The sky's no limit when it comes to beautiful sights, even on the shortest days of the year.
There are times when the scale of things in Okanogan Country can feel a little imposing. The jagged complexity of the Cascades, or the oceanic rush of the Columbia River. Breathtaking for sure, but on a scale sometimes staggering to the imagination. Which is why late fall into early winter is such a perfect time of year to plan your next visit.
As the days get shorter, things tend to slow down. The contrasts sharpen. Shadows darken, the horizon broadens to its true dimensions, and wherever you look – whether up, down, or just outside your door – the composite details of this most overlooked time of year begin to emerge.
Take for example the stars.
As Washington state’s premier “dark skies” destination, stargazing in Okanogan Country is as much a part of the lifestyle as cowboy boots and running shoes. Nightfall comes early in autumn and by the middle of November darkness stretches out from before dinner to after breakfast. Local astronomer Dave Ward describes the panorama as so complex and enormous that “our minds simply cannot grasp the vastness of it all.”
Throughout these dark nights, meteor showers, northern lights and unbelievably full moons await you. The Milky Way, along with planetary neighbors like Saturn, Mars and Venus, or star clusters like Orion and the Big and Little Dippers, are all readily visible to the naked eye. They are best enjoyed with long, quiet soaks in a hot tub at Sun Mountain Lodge, or while sipping hot chocolate under warm sleigh blankets at Eden Valley Guest Ranch.
Daylight changes the game but only slightly. Bird-watching this time of year is vastly underappreciated. Ragged skeins of Canada geese trail overhead. Owls, golden-crowned sparrows, rough-legged hawks and other raptors arrive to take up their winter residence among the cliffs and coulees of the drainages. Northern goshawk, grosbeaks, mountain chickadees and Bohemian waxwings come down out of the mountains to overwinter in the temperate elevations and shrub steppes. If you discover a dropped feather, this fabulous Feather Atlas from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will help you quickly find out if you found the feather of a dusky grouse or a ruffed grouse. Recruit the kids to do the sleuthing.
When everyone tires of the birds and binoculars, it’s time to look down and “read the stories” all around.
According to David Moskowitz, certified tracker and local biologist, there are few experiences more magical and compelling than sleuthing out signs of our wild relatives. Getting started is easy. Just pull over at one of the many Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife areas throughout the county. Step out of the car, stretch a bit, and wander anywhere. You will soon discover ample evidence of the astonishingly varied community of mammals, reptiles and invertebrates whose busy and purposeful lives take place wherever you look.
Deer tracks are, of course, everywhere. But look a little longer and you’ll begin to notice more: squirrels, mice, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, bears and coyotes appear. The luckiest might find the more rare tracks of moose, bobcats, cougars, beaver, pine martens or elk.
To make it even more exciting, download this little printable tracking guide from the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife and bring it along. Before you know it, you’ll be able to identify “bounders, walkers, trotters and waddlers” with the best of them!
Adventure comes both big and little in Okanogan Country. Come and see for yourself. And bring the family.
For those interested in learning more about the night sky, bird-watching, or tracking in Okanogan Country, go to www.OkanoganCountry.com/big-adventures. Night sky classes with skilled astronomers also take place throughout the county during different parts of the year.