I used to have a Land Rover. It was a ‘94 Defender and it was a lemon from the day I bought it. I loved it anyway. It was big and roomy, scratched up and dented, and spent more time off the road than off-road. Still, it represented freedom, the ability to go where other vehicles just couldn’t take you. I miss my Land Rover – never more so than today.
“This is a bad idea, Sally,” I said to myself, “A very, very bad idea.”
It wasn’t enough that I had decided to follow the Gillard-Forestry Road to the very top. No, I had to follow one of the side roads that amounted to little more than a dirt path – in a minivan. Yup, I was missing the Land Rover for sure. The road was narrow and rocky, with deep ruts and pools of an indeterminate depth. I hugged the side of the road, preferring to hear branches scraping my paint than the rocks ripping out my undercarriage. But in spite of my out-loud verbal admonition, inside I was filled with glee. They don’t call me the Dirt Road Diva for nothing. Okay, no one actually calls me the Dirt Road Diva – I gave that name to myself.
And now you know why.
Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon Variety, Kelowna
The forestry road itself is in pretty good shape. It’s a gravel road but it’s also an active logging road, so it’s well-maintained.
The Okanagan Mountain Fire of 2003 swept across the slopes and even now, more than 15 years later, the scars of that fire lend a sad, haunted look to the landscape, especially on a day like today when cloud and fog cling to the edges.
Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna
There is little traffic other than the odd logging truck and I was fairly comfortable driving slowly so I could absorb my surroundings. The views from this height are spectacular.
View of the valley, Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna
About three quarters of the way to the top of the road, the landscape becomes greener as you reach areas that were spared by the fire. Sadly, amidst the green there is plenty of orangey-red, a sure sign of the Mountain Pine Beetle. Although only about the size of a grain of rice, the Mountain Pine Beetle is devastating to forests of Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine. The orangey-red trees left behind become kindling for the next lightning strike, causing forest fires to burn hotter and spread faster than they would in a healthy forest.
Second-year Mule Deer fawns, Kelowna
I reached the top of the forestry road. There is still plenty of snow up here, but there won’t be for long. Already this section of the road was a mud pit. I looked at the large tire tracks deep in the mud and decided to turn around before it was too late. I could feel my little minivan starting to sink and I stepped on it, throwing a shower of mud into the air. A little shot of adrenaline coursed through me as the minivan broke free and I hit the gravel again.
My success is what coaxed me into turning off onto the side road.
Mother Nature’s Rock Garden, Kelowna
I didn’t follow it too far -I’m not a complete idiot – but I followed it far enough that turning around might become a problem. I turned off the engine and stepped outside. The clouds were starting to clear and the air was sweet. The moss was thick on the rocks and water tricked out into a small puddle. There was no other sound. Even the birds, so cheerfully noisy on the lower part of the mountain, were silent. I was completely alone.
Well, except for this guy.
Columbia Ground Squirrel, Kelowna