In Bloom: A frond farewell

Karin Teague

For this, the last “In Bloom” of the year, I chose a hike that should both satisfy and exhaust the most intrepid hiker, hopefully bringing a sense of closure to another amazing wildflower season. For the hike to Pierre Lakes you will need lots of time and patience. The trail, which appears on Sky Terrain’s comprehensive new Aspen map, is not maintained by the Forest Service and therefore is overgrown and at times difficult to follow-long pants and an early start are a must. Also recommended for this anything-but-ordinary 15-mile (round-trip) hike are Tevas for crossing Snowmass Creek and, ideally, a companion who has done it before. Rest assured, though, your hard work will be rewarded-the late-season flowers are lovely, berries of all kinds are ripe for the picking, and your destination is one of the most dramatic high-alpine sites in Colorado.The first several miles of the hike follow the gentle trail to Snowmass Lake. Here the usual late-season suspects, like senecio and pearly everlasting, as well as red and white clover, which have perhaps the longest blooming season (April to September) of any local flowers, line the trail. Keeping things interesting, though, was a strange, new flower just past the turnoff to West Maroon Trail. It was three feet tall with a hairy stem, scraggly-toothed leaves, and a head of tiny purple flowers that looked most like the disk flowers of a composite (also known as an aster or daisy). At home I worked with three different keys, looked through all the composite photos in the local and regional guides, and came up empty. Finally, and largely by accident, I stumbled upon a description of a family I’d never heard of, the teasel family, which is quite similar to, but for some reason separated from, the composites. One of its species, Knautia arvensis, matched my flower’s description, but our most definitive local guide, Weber’s Colorado Flora, Western Slope, placed it only roadside in Routt County. However, a quick look at the USDA’s terrific plant database (Google the flower’s scientific name to find the website) confirmed that this was indeed the mystery flower. For a wildflower lover, finding and identifying a wildflower you’ve never seen before, in a place it’s not supposed to be, is about as fine a way to wind up a season as I can think of. Getting there: From Highway 82 take either Snowmass Creek Road (from downvalley) or Watson Divide (from upvalley) to the intersection of Watson Divide and Snowmass Creek Road; drive eight miles south on Snowmass Creek Road to the T; take a right and drive one-quarter mile to the dead-end parking area.