Fryingpan full of columbines | AspenTimes.com
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Fryingpan full of columbines

The meadows are carpetted with columbines on the hike to Fryingpan Lakes.
Hannah Condon/Courtesy photo |

I try not to hike the same trails every year since the Elk Mountains offer so many special routes, so my memory of the Fryingpan Lakes Trail is likely faulty.

Nevertheless, I don’t recall seeing as high a concentration of columbines on that beautiful route as exists this year. I probably say that every summer I go up there, or at least the summers following a snowy winter. As my daughter Hannah would say, who cares about comparisons? She’s right. The point is, it’s thick with wildflowers.

Our group — Hannah, our dog Ginger, two friends, their dog and I — got a 9 a.m. start on Sunday. We weren’t overly concerned about thunder boomers, given the forecast. The trailhead parking lot was full, but we didn’t see anyone on the 31/2–mile jaunt to the lowest of the three lakes.

All of us were dazzled when we came to the first big clearing (is it still a meadow when it’s on a slope?). The hillside exploded in different shades of purple, orange, red and magenta. We sport bickered over whether the red and magenta flowers were all Indian paintbrush or paintbrush and a relative. It was a split vote.

Wildflower conditions at the second clearing blew our minds. The 100 yards or so of grasslands between the trail and creek as well as the upslope as far as we could see was thick with columbines. They were exclusively the periwinkle and white ones, and nearly all were in full bloom.

Before long, we were sitting on a log in yet another field of flowers alongside the lowest lake. The dogs begged for nibbles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The humans soaked in the scenery of Deer Mountain towering at the head of the valley. The headwaters of the Fryingpan River gurgled past. Plump bottlebrush flowers bowed in the breeze that saved us from the mosquitoes. It was, in a word, ideal.


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