In bloom: Pretty in peak
July 30, 2009
MARBLE, Colo. – Every year at this time I find myself spending a lot of time in Marble. For quantity, diversity, and sheer largesse, the wildflowers in the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan drainages simply can’t match those up the Crystal in late July. Filling the upper montane meadows and subalpine basins right now are shoulder-high bluebells, larkspur, monkshood, osha and senecio, creating magical tunnels for hikers to wind through and dazzling streamside settings for gardeners to envy.
Why is Marble so florally well-endowed? Snuggled between the Elk Mountains to the north and the Raggeds to the south, Marble basically shares the same weather patterns and topography of Crested Butte, the undisputed “wildflower capitol of Colorado.” They both get big winter snow, which results in summer-long snowmelt and running streams, buttressed by summer monsoon rains that allow the above-named flowers to grow so tall and in such quantities. Indeed, it is these conditions that allow the six-foot-high Case’s fitweed, the author’s personal favorite, to grow in such majestic stands here and nowhere else in our region.
Three of the best hikes out of Marble to see Case’s fitweed and its showy companions are Yule Creek, Buckskin Basin, and Geneva Lake. Surrounded by mountains more reminiscent of Glacier National Park than the southern Rockies, the little-visited Yule Creek Valley is best hiked in long pants and sleeves, as you will be pushing your way through wet, head-high flowers. The signed trailhead is located before the Yule Marble Quarry.
Bucksin Basin can be reached by starting either at the North Lost Trail, two miles past Beaver Lake on the road to Lead King Basin, or make a loop of it by starting at the Carbonate Creek trailhead in town. Either way, don’t neglect to make the small detour to Avalanche Pass at the top, with its unparalleled view of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Finally, while the road to the Geneva Lake trailhead is long and rough and the lake highly popular, the flowers here make it all worthwhile. Make sure to continue on past Geneva to Little Gem Lake – the mountainside between the two may be our single greatest wildflower meadow.
So are the wildflowers at their peak right now? Certainly the flowers on the valley floor have largely come and gone, and the dry alpine plants are a bit past their prime, but if you define “peak” as the greatest numbers of species blooming at one time, then we’re at it. On any of the hikes described above, you will see upwards of 150 species in bloom, including the biggest flowers of the year – I’d say that’s pretty peak!