Where the Wildflowers Are
June 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment
With the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival about a week away, it's time to start talking flowers. The Colorado State Legislature named Crested Butte the Wildflower Capital of Colorado a bunch of years ago. There were very good reasons. Anyone spending any length of time around Crested Butte in the summertime knows first-hand about the abundance of local color both human and botanical.
Simply wandering the streets and alleys of this former coal mining town will provide a great introduction to what's available if you venture into the back country.
There are 5 major drainages that converge into the East River valley near Crested Butte. Each of these valleys has its own character and flora. Heading west over Kebler pass is the most heavily traveled route and probably offers the least in terms of wildflowers. Most locals will spend their time in other valleys both to avoid the traffic and to discover better varieties of flora.
The Slate River Valley is the next valley to the north of town. It's a great drive toward Paradise Divide and a good place for dispersed camping as well as some sporadic wildflowers. This drainage is one of the best places to find Pasque flowers which are the first things to bloom once the snow starts to melt. They will be long-gone by Festival time. Lupine, Sunflowers, and Columbine are pretty easy to find along this drive.
Just to the north of the Slate River drainage, you will find Washington Gulch. This route eventually connects with the Slate River Road and either brings you home or takes you up to Paradise Divide. There are huge fields of Lupine, Sunflowers, and mixed varieties along this route. It's one of my favorite places to photograph flowers.
Moving north again, the next area you'll discover is the East River Valley which trends northwest toward the former mining town of Gothic. Gothic is now occupied by the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and the wildflower offerings are best in the 5 miles or so from the town of Mount Crested Butte to the lab at Gothic. The meandering East River offers great photo opportunities all year long but makes a great backdrop to the flowers near the road.
You'll find Lupine, "Skunk Cabbage", Glacier Lilies, Sunflowers, and Columbine along this drive and under the trees along the way.
Be sure to stop by the visitor's center in Gothic for information about the research they do and ice cream. The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab also offers lots of public seminars, hikes, and educational opportunities.
Gothic Road is a great drive any time of the day but plan on taking your time. It gets lots of car and bike traffic and the speed limit is only 20 mph.
To do this drive you'll pass through the town of Mount Crested Butte. There are tons of sunflowers and usually some Lupine near the stables. The rustic fence of the Gold Link subdivision makes a great foreground for distant vistas of Whiterock Mountain.
Moving around toward the east brings us to the Brush Creek area. To find this drainage you will travel south of Crested Butte to the Skyland residential area and golf course. Turn left onto Brush Creek Road but keep to the right at the entrance to the residential areas. You're now on the southeastern flank of Crested Butte Mountain. The hillside along the road gets abundant sunshine and you'll find a huge variety of blooming flowers stretching for a half mile or so. You might have to do a little vertical hiking to find a great composition but it's usually worth the effort. If you're here during the Festival, keep your eyes peeled for Colorado photo legend John Fielder. He loves taking his workshops to this area.
If you continue along Brush Creek Road you will pass the Cold Spring Ranch and in about a mile start to climb into huge, open fields of sunflowers with great views of Mount Whetstone.
If you're in the area and looking for a more personal guide service or photo instruction, I offer classes each morning of the Festival and private photo tours all year long. There's a link at the top of this page for more information on my services.
The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival runs from July 7 - July 16 this year and the headquarters are at the Crested Butte Community School. You can call them at (970) 349-2571 or use the hot link for their website.
I hope to see you here next week. The flowers are raging!
Keywords: Colorado, Crested Butte, Dusty Demerson, drive, festival, flower, landscape, photo, photography, travel, wildflower, wildflower capital of colorado, wildflower festival
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