Passover and Through British Columbia
Two days ago, we left Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island after a wonderful month’s stay. We pretended we were Israelis and observing seven days of Passover with only one seder. The pretense was valuable in another way because of the radical difference in a Canadian versus an Israeli geographic sensibility. I often say that there is more fresh water to be viewed from our cottage window on Georgian Bay than in all of Israel. But in British Columbia, at least in the part we traveled through yesterday, the fresh water is found in rushing streams over rocks and quiet but very deep lakes. It takes 2 hours to cross the narrow waist of Israel from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv. It takes two days to cross the bottom just of British Columbia – about ten times the amount of time as in Israel, and that is for just one of ten provinces.
This morning we head for Medicine Hat, Alberta, and hope we are not being too ambitious. We are about to go through the final pass through the Rocky Mountains, a generic name for what is actually five different mountain belts. The specific Rocky Mountains, along with the Mackenzie and Franklin Mountains, constitute the Foreland Belt. Going westward, there is the Omineca Belt, including the Purcell Mountains that we passed through yesterday between the Rocky Mountain Trench to the east and the Kootenay Lake to the West. Further west again are the Intermontane Belt and the West Coast Mountains. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands belong to the fifth, the Insular Belt of mountains off the West Coast. The Rockies are literally only the most eastern belt of mountains in British Columbia. Yesterday, we traversed the Strawberry Pass and the Kootenay Pass and this morning we will go through Crowsnest Pass traveling through the actual Rocky Mountain Range to finally reach the Albertan border.
Yesterday, in the latter part of the afternoon, Strawberry Pass allowed us to travel from Grand Forks on the B.C. border with the United States, about three-quarters of the way between the Pacific Ocean and the Alberta border, to Trail, Salmo and Creston, B.C. through the Selkirk Mountain Range. We probably should have stayed over in Creston, but we pushed on through the Kootenay Pass at over 5,000 feet between Creston and Cranbrook where we eventually stayed overnight. It was a long drive since we only set out from Osoyoos at 2:00 p.m. (We were visiting wineries all morning in the lower Okanagan Valley, but more on that tomorrow.) However, it was well worth it just to see the sunset on the Selkirk Mountains with the higher snow-peaked Rockies looming behind as we managed to arrive in Cranbrook just at the end of twilight.
Yesterday afternoon’s travels were the most exciting part of our trip thus far, visually that is. I should probably save the description until the end of this blog to end on the highest note. But I am just too excited to share the experience. In any one hour (under the poetic assumption that we were seeing Canada with Israeli eyes), we probably saw more fresh water and certainly more trees than in all of Israel. In the just over 200 km. from Grand Forks to Creston, we passed creek after creek, each wider than the Jordan River, and full of rushing water racing over the stones. Sometimes they flowed east and sometimes west and sometimes they flowed upwards as the rush of water behind pushed the frothing water in front up over a hump before we encountered another stream flowing down the mountains as we went from valley to valley during the final melt of the snow on the mountains.
We often saw deer beside the road which were mostly placid and seemingly unafraid of the trucks and cars – perhaps because there were so few on the road. At one point I noted that we had been on the road for twenty minutes and had not seen another vehicle, but I was quickly corrected. There was a small truck behind us evidently which passed us very soon after when the highway widened to offer a passing lane.
The road trip yesterday culminated when, in a light rain at the end of the day, a rainbow curved up ever so slightly, only arching at the top literally in front of us on the road. As we approached this red, orange, yellow and then green and then even blue rainbow, the colours became clearer, brighter and more distinct. The contrast with the gray misty mountains in the background and the snow-capped peaks even further back with the golden crown of the final sun of the day on the crown of the most proximate mountain, was magical. The various shades of green in the fading light of the day of the different species of tree reflecting different degrees of light needed a landscape painter to capture the view. Or a great photographer like my driver. However, tired from the long day, she mistakenly deleted the day of exceptional pictures when she went to transfer and save them.
We never knew whether we were looking at Grey Mountain or Crowe Mountain, Mount Plewman or Mount Neptune, though we identified the Rossland Range as we passed that town. Sometimes the valleys between the mountains were narrow and deep and sometimes broad with alluvial plateaus and even farms. As we moved west after Creston, we entered horse and cattle country. And we were never allowed to ignore the clouds.
The colours shifted from silver grey to dark and light grey, and then even to mauve. Sometimes the clouds were streaked and at other times billowy. And when the sun was setting, it illuminated a pure patch of white cloud sitting like a puff ball on top of the place just where a very black cloud seemed to clash with purple-grey one. At one point yesterday, we saw a pure white cloud that looked like a large rectangular puffy box just sitting in the middle of the sky.
In addition to Strawberry Pass and Kootenay Pass, there was even a Blueberry Pass – at least on the map, for I never did see a sign on the road indicating when we passed through it. I did see the name of Bonanza Pass, but could not tell when we entered it and when we came out. In one trip, it is just too difficult to comprehend such a varied terrain and I should have studied much more geology before the trip.
But back to the sky and the most startling picture of all. Just near the end of yesterday’s drive as we were coming through the mountains and the sun had already set behind the mountains to our west, there was still plenty of light. We were passing a lake. Beside the dark mountain rising up from the lake on the other, western side, a blaze of red appeared, not so much over it as beside the mountain, and between it and the dull, fuzzy, even misty, grey mountain further back. The sense of mystery, the sense of wonder, was awesome. Truly awesome! – the very opposite in meaning to the oft repeated term, especially among young people. When I order halibut and chips in a restaurant in the Okanagan Valley, the waitress says, “Awesome!” Even when I order a diet coke – yes I have resumed drinking the stuff contrary to my vows to quit – she said “Awesome!
I have to tell you about yesterday morning in the Southern Okanagan Valley between Oliver and Osoyoos. A waitress saying “Awesome!” was the worst of our experiences. For, what else do travelers do on a sunny, beautiful morning, but visit wineries? We had a choice of 36 just in the very southern Okanagan alone. Given the controls of the Liquor Board of Ontario, when we go into an LCBO store we may, if we are lucky, have a choice of perhaps 4 wines from B.C.. It is a provincial disgrace. Any one winery in the Okanagan offers more choices, and there are a great wineries over many parts of B.C., including on Vancouver Island. In the Cowichan Valley alone, there seemed to be over thirty wineries and we enjoyed delicious, even exquisite meals at both the Unsworth and the Zanatta Wineries – and, of course, bought some wine.
But the Cowichan Valley, as delightful as it was, did not compare to the Okanagan with one winery after another. Of the 36 within 12 km between Osoyoos and Oliver (there are probably over 300 in the whole valley), we visited the following wineries: Road 13, Hester Creek, Tinhorn Creek, Fairview Cellars and Burrowing Owl, five out of the six we had chosen. It was already two p.m., so we passed on visiting the Young & Wyse Collection near the border with the U.S., partly because it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead, and partly because this winery was evidently started by a so-called black sheep of the family that ran Burrowing Owl and we thought we might run into similar varieties – a premise which was probably wrong, but served as a useful excuse to cut our excursions to wineries short.
First, you have to comprehend the beauty of the Okanagan Valley, with each segment of this valley stretching northward for over a hundred kilometers to beautiful Kelowna and Vernon and even beyond to Salmon Arm where one of my readers – or, at least receivers of my blog (I must not be presumptive), lives. We restricted this visit to the very southernmost part and vowed to return with friends for a week just to explore the whole valley and the many varieties of offerings. We were just a week too soon when the real opening of the winery season begins next weekend with music events, special dinners. For me, the fall would be best when all the fruit stands are open in the late summer and early Fall. For the South Okanagan offers not only barrels of wine, but baskets of wonderful fruit. And though I love wineries (more than wine since I drink very little and very seldom), I really love fruit. However, in the spring there are the wondrous display of blossoms – apple, peach, pear, apricot, plum and, of course, those I consider the most beautiful of all, cherry blossoms.
The green of the landscape as the vines have begun to show their foliage and the grass grows rich belies the fact that the area is really a desert fed and made fruitful through irrigation. The summer days are very long and very hot (it can reach thirty-five or even forty degrees), but the nights are cool. Further, the soil on the east side of the road as one heads north is sandy, whereas on the western slope you find alluvial soil. Given the different levels up the mountains on each side, the different degree of sunshine – the western slopes are covered in shadows later in the day – the different varietals, the vast array of differences in taste just due to nature within very short distances is remarkable, When one puts on top of that the various tastes and talents of the different vintners, you get the picture.
But the real story is historical and beneath the soil. The Okanagan Valley is steeped in geological time. I need not go back through the Mesozoic (dinosaurs) and certainly not the Paleozoic era, but only the Cenozoic Era of mammals. I need only pay attention to the latest epoch and period of the post Glacial Age of the last fifteen thousand years. But to understand what took place on a deeper level, it is important to comprehend plate tectonics which came into prominence when I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto and John Tuzo-Wilson was there and built on the science of cohorts and predecessors.
(The German geologist Alfred Lothar Wegener was among them and he published his seminal book, The Origins of Continents and Ocean at the beginning of WWI and introduced what was then only a theory – that of continental drift when he noted how the pattern of the eastern coast of North and South America matched up with the western contours of Africa and Europe. He put forth the theory of a vast ancient super-continent of Panges or Pangea – I can’t remember – that broke apart and the two parts drifted apart to leave the Atlantic Ocean. The theory was proven beyond any reasonable doubt by the identity of fossils found on each side as well as the matching rock formations. It took years for his theory to be accepted, perhaps because he was German and Germany was an enemy in WWI.)
By the time I was a graduate student, his theories and that of Tuzo-Wilson established plate tectonics as the governing theory explaining the behaviour of the crust of the earth and especially the plates, floating on a hot mantle below, and, floating above, the relatively thin crust. I digress, not only to show off and share my knowledge, but because it is critical to understanding the rise of the five belts of mountains in British Columbia and the creation of the Okanagan Valley.
As the great glaciers cut through and then retreated through the mountain belts, some formed by magnum rising up through the plate that extends westward to the San Andreas Fault and far eastward. As the glaciers retreated, the non-glacial deposits of sand and gravel, in the streams and valleys as well as peat were supplemented by till from the glaciers as they melted leaving behind clay, sand, pebbles, rocks and boulders, and the inner and sub-glacial deposits of the same mixture of materials resulting in eskers (deposits from holes or tunnels within the ice) and kames, the material in the fans, deltas and channels formed by the retreating glaciers leaving behind kettles, or deep depressions and holes – the kettle lakes of the Okanagan Valley.
But it is the third type of glacial deposit, the sediment within a glacial lake left behind as the shores of the lake retreated that is the most important for the richness of the soil in the Okanagan Valley. And the subsequent taste of its wines. But more on that, hopefully tomorrow. I have to get on my way if we are to get to Medicine Hat.