Browne Lake Ecological Reserve

One of my first job interviews in the Okanagan took place at a group home for disabled young men, located high in the hills on McCulloch Road.  I remember the awe I felt as I drove to the house.  I couldn’t believe this was considered to be part of the city!  It was the first time I’d heard of Scenic Canyon, or Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, or the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, for that matter.  There was just so much up there to explore!  I visited the area a few times.  It was a very pleasant place to take a drive, especially in the early morning.  But every time I went, I was driven to distraction by what lay beyond the pavement of McCulloch Road.  

The sign says private property, no trespassing, entering West Bank First Nations.  But what did that mean?  Was it the property that was private, or the road?  I would stop in front of the gates and look down the road, desperately wanting to see where it led.  Each time, I would turn away, not wanting to overstep, and yet, incredibly disappointed.  

Remember a few weeks ago when I discovered that thing called “map”?  I decided to have a look and see what I could find out.  What I found was that the road led to a number of different places, including at least two that welcomed camping, and eventually exited onto Highway 33, east of Big White. That had to mean that the road was intended for public use!  I could take it, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn’t just driving down someone’s very long, private driveway.  I was on my way to the Browne Lake Ecological Reserve.

In spite of the fact that the rest of the week had been rainy, the sky was clear and blue on the morning of my journey.  I reached the top of McCulloch Road without much difficulty.  There was a small delay as there is a new community in the works and the road has been torn up.  Plenty of dust in the air.  But once I made it past the construction, all was good.  I was actually giddy with excitement.

I was not disappointed.  The road was very well-maintained, and the only reason I drove as slowly as I did was because I wanted to.  There was no traffic.  In fact, the only vehicles I saw the entire day were two ATV’s and a motorcycle.  I was in heaven.

View from the road, lined with Wild Roses

The wildflowers are in full bloom, varied and abundant.  

Tiger Lily

When I’m on the road I like to turn off my stereo and open the windows wide, usually so I can hear the birds. I wasn’t expecting such a powerful smell.  At one point along the way, the scent of wild roses was so overwhelming, it was as though I had walked into a florist’s shop.  

Brown-eyed Susans

I stopped to take a picture of some Brown-eyed Susans.  While I was stopped, a Columbian Ground Squirrel came over to see what I was up to.  Then the two mule deer I hadn’t even seen decided to move a little further along, although they did let me take a few photos first.  

Cedar Waxwing

Everything was gorgeous – the landscapes, the rock formations, the forest, the flowers, the birds and even the tree stumps.  I took photos of at least three different tree stumps because each of them looked like it had been landscaped by creatures with very different tastes.  

Split-level with Garden

There were chipmunks everywhere, criss-crossing the road, posing, having sex…. Yeah.  I didn’t realize what I was photographing until I looked at the pictures later.  I told Santana I had chipmunk porn and he made me promise never to say those two words out loud again.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk not Engaged in Coitus

Eventually I reached the turnoff.  Browne Lake was on one side, and Fish Lake was on the other.  I chose to go to Browne Lake. 

Warning Sign

I was very excited by the sign posted at the entrance, although in hindsight, I’m not sure if it was referring to real wolves or a group of campers that call themselves the wolf pack.  Either way, it was hard to understand why someone would bring a goat to an area frequented by wolves.  Or why someone would bring a goat camping at all.  But there it was, wandering the campground, wearing a collar.  Very strange.

Browne Lake is beautiful.  As soon as I got out of the van, a bald eagle flew over the lake.  To my left was a quiet, pond-like section of the lake complete with lily pads and of course, Yellow Water Lilies.  

Yellow Water Lilies

Just then I heard the call of a loon and I was completely lost in the moment.  Such beauty!

Common Loon

I decided to follow a small road to the far side of the lake where there were cabins.  

View of Browne Lake

Freija Fritillary (Boloria freija)

I reached the cabins, all of which appeared to be private. The road kept going.  It was definitely rougher, but I didn’t stop.  I thought I would eventually reach a gate and have to turn around, but it didn’t happen.  The trees here were so thick that there was no green on the forest floor.  The road was narrow, rocky and rutted, but I’d driven worse.  Browne Lake was somewhere beyond the trees to my left.  On my right was another body of water that could only be Fish Lake.  Somehow, I had ended up in between the two of them.  Fish Lake was more pond-like and marshy, covered with lily pads and families of Greater Scaup.  I started to wonder how long it would be before this road reconnected with the main road.  I pulled out my phone to look at the map, laughing to discover that I wasn’t on a marked road at all.  My tiny blue dot was just drifting in the forest green between the two lakes.

Snowshoe Hare

A short while and a Snowshoe Hare later, I rejoined the main road, making a stop at Hydraulic Lake where I learned a little about Andrew McCulloch and the Kettle Valley Rail.  From Hydraulic Lake it is just a short distance to Highway 33.  Just before the exit, I came to an intersection.  The sign said Okanagan Falls Forestry Road.”  Does that mean…?  Is it…?

Now I’m going to have to go find out.  Put the coffee on, Faye, I’m coming over.  I just don’t know how long it will take me to get there.

Hardy Falls

When I first moved to the Okanagan, I was anxious to start exploring my new neighborhood.  One of the first places I wanted to visit was Hardy Falls, on the outskirts of Peachland.  Although Hardy Falls is a well-known attraction, I had never been and because it’s listed as an “easy” trail, I thought it would be a great place to start.  I was disappointed, however, to learn that it was closed, due to major flood damage that occurred in the spring of 2017. Here it was already a year later, and there was still no word on when it would reopen.

All that changed late last month, when it was announced that the trails were open after what ended up being a two-year closure.  Still, I hesitated, unsure of whether or not the walk was “easy” as advertised.  Then a friend posted pictures on her Face Book page and I was able to ask someone I trust, “How long does it take, really, to walk to the falls.”

“About ten minutes,” she said.

It’s on.

The day was perfect for a walk.  The sky was overcast, but there was no rain.  The forest and canyon were cool and quiet.  Santana and I had arrived quite early, and there were no other cars in the parking area. Mock-orange blossoms were everywhere, cascading down the canyon walls.  

Mock-orange Blossoms

Mock-orange Blossoms on Canyon Walls

The air was filled with morning birdsong.

We took our time.  The trail has been resurfaced and it’s wide and smooth.  There are benches strategically placed along the way to stop and rest, and I made sure to test them all.  They’re good, by the way.

Tree Stump

Robert Lynd once said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.”

Say’s Phoebe

We were pretty quiet.

There are eight bridges that criss-cross Deep Creek on the way to the falls.  Two of the bridges were destroyed in the flooding.  The replacement bridges were brought in by helicopter this spring.  The fact that they were able to do that is kind of impressive, as the canyon walls are steep and close.

Canyon Walls

We arrived at the falls.  The trail has been shortened somewhat, due to a rock slide that occurred in 2009.  It was determined that the likelihood of another slide was inevitable and so for reasons of public safety, that section of the trail was permanently closed.

Hardy Falls

I was delighted to spot an American Dipper splashing and diving in the fast flowing creek and amused myself with trying to capture of photograph of him standing still.  They don’t do that very often.

American Dipper

In hindsight, I wish I had taken note of the information provided on the platform at the falls, with regard to the geographical makeup of the area.  There are many different types of rock visible, and the canyon was formed in part to some of that rock being softer than the rest.  The various rock formations are beautiful, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of moss.

Moss and Blossoms

There was Meadow Buttercup growing along the shore of the creek, and many other wildflowers that I would be seriously challenged to name.  There are warning signs for Poison Ivy but as long as you stay on the trail, that isn’t an issue.

Meadow Buttercup

This stream is important to spawning Kokanee Salmon, and I fully intend to come back in the fall to watch.

Water-bleached Wood

By the time we got back to the Kia, more than an hour had passed.  But my friend didn’t lie.  It really SHOULD only take ten minutes to walk to the falls.  There just wasn’t anywhere I would have rather been.

Foreground to Hardy Falls

 

Peachland Lake

I had a plan.  I had no money, so I didn’t want to use too much gas.  It was hot, so I didn’t want to do a whole lot of walking.  It was early, so starting my morning at the beach sounded like a great idea.  I had to drop Santana off at work, so Rotary Beach in West Kelowna would be my starting point.  From there, I would make a stop at Glenn Canyon, and from there, head out to the newly re-opened Hardy Falls in Peachland.

That was the plan.  That was the plan I laid out for Santana, anyway.  But once I was at the beach in West Kelowna, I started having different ideas.

While looking at the map a few weeks ago, I noticed a place called Peachland Lake.  Peachland is a small town on the shores of the Okanagan Lake.  Who knew they had a lake of their own?  I checked the map again.  From where I was, it was only 39 km to the lake, although, for some reason, the map feature said it would take an hour and a half to get there.  There was a small warning flashing at the top of the screen.

“May involve gravel roads.”

Well, that wasn’t much of a warning.  I don’t mind gravel roads.  And hey, no time like the present!

Arctic Lupine

Arctic Lupine

It started out auspiciously enough.  The directions led me to the Brenda Mine road – the same road I took to get to Silver Lake.  But instead of turning off, this time I continued on the nicely paved road.  I had marked the location on the map, but every time I stopped, or backed up for another look at something, Siri would tell me I had arrived, and I would have to reload the location.  That worked fine until I got high enough in the hills that there was no more cell service.  After that I had to hold the map in one hand and watch for the turnoff while driving.  Eventually, I found the turnoff which, incidentally, was quite well marked.  That’s when things started to get a little sketchy.

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Does that Look Like Gravel to You?

The road could be called gravel, I suppose, but really, it was rock.  It was a narrow rock road with deep ruts and sharp stones.  It required my full attention to avoid obstacles in my way.  Again, as is my habit apparently, I considered turning back, and each time I thought that I must be close.  The tires on the minivan are in good shape, but they are narrow and don’t inspire a great deal of confidence.  Do I even have a spare?  If so, where was it?  If not, what the %&*^ was I doing up here?

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Colony of Mushrooms Growing under a Dead Stick

There were places that trees had come down across the road and someone had cut them away.  There was a strong wind blowing.  What would I do if a tree came down and I couldn’t get out?  I don’t carry a chainsaw.  I pulled over to the side of the road, took out my phone and wrote the following message to Santana.

“I changed my plan and decided to go to Peachland Lake.  If I don’t make it out, send the search party this way.”

I pressed send.

Yeah.  No cell service.  I forgot.

By now the road was too narrow to turn around.  But through the trees, I could see water.  Might as well go see the lake.  I came to a fork in the road.  I chose the right-hand path.  I came to a fast-moving stream.

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Mountain Stream headed to Peachland Lake

The road over it was not even a road at this point.  It was like someone had taken a culvert and piled rocks on top of it.  Holding my breath, I drove over it.  And then I was there.  The shores of the lake were more of the same – rock – but at least it was wide enough to turn around.  I took out my beach blanket and settled on the smoothest spot I could find. It was quite lovely.

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Peachland Lake and the Rocks they Built the Road With

The wind was creating waves on the lake, and the Western Tiger Swallowtail I was watching sought shelter on the ground.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Using my big lens as binoculars, I looked over the shores of the lake.  There were people camping to my left.  I watched as the wind picked up a tent and it was barely rescued before landing in the lake.  I imagine it wasn’t easy pounding pegs into a rocky surface.

It was a relief to know there were other humans in the area.  It was less likely I would die if I became stranded. I was comfortable enough with the idea that I ate the slice of banana bread I’d brought with me.  No need to hold on to it.

Mountain Arnica

Mountain Arnica

After my picnic, I decided to leave.  I was less troubled by the drive out.  Because it was uphill for much of the way, I didn’t have to focus so much on controlling my speed over the rough surface.  I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the drive, even stopping now and then to take some pictures.

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Mountain Meadow and More Rocks They Built the Road With

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Mule Deer

I learned a fair bit from my journey.  Number one is to find out if I have a spare. Number two is to make sure to inform someone if I change my plan before I leave cell phone range.  But I learned something else as well.  When I got home, I looked it up. It turns out that had I gone left instead of right when I reached that fork in the road, I would have ended up at a campground with tables and toilets and everything.

But where’s the fun in that?

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View from Brenda Mine Road

The Sheep of West Side Road

I’ve stated previously that I love West Side Road.  One of the reasons I love the road, is the resident herd of California Big Horn Sheep.  Whenever I need a little dose of Mother Nature, West Side Road will produce sheep for me, four out of five tries.

I had a busy week this week with my birthday, an impending visit from my daughter and three of her friends, finishing up two jobs and starting a new one, without a day off in between.  Taking a road trip just wasn’t in the picture.  That’s how it goes.  Sometimes life gets in the way.

But that gives me the perfect excuse to introduce my pals, the sheep of West Side Road.  I hope they give you as much pleasure as they give me.

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This photo was published in Photographer’s Forum Best of 2018 coffee table book.

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Telling Secrets

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Salt Lick

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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

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Can I Help You?

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A Little Bird Told Me

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Lakeside

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Quiet Time

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White Chocolate

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Mixed Greens

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The Gang’s All Here

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King of the Castle

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No, Me

Thanks for indulging me and my sheep-shots.  See you next week!

Glenrosa Road

Have you ever looked at a road and thought, “Huh. I wonder where that goes?” Yeah, me too. Just this week, in fact.

I went to the neighbourhood of Glenrosa in West Kelowna because a newspaper article said that bears had been spotted in the area. Once I arrived, I wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea of driving around an unfamiliar neighbourhood peeking into people’s backyards hoping to see a bear. Glenrosa Road, however, that was intriguing. I decided to follow it and see where it took me. Besides, if there were bears, they might just as easily be on that road as any other.

It didn’t take long for traffic to fall away and I found myself alone on a road climbing up into the mountains. It was early in the morning and the temperature was still comfortably cool. Long shadows fell across the road, and I almost didn’t see the three mule deer just off the road on my right. I stopped and tried to get in a few shots but awkward lighting made it difficult to do. And there were mosquitoes! When did they get here?

Mule Deer, Glenrosa Road

I love getting out and seeing what new wildflowers are in bloom. I do my best to identify them, using three different sources, but I freely admit that I could be wrong. The Indian Paintbrush is one that I am sure of.

Indian Paintbrush

The road began to get rough. There were large potholes and I slowed down to accommodate. Not that I was going fast to begin with – I like to take my time and drive slowly when I am the only one on the road. If another vehicle does happen to come along, I pull over and let them pass so I can continue my journey un-impeded.

I came to a fork in the road. There was a lovely marsh to my right and I got out to stretch my legs while considering my next move.

Marsh, Glenrosa Road

Then I had a revelation. I could look at a map!

Glenrosa Road went to the left, where it ended. But if I were to go right, I’d be on the Jackpine Forestry Road which connects to Bear Lake Main. I could then follow that all the way to West Side Road. Aren’t maps cool?

Wild Strawberries, Jackpine Forestry Road

I spent a few extra minutes with the map, just to see what else was out there. It’s going to be a busy summer.

There were hundreds of butterflies along the road, Mourning Cloaks, Angelwings, Swallowtails and one I’d never seen before – a Pacific Orangetip. The others liked to warm themselves on the rocks and the road, but the Orangetip I tried to follow wouldn’t land anywhere at all.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Jackpine Forestry Road

Everywhere I looked, there was something to see. Some of it was breathtaking and some of it just made me sad. It wasn’t the clearcuts. I may not like them but the Alberta girl in me still gets it. That’s industry.

View from Jackpine Forestry Road

No, it’s the wanton destruction I see all along the road. Empty beer cans and shotgun shell casings. Remnants of dangerous bonfires, burned out vehicles, and ATV trails everywhere. I’m appalled by the lack of respect shown to the land. No doubt there are many ATV enthusiasts that would disagree with me, but really, BC, we can do better than this.

The condition of the road had me moving at a dead crawl. There were ruts so deep you could break an axel, or go off the road entirely. It was a bit surprising considering the road is marked as an emergency exit.

I came across a family of Yellow Pine Chipmunks playing in a pile of partially burned furniture and a Nutall’s Cottontail on the side of the road.

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

There were more deer, both Mulies and Whitetail and plenty of birds. But no bears.

I came to the next crossroads. Left would take me to Jackpine Lake. Right would put me on Bear Lake Main headed toward a lake called Lambly. I stuck with the plan, leaving Jackpine Lake for another day. When I arrived at Lambly Lake, I was amused to learn that it was also called Bear Lake. No wonder I couldn’t find Bear Lake on the map!

Bear Lake is gorgeous, beautiful, still, blue water with an island in the center, inhabited by geese, shorebirds and loons.

Bear Lake

There is a large campground there, but there was only one site occupied while another person fished from the back of his SUV.

This lake looked perfect for kayaking, but more than that, I longed to set up a tent here and listen to the loons call out in the long hours of twilight.

Spotted Sandpiper, Bear Lake

After a bit of exploring and signing a petition to have road repairs done, I moved on. From here the road was in fairly good shape. Gravel and a bit washboardy but far easier to navigate. I picked up the pace a little.

Wooly Groundsel, maybe

I came around the corner to a straight stretch. What was that up ahead? Was it…? Could it be…?

Yes. It was a bear. Oh, he was a beauty! Cinnamon, probably about three years old. Even though I was a good 200 meters away, as soon as he saw me, he turned and darted back into the woods. I drove slowly up to where he had disappeared and turned off my engine. I thought if I was quiet enough, he might come back out. I waited for about fifteen minutes before concluding it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t get a picture. I was a little disappointed, but not really.

I saw a bear!

American Chipping Sparrow, definitely not a bear

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.