Wilderness Wanderings: Mountain meadows awash in wildflowers | SteamboatToday.com
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Wilderness Wanderings: Mountain meadows awash in wildflowers

Bob Korch
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Whereas spring offers a large variety of wildflowers best enjoyed up close, late summer features fewer varieties but mass blooms better viewed from afar.

That’s especially the case now in Alpine meadows around 9,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. But go quickly lest the drought or an early frost shortens the flowers’ bloom.

I personally was stunned last week at the mass blooms in bright yellow, different shades of purple and red while hiking along 1101/Continental Divide Trail/Wyoming Trail from Summit Lake at the top of Buffalo Pass. 

It made for an enjoyable trek on our way to Newcomb Creek Trail where we cleared fallen trees. Lunch was at Round Mountain Lake, 4.5 miles from the trailhead. 

I’m guessing that the yellow flowers are old-man-of-the-mountain because I didn’t take the time to get close nor snap individual pictures for identification.

Fellow volunteer Dan Delmar’s favorites are the purple elephant heads.  They’re named because of their dense racemes of flowers, each perfectly shaped, like little elephant heads. Yes, if you’ve never seen one, they each include a small trunk and ears. 

We also saw purple asters and red paintbrush on our trip.

Over by Dumont Lake, Dick Grant saw a mass display of purple fireweed along with a few columbines still blooming along with paintbrush and asters.

Another volunteer, Nancy Kellogg was social distancing with her husband Howard on South Fork Trail where they saw not one other person while riding their horses.

Know before you go

Local Wilderness Managers are seeing record numbers of people using the national forest this summer. Thus, it is imperative that users understand and practice Leave No Trace backcountry ethics as well as follow regulations posted at each trailhead. In other words: take only pictures, leave only memories.

Of note: no camping within 100 feet of streams, lakes and trails. Exceptions include Gilpin, Gold Creek and Three Island lakes where the no camping regulation extends to one-quarter mile of shoreline.

Last but not least, we are in Stage 1 campfire restrictions which mean absolutely no fires in the backcountry. As Smoky Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

Nancy took the time to identify a dozen different species on South Fork. These included lupine, red paintbrush, western yellow paintbrush, monkshead, showy daisy, potentilla, pearly everlasting, parsnipflower buckwheat, fireweed, harebell, pinedrops and explorer’s gentian. 

Volunteers Susan and Jerry Albers saw that the meadows of yellow flowers were past peak while hiking Mandell Lakes Trail. However, they identified an assortment of others including pink and purple tansy asters, blue chiming bells, harebells, wild geranium and fairy trumpet.

If you head now for the mountain meadows you shouldn’t be disappointed. There will be blooms of some variety waiting for you.

Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, go to friendsofwilderness.com.


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