Rocky Mountain Wildflowers – The climb through the subalpine forests of Mt. Evans

As promised, this post is going to be photos of early August (with a few of July’s) abundant alpine and sub-alpine flowers from our jaunt to Mt. Evans!  I will try to remember where we were at the time each was taken and thereby separate them into subalpine and alpine groups.  As is a known fact, the gentler the environment anywhere in the world, the greater the diversity of both plants and animals.  Hence, there are a lot more subalpine wildflower varieties than alpine wildflowers.  Therefore, I am splitting the subalpines into two posts.  On the whole, alpine flowers are much shorter, more compact plants, helping to reduce moisture loss from poorer rocky soils and constant winds.  Now, I am going to admit here and now, I am absolutely no wildflower expert, in any way, shape, or form.  I have tried to identify these flowers through a Rocky Mountain wildflower guide book, but there are some I could not find, and I could easily have some of these wrong.  If any of you dear readers/peruse-ers know different, please let me know!  I guarantee I will not be offended!

Mixed Group Subalpine Wildflowers

Mixed Group Subalpine Wildflowers

Colorado Blue Columbine

Colorado Blue Columbine

Mt. Evans, Colorado

So here is a little background about where Mt. Evans is situated…

From Denver, you climb 9,000’ in elevation, passing through 5 different climate, or life, zones to reach the summit of Mt. Evans.  Upon entering the Mt. Evans Recreation Area, you pass through two National Forests – Arapaho and Pike.  To get there, head west on I-70 from Denver.  The turnoff for Mt. Evans begins by exiting at Idaho Springs and heading south on Hwy. 103.  After climbing for 13 miles, you will reach Echo Lake (elevation 10,600’).

Looking down on Echo Lake

Looking down on Echo Lake.

Just past the lake, take the right turn onto the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado Hwy. 5.  (The small Echo Lake campground is at the junction of 103 and 5.  If you want to stay there, you will need to make online reservations, and always aim for weekdays- more sites available, and less people at the summit!  Nice campground, usually very quiet, pit toilets, no showers/water, no electricity.)

Colorado Blue Columbine, ready to open

By tomorrow, this blue Columbine flower will be in full bloom!

Colorado Blue Columbine in full bloom

Colorado Blue Columbine is glorious in full bloom.

Red Fox from the Echo Lake area

On the move – Red Fox from the Echo Lake area.

Beginning the Mt. Evans climb

Turning onto Hwy. 5, you enter the Mt. Evans Recreation Area, where you begin the true climb.  Paying your entry fee at the kiosk, the road begins to snake its way up through the forest.  Opening in 1931, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado Hwy. 5, is the 2-lane paved road to the top of Mt. Evans – the highest paved road in all of North America (which includes Canada, Alaska, and Mexico).  You will quickly wonder how this drive could be done in a Model-A.  Those people were definitely intrepid.  Known to make many people’s hair stand on end (definitely use low gear coming down), there are no guardrails, no shoulders, steep switchbacks, many abrupt drop-offs to valley floors far, far below, and the condition of outside edges of the roadway do give one a little cause for concern.  HOWEVER, if one can steel themselves against these issues (and the occasional narrow hair-raising gravel pull-offs, if you are the passenger on the downhill side), the wildlife, wildflowers, and scenery rewards are superb and can be amazing.

Mixed subalpine wildflowers and boulders

Mixed subalpine wildflowers and boulders in early morning light.

Beautiful mountain ridges view

What a view! This is the view from one of our favorite wildflower stopping spots. Both sides of the road are lined with flowers. There are a few small gravel pull-offs as you drive along- some that are close to great wildflower spots.

Boulder-strewn hillside with subalpine wildflowers

A hillside strewn with granite boulders, mixed wildflowers, and a young pine to greet the morning sun. What more could one ask for on such a morning? Ok, well maybe some flower closeups?

Whipple’s Penstemon (Dusky Beards Tongue)

Whipple’s Penstemon (Dusky Beards Tongue)

Unknown very hairy-type of Thistle

Unknown very hairy-type of Thistle

Tufted Fleabane

Tufted Fleabane

Possibly some type of Mallow?

Possibly some type of Mallow?

Arapaho National Forest and Pike National Forest

Englemann spruce and subalpine fir are the predominant tree species in Arapaho and Pike National Forests.

Englemann spruce and subalpine fir are the predominant tree species in Arapaho and Pike National Forests.

Bristlecone Pines – One of the oldest living organisms on earth

At 11,540’, you will reach Mt. Goliath Natural Area and the Dos Chappell Nature Center, with its 160 acres of 1,700 year old bristlecone pines, as well as a garden of beautiful subalpine wildflowers.  For those who are curious, treeline stops where the average temperature is approximately 50°.  In our area of the Rockies, “subalpine” is between 10,000 and 11,500 feet in elevation.  The alpine zone is the treeless area above 11,500’.

Bristlecone Pines- green and snags

It is theorized that the twisting of the bristlecone’s trunk helps strengthen the tree against the constant winds. It certainly makes for some beautiful and interesting shapes.

View out across the Bristlepine area.

View out across the Bristlepine area.

Ok, just a few more subalpine wildflower shots taken near this Mt. Goliath area, and I will quit for the day.  Hopefully I was able to capture some of the beauty of this unique wilderness area!

Elephanthead Lousewort.  If you look closely at these flower stalks, you will see that they are covered with little elephant trunks!

Elephanthead Lousewort. If you look closely at these flower stalks, you will see that they are covered with little elephant trunks!

Closeup- Giant Indian (Scarlet) Paintbrush

Closeup- Giant Indian (Scarlet) Paintbrush.

Giant Indian (Scarlet) Paintbrush and Western (Yellow) Indian Paintbrush

Last one!  The subalpine area of Mt. Evans contains two types of Indian Paintbrush that I know of- the more prolific Giant Indian (Scarlet) Paintbrush, and the Western (Yellow) Indian Paintbrush.

Have a great day!

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