The Spotted Lake of Osoyoos

8 June 2014

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A short ride northwest of the small Canadian town of Osoyoos there is a body of water which has come to be known in English as Spotted Lake.  It is believed to be the most mineralized lake on the planet with 365 ‘circles’ – one for each day of the year – in a myriad of shapes, sizes and depths. It is an extraordinary natural phenomenon.

It is called by the Ki lil xw (pronounced Kliluk) by the Okanagan, one of the aboriginal peoples in Canada collectively called the First Nations.  For them, it is a sacred medicine lake and their people have been coming to the lake in search of cures for various ailments for centuries.  There are hundreds of ceremonial cairns surrounding the lake, many of which are so old that they have been buried by time.

The Okanagan used the lake as a spa, effectively, soaking away their aches and pains in its healing waters.  One story in their oral history has a battle between tribes coming to a halt and a truce being called so that both sides could tend their wounded in the lake.

Image Credit Flickr User Bryanh
Image Credit Flickr User Calyspo Orchid
As the heat of the summer rises, most of the water in the lake evaporates which leaves behind large mineral deposits, easily visible with the naked eye – the spots for which the lake is so famous.  They appear different in color because of their various mineral compositions.  They are mainly made of magnesium sulfate – popularly known as Epsom salts - which crystallize in the summer. It is said that the lake has the highest natural concentration of this mineral in the world.

During the driest periods of the year the lake is without any liquid at all.  The area around the spots could be walked through – although this is strictly forbidden. Yet what little there may be is sometimes tasted by the local wildlife.  It is doubtful whether this bear’s thirst was satisfied by these waters, however.

Image Credit Flickr User bryanh
Even in the depths of winter you can just about make out, through the snow, the dimples which form the circles.

Image Credit Flickr User Tim Gage
It also has high concentrations of both calcium and sodium sulphate as well massive levels of 8 other minerals.  Furthermore, it contains both silver and titanium.  It must have been galling for the Okanagan then, when during the First World War these materials were taken from the lake in large quantities in order to manufacture munitions for the largest military conflict the world had ever seen up to that point.  Rather than being used for healing, they were used to help kill.

Image Credit Flickr User Jeremyok
Image Credit Flickr User Calypso Orchid
Little wonder then, that the First Nations have since then been keen to both preserve and own the land and the lake.  Yet that did not happen for many years.  The last owners of European descent, the Smith family, were reluctant to sell, wishing instead to make the lake in to a spa.  Finally, in 2001 a deal was struck when the family relinquished their hold on the lake and the land around it and Ki lil xw reverted to its original guardians.

Image Credit Flickr User popejon2
Image Credit Flickr User Houston Marsh
As the site is both culturally and ecologically sensitive the lake and its environs are protected.  At the moment the lake is fenced but it is hoped that there will eventually be an information kiosk and a fully developed lookout point from which interested tourists can view the lake without interfering with its delicate natural balance and the historic, sacred cairns of the Okanagan which are beyond valuation.

Image Credit Flickr User bryanh
First Image Credit Flickr User Bryan Hughes


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