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...


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