Labor Day Weekend at Osoyoos

Canada's Hottest Lake, and the Southern Edge of B.C. Wine Country

✍️ 🕑 September 2-5, 2022 • Tags: holiday weekendsBritish Columbiasacred placeswinelakesborder crossingsmountains & 6 More Tags • Places: Osoyoos, B.C. Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center, Cellars, Restaurant Moon Curser Vineyards sw̓iw̓s Provincial Park (Haynes Point) Spotted Lake Old Molson Historic Site Leavenworth, WA Leavenworth, WA

A view from an overlook of Lake Osoyoos and surrounding vineyards
A view from an overlook of Lake Osoyoos and surrounding vineyards open_in_full   info

Picture this:

You're Steve. You want to go out of town for Labor Day weekend, and you don't want to go somewhere too crowded. Also, you're going to be bringing your comrade Chelsea along, and so you ought to actually plan something and make reservations.

Originally, I hadn't been thinking of leaving Washington State; what advantage was there to visiting Canada when they have the same bogus Labor Day holiday on the same exact day as the United States. But, when spitballing ideas, Lake Osoyoos came up.

Though its slender body crosses the U.S.-Canada border, most of the infrastructure, accomodations, cool stuff to visit, and indeed, most of the lake itself is on the Canadian side.

Perhaps 'Desert Surfside' is not what immediately comes to mind when you picture British Columbia
Perhaps 'Desert Surfside' is not what immediately comes to mind when you picture British Columbia open_in_full   info

So, why not book a hotel six minutes across the border, and try a few wineries? Why not enjoy "the last weekend of summer" in a spot that is home to Canada's warmest lake?

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Journey

So, I picked up Chelsea after work on Friday and hit the dusty trail, by which I mean, a couple spots of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstates. We got off at Cle Elum for dinner, and proceeded northeast along less traffic-choked routes, crossing the Cascades and eventually arriving at the Canadian border.

There were no queues to cross. No fuss.

Eight minutes later, we were at a hotel room.


Local graffiti with a message to remember.
Local graffiti with a message to remember. open_in_full   info

The Hotel

The specific hotel is not that interesting. There are many in the area, and all appear to be a bit too rundown for the price they run. Our room had the interesting feature of a bathroom door that came off its hinges, necessitating a man to come around and fix it. It did, however, also come with a $20 gift card for gas as part of some weird autumn booking special.

The highlight was being able to walk to a "private beach", which was admittedly very convenient and a nice thing to do.

The hotel beach -- quite nice!
The hotel beach -- quite nice! open_in_full   info

The hotel also had an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, which we paid a visit to one evening.

In the hot tub, an older couple was having a conversation with a younger gentleman, who expressed a desire to study military history. "World War II is really my forté," he explained.

He described, at great length, how he never goes to the beach without several texts on World War II history, and how all of his favorite films are about a certain second world war. He did, however, acknowledge that he did not enjoy one film in particular in which people's heads got blown off on camera.

An interesting choice of topic to speak about at length in the hot tub, no?


Canada's Warmest Lake


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So, what of Lake Osoyoos? Was it as warm as it was claimed? It was certainly warm, certainly believable that it was the warmest in Canada, but to be honest, I could have done with more sunshine, less wind, and more heat while I was there... even though I had heard reports that the heat was causing dead salmon to wash up on the lakeshore.

(A warning: you will see some of this later. ☹)

Together, we swam in the lake, though it was perhaps not warm enough for sustained swimming given the air temperatures. I also did a bit of kayaking, but the winds were high enough, and my attempt to tow Chelsea against the wind in an inflatable floaty feeble enough, that I eventually ditched at a nearby park.


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There, I folded the boat back up into its box form and waited for Chelsea to walk back to the hotel and bring the car around. In the meantime, she apparently accidentally wandered through another park where a wedding was being held... in her swimsuit.

The park where I ditched
The park where I ditched open_in_full   info

Needless to say, we made Canada just a lil bit more classy.

And speaking of classy, what could be more classy than spending money on food and wine?


Wining & Dining

Considering that it was a holiday weekend, reservations to visit some wineries seemed like a good idea. There is a very high density of vineyards around Osoyoos, continuing up through the next town of Oliver, Penticton, the urban hub of Kelowna, and extending all the way up to Vernon, so this region of British Columbia would in fact be an excellent place to travel as a wino.

Nk'Mip Cellars, The Bear The Fish The Wolf And The Berry, and the Nk'Mip Desert Center are all part of this complex, which also is the location of the Spirit Ridge Resort.
Nk'Mip Cellars, The Bear The Fish The Wolf And The Berry, and the Nk'Mip Desert Center are all part of this complex, which also is the location of the Spirit Ridge Resort. open_in_full   info

I had wanted to find a restaurant that was interesting and seemed delicious. And the one that stuck out was the upscale restaurants in town, The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry. It bills itself as "Modern vineyard cuisine inspired by our Indigenous roots." An enticing description, even if none of their lead kitchen staff appear to have indigenous roots of their own. Which frankly was fantastic.


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The bannock was excellent. That's the term commonly used in Canada for frybread, and theirs was different than any I had tried before, firmer in texture. I had the bison steak as my entree. I've had many a bison burger, and comparing my entree to one of those would be like comparing a burger to steak. There is no comparison.


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Chelsea ordered the lincod, which was also excellent, as was the chestnut pasta that accompanied it. I do believe we also split the Honey & Pear Pavlova for dessert, which was solid and beautifully presented, but personally I probably would have been content with out it.


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We visited three vineyards. Each had their own terroir, grapes, and experience, and each was memorable.

The first was Moon Curser Vineyards where we had a really, really lovely tasting. The reservation was definitely necessary as their tasting room is tiny, and guests without reservations were turned away. And frankly, the wine was delicious, the somillier was super nice, and it was just a lovely experience.

Moon Curser's tasting room is situated just above their vineyard, which is beautiful and well exposed to sunlight
Moon Curser's tasting room is situated just above their vineyard, which is beautiful and well exposed to sunlight open_in_full   info

Moon Curser's name, by the way, was inspired by tales of gold miners who smuggled their wares across the U.S.-Canada border to avoid paying taxes. A full moon threatened to expose their position to border patrol agents, leading them to "curse" the moon. Their wine bottles feature silhouettes of various anthropomorphic smuggling animals.


The following day for a late lunch, we had wine & wings o'er at N'Kmip Cellars, which was fun. It was beautiful outside, though the weather was hot and they were short staffed. The wings were delicious, and the wine was great, though none of it stood out to Chelsea and I as something that we would immediately be interested in buying.


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The last vineyard that we visited (and our last lunch before heading home) was Kismet Estate Winery, whose Indian restaurant managed to feature... tandoori arctic char, which I definitely ate and enjoyed, eliciting the envy of a regular at a table nearby. Of their wines, the rosé was absolutely the star, and Chelsea and I both purchased bottles.

Chaat!
Chaat! open_in_full   info
Be the envy of other diners with this dish!
Be the envy of other diners with this dish! open_in_full   info


Anarchist Mountain at Night

I was hoping to try my hand at some night time astrophotography after our first dinner. I pulled out my tripod, and discovered (to my dismay) that it was stuck in a strange position where I absolutely could not get the camera flat.

Since I wasn't going to take pictures stuck at a crooked angle, I stuck my camera on a piece of concrete near a cliff's edge. (Not near enough to fall -- you can see the concrete in all the pics!) And I hit the shutter button.

In an early, unedited picture, I accidentally used my camera's "Live Composite" mode instead of "Live Bulb", which superimposes a bunch of exposures and takes the bits with more light. That's why the road is glowing. It's from the headlights of a car that came up.


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This next shot, edited by Chelsea, was my choice for the 52 Frames challengs "Edited by Someone Else"


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Between pictures, we were graced by quite a large mantis, and this was my best nighttime insect macro shot (lit with my phone flashlight.)


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N'kMip Desert Cultural Center

The center's facade beautifully blends in with the environment.
The center's facade beautifully blends in with the environment. open_in_full   info

Osoyoos tourist guides bill it as "Canada's only desert." This is a pretty obvious falsehood.

Happily, someone else has already done the work of debunking this, with a lot more detail and effort than I would have put into it.

The Canadian Encyclopedia is also unambiguous:

"Canada has no true deserts, only regions that exhibit some desertlike features."


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Putting that aside, Osoyoos does boast a few "desert centers" with walkways that promote... the unique environment here. I mean, the environment around Osyoos is desert-like to my eyes, featuring an array of stone and scrub brush. Is it as stark as Eastern Washington? Nope, but it's part way there.


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The museum provides a good history of the Syilx of the Okanagan Nation, who managed to better preserve their culture for some years by building their own school, rather than having children sent off to residential schools. Much of the exhibit celebrated one of the early teachers for providing a more sensitive education than would have been typical of the era.

The desert area is home to a few ethnographic displays, unusually made in a rather modern style with iron sculptures representing the Syilx way of life.


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These homes are an excellent respite from the harsh sun!
These homes are an excellent respite from the harsh sun! open_in_full   info
Modern petroglyphs
Modern petroglyphs open_in_full   info

A platform close to the visitor's center provides a place for ospreys to nest.

Did we see any? Hell yeah!


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Dead Fish

Gloriously ripply (splashy?) lake water
Gloriously ripply (splashy?) lake water open_in_full   info

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Among our stops in the area was sw̓iw̓s Provincial Park. It's a narrow spit sticking out into the lake, and it is basically just full of campsites and little else. You can bet that I would have liked to have stayed there.

Looking south from the spit
Looking south from the spit open_in_full   info

Except, here we saw a numerous dead fish that washed up due to heatwaves.



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Spotted Lake

Spotted Lake is a traditional medicine site for the Okanagon Sylix people. It is fenced off, but you can still get a view of it from the road. Its mineral deposits, coupled with evaporation lend it a unique, spotted look.


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Since the area is fenced off, you can't really get too close to it, or get a different angle of view, but it is still a really cool spot to see!


Return

And so, the clock eventually ran out. Osoyoos was a nice choice for a Labor Day Weekend. The weather was sunny and wonderful, the wine was great, and it was not crowded. We definitely enjoyed our visit.

Self-timer photo by mountain overlook
Self-timer photo by mountain overlook open_in_full   info

Crossing back into the United States, we were flagged for an extra agricultural check. I'm not sure what they were looking for. Our numerous bottles of wine, an unmarked nectarine gifted to Chelsea by a farm stand, and a pie that I bought all were of no concern to the agent.

Past that, we made a detour to a ghost town, and otherwise drove back almost exclusively on scenic byways.

A Ghost Town

Molson, Washington is a ghost mining town, and it was a really cool spot to stop by.


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Most of the old buildings serve as an open air museum, and you can go inside them and take a look around. There are a few snippets of old newspapers and such contextualizing the town's history. There's quite a lot of it to see.


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This particular bit of staging is... <em>creepy</em> to say the least.
This particular bit of staging is... creepy to say the least. open_in_full   info

The area was once home to Hee Hee Rock, a sacred stone later dynamited by settlers. This newspaper clipping explains the sad story.
The area was once home to Hee Hee Rock, a sacred stone later dynamited by settlers. This newspaper clipping explains the sad story. open_in_full   info
A piece of Hee Hee Rock on display
A piece of Hee Hee Rock on display open_in_full   info


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The town bell is functional and frequently used by visitors.
The town bell is functional and frequently used by visitors. open_in_full   info
Self-timer is a friend
Self-timer is a friend open_in_full   info

Scenic Byways


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After Molson, we got back on the road, taking scenic byways back to Seattle. We traveled beside the Columbia River and Lake Chelan.


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A Tourist Trap

Since we neared the town of Leavenworth around dinner time, we decided to stop there.


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It's a town in the Cascades (located near the Enchantments) that has chosen to style itself as a Bavarian Alpine village. Even chains like Safeway and gas stations are not immune to local statues requiring Bavarian-type signage.


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Since a lot of other people had the same idea, the restaurant we wanted to stop at had a long wait, and we ended up grabbing sausages and pretzels instead.


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Leavenworth is a pretty town, but probably not one that I would personally gravitate towards. It's a bit too kitch for me.

And with Leavenworth behind us, Seattle was not much further still. The trip back was an enjoyable cap on a lovely weekend.

Thanks for reading!

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