In Bloom: Early season flower power
As anyone who commutes up Highway 82 can attest, early June marks the beginning of serious wildflower season.A great hike to get your summer off to a wildflower-filled start is Perham Creek Trail, near Redstone in the Crystal River Valley. Because of its moderate elevation and southern exposure, this lightly traveled trail is one of the first passable (i.e., snowless) hikes of the season, and it’s also one of the first to burst into full flower regalia. Expect to see upward of 80 species of flowers. The hike begins at 6,700 feet and climbs steadily up a dry, scrub oak gully ablaze with purple penstemon, larkspur and the ubiquitous arrowleaf balsamroot, the large, yellow sunflower-like flowers that can be seen on hillsides up and down the valley right now.The roots, seeds and young sprouts of Balsamorhiza sagittata, as it is classified by botanists, were a source of food for the Ute Indians and still serve as forage for elk, deer and bighorn sheep. After a half-hour (moving at a good clip) there is a small stream crossing where careful eyes will spot the shade-loving red columbine, Aquilegia elegantula. Unlike our state flower, the blue Colorado columbine, this flower’s petals are tightly coiled, giving it the appearance of a rocket ship in flight. Continue on across a long, flat meadow and head downhill toward South Thompson Creek where you will be rewarded with one of the great early season wildflower experiences – the blooming of the Rocky Mountain iris, Iris missouriensis. More delicate in hue and stature than its cultivated cousins, this beauty was once on the U.S. government’s official list of treatments for syphilis. And while it probably didn’t work very well, it beat the alternative treatments of the day – arsenic and mercury. The most stellar patch of wild irises appears three and a half miles (about one hour and a quarter ) into the hike, just before you hit South Thompson Creek. Look to your left 20 yards off the trail – they should be peaking now. To get to Perham Creek Trail: From the intersection of Main Street and Highway 133 in Carbondale, drive a little more than 10 miles south on 133 toward Redstone and turn right at the unmarked gravel drive (use your odometer – it’s easy to miss).
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