Browne Lake Ecological Reserve

One of my first job interviews in the Okanagan took place at a group home for disabled young men, located high in the hills on McCulloch Road.  I remember the awe I felt as I drove to the house.  I couldn’t believe this was considered to be part of the city!  It was the first time I’d heard of Scenic Canyon, or Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, or the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, for that matter.  There was just so much up there to explore!  I visited the area a few times.  It was a very pleasant place to take a drive, especially in the early morning.  But every time I went, I was driven to distraction by what lay beyond the pavement of McCulloch Road.  

The sign says private property, no trespassing, entering West Bank First Nations.  But what did that mean?  Was it the property that was private, or the road?  I would stop in front of the gates and look down the road, desperately wanting to see where it led.  Each time, I would turn away, not wanting to overstep, and yet, incredibly disappointed.  

Remember a few weeks ago when I discovered that thing called “map”?  I decided to have a look and see what I could find out.  What I found was that the road led to a number of different places, including at least two that welcomed camping, and eventually exited onto Highway 33, east of Big White. That had to mean that the road was intended for public use!  I could take it, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn’t just driving down someone’s very long, private driveway.  I was on my way to the Browne Lake Ecological Reserve.

In spite of the fact that the rest of the week had been rainy, the sky was clear and blue on the morning of my journey.  I reached the top of McCulloch Road without much difficulty.  There was a small delay as there is a new community in the works and the road has been torn up.  Plenty of dust in the air.  But once I made it past the construction, all was good.  I was actually giddy with excitement.

I was not disappointed.  The road was very well-maintained, and the only reason I drove as slowly as I did was because I wanted to.  There was no traffic.  In fact, the only vehicles I saw the entire day were two ATV’s and a motorcycle.  I was in heaven.

View from the road, lined with Wild Roses

The wildflowers are in full bloom, varied and abundant.  

Tiger Lily

When I’m on the road I like to turn off my stereo and open the windows wide, usually so I can hear the birds. I wasn’t expecting such a powerful smell.  At one point along the way, the scent of wild roses was so overwhelming, it was as though I had walked into a florist’s shop.  

Brown-eyed Susans

I stopped to take a picture of some Brown-eyed Susans.  While I was stopped, a Columbian Ground Squirrel came over to see what I was up to.  Then the two mule deer I hadn’t even seen decided to move a little further along, although they did let me take a few photos first.  

Cedar Waxwing

Everything was gorgeous – the landscapes, the rock formations, the forest, the flowers, the birds and even the tree stumps.  I took photos of at least three different tree stumps because each of them looked like it had been landscaped by creatures with very different tastes.  

Split-level with Garden

There were chipmunks everywhere, criss-crossing the road, posing, having sex…. Yeah.  I didn’t realize what I was photographing until I looked at the pictures later.  I told Santana I had chipmunk porn and he made me promise never to say those two words out loud again.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk not Engaged in Coitus

Eventually I reached the turnoff.  Browne Lake was on one side, and Fish Lake was on the other.  I chose to go to Browne Lake. 

Warning Sign

I was very excited by the sign posted at the entrance, although in hindsight, I’m not sure if it was referring to real wolves or a group of campers that call themselves the wolf pack.  Either way, it was hard to understand why someone would bring a goat to an area frequented by wolves.  Or why someone would bring a goat camping at all.  But there it was, wandering the campground, wearing a collar.  Very strange.

Browne Lake is beautiful.  As soon as I got out of the van, a bald eagle flew over the lake.  To my left was a quiet, pond-like section of the lake complete with lily pads and of course, Yellow Water Lilies.  

Yellow Water Lilies

Just then I heard the call of a loon and I was completely lost in the moment.  Such beauty!

Common Loon

I decided to follow a small road to the far side of the lake where there were cabins.  

View of Browne Lake

Freija Fritillary (Boloria freija)

I reached the cabins, all of which appeared to be private. The road kept going.  It was definitely rougher, but I didn’t stop.  I thought I would eventually reach a gate and have to turn around, but it didn’t happen.  The trees here were so thick that there was no green on the forest floor.  The road was narrow, rocky and rutted, but I’d driven worse.  Browne Lake was somewhere beyond the trees to my left.  On my right was another body of water that could only be Fish Lake.  Somehow, I had ended up in between the two of them.  Fish Lake was more pond-like and marshy, covered with lily pads and families of Greater Scaup.  I started to wonder how long it would be before this road reconnected with the main road.  I pulled out my phone to look at the map, laughing to discover that I wasn’t on a marked road at all.  My tiny blue dot was just drifting in the forest green between the two lakes.

Snowshoe Hare

A short while and a Snowshoe Hare later, I rejoined the main road, making a stop at Hydraulic Lake where I learned a little about Andrew McCulloch and the Kettle Valley Rail.  From Hydraulic Lake it is just a short distance to Highway 33.  Just before the exit, I came to an intersection.  The sign said Okanagan Falls Forestry Road.”  Does that mean…?  Is it…?

Now I’m going to have to go find out.  Put the coffee on, Faye, I’m coming over.  I just don’t know how long it will take me to get there.

Author: Featherstone Creative

Sally Quon is a photographer and writer living in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, where she is blessed to live, love and grow on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx people. Her photography has appeared in Canadian Geographic Magazine and in Nature Alberta’s various birding brochures. Sally was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul - The Forgiveness Fix and was long listed for the Vallum Chapbook Award. She is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. One of her photos was chosen for inclusion in the Photographer’s Forum “Best of 2018” Collection. She has two beautiful, almost grown children and a cat who loves her.

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