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Touring the Valley
  Okanagan Valley Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

The Okanagan Valley has many bustling communities within its fragrant boundaries, from sophisticated Kelowna to country-like Winfield. Each autonomous yet connected to one another by record-breaking hours of sunshine, clean pure air and Highway 97, the hilly highway that interweaves the towns that prosper amid desert sagebrush, sparse pine trees, rich vineyards and thousands upon thousands of fruit bearing trees.

In all this splendor, many people of the Okanagan Valley thrive, literally, off the fruit of the land -- with a little help from the blossoming tourist industry, too.

Our excursion began in Osoyoos, a green oasis in a giant dust bowl. To get a good look at this unlikely description we drove east of town on Highway 3 to the Anachist Mountain Viewpoint. From a distance, we could see the oh-so-blue Osoyoos Lake, neat rows of fruit trees and the odd red-tiled roof. ( The town has adopted a Spanish decor. ) The whole scene was surrounded by a landscape of tumbleweed and rocks. After such a appearance from afar, we expected to be disappointed with city center. Not so, bricklined sidewalks were adorned with pots overflowing with colorful blooms and the beaches were alive with bathers and boaters.

Okanagan Valley is wine country; boasting worldwide recognition. But alas, the days of bare feet stomping on the grapes are long gone. Modern mechanical crushers do all the work. And the wine ferments in huge stainless steal cylinders, not in the charming oak barrels of the past. At one of the many wineries in the valley, we learned that red and white wine comes from the same grape except the red wine is fermented with the skin still on. We also learned that sherry is a white wine to which pure alcohol is added and that its amber color comes from caramelized sugar. Interesting. Interesting, too, how seriously everyone participated in the wine sampling. The winner, judging from the nodding of the heads, was a Chardonney.

Oliver doesn't have the flowers so vivid in Osoyoos, nevertheless, the town has plenty of motels and campgrounds for the tourists and plenty of festivals for the local inhabitants. The Alpenfest, a Bavarian festival of wine and sausage held in November sounds like fun. And Fairview Days, held in June, sounds like a lesson in history. The celebration is in honor of the once active gold mining community nearby.

It rained throughout the Vaseau Lake area -- the greenest and lushest section enroute. We never saw the Bighorn Sheep said to live on the slopes, but, we did see gentle deer and little furry marmot scurrying about and lots of feathered friends. Vaseau Lake is one of many Federal Government Bird Sanctuaries and every year, the proud Canada Geese come to nest.

We continued through Okanagan Falls still under heavy rainfall. I'd say unexpected, judging from the looks on the faces of the venders at two gigantic flea markets. They watched dejectedly, as their possessions -- some junk, some treasures -- got an unwelcome shower. Speaking of junk and treasures, there are antique shops scattered everywhere. Some of them could be museums, with their old-fashioned furniture and country china.

The streets of Penticton were aglow with sunshine and happy vacationers and the beaches of lengthy Lake Okanagan were cluttered with water lovers and their toys. Some I've never seen before . . . paddle boats, rubber-tired dingys, odd shaped surf boards . . . In the distance, sailboats were swaying gently in the breeze and overhead parasailers swooped. Feet could be seen dangling from the harness. I was brave enough to try the contraption in Mexico one year. Scary stuff. I thought the rope would break and I would soar away forever. I've since learned I would have come down like a parachuter. My biggest recollection of the experience is: it's so quiet up there!

Penticton not only has the regular attractions such as art galleries, museums, game farms and theater, it has a square dance jamboree and an Ironman Triathelon. Over two thousand come to kick up their heels and over four hundred join the Ironman Canada Full Triathelon hoping to qualify for the famous Hawaiian event. ( The triathelon is a threefold race, including biking, swimming and running.)

Practically all the towns in the valley have special events. Summerland had an antique car rally happening. It was rewarding to see cars older than we looking in such good shape. Incredible, what a little loving care will do.

The private homes in Peachland were lovingly cared for, too, adding still more beauty to the already pretty vista. Peachland is eagerly awaiting a 'go ahead' on becoming a Victorian Village. According to Richard Smith, the museum's curator, they are ready. A 'yes' will bring out the hammers and nails and up go the falsefront walls and competition for Barkerville, the gold rush boom town replica. Lucky for Peachland, now that the Coquihalla Highway is completed, it's a mere four hours from Vancouver, B.C.

We'd been to Kelowna before and it had always been a hustle bustle town, but, for some reason, the downtown streets were bare this holiday Sunday. " So bare, you can roll a canyon ball down the middle and not hit a soul," said Peggy Gibson, puzzled at the conspicuous absence of shoppers in the usually-very-busy refurbished warehouse. Now, it's the location of the Okanagan Art Company run by a co-op of local artists. Every craft imaginable was on display, from shawls to ceramics to sculptures, the ideas seem limitless. Outdoors, on the porch, a painting was taking form. Trudy Knox was working on her latest oil, a scene of the region. Indoors, a serving of ice tea and sweets was offered, in contrast to the ordinarily no-food-no-drink rule.

It was a beautiful bright day and perhaps everyone was out on the lake trying to get a shot of Ogopogo. After all, the prize for the best photo was $2000.00 Who is Ogopogo? Why, he's Canada's Loch Ness Monster. Our very own sea serpent, sometimes ten, sometimes fifty feet long. He makes his home in a cave somewhere in the abundant waters of Lake Okanagan. The lake is 80 miles long, so he can easily be missed. The most recent sighting of Ogopogo was near Kelowna. Our binoculars were ever ready.

We went as far as Winfield, before we turned for home. It was a pleasant and relaxing holiday weekend.

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