Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Alpine meadows can be found in both alpine and sub-alpine zones at or near timberline.
Alpine meadows tend to be located in sheltered basins where the vegetation is protected from
the relentless wind. Alpine meadows have deeper soil and more moisture than nearby
exposed ridges and they provide habitat for a variety of alpine wildflowers and wildlife.
- from the pamphlet Alpine Wildflowers, published by the USDA,
US Dept. of the Interior/BLM, and the San Juan Mountain Association


The previous entry focused mostly on wildflowers that thrive in Colorado's tundra regions. In the next two entries I'll focus on flowers that are found in the lower tundra, alpine and sub-alpine meadows, and dry or rocky areas above 9,500 feet.

There are quite a few that I've been unable to identify in my wildflower book (National Audubon Society's Field Guild to Wildflowers, Western Edition, 2001). Any assistance that readers can provide regarding identification is welcomed! Even if I don't know the name of a plant, I'll give some information about where the photo was taken, where else I may have seen the species, and any characteristics I can remember (height, flower size, terrain, elevation, etc.).

Let's start with two more tundra plants I saw at about 13,000 feet on Mt. Massive after I uploaded the July 31 entry. The first is a low, cushiony succulent covered with yellow flowers:

This is the first time I've seen these short, upright bell-shaped flowers anywhere and I don't know what they are, either:

I'll continue with some other wildflowers I saw in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows on Mt. Massive and in the Leadville area. Many of these I've also seen on the Colorado Trail.

This attractive group includes purple asters and two flowers I can't identify. They are shown in more detail below the composite. The flowers are located just above tree line on Mt. Massive at approximately 12,000 feet:



Two types of bluebells are common in these areas. The next photo shows a clump of Mountain Bluebells on the north side of Mount Hope. They are still wet from the previous night's rain:

These flowers are also very common along the Colorado Trail and in the San Juan Range.

I haven't seen the next type of Bluebell nearly as frequently, however. These little ones right next to the trail are in the sub-alpine meadows on Mt. Massive in a group with tiny white Meadow Chickweed:

I captured several of the following wildflowers along the Colorado Trail near the Timberline Lake trail head and on Sugarloaf Mountain west of Leadville. The yellow daisy-like flowers below are about two feet tall:

Flowers shown in the composite below are Wallflower (short, in foreground), Fireweed (tall pinkish purple), and Indian Paintbrush (upright cream-colored in upper right):

Here are two more photos of Fireweed, which can grow up to seven feet tall. The plants below are about three feet tall:


Fireweed is abundant in burned or disturbed areas such as meadows inhabited by pocket gophers. Deer, elk, bear, and rodents feed on the plant.

This three-foot tall wildflower was nearby. I think it might be Arrowleaf Groundsel:

Another yellow clustered flower I've seen in the mountains near Leadville and along the Colorado Trail is the one shown below from Segment 27 with carrot-like leaves. The leaves and flower heads resemble white Yarrow. It stands about a foot tall and might be Mountain Parsley:

This is white Yarrow:

Another fairly common wildflower in the same family is Golden Yarrow, although these look more like clumped daisies:

Those I found in Colorado Trail Segments 18-19 this summer. Another wildflower in these segments is this White Locoweed below. It's the only place I've seen it:

There are a lot of yellow daisy-like flowers in Colorado's sub-alpine meadows and open forests, including the one below that I saw in a shady area of CT Segment 25:

Back to the parsley/carrot family . . . two very tall, white, clumped-head wildflowers are easy to spot in Colorado's alpine and sub-alpine meadows: Cow Parsnip and Wild Carrot AKA Queen Anne's Lace. The flat, umbrella-like clusters of flowers look similar but the stems and leaves are very different.

Cow Parsnip is prolific along the Colorado Trail, especially in Segments 24, 25, and 26 near Silverton. The ones in the next photo are near Twin Lakes on the Leadville Trail 100 course.

The plants can reach up to eight feet tall but the ones I've seen are usually about waist-high at 10,000 to 11,500 feet elevation. They prefer moist meadows and stream banks and are often found in the company of blue Larkspur, as in this photo from CT Segment 24:

Wild Carrot AKA Queen Anne's Lace looks very similar but grows "only" to about four feet tall:

The photo above is from CT Segment 25 southwest of Molas Pass. As you can see in the close up photo below, Wild Carrot has lacey fern-like leaves:

I've also seen these two plants on the Lower Ice Lake Trail below Grant-Swamp Pass in combination with other wildflowers that grow in the sub-alpine zone, such as the red Indian Paintbrush and blue Larkspur below:

I'm not sure of the identity of the tall white flower in the back right of the photo above. It might be Case's Fireweed, which grows up to seven feet tall. Here is a close-up of another tall spire like it, also growing along the Lower Ice Lake Trail:

Here are a few more flowers I photographed in the Ice Lake/Grant-Swamp area. I've seen them in other parts of the San Juans and along the Colorado Trail, too.

The blue flower below is about three feet tall and one of many blue flowers I can't identify. There were several flower clusters like this along the stem:

The next wildflower is prolific along the Ice Lake Trail and the Hardrock Hundred course up to Grant-Swamp Pass, as well as the trail from Cunningham Gulch (below) to Dives-Little Giant Pass:

I believe this tall purple flower that grows in big clumps is called Western Sweetvetch. The distinctive leaves are very similar to Vetches that grown in the East. Here is a close-up from the Ice Lake Trail:

These multi-colored Sweetvetch plants are farther up the Hardrock trail to Grant-Swamp Pass at about 11,500 feet:

Here's one more interesting  flower from the trail up to Dives-Little Giant Pass from Cunningham Gulch:

I believe that's the only place I've seen it. It's about two feet tall and the individual flowers, below, almost look like Sego Lilies but that's not what this plant is. I've shown photos previously in the Big Horn entries in 2006 and 2007 of Sego Lilies; they are much shorter and aren't clustered on the stem like this:

Very unusual.

Don't you just love all these flowers?? I sure do. No wonder I run so slowly. I can't help but stop to admire (and often photograph) them. I'll show you about as many more in my third (and final) alpine wildflower essay.

Happy, flowery trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil