Before the Canada Day long weekend began, Jon, my partner and Crwth’s videographer, and I headed out to record some video at Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. Our goal was to promote Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, by Karen Autio and illustrated by Loraine Kemp, but we got an amazing trip in the bargain. We arrived in the Okanagan late Wednesday night and spent the night in a hotel in Penticton.
In the morning we headed to Kelowna. As we drove the highway that follows the shore of Lake Okanagan, I looked out across the water at the dry mountainside, wondering how we would fare on the inhospitable looking landscape. In Kelowna, illustrator Loraine Kemp delivered us to the trailhead. We were loaded with food for two days and enough water to get us to the lake.
The hike started with a climb. With my pack and my out-of-shape legs, I wondered at first if I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I pressed on, hoping it would get better. It did. The trail soon evened out and we wandered along through an awe-inspiring canyon that eventually opened up into grassland. Along the way we had a brief encounter with a rattlesnake.
The hike to our campsite took us on a descent along the hills that had appeared inhospitable from the other side of the water. The hills were dry, yes, but also rich in plant and animal life. There were Saskatoon berries, black raspberries, mariposa lilies, and many birds.
We made it down to Commando Bay, named after the Chinese-Canadians who were secretly trained in guerrilla fighting techniques there during the Second World War, and we set up our tent beside the lake. It was early to bed that first night.
In the morning we hiked back up the hill to record video in the canyon, stopping as we went to capture gorgeous views of Okanagan Lake and the surrounding hillside. We traipsed through the grass amidst ponderosa pine and aspen with leaves that trembled in the breeze. Tucked out of sight from the lake, this grassland was teeming with life. Birds raised families and deer fed on tender underbrush. The air hummed with insect life.
After capturing what we could from within the canyon, we took the south trail up into the hills, looking for a vista of the canyon. A short climb off trail gave us what we were looking for. The black trees, the burned remains of the 2003 Kelowna fires, contrasted with the lush green of the grass and shrubbery. And the view from above made it clear that the canyon was a special protected place that provided everything a herd of wild horses would need to survive. I imagined what it must have been like to look down from these hills and see horses grazing peacefully among the trees.
It was a quick trip, and the next day we hiked out, stopping occasionally to capture a new vista on video. Much of the canyon was boggy and wet, a biological paradise. We made our way quickly, though, as the boggy sections were home to a thriving mosquito community.
We were met at the trailhead by author Karen Autio and illustrator Loraine Kemp and headed back to Loraine’s home for some snacks and a debriefing. These women hiked and boated into Wild Horse Canyon several times in their research for the book.
When I decided to publish the book, I thought it was a great idea, a history of a small parcel of land told from the perspective of one tree. After visiting the place, I am more excited about the project than ever. Wild Horse Canyon is one of B.C.’s treasures, a landscape with a storied history, and the book captures everything that makes this place unique.
Want to learn more about Wild Horse Canyon? Check out Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon by Karen Autio, illustrated by Loraine Kemp.