The cry went up: “Bear! To the left!”

Sure enough, sitting on its haunches and watching us go by, looking for all the world like one of those animatronic creatures you see in a Disney park, sat a large brown bear.

Its attitude was almost comical, as if it was waving us past, or perhaps waiting for a handout.

The latter may have been more likely. The tracks we were running also carried freight trains and grains would blow off in the wind, providing wildlife with a windfall meal, quite literally. The bears, being no fools, had come to associate trains with food.

A little further along the tracks, we spotted a cub, gambolling near the line, its mother no doubt somewhere close, foraging for a meal.

“Is it a grizzly?” an Australian passenger shouted from further along the carriage.

It wasn’t. And she wasn’t too disappointed.

It was just that a grizzly to tick off on her list of wildlife spots would have been nice.

We were taking the only passenger train that’s now permitted to use the spectacular route between Vancouver in British Columbia through the Rockies to Banff in Alberta.

We’d been promised sensational views, glorious scenery, awe-inspiring mountains, glistening lakes and wildlife, plenty of wildlife.

And if at times the grey skies had clouded some of the tops of mountains, it had merely added to what was proving a mesmerising journey.

The Rocky Mountaineer had begun its journey in Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast. The two-day trip, travelling only in daylight so as not to miss any of the scenery, follows the historic Canadian Pacific Railway hewn from rock and history 125 years ago.

The journey – entitled First Passage to the West – is testimony to the men who forged the route that enabled the eastern province of Canada to join with the newly emerging cities and communities of the West to create one nation.

Their achievements in thundering a track across, round and often through the mountains dividing the continent have to be seen to be believed. The Rocky Mountaineer gives passengers the chance to do just that in style and comfort.

Along the way, the train crosses emerald green and powder blue glacial rivers, runs aside raging torrents and calm, deep lakes; traverses bridges seemingly perched in midair, along rails adhered to the sides of sheer slopes, and through some of the most spectacular valleys and forests in the Americas.

And everywhere wildlife. Our party lost count of the number of eagles we saw, lofting overhead in search of prey or perched in huge nests in the crooks of trees. Ospreys, too, majestic in their flight, swooping across still, spearmint green lakes in their quest for fish.

In the grassy areas there were elk, and beaver dams dotted rivers and streams. As we crossed wet marshlands there was the promise of a glimpse of moose. Voices yelled, cameras whirred, sightings were ticked off.

Our departure from Vancouver had been early in the morning to ensure a steady but not over-fast ride to Kamloops.

Our group had the luxury of travelling Gold Flag, which enabled us to sit high in the double-decked observation carriage with its glass domed roof to ensure we didn’t miss a sighting. It was like travelling in the branches of the trees themselves, on a level almost with some of the birds of prey as they swooped low to investigate.

Our meals were taken in the dining car below us, again with huge panoramic windows so nothing was missed, even when enjoying the fabulous fare.

Meals – breakfast and lunch – were taken in two sittings. But just to make sure no hunger pangs disturbed your viewing pleasure, the ever-attentive crew were on hand serving snacks and drinks until those first seated were satisfied.

You could always stretch your legs. A small observation platform at the rear of each coach was a brilliant place to get a blast of fresh air and to take yet more photographs.

From the platform, you might also sense some of the adventure of those first rail pioneers as they made the crossing to the West and new adventures. The site of the final track laying, Craigellachie, has been preserved and as the train slows to allow a closer look – as it does at all points of interest – you can wave at the folks visiting the spot where East finally met West and a nation was born.

And onwards, past the town of Chilliwack, through the Twin Tunnels and Fraser Valley and the rugged, dramatic Fraser Canyon.

The town of Hope is protected on three sides by mountains, and soon after we reach the famous Hell’s Gate. The narrowest point of the Fraser River, it’s here that as much as 200 million gallons of water surge through fallen rocks each minute.

After the wonderfully named Skuzzy Creek, it’s on through Rainbow Canyon with its beautiful markings created by minerals in the rocks, and through Avalanche Alley to The Jaws of Death, a good place to spot brave whitewater rafters.

Finally, the large and very cold Kamloops Lake announces that the city of Kamloops and our first night’s stopover is approaching.

Kamloops is a small town with a 70,000 population, but in fact covers an area the size of Manhattan. Mounted rangers welcome each train into town where guests disembark to spend the night at a hotel of their choice organised through the Rocky Mountaineer.

Bags, taken ahead by road, are already waiting in guests’ rooms.

Kamloops has a small but inviting centre with a few shops, restaurants and bars as well as a popular casino. But the following day it is an early start again as the train begins its final journey towards the Rockies, the Continental Divide, Banff and Calgary.

Heading past the mouth of the Adams River there’s time to spot a few hoodoos, the strange rock and clay figures that are a natural feature of the landscape but were given mythical properties by the region’s first peoples.

Eagle River Bridge is quickly followed by Columbia River Bridge, then through the fivemile long Connaught Tunnel, where the weather changed dramatically from one end to the other – the mountains now set against blue skies and sharp sunlight. And on to the breathtaking Stoney Creek Bridge. Here, the train slows to allow full view of the carriages as they pass over the almost miraculous steel structure.

Then the famous Spiral Tunnels, marvels of mountain architecture. After too many early trains were lost due to the impossibly steep tracks of the first railroad, Swiss knowhow was engaged to create the twin tunnels that enable the train to twist back on itself to climb through the mountains from the inside.

Difficult to comprehend, luckily the Rocky Mountaineer’s own souvenir publication The Daily Post provides simple diagrams to aid ‘lost’ travellers.

Castle Mountain is the most spectacular of the peaks that guide and welcome you into Siding 29 – or as it is better known today, the town of Banff – and journey’s end for us and most passengers, although a few were travelling on to Calgary.

It had taken us two days and several camera cards. We had been fed almost too well and hosted impeccably. It had truly been one of the great railroad experiences.

The 8.35 to Waterloo will never be the same.