Full of beauty and anything but barren

Set in an endangered environment, the Osoyoos Desert Centre is a stunning and exciting place for visitors to explore the nature of the area

The native plants garden at the Osoyoos Desert Centre.
The native plants garden at the Osoyoos Desert Centre is a great place to check out flora that is indigenous to the area. — Photo courtesy Denise Eastlick

Arid, wild, barren, quiet, vast, stark, peaceful—these words are often used to describe deserts. Beautiful—that’s the word that Denise Eastlick uses repeatedly when she talks about the desert around her home.

“The ecosystem around Osoyoos is one of the foremost endangered in Canada. That alone makes it a very special habitat,” said Eastlick. She is the executive director of the Osoyoos Desert Society, a non-profit organization that works to conserve the desert habitat of the South Okanogan. 

Visitors to the landscape surrounding Osoyoos will find more than just a Canadian desert. The ecology of the area is unique to the very southern tip of the Okanogan Valley. 

A place to visit the Osoyoos desert

As part of its mandate, the Osoyoos Desert Society stewards 27 hectares (67 acres) that are open to the public as the Osoyoos Desert Centre. Visitors can take either a guided or self-guided tour through the conservation area along a wooden boardwalk. Admission also includes entrance to an interpretive centre and a garden featuring native plants.

Visitors to the Osoyoos Desert Centre can explore the conservation area via elevated wooden boardwalks.
Visitors to the Osoyoos Desert Centre can explore the conservation area via elevated wooden boardwalks. — Photo courtesy Denise Eastlick

“One of the names for the habitat here is the antelope brush ecosystem,” said Eastlick. “Antelope brush and sage brush are very indicative of the habitat. And then there's one native cactus species, and that's the brittle prickly pear. It typically blooms in June. Then throughout the spring and fall there are a number of other really beautiful plants that bloom, like the mariposa lily.” 

Wildlife and interpretive centre

The Desert Centre also has a new interpretive centre with fresh and interactive displays for visitors of all ages—and RV parking. 

Desert view with purple flower in foreground.
The unique environment surrounding Osoyoos, B.C., can be discovered at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. — Photo courtesy Denise Eastlick

“The focus of the exhibits in the interpretive centre is to introduce people to the plants and wildlife in the area,” said Eastlick. “So there are different hands-on exhibits and activities that focus on native birds here and native snakes, insects and mammals. So it's really to give people a sense of the wildlife and plants that are in the area.”

It’s not unusual for visitors to the Desert Centre to spot a Nuttall’s cottontail or one of the seven species of snakes that are indigenous to the area. The Desert Society doesn’t keep any captive wildlife, but there are breeding ponds for at-risk amphibians and a special habitat area for the endangered Behr's hairstreak butterfly. The area is also a paradise for bird lovers with lots of species to see around the Desert Centre.

No end to the desert beauty

Those who want to dive a little deeper into the ecology of Osoyoos might also want to stop at the Vaseux Lake Wildlife Centre and either the Linden or Summerland gardens. The Anarchist Mountain lookout provides a scenic panorama of the area while Spotted Lake is a popular phenomenon to view. RVers can stop at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre to learn more about the history, culture and nature of this fascinating place.

Whether visitors are nature buffs or just travellers with a sense of curiosity, a stay in Osoyoos provides a real treat.

“There's just so much natural beauty here, and a lot of diversity in terms of the habitat and the species,” said Eastlick. “This area really has a special appeal. When you visit, it really grabs you.”

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