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