken several train rides, a couple through Europe and the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad in North Caroline. The rails tend to run through the back sides of properties, spaces generally not meant to be seen by the public. Especially going through a town you don’t necessarily get the best views. That was definitely the case along this stretch.
There were some dramatic bridges over the Fraser. First was the CA 91 Bridge…
…then the Skytrain Bridge and BC Parkway Bridge. The train crossed the river just beyond those two bridges. The water was ripping through here with strong currents. This was run-off from snow pack melting. This was also causing flooding on the other side of the Cascades.
The next miles were a slow trek through greater Vancouver. Eventually we arrived at Pacific Central Station and passed through customs.
It was a gorgeous day in Vancouver, and time for us to get one with the second part of our trek. Next up, we visit the Telus Science Museum.
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