Life Travel

British Columbia

B.C.'s Osoyoos a mix of desert, vineyards

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency

The Cascade Mountains, seen from BC Highway 3 West, near the southern end of the Similkameen Valley. DOUG ENGLISH/Special to QMI Agency

The Cascade Mountains, seen from BC Highway 3 West, near the southern end of the Similkameen Valley. DOUG ENGLISH/Special to QMI Agency

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Osoyoos is a jumble of contradictions.

The little town on the British Columbia-Washington border is so dry many claim it's in a desert.

Hot, too.

It was pushing 30 when I drove in from Penticton, an hour north, and it was still early May.

Prickly pear cactus flourishes down there and rattlesnakes bask in the sun. But within sight of parched grasslands and bare, brown hills is a sparkling blue lake where you can dip your toes. And just minutes north, around Oliver, are the lush vineyards of more than 20 wineries.

What I didn't know at that point was that just on the other side of Osoyoos was scenery that would prompt me to hit the brakes, pull right off the highway and go "Wow!''

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A visit to the Nk'Mip (pronounced in-ka-meep) Desert Cultural Centre was the first priority. It's part of multimillion-dollar resort that includes condo-style villas and suites, a spa, winery, golf course, and RV park, all developed by the Osoyoos Indian Band.

Russell Podburny, a centre interpreter, showed me a two kilometre trail where guided interpretive walks are offered daily in summer.

Take one and you'll learn what distinguishes sage brush from antelope brush, visit a reconstructed Okanagan village with pit houses and replicas of tipis made of water reeds, and maybe be persuaded to help support their rattlesnake research program by "adopting'' one for $5.

Snakes Alive, featuring seven local species, is one of two stage shows presented daily. The other is Pow and Wow, where Podburny, a prize-winning traditional singer and dancer, explains what he terms the protocol and etiquette of the powwow.

Those stop-the-car, where's-my-camera sights I mentioned earlier? They're on Highway 3 West, just outside the Osoyoos town limits.

You round a curve and suddenly, filling the windshield, are the Cascade Mountains.

This is southern end of the Similkameen Valley. The fast-flowing river whose name it shares nourishes one of province's richest fruit-and vegetable-growing areas.

Cawston is home to several certified organic growers, and Keremeos is the self-proclaimed Fruit Stand Capital of Canada. In fact among the highway signs warning drivers about sharp curves and wildlife are ones reading "fruit stands for next 2 km.''

The jumping-off point for Cathedral Provincial Park, whose alpine meadows and glacier lakes attract hikers, is at Keremeos.

So is Highway 3A, which hooks up just south of Penticton with Highway 97, the main north-south route for another lovely valley -- the Okanagan.

WHAT'S NEW

Tourism Victoria says the newest culinary trend in B.C.'s charming capital is floating restaurants. There are two at Fisherman's Wharf, Puerto Vallarta Amigos, described as a taco joint, and The Fish Store, whose specialties include halibut. Both are open from 11 a.m. until dusk. Salt Spring Tours, located at Ship Point Wharf, offers visitors a dockside take-away lunch service from their boat Pride of Victoria. For details, visit www.pvamigos.com, www.floatingfishstore.com and saltspringtours.com

IF YOU GO

Accommodation: After too much heat and not enough liquids, the all-suites Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos was a welcome oasis. There's a choice of pools, hot tubs, waterslides and Osoyoos Lake, whose average summer water temperature of 24C may be the highest in Canada.

I settled for a long shower and a couple of cold ones from a private beer and wine store across the street, then a leisurely dinner in the Watermark's Wine Bar & Patio.

Their new executive chef is Jonas Statlander, whose father, Michael, is one of Canada's most celebrated chefs. Visit www.watermarketbeachresort.com

Other attractions: The Osoyoos Desert Centre, a nature interpretive facility where a native plant demonstration garden and guided and self-guided tours along an elevated wooden boardwalk. Visit www.desert.org or www.destinationosoyoos.com

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