Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Visit to the Okanagan Valley of B.C.

Right: Okanagan Lake
Left: Coquihalla Pass
Centre: Merrit Valley
Just got back from a week in British Columbia’s hot spot—the Okanagan Valley (pronounced Ohk-a-NAH-gan). The Okanagan is the closest thing Canada has to a desert. It is actually a part of the great desert basin that extends north from Mexico and the United States. Near the south Okanagan city of Osooyos, there is a portion set aside as a desert refuge complete with tumbleweed and rattlesnakes.

So the Okanagan is very warm and very arid and, unfortunately, subject to summer wildfires when the forests are tinder dry. Three separate fires started the day after we left (looks suspicious I know but neither of us smoke). Happily, they are now under control and there were only about 9 houses lost although 15,000 people were evacuated for safety reasons.

Hot and dry as the climate is, with the help of irrigation the whole valley has been turned into a delightful region of vineyards and orchards. And with a chain of lakes stretching from the city of Vernon in the north to the U.S. border and beyond, it is a summer holiday paradise.

There’s an easy way to get to B.C.’s interior and that’s over Highway 3 which, even though it climbs to over 4,000 ft. at the Coquihalla Pass, is a four lane highway with speed limits over 100 kms. per hour. This extends all the way from our Fraser Valley to Kamloops or Kelowna making the trip an easy four hour drive. It’s scenic but not as exciting as the Trans Canada highway route that takes you through the Fraser Canyon and the tourist spot known as Hell’s Gate. We’ll visit Hell’s Gate next month but for the next couple of weeks come with me as we visit to the fabulous Okanagan Valley.

Perhaps the thing that long, narrow Okanagan Lake is most famous for is the prehistoric monster that people believe live there, named Ogopogo. There are records of sightings of this serpent-like creature even before the white man came to settle. Have to admit I've never seen him but here's a link to a little more information in case you do get to visit this unique area. If you happen to get a picture of your particular sighting it's worth some money, so make sure you try.

Next week: we visit Vernon at the head of Okanagan Lake

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Arrives in the Fraser Valley

“Summertime and the living is easy; fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”. So says the old Gershwin brother’s song. But life does seem easier in the summer, everyone is a little more casual and carefree and generally people feel better.

In summer something nomadic in my makeup takes over and it becomes almost obligatory that I take to the road. Fortunately for me, my husband is somewhat of the same mind and so, when the weather is warm and sunny, we often set forth on one of our explorations of the beautiful area in which we reside.

Living in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley there is ample opportunity for delightful one-day getaways. We are located in the southwest corner of B.C. bordered on the north by the coast mountain range, on the east by the Cascade Range and on the west by the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island. Following the 49th parallel the U.S. border cuts across the south of this whole area. In general the term, the Fraser Valley refers to that stretch of land surrounding the river downstream from the town of Hope to the ocean on the west and the U.S. border on the south.
As you can imagine there are many delightful places to explore within a day’s drive; everything from the large metropolis of Vancouver to quiet and charming seaside villages like White Rock.
Later this summer I’ll also take you on a circle tour that follows the famous sea-to-sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler; then travels through the coast mountain range on the Duffy Lake road to Lillooet; ending up in the beautiful and famous Okanagan Valley with its long, clear lake and grapevine covered hills; before driving the four lane highway over the Coquihalla Pass back to Vancouver.

But for today let’s head south to the border and the charming village of White Rock. Here one can dine “al fresco” in a great variety of restaurants overlooking the peaceful waters of Semiahmoo Bay; stroll along the two mile promenade beside the ocean; or swim at nearby Crescent Beach. With the sun on your backs and the smell of ocean in your nostrils, it’s all good.

If you’re driving in from the U.S.A. on Highway 5 take the first cut-off after the border. It’s a roundabout so keep to the left of the circle until you reach 8th Avenue going west. Follow it down the hill where it becomes Marine Drive. The next couple of miles are where all the action is. There’s lots of pay parking so be sure to stop to walk out on the long pier and take a look at the big, white rock that gives the town its name. It’s painted now, but even when it was first discovered, it was a beautiful, white granite rock. If it’s a sunny day you can’t miss Mount Baker with its beautiful snow covered peak as a striking background to this hillside village. The whole scene is all very reminiscent of France’s Cote d’Azur. I think, to just relax and have a nice meal, it’s one of the nicest spots on the entire west coast. Here’s a link to a live web cam: Enjoy.

Now that summer’s truly here, my blogs are apt to be a little spasmodic as I travel around in search of material. Bear with me and I’ll see you soon.