In Bloom: Plan B is for ‘beauty’ |

In Bloom: Plan B is for ‘beauty’

Karin Teague
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

LENADO ” So here’s a quick test to see whether you’re a risk taker or a “safety first” type. Imagine you’ve spent untold hours arranging your kids’ and work schedule so you can get out on a hike with an old friend. The day arrives without a cloud in the sky, and you’re maybe 10 minutes into the hike when the first of several bridges on the route is, let’s say, askew, and not entirely above water. Your first few, ginger steps suggest the bridge will hold, but the sporadic wave of water crashing over the far end looks like it would test your balance. Do you turn around or go for it?

This was the test put to us a couple days ago on the Woody Creek Trail in Lenado. We had planned to head up to the intersection with the Spruce Creek Trail, climb to the top of Mt. Yeckel , then loop back via the Margy Hut and Johnson Creek, a terrific early season hike. To proceed or not? The answer probably depends on how you feel about whitewater. Woody Creek, like all our waterways, is running high and hard right now, and I deemed my chances of coming out of that creek intact slim.

Needless to say, this answered the question for us, and we moved on to plan B, which was a hike up the nearby Tin Cup Trail to Four Corners and the Sunnyside Trail. It was a great reminder of how backup plans can be a blessing in disguise. The trail still has patches of snow and mud, but it’s easily navigable and the flowers on Sunnyside ” well, if you’re fan of the color purple, you’ll die and go to heaven.

The lovely lupine, Lupinus bakeri, lines the Sunnyside Trail from top to bottom in numbers I’ve never seen before ” a fan, apparently, of long, wet winters. There’s more to lupine than just its good looks, though. Lupine belongs to the pea family, which is critical in turning bare ground into thriving ecosystems.

This is because all plants need nitrogen, an element that’s abundant in the air we breathe but almost absent in the soil-forming minerals that are usable to plants. This is where the peas come in. Peas have a bacteria living in their roots which, in exchange for receiving food from the plant, provides the plant with nitrogen which the bacteria is able to convert from the air into organic form. Once the nitrogen has been “fixed” by the bacteria, it becomes available to be taken up by the roots of other plants when the pea dies and decomposes. In this way, lupine helps create the riot of color that is currently the Sunnyside Trail.