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Okanagan Utopia

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

“Most of the time we have perfect weather for the apple harvest, but if we get any hail,
we’re picking for juice,” says tour operator Rick Schmidt. The Kelowna Land & Orchard
Company, one of the largest commercial apple orchards in Canada, offers educational
hay-wagon tours of its facility. Row after row of tiny white-blossomed Granny Smith and
Royal Gala apple trees cover the rolling hills as visitors are treated to tidbits of
information regarding fruit culture, harvest and production. “These are considered
high-density trees, which are more productive – in fact, we average 200 apples per tree,”
Schmidt explains. Started in 1904, the Kelowna Land & Orchard Company grows top-quality
fruit on 200,000 trees, all of which is picked by hand. In fact, the pickers wear gloves
with sponges on the fingers to avoid bruising the fruit with their nails. It takes seven to
10 years for the trees to become fully productive, but it’s definitely worth it. Both apple
orchards and vineyards are big businesses in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
Nestled between the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Monashee Mountains to the east,
the Okanagan Valley stretches a total of 124 miles north from the town of Osoyoos. The
Okanagan Valley is also British Columbia’s oldest and primary grape-growing region.
Distinct microclimates occur throughout the valley, from the hot and sandy desert soils in
the southern valley to the cooler vineyard sites in the north, with their deep topsoil and
clay. Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, pinot gris and pinot noir grow in the south,
while pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are grown in the
mid- and northern-regions, some left to freeze on the vine for the region’s famed ice
wines. These are concentrated, sweet dessert wines often served in chocolate shot glasses.
Wine tasting is a year-round activity in the valley, where summertime temperatures often
reach into the 90s. Spring and fall are typically moderate and comfortable, and winter
draws downhill and cross-country skiers. Kelowna, population 100,000, is the largest city
in the Okanagan and is ideally situated on Okanagan Lake, a paradise for travelers wanting
outdoor recreation, such as hiking, camping, fishing, boating, sailing or windsurfing.
Campgrounds, including Holiday Park Resort, Hiawatha RV Park and West Bay Beach Resort,
offer all the amenities. Numerous Provincial campgrounds suitable for RVs are located
throughout the area as well. With more than 40 golf courses to choose from, Kelowna and the
Okanagan Valley is a golfer’s mecca. Okanagan Lake, the largest body of water in the
Okanagan Valley, even comes with its own friendly lake monster, Ogopogo. The Shushwap
Natives called it Naitaka, or “long fish.” Years later, they called it Ogopogo, taken from
this ditty: “His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale, a little bit of head and
hardly any tail…and Ogopogo was his name.” Over the years, people around Okanagan Lake
have often reported sightings of a serpentlike creature. Scientists theorize that Ogopogo
may be the ancient zeuglodon that has been extinct for millions of years. There is a slight
possibility that a population survived the extinction period and may be dwelling in the
waters. Other possible sources of the sightings include long eels, seals, trapped whales or
debris from underwater. In any case, against all efforts to explain Ogopogo, the legend of
the Okanagan’s friendly lake monster continues. Modeled after the legendary beast, an
amphibious craft named the LarcNess MonsTour will take you on a short land tour, splash
into Lake Okanagan, then emerge out of the water for another short land jaunt. Guided tours
aboard this vintage Vietnam War-era car/boat, originally designed as a military resupply
craft, last approximately one hour. Settled by Europeans in 1859, Kelowna (which means
grizzly bear in Salish) is the Okanagan Valley’s first pioneer settlement. The city is
accessed by a floating bridge midway up the lake. Over the next few days during our
springtime RVing trip, we taste-tested our way around Kelowna’s wineries. Besides its wide
array of wines – red, white, sparkling and dessert – Summerhill Estate Winery has two of
the most-striking visual oddities in the valley. Wine from the organically grown grapes is
aged in a gigantic cement-framed pyramid. Inside the pyramid (a scaled-down version of the
Giza model), a constant temperature is maintained no matter what the weather is outside.
Owner Stephen Cipes swears the positive energy created by his pyramid makes for a better
bottle of wine. This may be why hundreds of visitors a day visit Cipes’ winery,
wine-tasting shop and bistro. On the other side of the winery, alongside a sunny deck with
a commanding view of Okanagan Lake, is a fiberglass sculpture that staffers say is the
most-photographed object in the Okanagan Valley. Seemingly suspended in midair, a
15-foot-tall champagne bottle pours bubbly into a 7-foot-tall glass. A wide variety of
cottage industries featuring specialty foods and plants have begun throughout the valley in
the past few years. Family-owned and operated, Caramoomel is a 20-acre enterprise that
started out with a small orchard, and whose original product was caramel. Now, owner
Catalina Dudka, with her mother’s help, prepares and distributes gourmet food spreads, such
as veggie caviar, hot-ginger apple butter, ice-wine jelly, gourmet mustards and antipasto,
which were all taken from her Ukranian-Greek grandmother’s cherished recipes. If you like
jams, jellies, compotes and fruit spreads, stop at The Jammery. Located on seven acres, it
specializes in three lines of jam: liquors added, no-sugar-added and fruit-stand grade.
Name your fruit – kiwis, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, Saskatoon berries,
peaches, plums, cherries – you’ll find it here. Owner Bill Morrison says his most-popular
variety is jalapeño-pepper jelly, and he has his eye on a new line of ginger products.
Devonshire cream, homemade flan, scones and apple-crumble pie are featured for breakfast,
lunch and afternoon tea at the adjoining tearoom. At the Lavender Herb Farm, 27 varieties
of the fragrant plant cover the rolling hills. You’ll want to try one of the bath products,
edible jellies or cake mixtures featuring the lovely blue herb. For a change of pace, ride
the rails of the Okanagan Valley Wine Train. These handsomely restored railcars make a
100-mile round-trip from Kelowna to Vernon. The rail trip lasts 90 minutes, and there is a
2 ½-hour stopover in Vernon for a dinner package, including a Las Vegas-style show. The
Okanagan Valley, with its beautiful vineyards and orchards, mild weather and quality of
life has become an increasingly popular RV destination.

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