Wilderness Wanderings: Wildflowers peaking in the Flat Tops | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Wildflowers peaking in the Flat Tops

Last Saturday was Flat Tops Day for Friends of Wilderness and we had more than 30 volunteers hiking on various trails in the Flat Tops while talking with hikers and searching for and rehabbing illegal campsites. We also found the alpine meadows in full wildflower bloom despite abnormally dry conditions.

Volunteers hiked Mandell Lakes Trail and the three from the trailhead at Stillwater Reservoir — Derby, Bear River and 1119 to the Devil’s Causeway.

Several of those hiking Derby up toward Hooper Lake were lucky to have in their company Emily Seaver, formerly president of Yampa River Botanic Park. This group with Seaver’s help was able to identify 30 wildflower species along the trail.

Volunteer Laura Faulk takes the pen from here.

“I was familiar with the splashes of color in red, pink, magenta, fushia, yellow and white of the Indian paintbrush, the blue of the lupine, the purple-pink of the fireweed, and the yellow yarrow,” Faulk said. “But I also learned about some other flowers, new to me.

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We saw tall-stemmed, small white flowers spread on a number of thin stalks with a lily leaf which were identified as camus.  A little farther up the trail we identified its cousin, the death camus, yes poisonous.  The death camus was shorter and actually had prettier flowers.  Oh well.

Sticking with the poisonous flowers, we saw monkshood – dark purple flowers along a tall stalk. Yes, the name comes from the appearance of the hooded flowers, climbing up the stalk.

We identified several flowers in the wort family which were used by the native people, lousewort and sickletop lousewort.  These were white flowers on a single stalk, with pretty petals on the sickletop louse wort which looked like their common name, the parrot’s beak. 

Passing through a woody section we were pleasantly surprised when Nancy Kellogg found wood nymphs.  Low to the ground — 2 inches tall — with their heads hung down, the nymphs hid their very pretty small white flowers.  We had to look closely to find these flowers, also known as shy maidens. 

While hiking along the creek we were greeted with color by tall chiming bell in blue, elephant heads and queens crown in pink and bog orchids in white. All these flowers you would expect along the creek or in a marsh as they need wet feet.

Since we were hiking slowly to observe all the flowers, a pair of pine grosbeaks showed off for us. I usually think of pine grosbeaks as pink, but the male had a bright red head and rump along with his grey and white body and wings.  The female was mostly grey with a pale yellow cap and rump. 

They hopped along the trail ahead of us, then flew short distances first on one side of the trail, then the other.  They certainly made sure we got a good view of them.”

Oh, back to those campsites. Our count was 41 illegal and legal sites rehabbed, and we carried out two bags of trash and a bag of charcoal.

Please, please, when you camp in the backcountry, follow Leave Not Trace practices. If you pack it in, carry it back out. Bury your body waste and tissue with it. And naturalize the fire ring if you use one.

Note however, the entire Routt National Forest and surrounding areas is under a Stage 1 fire ban due to the dry conditions. No open fires until further notice.

Bob Korch is president and 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, visit friendsofwilderness.com.

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