Creek Park

I’m not the healthiest person in the world. In fact, I’m probably about as unhealthy as a person can get and still be above ground. I’m in this Catch-22 of needing to lose weight and having very limited mobility due to my weight. One of the reasons I wanted to do this blog on a weekly basis is that it keeps me active but doesn’t really feel like exercise. Most of the time.

I was feeling particularly lazy this week, having given up my one day off to cover the holiday for a coworker. I had no direction, no motivation.

Along came Santana.

“Got any plans today?”

“Not really,” I yawned. “How ‘bout you?”

“No. We should do something.”

“Well, I was thinking about going for a drive…”

“I’m in,” he said.

After a bit of discussion, we decided on a direction – South to Penticton.

There was a park in Naramata that I wanted to go to and neither of us has seen Skaha Bluffs. With those two possible destinations in mind, we set out.

I turned to Santana.

“You’re on goat patrol.”

I love Mountain Goats. Last summer we’d gone camping in Keremeos, a small village near the US border, with the express intent of finding the local herd. Two days of driving up and down the highway and we never did see them. I’d heard that some had been spotted near Summerland a few weeks back, so as unlikely as it was, someone had to be the lookout.

But alas, we reached Penticton without seeing any goats along the way.

We found our way to the imaginatively named “Creek Park” in Naramata. Somewhere along this creek was a waterfall. I just hoped it wasn’t too far in.

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Not the Waterfall at Creek Park, Naramata

The forest was full of dappled sunlight, wildflowers and butterflies chasing each other on the breeze. Birdsong filled the air.

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Lambstongue Ragwort (I think)

I had to watch my footing as exposed rocks and roots made the narrow dirt trail slightly treacherous. Signs along the trail warned of the presence of poison ivy.

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Treacleberry

We’d travelled some distance (for me) and had stopped at a bench to rest. Santana thought we should turn back. He was concerned that if we went much further, I wouldn’t be able to make it back. I was inclined to agree with him.

 

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Rock Detail, Creek Park, Naramata

From around the corner came a dog, followed by his owner. The man was excited.

“Look what I found!” He held out his phone so we could see the video he took of a snake sunning himself on a rock.

“What is it?” I asked.

“A Rattlesnake. The sign said there were some around.”

I hadn’t seen that sign. I was surprised. I thought Rattlers liked desert and grassland. I wouldn’t have thought to find one in a riparian forest.

“You know I’m not going back now,” I said to Santana. He sighed and nodded. He’s been down this road before.

We continued on.

 

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Rock Formation, Creek Park, Naramata

Although we looked, we didn’t find the snake. We asked others on the trail, but no one else had seen it.

“How much further are we going to go?” Santana asked.

“Excuse me.” There were people passing by. “How far away are the falls?”

“About a half hour walk, but totally worth it.”

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Shelf Fungi on Birch Tree

Santana and I had just crossed our third bridge. The path ahead wound up at an angle steeper than we’d seen thus far.

There was no way. Reluctantly, we turned back.

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Mushroom on a log

I was already in trouble. There was a numbness and tingling in my feet that made it hard for me to tell if I was lifting them high enough to get over the roots. I was stumbling. My legs were on fire and I had to use my hips in exaggerated motion just to move them. The effort was making me sweat, in spite of the relative coolness of the day. Santana tried to support me but the trail was too narrow for us to walk side by side.

“Just give me a sec.” I was gasping for air. There was no where to sit, but I had to stop for a minute.

Then we heard it.

I don’t know if it was a rattle or a hiss, but we both heard it and froze.

There, right on the edge of the trail, was the snake. Santana and I both took a step back.

My hands were shaking with a combination of excitement and exhaustion as I fumbled with my camera, focused and began to shoot. There was a leafy tendril of some plant partially obscuring my view and I desperately wanted to reach out and pinch it away. I resisted the urge. I don’t want to be one of those people who fall off a cliff and die while trying to take a selfie. The same principles apply to photographing snakes. Or so I assume. This was my first snake.

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Maybe it was the adrenaline of the snake encounter that enabled me to make it back to the parking lot – I don’t know. But I made it. I was completely spent and knew I’d have to cancel my plans to do the Open Mic at the Marmalade Cat Cafe. And the Bluffs? Those were going to have to wait for another day. This day was done.

Or was it?

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Mountain Goat, North of Summerland

Silver Lake

I miss bears. When I lived in Alberta, I knew where to go if I wanted to see bears. Not that seeing one was ever guaranteed, but I knew a few likely spots. Since coming to B.C., I have yet to come across a bear. I know they’re out there, but where?

“This looks like a good spot for bears,” I said to my son who, incidentally, is nicknamed Bear.

We were on the Brenda Mine road, just outside of Peachland, trying to locate an out of the way place called Silver Lake.

Bush Penstemon, Brenda Mine Road

Clouds draped the mountains like a necklace. I didn’t mind. I like a sky with texture. Rain? Absolutely! It’s only mid-May and already there’s a campfire ban in effect. Fire season started early this year. I welcome the rain.

Brenda Mine Road, Peachland

Wet Rock, Brenda Mine Road

Besides, a little moisture meant less dust on the washboard gravel road. I was expecting a lot of gravel but shortly after passing The ZipZone, pavement resumed. I found out later, from the newly opened Heritage Pier in Peachland, that the Brenda Mine, one of the few lucrative mines in the area, was operational from 1970 to 1990 and employed upwards of 300 people. That many people travelling to and from on a daily basis would make paving worthwhile.

Although we didn’t see any bears, there were cows. Being a former Alberta girl, I can (and I have) spent entire days taking pictures of cows. Love those faces!

Random Roadside Bovine

We turned off on Silver Lake Resort Road and followed the directions Siri provided. It should be noted that when I looked for Silver Lake on the map, I dropped my pin smack dab in the middle of the lake. If Siri took me down a goat path to get me close to the pin…well, it’s not her fault. The “road” looked like it was headed off into an enchanted forest.

Silver Lake Resort Road

I could hear the birds high in the trees, but except for some turkey vultures we came across later, the only bird I managed to get one fuzzy shot of was a Western Tanager. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Turkey Vulture, Brenda Mine Road

We ended up at the Silver Lake Recreation Area. By the time we arrived, the clouds had dropped even lower and the lake was almost completely obscured.

Silver Lake

We could still hear birds, but their songs were muted. There is an eerie beauty to this lake in the fog. Bear and I decided we’ll definitely be back this summer, with our kayaks.

Silver Lake

If there is a resort, and apparently there is, we didn’t see it.

What we did see was a pile of fresh bear scat. I knew there would be bears!

Moss on Tree, Silver Lake

Close to Home

Turns out, I’m a morning person.  My mother never would have believed it possible considering I was one of those teenagers that had to be dragged out of bed for school and slept until noon on weekends.  But somewhere along the way, I developed an appreciation for the early hours of the day.  This is a bit of a problem.  I work graveyard shifts, and by daybreak, I should be on my way home to bed.  It doesn’t always work out that way.  My intentions are good but then, you know, morning.

I like empty beaches, empty highways, the sound of birdsong and the golden light that infuses everything.  Before the afternoon sun has painted the sky that pale, washed-out shade of blue, I want – to steal a line from Field of Dreams – “to squint into a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes to look at it.”

When that feeling comes over me, there’s no point in going home to bed.  I’m not going to be able to sleep until I’ve had my fix of morning.  Fortunately, I know just the thing – West Side Road.

Once I drop my son off at work it’s just an evil laugh, a nudge to the right, a spin through the roundabout and I’m on my way.  Is it weird to have a favourite road?

The thing is, I don’t have to drive long or far.  Spectacular views are all along the road, whether it’s overlooking the lake,

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Lake View, West Side Road, West Kelowna

the mountains,

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Forest and Mountain View from West Side Road, West Kelowna

or even just the road itself.

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West Side Road, West Kelowna, BC

From the West Side Road, I get access to another of my favourite roads, Bear Lake Main.  Bear Lake Main is a gravel road that leads up into the mountains.  I have not yet found my way to Bear Lake itself or seen where the road comes out on the other side, but I will one day.  There is always something to see on Bear Lake Main.  This week it was the flowers.  Reams and reams of Arrow-leafed Balsam Root,

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Arrow-leafed Balsam Root

and bush after bush of Saskatoon Serviceberry.

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Saskatoon Serviceberry

I followed Bear Lake Main as far as the 15-mile marker before turning back.  There is a spot up there I have in mind for a camping trip and I wanted to see if it was as pleasant as I remembered.  The stream flowing through is high and turbulent, but in a month or two it will have calmed down.

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Mountain stream, Bear Lake Main

 

There is logging up here.  Logs are taken down to West Side Road and formed into booms

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Log Boom, West Side Road

that are later towed across the lake to the mill, taking advantage of the fact that this is the narrowest part of the lake.

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Tug pulling a boom across Okanagan Lake to the mill in Kelowna

The Sylix people used to use the narrow portion of the lake to trade with people living on the other side.  This is, of course, still the traditional and unceded territory of the Sylix Okanagan people and I am grateful for the opportunity to be here.

You know what else I’m grateful for?  Mornings.

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Rock face along Bear Lake Main

 

 

Coquihalla Highway

The last time I was on the Coquihalla Highway, you still had to stop at a toll booth. Well, that’s not entirely true.  I was on the Coquihalla last month when I went to the Creative Ink Festival.  But I wasn’t the one driving.  In fact, I wasn’t the one driving thirty-some years ago either.  I’ve never driven the Coquihalla – I’ve always been afraid to.  Of course, that’s silly.  It’s just a highway.  And I did drive for a living as recently as 2017.  But high speeds, unpredictable weather and accidents that always seem to involve multiple vehicles kind of scared me off.  They say you’re most likely to be in an accident on a road you drive often.  If I never drive it, I eliminate the potential for an accident at all.  Seems like sound logic to me.

It was being a passenger last month that reminded me just how beautiful the Coquihalla is.  Running through the Cascade Mountains, connecting the cities of Hope and Merritt, this section of the highway was built in 1986.  At its peak, an elevation of 1244 m, it feels as if you’re rolling along at the top of the world.

The Coquihalla is the shortest route between the interior and the coast. People on it are usually there because they want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.

Except for those that don’t.  Except for the people who, like me, like all those little side roads that are off the beaten path.  I knew the only way I was ever going to see any of those side roads was if I sucked it up and drove myself.  So, I did.

I was on my way to New Westminster for LitFest New West.  I had driven the connector between Kelowna and Merritt before, and I had driven the Trans-Canada between Hope and Vancouver, so really, it was just that one little stretch – 115 km – that would be new to me.  Nothing to be nervous about.

It was a spectacular start to the day.  Traffic was light and the day was brilliant.  I got so caught up in the beauty of it all that I forgot to be frightened.  The panoramic views are stunning and water cascades into roadside falls from high above.  But there aren’t a lot of places that it is safe to stop along the highway itself, so I didn’t try to take pictures.  You’ll have to imagine the towering cliffs and mountaintops that stretch on into eternity.

I did, however, turn off the highway to explore a little bit along the way.

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The Coquihalla River, BC

My first exit from the highway was on the Sowaqua Creek Road.  Who can resist a fast running river in shades of blue and green?  The air here was tangy with pine and moisture. The water clear and cold.

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Crystal Clear Water of the Coquihall River

This road runs for a while along the Coquihalla River before it turns under the highway and becomes the Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road. I wasn’t too sure about driving underneath a highway in what basically amounts to a culvert of corrugated steel.  But the engineers must have had some idea what would work.

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Sowaqua Creek Road, Coquihalla Highway, BC

A little further along the road is a sign warning that cell service is non-existent.  As tempting as it was to follow the Forest Service Road as it wound up into the wilderness, I decided that it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do.  Now, if Santana had been with me, I would have gone for sure.  When it comes to the possibility of getting stranded, two people are better than one.

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The Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road, BC

My next stop was Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.  This road leads to the Othello Tunnels.  The Othello Tunnels were once part of a rail line but have since been converted to walking trails.  The Kettle Valley Railway was built in the early 1910’s, passing through the canyon and five tunnels.  The tunnels are currently closed due to unstable conditions but are forecast to be open again near the end of May.  This is definitely a trip for Santana!  At only 1.8 km on relatively level ground, even I might be able to walk it. I’m certainly going to try.

While I didn’t do as much as I would have liked, just being back in the Lower Mainland was a treat.  The area around Hope is close enough to the coast that the forest is not much different than the rainforest.  Here are a few photos of the Canadian jungle.

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Moss devours a fallen tree

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New fern unfurling

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Geranium robertianum, or Death Come Quickly

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Cliff face with moss-filtered water falling.

The weekend was great.  Although LitFest ended reasonably early on Saturday night, I didn’t come home until Sunday.  Just as well.  There was a blizzard on the Coquihalla Saturday night. I’m not sorry I missed it.

 

 

What a Picture is Worth

Because I’m headed off this weekend to another writerly-type event, I didn’t venture too far from home this week.  In lieu of a road trip, I offer you a glimpse into one of my favorite local spots – the Rotary Marsh in downtown Kelowna.  This beautiful bird oasis, right in the heart of the city, is an ever-evolving cornucopia of sensory wonder.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Rotary Marsh, Kelowna BC

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Canada Geese, looking for a nesting location

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Black-capped Chickadee

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Mallard Pair

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Northern Flicker

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Buffle-head, Male

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View of the William Bennett Bridge from the Marsh

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American Coot, or Mudhen

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Oregon Grape (?)

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Red-winged Blackbird, Male

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Osprey, bringing lunch home.  I know this isn’t the sharpest picture, but it’s definitely the coolest! His mate is back at the nest sitting on the eggs and he’s trying to get to her, but he’s being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.  I shot this one as he was almost right over my head.

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you enjoyed this look at what I consider to be an IBA (Important Bird Area) right here in the city.  See you next week, when I hope to share details of my weekend road trip.

 

Chute Lake

“Santana!”  I banged on the door.  “Get up!  Time to go!”

The day was young, the sun was shining, a picnic lunch was packed and ready to go – all I needed was my son to haul his butt out of bed and we could be on our way. I was delighted to find that he had a day off and no plans.  There are a few places on my list that Santana wanted to see – slightly longer trips – and this day was absolutely made for one of them.

A few months ago, there was a local news article about a near-forgotten resort, high in the mountains, that was being overhauled and brought back to life.  The Chute Lake Lodge is located just outside of the Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, North of Naramata.  The new owners of the lodge spoke of their plans to use the resort for corporate events, yoga classes, writer’s retreats, etc.  Some of my writer friends from the South Okanagan took a trip up a few weeks ago to scope it out.  The report they brought back was encouraging.  I asked one of them about the road.  She shrugged and said that it was rough but do-able.  I couldn’t wait to see the lodge for myself and Santana was anxious to see Naramata.  That was the plan – but there was more.

Back in the summer, before I’d ever heard about the Chute Lake Lodge, I had asked a long-time resident if there was another way to get to Penticton from Kelowna.  He said there was, but the road wasn’t easy to find, and not for the faint of heart.

Naturally, that’s the way I wanted to go.

The journey began on the Gillard-Forestry road that I travelled last week, which looks entirely different in the bright sunshine.  It turns out that the place I thought was the top was not the end of the road after all.  I hadn’t seen past the logging equipment parked there to the continuation of the road beyond.  The mud was all dried up and we sailed on.

We also didn’t have any trouble finding the turn-off, thanks to a weather beaten, hand-made sign that said “Penticton” with an arrow pointing the way.

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White-tailed Deer in the forest, Gillard-Forestry Road

“If this road gets too rough, we’re going to have to turn back.”  I didn’t know what lay ahead.  The “Drive BC” app on my phone doesn’t exactly cover road conditions in places like this.  We drove slowly, avoiding the potholes, ruts and sharp rocks along the way.  But the drive, even at 25 km/hr was fabulous.  The road continued to climb and every so often, through the trees, we would catch a glimpse of the city below and the valley beyond.

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View of Kelowna from Chute Lake Road

Then this happened.

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Chute Lake Road, from the Kelowna side

“It’s not too deep,” Santana said, after having a look. “I think we can make it.”

I hugged the side of the road as much as was possible. My hands gripped the steering wheel while I muttered pleas to whichever deities might be listening.  I should have known there’d be water.  Just last week there were snowfall warnings issued for the higher elevations.  That on top of the rain, the existing snowpack and the warmer weather of springtime pretty much guaranteed that there was going to be some run-off.

Gotta say, though, I’m proud of my little Kia.  She soldiered right through those puddles without hesitation.  “Thank God that’s over,” I thought.  But was it?

There was water everywhere.

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Water pouring off the rocks, Chute Lake Road, Kelowna side

That section of flooded road was only the first of many along the way.  Each time, we discussed whether we should turn around.  Each time we went forward and each time we made it.  Then we came to a section that was so deep that water started to seep in under the door.  At this point there was no way back.  I had no choice but to go forward.  I heard something scrape the bottom of the mini-van and I cringed.  I stepped on the gas.  The mini-van lurched forward and my tires found some solid gravel, pulling us forward and on to dry ground.  I turned off the engine and breathed.

We got out and waited for the water to finish draining out of the vehicle.  Then we checked for leaks, fortunately finding none.  We could only go on from here, because there was no freakin’ way I was going back through that.

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Chute Lake Road

The rest of the road, while rough, seemed a breeze after the white-knuckle experience we had just survived. Admittedly, there were times that the road seemed little more than a narrow gravel causeway built up through a valley, with steep drop-offs on either side.  I had to stop, at least twice, for waves of vertigo to pass. Eventually, we began to descend, and the road became friendlier, with forest and marshland on either side.  The air was full of Mourning Cloak and Angelwing butterflies.

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Angelwing Butterfly, Chute Lake Road

It was 1:00 pm when we finally arrived at Chute Lake.  We’d been on the road for three and a half hours.

There was a cold wind blowing, and waves were breaking on the ice still built up along the far shore.  But the sunlight sparkled on the sapphire blue water, and the air was crisp and clean.  It was a truly lovely sight, and obviously well-loved, judging by the memorial plaques that were mounted on a large boulder at the side of the lake.

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Rock, Chute Lake

The lodge at Chute Lake was, unfortunately, closed for the day.  Electricians were busy getting things in order.  We did have the opportunity to speak with the manager, who was outside with her children cleaning up the grounds.

“You came from Kelowna?” She laughed.  “How was the road?”

“Sketchy.”

“You’re adventurous, I’ll give you that.”

I’m not sure adventurous was the right word.  Had we lived in the area longer we probably would have known not to even attempt that road for another few months.  Here we were, nonetheless.

The road into Naramata is a sharp decline, still gravel, still rutted, but nowhere near as rough as the way we came in.  I was almost disappointed when we had pavement and a yellow line a mere fifteen minutes after leaving the lodge.

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Coming into Naramata

We took the highway back home.

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A vaguely surprised Yellow-bellied Marmot, Peachland

I’m sure I will return to the Chute Lake Lodge one day soon.  If I had the sense God gave a gopher, I’d take the route up through Naramata.

But it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Gillard-Forestry Road

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Columbia Ground Squirrel, Kelowna