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"The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy spaces in our hearts
well out of proportion to their size."
~ Gertrude S. Wister
What can be more cheerful than seeing a flower nudging its way out from under the last remnants of late winter or early spring snow? This phenomenon occurs anywhere there is snow, from cities to remote mountains.

It always brings a smile to my face.

On this, our last morning in the Bighorn Mountain region, I'll present some photos I've taken of the wildflowers during our visit here. It's amazing to me how the seeds or roots of these beautiful plants can survive the harsh mountain winters here. Some may look delicate, but they obviously aren't. I think that's another one of life's metaphors, isn't it?

June is still early spring for this area in northern Wyoming, especially up in the mountains at 7,000-8,000 feet where I took most of these photos. I haven't seen any flowers in bloom above 9,000 feet yet; they're still under a blanket of snow.

As soon as the snow begins to melt and some warm sunshine reaches the soil, little plant shoots start popping up. The next photo is from the  8,500-foot level on the Riley-Dry Fork Ridge this past week:

One of the best years for wildflowers before and during the Bighorn race was in 2006. That was an early spring and the flowers were the most prolific that I can remember in recent years. There were tons of pretty blue Lupines all over the ridges between 7,00-8,000 feet in early June that year (next photo)

Lots of Lupines on Horse Creek Ridge (photo taken 6-5-06 on the Bighorn race course)

but the only ones we've seen in full bloom so far this visit -- even during the third week of June -- were in the Tongue River Canyon at about 5,500 feet elevation:

Above and below:  Jim and Cody hunker down in a field of Lupines and Arrowleaf Balsam Root.

I finally saw some Lupines near the Head of the Dry Fork at about 7,650 feet elevation during the Bighorn race on June 19 but they hadn't opened yet:

This year seems to be a rather late spring for the area. I joke about being in the Dandelion Time Warp most of the year as we travel around the country. We like eternal spring weather, so we choose locations in the summer that are cool (like the Rockies) and destinations in the winter that are warm (like southern Arizona and Texas).

We almost beat even the dandelions to northern Wyoming this year! The only ones we've seen are in the Dry Fork drainage near Cow Camp in the 6,500-foot elevation range. It's too early even for them at the higher elevations.

In the last two weeks we've seen more and more flowers and other plants pop up at the edge of snowdrifts:

It's cool to see the changes in such a short time, as in the Riley loop entries I featured with the dramatic change in snow levels. That affects the number of wildflowers and other plants that reappear each spring, too.

One of my favorite flowers in this area is the Pasque Flower. Some were just beginning to emerge  when we got here two weeks ago:

They start out as soft little balls of fluff (above), then get a few inches taller and gradually unfurl their bluish-purple petals, revealing numerous bright yellow or gold stamens in the center:




Sometimes you'll see just a few Pasque Flowers; other times they grow in profusion in one area. The next bunch is just part of a larger clump growing near some sage brush along the trail between Freeze Out Ridge and the Upper Sheep Creek aid station:

That trail is a good place to see a variety of flowers during June. Here are some others I saw in that area on June 9:

Wild Geraniums come in several different colors

Most of these flowers in the daisy/aster family (above) are still tight buds
but a couple have opened. The tall blue flowers are Vase Flowers (above and below).


White Alpine Phlox, a type of purple Penstemon, and one taller blue Vase Flower

Yellow Bells

Mountain Bluebells (above and below)

Here is another pretty montage of flowers along this trail, followed by two close-ups of the blossoms:


White Alpine Phlox

Bright pink Alpine Shooting Star, yellow Spring Gold, white Alpine Phlox

I saw these white Globeflowers along Upper Sheep Creek:


Most of these flowers (and more!) can also be seen in the Dry Fork area -- through the drainage as well as going up the ridge to Riley Point. Here are some photos I took from that area on race day:

Above and below:  purple Penstemon and yellow Arrowleaf Balsam Root


A type of Cinquefoil? Subalpine Buttercup?

Alpine Shooting Stars

I didn't hike to as many locations along the Bighorn course this year as previously so there are probably other species of wildflowers I missed -- and I didn't take pictures of every kind I saw, either. Even during a "late" spring, there are many types of wildflowers to enjoy in the Bighorns.

Our next destination is Silverton, CO in the beautiful San Juan Mountains. We see even more wildflowers there in July. Some are the same species as the ones above but some are different because of the location (farther south) and timing (early summer). I featured photos of many typical Rocky Mountain summer wildflowers in three entries in the 2007 journal (July 31, August 3, and August 4) if you are interested in seeing them. I'll show a few more pictures of wildflowers from various locations this summer but I probably won't do another wildflower photo essay this year.

Now we're headed to Silverton. I hope to have lots of scenic photos and some interesting stories from our runs/hikes in the San Juans and from the Hardrock Hundred race in the next couple of weeks.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil