Crested Butte’s wildflowers cast a spell on Michelle Bivens at an early age.
“It goes back to about 6 or 7 years old,” she recalls, when her family camped every summer among the vibrant arrays, library books in hand to identify the great variety that makes the mountain town “the wildflower capital of Colorado.”
With a family of her own, she bounced around from Colorado Springs, to Austin, Texas, to Woodland Park over 22 years. But in 2012, Bivens moved the husband and kids to the valley that stayed in her dreams.
“There’s no place like it,” she says — a truth that comforts wildflower buffs in dry years like these when their backyards don’t yield the typical burst.
Bivens is executive director of the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, the weeklong celebration that starts July 6 and will mean more to flora fanatics of the Pikes Peak region and beyond.
That includes George Cameron. He’s a founder of the Native Plant Society’s local chapter, a retired botany professor who’s more than disappointed by what he’s seeing, or not, in his go-to spot, Stratton Open Space.
“This is the worst possible year,” Cameron says. “I live for the wildflowers every year, and it’s very depressing when they’re not there.”
He treasures higher displays on the mountain, those that grace Elk Park and Devils Playground, for example. And while he has yet to visit with “peak season” approaching, he fears the flowers haven’t had the moisture to bloom in abundance.
“There’s been no snowpack, nothing for them,” he says. “I’m not hopeful it’ll be very good this year.”
But for the fields and hills around Crested Butte, his faith is strong. “That’s because of the soil.”
While Pikes Peak’s granite is hydrophobic, washing away moisture, the earth surrounding the glacier-formed area of Crested Butte is composed of shale that better retains water. Snow melts, and life beneath has a better chance of emerging in all its glory.
Indeed, judging by photos out of Crested Butte, the flowers are popping a week before the festival. Snow melted earlier than usual, Bivens says, and the killing cold winds didn’t strike later.
“The good news is the flowers are coming early, and they didn’t freeze,” she says.
So Jason Odell is gearing up for a visit. The Colorado Springs photographer and teacher plans to soon escort clients to Crested Butte, to capture the scene he’s been scouting for almost two decades.
He encourages students to enjoy the landscape, the perfect beauty pairing with iconic Colorado ruggedness, but to also pay attention to details. He wants them to kneel before a flower, to photograph the changing shades of a columbine, the dancing of lupines, the petals splaying from an Indian paintbrush’s stem.
“I think wildflowers are so popular because they’re so ephemeral; they’re only around for a few months or sometimes even a few weeks,” Odell says. “And they have this diversity of color that normally we don’t get in our everyday landscape. … It’s being able to say you saw something totally unique.”
The flowers “pull you out of ordinary existence,” Cameron says. In his Pikes Peak Community College pupils, he sought to instill a reverence for the different species, expressing how they all grow on different terms, some appearing only once in a generation, and how they all can exist in harmony.
“There’s always something new to find out,” says Tom Zeiner, a geologist who’s made wildflowers his focus in retirement.
Naturally, he has a summer home in Crested Butte, where during the festival he leads educational hikes, guiding from the valley floor to the high-alpine zones where the colors change, where it’s common for him to spot a flower he’s never noticed before. Already, Zeiner says, he’s observed impressive swaths of glacier lilies and other classics.
But the early bloom highlights a trend concerning climate change onlookers. If the flowers show earlier, will pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds be around to ensure they last?
More immediate threats are the rising number of explorers who pick the flowers and trample off-trail, Bivens says. The nonprofit festival aims to make people “appreciate the wild places we have,” she says. What better teacher than the fragile, mysterious wildflowers?
“It really is quite a miracle that unfolds,” she says.
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We are driven by our deep respect for our environment, and our passionate commitment to sustainable tourism and conservation. We believe in the right for everyone - from all backgrounds and cultures - to enjoy our natural world, and we believe that we must all do so responsibly. Learn More