Romancing Canada's only desert in Osoyoos, B.C.
Out in the desert, the burrowing owl is always the star. This evening the statement is double entendre. There really is a live burrowing owl called Pluto perched atop Lauren Meads' hand being the cutest little envoy you can image for the Romancing the Desert event.
Meantime, brand ambassador Sophie Laurent is posing amongst the sage and antelope brush hoisting a glass of pinot gris from, you guessed it, Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver, B.C. The winery takes its name from the tiny bird of prey, which, naturally, lives and breeds in underground burrows.
It also shares Canada's only desert with other species such as badgers and marmots (which kindly dig the burrows), rattle snakes, coyotes, mule deer, black- widow spiders, scorpions and prickly-pear cactus.
"Canada's only desert here in Osoyoos is a rare, fragile and endangered ecosystem," Osoyoos Desert Centre chairwoman Lee McFadyen tells my wife and I as we romance the desert.
"We really should have more events like this to raise awareness and money for it."
The event of which she speaks is Romancing the Desert, an annual alfresco soiree in August at the centre. It features dinner at tables set right out in the desert and then a wander along the 1.5 kilometre boardwalk to further indulge at wine and treat stations.
While the fundraiser is only once a year, you can romance the desert anytime you want with an eco-savvy getaway to Osoyoos. The town of 5,000 is at the southern end of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley at the Canada-U.S. border. The so-called Pocket Desert that stretches 60 kilometres from Osoyoos to Penticton is the northernmost outpost of the Sonoran and Great Basin deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada.
And it is indeed a true desert with its sandy soil, dry scrub, long, hot summers, 2,039 hours of sunshine a year and less than 10 inches (25 centimetres) of rain annually.
Desert in Osoyoos' case doesn't mean barren and inhospitable. In fact, just the opposite. The Pocket Desert is the best of both worlds with hot, dry summers, Canada's warmest lake (14-kilometer-long Osoyoos Lake), water sports galore, orchards, vineyards and wineries and desert-inspired accommodations and cuisine.
Of course, my wife and I have a dip in Osoyoos Lake and it does indeed feel every bit the 26C it's touted as being in August. We access this pool of perfection off the private beach of Spirit Ridge at Nk'Mip Resort, where we are staying. The path from the resort to the lake is through irrigated Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.
The grapes love the sand-gravel-loam soil of the desert. The 4.5-star, 226-suite Spirit Ridge is owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band and has many nods to the desert and Aboriginal culture with its southwest architecture and Native art.
The seared scallops for dinner the night before in the resort's Mika restaurant were paired with Dream Catcher white wine from adjacent Nk'Mip, Canada's first Aboriginal-owned winery. We also venture away from the resort to Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver for tastings and lunch on the patio at Miradoro. B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame chef Jeff Van Geest serves up truffle, burratta cheese and zucchini flower pizza from the wood-fired oven matched to Tinhorn's rose.
Warm, sated and drinking in the vineyard and Valley view from the patio we declare: We love the desert.