Alpine wildflowers in full bloom fuse the eye and the heart in exhilaration. Wildflowers have the same effect as do firework displays on me–year after year they inspire the same astonishment though I’ve seen them before. I’m a sucker for spectacular.
Now, I enjoy a good polychromatic spectacle as much as the next person, but I actually felt a strong urge know these flowers properly. There’s a big difference between reporting seeing “pretty flowers” and reporting actual names. When you name something, you know it better and more intimately. This blog is the result of my desire to know–-and therefore show respect for–-these delicate and yet hardy alpine flowers.
I love mountains. I feel less alive if I don’t experience towering mountains that put my existence into proper perspective. Every so often, I want to feel that I am actually a small and insignificant thing in the universe. There is no better peace-centered therapy than being bereft of technology and electronic connectivity whilst immersed in grand mountains.
This year I listened sympathetically to the yearning in my heart for mountains; I made plans to explore and hike in search of wildflowers. I had to see the delicate blooms for myself–fluttering in the breeze, clinging in high winds to scraps of soil on a pitched slope, surviving storms and hail, trod on by hooves and feet, and scorched by sun in the thin mountain air.
I knew I could find alpine wildflower displays around the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” (an official state government designation), Crested Butte . As a result of the earth’s millions-old orbit around the sun, and the near-miraculously right balance of soil, climate, and water systems working in sync, flowers in this section of the Colorado Rockies bloom into maturity in the middle of July. The town of Crested Butte has created an annual July “Wildflower Festival” to draw people into the area to visit this natural spectacle.
Hike and Seek
Armed with camera, intrepid hiking friend and geologist, a humble wildflower pamphlet that I requested from–and was mailed to me by–the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, we set off to find wildflowers down the West Maroon Pass Trail. This is one section of a longer circuit trail which goes over four different high mountain passes, and it goes from Aspen to Crested Butte. We pitched tents at Crater Lake, then continued hiking on to the top of the pass. Along the trail we hit different patches of wildflowers, which we found are dependent on a variety of geographic factors including the soil quality, available shade, the relative availability of water and soil moisture, slope orientation, altitude, and wind exposure. It was interesting to compare different patches of the same flower to note for example, that one patch looked more healthy and vigorous than another, or that the blooms appeared to be just beginning in one area while they were farther along in maturity in another area.
We scrambled around apron slopes of scree where rock boulders the size of rooms were precariously piled. We hiked along marshy areas, around glacial meltwater streams, and near stands of aspen trees. We found meadows ablaze with delicate blooms, rolling as a sea of color— sometimes predominantly one species, sometimes multi-colored patchworks. At other spots after a particularly calf-burning stretch of trail ascending, we were glad to come upon a small bunch of shocking color growing in a rocky crack to pause and catch our breath. (At altitudes of 10,000 feet when you are not habituated, this is a lovely reason to pause the hike!)
Color-coded Picture Galleries of Wildflowers
I’ve created color-categorized galleries of flower pictures I took below. Clicking on any image will launch a full-size gallery.
Red Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- Kings Crown
- Twin Berry (shrub)
- Western Red Columbine
- Scarlet Giliad
White Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- White Geranium
- Rocky Mountain Townsendia
- Marsh Marigold
Yellow Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- Heartleaf Arnica
- Showy Cinquefoil (shrub)
- Cinquefoil (varileaf)
- Mule’s Ear Sunflower
- Alpine Sunflower
- Glacier Lily
- Orange Sneezeweed
Orange Wildflowers (Click to view full-size image)
- Wyoming Paintbrush
Blue Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- Flax, blue
- Blue bells
Purple Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- Showy Fleabane
- Silvery Lupine
- Moss Campion
- Whipple Penstemon
Pink Wildflowers (Click any image to launch a full-sized gallery)
- Rosy Paintbrush
- Wild rose
- Moss Campion
Green-ish Wildflowers (Click to view full-size image)
Please drop me a line: Do you like knowing flowers more closely by naming them? Which ones are your favorites? Did I mis-name any of the flowers?