Please Take the Path to the Right
The stops along your tour are marked with Yellow Rocks. Follow each stop by clicking the link below or scrolling down the page. Enjoy your tour.
For your safety and to protect the habitat, please
• Stay on the boardwalk at all times.
• Refrain from smoking—the risk of fire is extremely high.
• Be careful not to litter.
Thank you for your cooperation.
The Osoyoos Desert Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the endangered antelope-brush ecosystem in the South Okanagan. Through education, we aim to generate public knowledge, respect and active concern for fragile and endangered habitats worldwide.
Please Take the Path to the Right
At first glance, the desert landscape may look lifeless to you. But, if you look closely, you can see proof of the thousands of species of plants and animals that live here. Many of them are endangered, such as the badger, the gopher snake and the pallid bat. Others leave behind evidence of their daily (or nightly) activities—look at the holes in the ground and tracks in the sand. You may even see bits of a coyote’s midnight snack left behind … some indigestible feathers or fur, maybe some bones.
There are thousands of animals right here around you but, for the most part, you can’t see them. They are hiding (wildlife is wild!) or keeping cool underground or in the shade.
Notice the large, dark green antelope-brush (Purshia tridentata) around you. This plant is like an ice-berg because most of it exists under-ground in a huge root system. These roots can absorb water from 15 feet below the surface! Mule deer browse on these bushes.
Look for camouflaged cottontail rabbits hiding in the bushes. It is harder for hungry gopher snakes and red-tailed hawks to see them when the cottontails don't move.
Look closely for a large hole about five feet from the boardwalk. What dug this hole?
This close cousin to the wolverine is a born digger, with front claws that can be over two inches long. Who am I? A badger!
Badgers have a second, clear eyelid that prevents dirt from getting into their eyes while they dig.
The American badger is not as fierce as you think! Just like any wild animal, when threatened it will put on a great show of ferocity. Its sharp teeth and long claws give the badger a formidable image.
Badgers need to travel great distances in order to hook up with other badgers (nudge, nudge), and to find food, water and shelter. Unfortunately, this is the main reason why badgers are endangered—all that traveling means they need to cross many roads. Cars are their number one killer.
One hundred and eighty six species that depend upon this habitat for survival are at risk or endangered.
The biggest threats to species survival here are agriculture, urban development and the introduction of noxious weeds.
Dalmatian Toadflax. Bio-control agents have been introduced into this habitat to help control this invasive weed.
Web of Life
The burrowing owl uses abandoned badger dens to live in. Because there are so few badgers left, there are fewer and fewer dens for the owls. As a result, burrowing owls are also an endangered species (in fact, they are locally extinct in the South Okanagan).
Artificial burrows must be created for burrowing owls.
If disturbed in the nest, baby burrowing owls will imitate the sound of a rattlesnake to scare danger away!
How does anything manage to live in this harsh environment, where there is no water, no air conditioning and lots of wind? Only the toughest survive here. Being able to adapt to the harsh climate is a matter of life and death. Things that have legs or wings (like coyotes, rabbits, insects and birds) can physically remove themselves from the heat by burrowing, hiding in the shade or moving up into the mountains. They can also move to the lake or to a stream to find water. Insects have hard shells that help them to conserve moisture.
But how about the things that can’t move, such as sagebrush, cacti and bunchgrass?
These plants survive because of their extensive root systems, their light reflective color, or tiny moisture-collecting hairs on their leaves. Bunchgrasses grow in bunches so that when it does rain here, the water is funneled straight down to the roots.
A Different Kind Of Sssssurvival
What about snakes? They can’t dig, they don’t sweat and they have no insulating fur or feathers. Snakes are amazing because they can live in the desert despite being ectothermic (which means their body temperature varies with the environment). Snakes cannot get too hot or too cold, or they will die. If it is 40 degrees Celsius outside, it’s too hot for a snake to be sitting out in the sun.
During the hot summer months, snakes need to seek cool shade underneath a rock or in a gopher hole.
During the winter, snakes gather in a 'hibernacula' or den with specific requirements for survival, such as high humidity and above-freezing temperature.
Rattlesnakes will hunt you down and bite you because they love to eat people!
Actually the Western rattlesnake is quite a shy and timid reptile. It prefers to retreat when faced with a human and will only strike as a last resort.
HINT: Don’t pick up snakes! This frightens them and they might defend themselves by striking. Only about three bites happen each year in the province, and usually these occur because the person picked up or harassed the snake.
The Great Basin pocket mouse doesn’t drink water. In order to survive in the dry desert, it stores antelope-brush seeds in its burrow. As the mouse breathes, the condensation from its breath gets soaked up by the seeds. When the mouse eats the seeds, it gets the water it needs.
Change Over Time
Fruit growing and wine production are among the main economic resources of this area. Unfortunately, habitat for desert species is shrinking because lots of land and water are needed for this agriculture.
Thankfully, some progressive local wineries and orchards are keeping corridors of native habitat intact on their land. These strips of land allow desert species to travel through agricultural areas to connect to other patches of habitat, to search for food, shelter or a mate. You can see how narrow the valley is, and species can generally only migrate north and south through this “bottleneck”. It is important to keep corridors open so species can travel, especially in response to climate change.
Noxious weeds are also a huge threat to this ecosystem. Introduced weeds produce mil-lions of seeds and adapt very well to hot, dry conditions. As a result, native plants are choked out of their habitats and insects and other parts of the web of life are negatively affected.
At the current rate of land development, our desert will completely disappear within 20 years. Only 4% of this ecosystem is conserved and less than 30% of the original habitat is left.
We’re sure you’ve noticed the cactus by now! It’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis)—the only native cactus in the Okanagan. Some of the cacti are red because they are dormant. In order to protect themselves from freezing during the winter, the cacti lose their water in the fall. Once this happens, photosynthesis stops and the plants turn red or purple.
In the spring, most cacti absorb water again, plump up and turn green. They will bloom (a big orangey-yellow flower) during late June.
The spines are very sharp and strong. When the end of the spine pricks through your skin, the moisture makes the sharp end curl so that it hooks on to you. This is how the cactus gets around. (And yes, it hurts!)
MISSING: Sand Dunes
When you came to the desert, you were probably expecting to see a lot of sand. Well, here it is! Actually, there’s lots of sand here but it is hidden underneath all the vegetation.
There is one special component of the desert that we haven’t shown you yet—it’s called the biotic crust. This crust is what helps keep the vegetation alive in the desert. It retains moisture for plants, transfers nutrients into the soil below, and allows bunchgrass seeds to hold on to the ground for germination.
What does it look like?
Drop a little bit of water on the ground. Notice how the ground turns a bright green or vibrant brown? Although the crust just looks like dried-up moss when dry, it is made up of about 27 different species.
The biotic crust is very fragile and is easily bro-ken down. When the crust is disturbed, it can take generations to re-grow. That’s why we built this boardwalk … we are trying to protect the crust. Without it, we would have nothing but sand dunes here!
At the end of the last ice age, the very place where you are standing was covered in thou-sands of feet of ice. When the glacier melted 10,000 years ago, it left behind the sandy benches that you are now standing on. This is one desert characteristic. We also experience lots of wind (and evaporation), high temperatures and little precipitation. Desert indicators like the darkling beetle and antelope-brush also define this area.
What will the desert look like in the future? Climate studies show that this area will become even more dry and hot. The grasslands will expand as thirsty trees die. This is one important reason why we need to save the desert now: the tough species that live here are the “gene bank” for an uncertain future.
We hope you have enjoyed your tour. We especially hope that you have gained (if you didn’t already have one) an appreciation for our special desert and for the amazing, adaptable critters that call it home. Be sure to stop in at the Interpretive Centre to check out our interactive displays and sign our guest book.
This habitat is one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada, and we need your help to save it.
Become a member of the Osoyoos Desert Society!
Every donation helps so much.
Thank you for coming to visit us.
Phone: (250) 495-2470
Toll free: 1-877-899-0897
Site by A