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Flowers in the Wild

Ice Lake Basin

The concept of a flower garden often goes out the window when you live at 8,750 feet and are surrounded by alpine wilderness. To give it some perspective, I've attempted to keep a year-round herb garden alive, and if you could see my sad basil plant (small, limp and tired), you'd understand my awe whenever I come across meadows filled with high-elevation varietals that seem to thrive on little oxygen and tumultuous mountain weather patterns.

Roughly speaking, wildflower season runs late July to mid-August. In reality, it's all Mother Nature's call. This year, she's brought early moisture in the form of afternoon showers, and the lush conditions have given a jump-start to the wildflower blooms. Most prolific in the Telluride region, the Colorado Columbine (white and light blue) and the red Indian Paintbrush come into their own this time of year. To be a real wildflower geek, you need to grab a flower guide. There are too many types to track.

Right from the town of Telluride, both Bear Creek Trail and the Jud Weibe Trail offer a glimpse at the power of wildflowers. These are short hikes, perfect for families: Bear Creek is mellow; Jud Weibe is a cardio workout. 

For the more adventurous, or those with a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle, the hikes that start from the to of Bridal Veil Falls (namely Blue Lake, Silver Lake and Ajax) will also reward you with rainbows of flowers, plus spectacular views of the valley below.

A great way to photograph the blooms is to take a guided historic 4x4 jeep tour. It takes about half a day and you can get as high as 13,000 feet. The wildflowers may seem secondary at that point. Choose from guided trips to the ghost town of Tomboy and Imogene Pass or the Alta Lakes region just south of Telluride.

In my humble opinion, the classic wildflower hike is Sneffels Highline, a beautiful all-day loop where the flowers grow to chin height in some basins. Pack two sandwiches and a few snacks, start early and pace yourself.

Get outside. Smell the columbines. Leave no trace.

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