Ok, its Horseshoe again, for the last time (promise :)
Not since I last was in South Africa in 1993 have I seen so many different flowers in one small area. The snowlover, Chionophila jamesii, looks like a small white penstemon, and indeed is rarely found far from some snow lying around on the ground. I used a hat I borrowed from Panayoti to deal with the bright sun, but failed to use sunblock and got a really bad sunburn. Its easy to forget in the cool mountain air just how intense the UV light is--at that altitude (we climbed to over 1300 feet) the air is thin and sunlight very intense. I found out what "Rocky Mountain High" really means when I got a touch of altitude sickness, first comes stomach discomfort, then one actually gets a bit loopy (probably from low oxygen levels, you can feel yourself thinking slower), and a light headache sometimes. I was proud that I got to the top of our trail, while not the mountain peak it was damn close, and one could look over the continental divide to the watersheds that flow west. I took the photo of Panayoti Kelaidis and Jan Fahls at the summit of our hike, and they took one of me as well. Just before those photos, one can see a pink mound of Silene acaulis, which is yet another circumboreal tundra/alpine species. It is quite common on the mountain, and some variation in shade of pink and floriferousness can be seen among the large populations of it. White daisies and pinnate foliage characterize Erigeron compositus. Erigerons are generally easy to germinate and grow in rock gardens, and they are quite abundant and diverse in the montane West. One of a few alpine Trifolium species in the area, T. parryi is everywhere in the mountains west of Denver. With its large trusses of purple flowers, its a serious improvement on our lawn clovers. A yellow draba, which I dare not attempt to identify (the genus is a taxonomic nightmare with many similar species) thrusts its bright yellow flowers skyward, though at its size it doesn't get very far. Androsace is a genus of often lovely plants, mainly Asian, but a tiny and rather insignificant one which might be A. septentrionalis (identifications are welcome) hides among the rocks in Colorado. Rather more attractive in the horticultural sense is Eriogonum, possibly E. umbellatum, another diverse and confusing western American genus. Both the silvery leaves and bright yellow flower umbels are easy on the eyes. In favored locations with some moisture Arnica cordifolia forms large patches of yellow daisies. The famous Colorado columbine, Aquilegia caerulea was only present near part of a nearby trail some of us took on the way down. One can see why it has been brought into cultivation, the large blue and white flowers are quite nice. Finally a small Heuchera parvifolia hugs the light colored rocks it grows among. The foliage is quite attractive, though the greenish yellow flowers are more modest than some of its more showy cousins.
Hiking up Horseshoe Mountain with an enthusiastic and informed crew from the Denver Botanic Garden during what apparently was an optimal time during an exceptionally good flower year was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.