A Fall Visit to the Okanagan Valley

One of the several orchards in Kelowna

One of our favorite reasons for homeschooling is the ability to pick up our work and head out on the road at any opportunity. These can be for many different reasons but this week it was to travel with our eldest daughter to the Okanagan Valley for a conference she was attending there. It works out well, I do the driving and she lets EJ and I bunk in her room.

Although we live in southern Alberta, this area of British Columbia isn’t one that we visit often. Not sure why that is because a) it is a beautiful area and b) it isn’t a very long drive (ok, maybe 9 hours considering traffic through the parks is a bit much for some but pretty usual for us.) From Calgary, you drive through a number of National Parks, including Banff and Glacier (the Canadian one) before heading south into what many consider to be the “California of Canada” for its many orchards and wineries. Surrounded by the Columbia, Cascade, and Coastal Mountains, this fertile valley was formed 10,000 years ago when mile-thick ice layers retreated, leaving behind valuable sedimentary deposits that have been added to over time by mountain river erosion and flooding that brought nutrient-rich soils that today support the vibrant agricultural economy of the area.

For this trip, we stayed in Kelowna, a city on the banks of Okanagan Lake, the largest in the area. Although we don’t normally book hotels in downtown areas, it was the location of V’s meetings so we made the best of it. Sadly, while our hotel’s advertising touted “various view options” for their rooms, the most common are of a vacant lot and mission hostel on one side and Highway 97A on the other. (the views from the suites and meeting rooms at the front of the hotel are quite nice, they face the park.) This did not make a great first impression, nor did the booming music from the nightclub next door that went on until the wee hours (we heard from others that you don’t hear it from the highway side.) While the hotel is located across the street from the beautiful City Park and Hot Sand Beach, the homeless village that pops up each evening put a damper on any thoughts of an evening stroll. Note: this is one of the reasons I check Google Street View when booking accommodation when I am unfamiliar with an area.

The “view” from our balcony. Note the trees from City Park
and the mountains around the lake in the distance.

I do have to say the hotel did have its good points; friendly staff, good service, delicious food for the meetings, lovely spa-quality bathing products, and handy to the highway for getting out and about, but the location would not be my choice for a stay, especially with children. (For our family, traveling with children = using a luggage cart, staying on the third floor presented an issue with this as you can see from the photo below of the “ramp” leading to our room. We later found out that the second floor did not have stairs so no need for a ramp.)

The ramp for getting our luggage cart to the room.

While the location of our accommodations was a bit of a concern, the city of Kelowna itself is a lovely spot. Even in September, the weather was lovely and we were able to take advantage of apple picking season. The hilly area surrounding the town boasts an abundance of fruit trees and grape vines and several fruit stands/shops. The one we chose to visit even had a small cider tasting room where I was able to find a nice bottle of pear ice cider to bring home along with the delicious Honey Crisp and Fuji apples for Thanksgiving pies. EJ picked up a basket of crabapples for jelly…why do I feel this may turn into a science experiment?!

There were still apples on the trees but many had hit the ground
…cider anyone?

Another of Kelowna’s several parks is home to the annual Kikinee Salmon Festival. EJ and I headed down to Mission Creek Park while V attended her meetings. The festival celebrates the return of Kokanee salmon, a freshwater version of the Pacific Sockeye, who live their lives in area lakes, returning at about age four to the same stream where they were hatched to spawn, completing their life cycle.

After a morning rain shower, the sunny day brought out quite a crowd and, with several activities for the littles to try, kept them around for most of the day. EJ’s first stop was at the Okanagan First Nations tent where he learned about the early days of salmon fishing and the legend of N’ha-a-itk, the fierce lake monster who inhabits Lake Okanagan at Squally Point. Many folks know him by the name Ogopogo, a name he was given back in the 20’s but whatever he is called, legend has it that he is about 25 meters long, green with a body like a snake. Whether he has a head of a horse, goat, or a reptile, I don’t think he would be my first choice for a swimming partner!

Kid powered OgoPogo

After joining in to help create N’ha-a-itk, EJ headed off to practice some archery with the Scouts Canada group, learned about drumming, painted a picture of a spawning Kokanee (you can tell it’s spawning by the colour), learned about the different stages of salmon eggs, and finally made his way to the spawning channel where he joined other kids to cheer on the silvery, red and green salmon as they worked their way up the waterfalls to their final destination. If this is something you have never seen in person it is certainly worth the visit. (I can’t seem to get my video to post here today but you can see it on YouTube here.)

One of the salmon spotted during the run

Even though we had studied the life cycle of a salmon, seeing them up close and personal brings a whole new perspective to the daunting challenge they face in returning to their hatching grounds to lay their own eggs and complete their lives. BC Ministry of fisheries has a nice handout on the Kokanee that covers the basics.

Having fun learning about salmon

EJ was having a great time and the day was sunny and warm so we stayed until the end of the festival, even after some of the tents had already packed up. Mission Creek Park also boasts a fun multisensory playground that has separate areas for kids from two to twelve so we stopped there to play on our way back to our car. Never one to pass a good playground, EJ quickly made some “new friends” and burned off a ton of energy. The Octanet rope climbing structure is popular with the bigger kids and EJ was no different. He managed to climb to the top several times before we had to leave and join V for dinner.

Lots of fun on the Octanet

We decided to take it easy the next day and stuck close to our room. Following up on our visit to the salmon run, we decided to focus on our science studies. Since we had just signed up for the free version of Mystery Science we logged in to do some animal studies. This lead to weather and water units plus surfing the web for information on salmon in particular. We’re looking forward to doing more of these units over the coming weeks (I’ll be sure to review the program here once we do!)

The next day was beautiful and sunny and we took advantage of it. After taking a walk in City Park (a beautiful spot in the daytime) we met one of my cousins for coffee at Tim’s (this recently opened location is in the old Paramount Theatre building, right downtown and a quick walk from the park and waterfront, very handy for lunch or a quick snack.) We decided to take a drive up to Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park and Myra Trestles in the afternoon but quickly realized we hadn’t left ourselves enough time for a walk to the trestles of the old Kettle Valley Railway after navigating the dirt and gravel road that is liberally equipped with some of the most fascinating potholes I’ve seen in a while. I read (later) that the area had sustained major damage during the 2003 wildfires that destroyed 12 of the 16 trestles. The Myra Canyon Restoration Society has done an amazing amount of work in rebuilding the trestles and trails so future generations can enjoy the historic area. Definitely a spot for our next visit.

After a long drive on an interesting road, we arrived at one of the parking areas for Myra-Bellevue Park

Our afternoon visit opened up a discussion about wildfires and the damage they do but also how they are a part of the natural cycle of forests. We’ve had a number of smoky days in southern Alberta due to this summer’s fires so it was easy to understand how far reaching their effects can be. We would see some of this devastation as we drove home through Kootenay National Park later in the week but that is for another post. It was the first time we had used one of Parks Canada’s Explora apps, I highly recommend them.

Our late summer “holiday” was coming to a close, time to head for home just in time for our first winter storm warning of the year (oh yes, complete with frozen pipes and all!) Although it was only a few days, our time in the Okanagan Valley was fun and we hope to get back for another visit soon.

In the meantime, we’re looking forward to our next adventure…did someone mention New Mexico? Have I mentioned how much we love roadschooling?

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