Colorado Day 11- Horseshoe Mountain 1

July - the road to Horseshoe
   Has it ever happened to you, one of those days, when even getting lost with a GPS, or turned back by impassible snow-filled roads, has not thwarted your chance for a stellar day that will glow in your memory for all time? I dreamed of Horseshoe Mountain during years of rock garden club slide shows, knowing someday I would connect with the majesty of the place. And it was still a surprise, this place, overwhelming all my senses with saturated color in earth and sky as only as a high mountain can. No it was not altitude deprivation!

Trifolium nanum
Since the Jeep would not traverse the blocked road, I backed up, parking at the crook, and walked the right fork pointing up to the mine. This was now an ATV road, but washed out in some places by the rains. I know that because the mine owners were zooming uphill noisily on ATV's, stopping only to check me out, and warm me about the fate of others who were trapped in a rollover for many days during the previous year. I assured them I had cell reception on my phone, but really in my heart I knew this day was mine. It was early in the day, the sunlight a white gold, adding sparkles to the opening flora. Encouraged by Trifolium nanum and Hymenoxis acaulis as well as some large budded Arenaria obtusiloba I ventured up the steep path with long breaths. Parking elevation was probably about 12,000 feet. That of an East Coast landlubber for years now, my system was no match for the altitude and it was slow going. (Have you tried growing the trifolium? Germination does not seem to be the problem. Seedlings in my garden were strong until the August wet melted them down. However, hopeful I will remain to see if they will like the xeric area, when I try them again!)

Here and there was an unfamiliar plant: fleshy leaves not more than 8 inches high, fantastic parallel veining with a blush of red at the base and tips. Seems noteworthy that the plants yet to bloom were at lower elevations. A hundred yards or so uphill I spotted the bloom - Frasera speciosa, so-called "Monument Plant" standing high in the alpine zones of the West. I never met a gentian I didn't like and this was quite novel. Seed of gentiana is usually pretty effortless to grow, as long as it is still viable, so it too goes on my want list.
Frasera speciosa
As I continued uphill, scrophs started making an appearance, first being Penstemon hallii. While detouring around a washout and though some scrubby salix, trying to keep my summer hiking boots out of the mud,  I almost stumbled over the bewitching Chionophila jamesii. A whole colony were reveling in the moist shade of the willows, not underneath, but in clearways within the scrub. They were showstoppers against the black earth.
Chionophila jamesii
Chionophila jamesii grouping
Chionophila jamesii - the 'snow beloved'
A little further up the path there were others who also seemed to like the moist seeps like my old friend Sedum integrifolium - the King's Crown.
Sedum integrifolium
Other moisture lovers were there too, like mertensia (maybe ciliata?), mixed with a little trifolium (maybe dasyphyllum?).
Mertensia with Trifolium
Next, looking very mossy and errant but rouged for a somewhat of a good showing, was a very soft Silene acaulis. This is one plant that never completely seems to relax in the garden, preferring its loose ways in the wild to treat us to the best bloom. Oh, well, it does set seed very prodigiously.
Silene acaulis
 About then, the first eritrichium, aretioides, that blue, made itself known, followed by the white bloom of Phlox condensata and purple Polemonium viscosum and Phacelia sericea and more penstemons. The road again beckoned "upwards" with glints of gold.
to be continued...

Colorado Day 10- Boreas page 3

Boreas kept the air flow moving. And the air tasted clean on my palette. As if for proof, my eyes glanced down at my feet. Beautiful white lichen, known only grow in pollution free zones, abounded in pockets, here and there, in the dryer parts of the alpine meadow. A yellow lousewort (pedicularis) interspersed with them. The meadow had a more settled look than the talus - older and packed with the remains of dust and dirt. Someone once told me we get at least 50 tons of cosmic dust falling each day to earth. When I see alpine fell fields such as this mountain's, I wonder that they haven't filled in with the dust. Perhaps Boreas and his brothers blow them into character by sweeping it into the meadow?

Arenaria, castilleja, trifolium, to name a few - all usual suspects for this area - now made appearances. And in this dryer meadow, the alpine forget me not, Eritrichium aretioides , stood out with that blue, you know, the one that captures the eye.
Eritrichium aretioides
What is not evident from the first photo (above) is the exquisite little woolly bun at the base. In our eastern gardens that is just about the most we can do with this plant - grow and admire the bun. And yes I have knelt to see the single bloom on Geoffrey's seed grown plant, but it was the foliage that kept me returning to admire.
Eritrichium foliage
Germinating the seed of this plant seems not to be the problem for us at home. And yes, we get plenty of the icy breath of Boreas in the Berkshire gardens. But what I don't sense here in this pass, is the cloying feel of certain fungi mixed with the stale breath of the mugs resulting in the odor we often call "decay." Perhaps it just doesn't reach these alpine zones. And perhaps there never is any humid heat. But it is the bunker at the base of our Goshen ecosystem - forest rot. Our home grown plants (even from seed) of eritrichium are very fussy. When our weather provides the stress of ice and wet, these plants generally succumb.

Storm clouds once again hid the sun and loomed high, giving us a prompt to think about descending soon. We walked to the north side of the mountain, to the pass with Bald Mountain. This whole day had been really an easy and delightful walk for acclimatizing. At these altitudes, it took a while. We stayed at 12,000 something feet for most of the hike. (This is quite a bit higher than one must go for alpine plants in the Alps.) With a look to the skies, a quick lunch was decided.  This pass area was mostly dry gravelly meadow- smaller loose stone, and perfect for a picnic. The first penstemon showed in the lawn as we began to seat. Perhaps a very diminutive version of Penstemon halii?
Penstemon hallii
 As we enjoyed our repast, someone was watching us, moving closer. This Chip 'n Dale cohort was about chipmunk size and a rock hound. So he took the name "Rock Squirrel" as well as some crusts I had thrown in that direction.
Lunch with a self purported friend
This little guy was making such chatter, I nearly did not look the other way - up the hill to Bald Mountain. But when I glimpsed to the bunnery at the base of which I was seated, he was history. Even without much bloom this scene was spectacular with arenarias, Erigeron pinnatisectus, Phlox condensata and trifolium. The plant nearest me I had seen before, outside of Laramie. But still I did not know it. Paronychia pulvinata is a member of the Caryophyllaceae I have never seen in East Coast gardens. What a great mat. (Got to try it!)
Paronychia pulvinata
The name of the phlox next to it immediately came to mind because of the wonderful purple cast and dark spot in the center.
Phlox condensata
As I arose, a little lewisia was underfoot all throughout the area - L. pygmea. What a darling little plant. And so easy to grow from seed. Always add it to a crevice and it will sparkle your garden with alpine remembrance.
Lewisia pygmea
Some rumblings from the skies ended our meal and we were off down the hill on a road more often traveled. It followed the snow melt line and guided hikers with trollius and caltha bloom for markers. Looking a little closer, some mertensia looking foliage was starting to rise.
Trollius and Caltha crowding the snowmelt
A little lower down the path, Rod veered off across the mountain. It would be quicker, he said. Maybe, I thought, but there was a bit of scrubby salix to fence us out. Rod strode right through it, while I on the other hand was enchanted. A very heuchera looking plant was unfolding.Could it be Saxifraga odontoloma, the brook saxifrage? The leaves were so crisp and such a clean green. They glinted even without sun.
Saxifraga odontoloma
After escaping this siren and the salix scrub where it hid, it was back to the fell fields. A lovely minute Sedum integrifolium was a just emerging. The foliage was fanciful - like an elaborate collar from some 16th century Dutch painting. Think Thomas de Keyser. The common name for this plant is King's Crown. Seems more appropriate to call it the King's Collar.
Sedum integrifolium with collar
We high-tailed it down the mountain as more grumblings shook the air. Down at sub-alpine levels, we slowed briefly. It was not possible for me to pass up cooing over a sweet little buttercup on the way.
Ranunculus sp.
It took no time at all to finish the descent. Looking back up the mountain we gave thanks for Boreas and his mountain. And we were glad to be down before the approaching storm.
Boreas Mountain
Arriving at the parking lot, we loitered a few minutes on the opposite side of the tracks, then drove off south. A very full specimen of Penstemon halli was mixed into yarrow around the bend. It certainly was more robust than what we saw at the pass. Maybe the ants do a better job tending at this lower elevation? What a great plant!
robust Penstemon hallii
Better yet, a very nice pea presented itself. Maybe an oxytropis? At any rate, it was a great plant to end this amazing day.
Oxytropis sericea

Colorado Day 10- Boreas page 2

Sedum integrifolium
We continued on our way treading lightly over fell fields and pockets of snow. After all the delicate ranunculaceae family, the  next to show itself was one of my favorite sedums. Oh yes there were plenty of pedicularis, trifoium and phacelia bedded into the small black shale-y kind of fill in these rock beds. Then I stopped in my tracks. A globe of white fuzz on green stems- wow - is it the bud rising from Gilia (or is it Ipomopsis now a days?) globularis? Even the stems were shaggy - a truly retro '60ies plant. Looking further up the hill, there was bloom.
Ipomopsis globularis
Bulbs were also showing - Lloydia serotina, which never seems to last long in my home garden was there in force. That is to say a plant was here, a plant there, not many together, but always within the field of vision.
Lloydia serotina
We stumbled through low brush at times - salix for the most part. Finally we reached a vista and looked back toward the Ten Mile Range. The sun was gone and storm clouds were rolling toward us.
Looking back at the gathering clouds
Caltha leptosepala

 My friend Anne had warned me plenty of times in the past to be off the mountain by mid afternoon. This was just lunch time. Time now to ramp up the walking speed. But of course there were the calls of still beckoning plants.The wet meadow where we slogged was filled with caltha and ranunculus. What a time! Boreas, ever with us, provided the cool breeze to wick away any heat we generated going upward ever faster. The mountain opened to us a look into the private lives of some of the most fascinating of alpine plants. Truly this was a home for gods... and we were not. Thoughts of wrathful thunderbolts drove us to increase speed.
Caltha leptosepala, Ranunculus sp and buds

As we continued along this moist meadow, the ever-so-sweet  and diminutive Saxifraga rhomboidea rose among the salix. Did I mention the ground was wet with a cold that the plants obviously enjoyed. It is impossible for me to imagine the inhabitants of that railroad town a hundred years prior, much less those miners, who lived here in quite primitive conditions.We came in the height of summer. What must winter have been like for them with Boreas?

Saxifraga rhomboidea
There was a sweetness in the air. Perhaps a thlaspi, there were a few underfoot? Soon we came to open buds of the ranunculaceae-looking foliage we passed earlier. Funny to think with the higher altitude and more northern exposure, Trollius laxus would be open here and not below. What a plant! Countless times I have tried this from seed without success. Must be another case of fresh-seed-only-please.
Trollius laxus with caltha
 Looking closely at the trollius, I saw the ants who tend them. Looks like they keep a buddy system in place to wait on the blossom with constant attention. With this bit of awe still mesmerizing us, we failed to note the sun had returned. Oh yes please, I will always take a helping of more time to meander blissfully.

Colorado Day 10- Boreas page 1


Boreas Pass
As a child, I spent countless hours following the deeds of the ancients. It did not matter to me that these were but collective memories, recorded so long ago as to be handed down first verbally. In my mind, I soared in those adventures, from the battles of the conqueror Ulysses, to the travails of vanquished Aeneas. So when we traveled to Breckenridge, the name Boreas still held a bit of magic for me. It was he, the North Wind, in conjunction with his brothers, who made the seas rough for Aeneas, as per Juno's orders. What great myth and history! It was he, who blew his fearsome breath from the arctic regions, unable to restrain, sigh or breathe gently. So, not the gentle lover he wished to be, he had to carry off his beloved Orithyia. When we drove out from Breckenridge that morning, traversing Boreas Pass, these heraldic thoughts flooded my senses. Naming the pass for someone with this much conjuring power must be significant. Of course.

South Park Highline
The Victorians were big on the Greeks. And in the late 19th Century, Sidney Dillon ( the railroad promoter) renamed the pass. (Note: now, thanks to Google, when you click on the adjacent photo, it takes you to a gallery. Click on the link at the bottom to see an enlarged version of the photo and keep clicking for good detail on the posters.) The narrow gauge railroad tracks he laid were steep and windswept. At 11,000 ft, the rail line was one of the world's highest at that time. But despite hardship and bitter cold conditions, it flourished as the best way to provide "an uninterrupted stream of minerals" from Leadville to Denver.
Luckily for all of us the Army Corps of Engineers turned the abandoned track line into a scenic, albeit bumpy, automobile road in the 1950's. Today it is touted as a great mountain bike road.

Timeless Stumps
After we parked near the monument, we knew in our bones how apt the name. Even in the sun, there was a chill blowing down from the snowy areas. What struck me almost dumb was the stump remains of the bristlecone pines that fed the railroad with ties over a hundred years prior. Not much decomposes here. Among this preserved debris were bright spots of glinting yellow. No the gold was long gone. I mean something that warms your heart - the ultimate dyc - Hymenoxis grandiflora.
Hymenoxis grandiflora near the stumps

Usually I do not get that excited about most yellow plants, especially daisies. But this one is small, hairy and a survivor. Woolly plants with dissected leaves sing a siren song to me - irresistible. Have you tried to grow it in your garden yet? It's on my hit list of seed to sow and grow for next year.

Hymenoxis grandiflora
As we walked along the hillside, I noticed another little gem of a plant for our Eastern gardens - townsendias.
Just a little higher in elevation, the meadow became lush with mertensia, geums, and polemoniums. Approaching a  talus scree (a large rock boulder field), I spotted the Colorado poster plant - Aquilegia coerulea. At least, I believe this to be the name, although the dwarfer A. saximontana's habitat is near the Continental Divide, where we are. Supposedly the dwarfer has more strongly hooked spurs. In my garden A. saximontana always seems to grow more robust like A. coerulea. Either make wonderful color and a change from our eastern aquilegias.
Aquilegia coerulea
The rocks of this talus slope were pink, angular granite - a veritable scree field for giants. For me they were big and loose. It took a little getting used to - walking across the field without it moving. And lo, in one corner I spotted the lovely Claytonia megarhiza, still in bud.
Claytonia megarhiza
The portulacaceae family has always interested me. Even before I gardened I loved to pull apart the fleshy leaves of purslane. And at that time I had no idea one might eat it. We kids used it for great "goo".

As I looked up from the rock, I spotted the phlox, maybe P.condensata, or would it be pulvinata?  Here is where I could really use a lesson.The only way I know to distinguish them is that one has color. At any rate, the mounds were first rate.
Phlox in the talus scree
 This was absolutely inspirational. This was why I came to the pass. Plants started popping in the sun - Silene acaulis, alpine cerastium, Polemonium viscosum, arenaria (to name but a few) all looked up at me as I traversed the field. Be aware my naming is subject to change. The Polemonium might actually be P. confertum. But someone else must decide.
Polemonium viscosum
 Looking uphill was almost dizzying. The site was as if the north wind itself had blown the mountain into bits and resurrected it in a pile of stones. In between, bit of geum, trifoliums, castilleja and arenarias made their homes.

As we tramped onward and upward we made it through spots of snow. Water tinkled below our feet. Members of the ranunculaceae began to appear - Trollius laxus, Anemone narcissiflora and parviflora, Caltha leptosepala. My eyes were filled with amazement to see these plants in their native habitat. Even my old friend Androsace septentrionalis had a different growth habit from when it grew in my garden.
Androsace septentrionalis
Bits of the forest still appeared here and there.
To be continued...