Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Frankly, I was worried! (a well Engineered hike) [First installment of several]

Lisa Bourey and Jeff Wagner among the corn lilies (Veratrum tenuipetalum)

It was frankly a scary scenario last spring: while the Front Range was drenched every other day with rain or snow, the rest of Colorado was sunny and dry and far below seasonal snow pack. The southern quadrant of the state (including the San Juans) seemed to be especially bad. And here we were planning an annual meeting of NARGS in early August! 

Someone on the Conference committee must have "pull". Or have ransomed their soul to the devil! The controversial "monsoon" (or are they simply strong mountain convection storms?) started EARLY--daily storms (oftentimes drenching) started before the 4th of July. On the 15th of July, Jan and I drove down to Durango (third drive to there in a month or so!) and that evening were drenched in a half inch deluge at our Host's gorgeous home (Maureen Keilty and Dan Peha). A signal perhaps of things to come!

Well, I shouldn't have worried: the San Juans are simply glorious! On Friday the 16th we took off towards Engineer peak with a band of guides (led by Lisa and Jeff shown above). Right off the bat we were stunned by the superbloom of corn lilies (aka "false hellebore", "skunk cabbage" etc.). Thousands towered above us on the path right from the start.

Monument plant (Frasera speciosa)

The corn lilies were matched in height (if not numbers) by monument plants as you can see. The numerous "megaherbs" of subalpine meadows were glorious as ever. I need not have been so nervous!

For the first quarter mile one walks though a forest of blooming cornlilies interspersed with masses of paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) and big drifts of showy perennials: delphiniums, mertensias and columbines..

There are a dizzy variety of yellow composites like sneezeweed, and perennial sunflowers--and let's not even count the numerous species of Senecio!

I never tire of photographing paintbrush!

As we climb higher the tall perennials give way to lower plants and the Castillejas become more magenta (C. rhexifolia)

Pretty soon the giant cone of Engineer mountain looms up ahead: every few hundred feet, the palette of plants shifts underfoot...

The stunning masses of alpine flowers cannot be captured properly by the camera...

Couldn't resist taking a picture of my friend,  Eva, in the field of flowers!


We veer to the right and see the rock glacier in the distance! There are no end of little treasures tucked here and there around it...

A dwarf form of Anemone multifida in pure white.

The obligatory Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

A few more gems like Geum rossii

I never tire of sneezeweed (Hymenoxys hoopesii) with huge orange-tinted blossoms.

Helianthus quinquenervis

The gorgeous alpine sunflower is usually four or five feet tall--but above treeline you find these compact races: is it genetic or environmental?

Salix reticulata

Dwarf willows are definitely genetic dwarfs!

The prize of the trip for me was finding the endemic alpine buttercup: Ranunculus macauleyi

Ranunculus macauleyi

 I had not seen this in the wild for many years, and seeing it in full glory really thrilled me!

On our way back the sun comes out and the scenery changes view altogether. Like walking through a different field altogether! Still time to join up with us you know! Just click here and sign up! I see the forecast for this week is heavy rain every day in the San Juans! The show will be even better when the NARGS conference starts!

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