We’re in the middle of summer, that season I’ve waited for all year. All those December dreams of dahlias, March musings of marigolds—and now it’s too hot to go outside! A friend and I have been planning, then delaying, a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens for several weeks, hoping for a cooler day that will allow for a more enjoyable visit and better photos. Meanwhile, what’s a sweaty flower lover to do?
Head for the hills!
Last Saturday my husband and I drove up the highest paved road in the U.S. to the top of the highest mountain in Colorado (Mt. Evans, at an elevation of 14, 265 feet). Forking over our $10 at the toll gate, we headed up the curves and switchbacks. And just above tree line, at somewhere around the 12,000 ft. mark, we came to the parking lot and mini-visitor’s center for Mount Goliath, one of Denver Botanic Gardens’ satellite locations.
Everywhere we looked, wildflowers bloomed. Even my non-gardening husband, who thinks all flower are “pretty” and pretty much the same, was impressed. (Although he was more interested in the bristlecone pines than the Shrubby Cinquefoil, left.)
The air was a pleasant 70 degrees (it was in the high 90s in Denver that day) as we walked the paved paths between garden sections—including the rock garden, the wet meadow garden, and the Krummholz garden.
Some of the flowers had already passed their prime while others were still budding. I made a note in my calendar to come back next summer in late June to catch the earlier bloomers.
Still, I had plenty to occupy my attention. The dominant color scheme was in shades of yellow, mainly due to Goldflower (right) and the earlier mentioned Cinquefoil, along with Alpine Sulphur Flower (below), Stonecrop, and Alpine Paintbrush (top).
I found both King’s Crown (below, left) and Queen’s Crown (below, right) growing between the rocks along the side of the rocky stream—a lovely royal pair in complementary shades of red and rose pink.
A plant with the common name “Death Camas” caught my attention, and I looked it up when I got home. I learned that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and other animals who might eat them, so don’t confuse it with the similar-appearing, but edible, strap-like leaves and bulbs of wild onions! These two species occupy overlapping ranges in the western states—in fact I saw wild onions growing nearby.
Then there was my favorite alpine flower: Little Red Elephant. The picture I took could have been better, but you can still make out the trunk and ears of the flower’s tiny “elephant heads.” Who could not fall in love with this one?
Reluctantly, I climbed back into the car and we continued up the road to the summit. Expansive views of the neighboring peaks contrasted with miniscule alpine plants tucked among the shattered granite boulders. Both Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats were hanging out at the very top of the mountain, dining on the sparse grasses and in general kicking up their heels. They were incredibly tame, but with their molting coats peeling off in great strips of dirty white wool, they weren’t exactly photogenic.
Even though we’ve lived in Colorado for the past eighteen years, this was our first trip up Mt. Evans. If you are looking for a cool place to enjoy some flowers, don’t wait as long as we did. Besides, the last five miles of road closes right after Labor Day due to something called snow. Winter will be here sooner than we think!