A Higher State (Steppe to Alpine)

Steamboat Lake and Mule's Ears (Wyethia mollis)

Steamboat Lake and Mule’s Ears (Wyethia mollis)

We just returned last week from a spectacular trip to Colorado that was focused on the North American Rock Garden Society‘s (NARGS) annual meeting.  The theme was ‘A Higher State — Steppe to Alpine’ and it was in two locations, the Denver Botanic Garden and Steamboat Springs over 5 days.  It had been a while since we had been to Colorado, so we met with friends and family in Boulder and Golden beforehand.  I’ll try to give a brief overview of what was a wonderful and relaxing exploration of mountain wildflowers.

Hiking just outside of Boulder we encountered this lovely Calochortus.

Calochortus gunnisonii

Calochortus gunnisonii

The NARGS meeting began at the Denver Botanic Garden where we got a personalized tour of the rock gardens by Mike Kintgen who oversees the Alpine collection.

Mike Kintgen at DBG

Mike Kintgen at DBG

Their garden features a crevice garden which has been established for several years now (long enough to see several successful cushions)

Crevice garden at the DBG

Crevice garden at the DBG

They manage to grow the wonderful Devil’s Claw that we first saw in the Dolomites last year.

Physoplexis comosa in a trough at DBG

Physoplexis comosa in a trough at DBG

The Denver Botanic Gardens are not to be missed if you are in Denver.  In this season they have a spectacular display of Foxtail Lilies.

Through the looking glass

Through the looking glass

A Sea of Foxtail lilies

A Sea of Foxtail lilies

On our way to Steamboat Springs we stopped at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail which has newly constructed tufa wall for optimum planting of tiny alpines.

New Tufa bed at Vail

New Tufa bed at Vail

And the outside part of the gardens is quite nice as well.

Betty Ford Alpine Garden

Betty Ford Alpine Garden

In Steamboat Springs we visited local gardens including the Yampa River Botanic Park which right along the Yampa River in a very pretty setting.  They have built a stunning crevice garden there.

Crevice Garden at the Yampa River Botanic Garden

Crevice Garden at the Yampa River Botanic Park

Another view of the Crevice Garden at the Yampa River Botanic Garden

Another view of the Crevice Garden

Panorama of the Crevice Garden at the Yampa River Botanic Garden

Panorama of the Crevice Garden at the Yampa River Botanic Park

I fell in love with a little Stachys planted in one of the crevice locations.

Stachys lavandulafolia

Stachys lavandulafolia

We also took several hikes in the trails surrounding Steamboat Springs.  We drove out through countryside that really summed up what steppes are all about.

Steppes near North Park

Steppes near North Park

Just along the side of the road we saw beautiful Lewisia and Shooting Stars.

Lewisia rediviva

Lewisia rediviva

A sea of Shooting Stars

A sea of Shooting Stars

Dodecahedron puchellum

Shooting Star (Dodecahedron puchellum)

One stop near a trailhead into the Zirkel Wilderness area produced a bevy of these very small Ladyslipper Orchids

Ladyslipper Orchid (Cypripedium fasciculatum)

Ladyslipper Orchid (Cypripedium fasciculatum)

We stayed a few days past the conference and on the last day of hiking we walked up a ridge near the Rabbit Ears pass area.  The views were excellent, but it was remarkable how you had to pay close attention to see that the hillside was covered with wildflower treasures.

Windy Ridge rich with wild flowers

Windy Ridge rich with wild flowers, especially Glacier Lilies, Lewisia, and Larkspur.

Erythroniums galore

Erythroniums galore

Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)

Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)

 

Lewisia pygmaea

Lewisia pygmaea

Lewisia pygmaea (White form?)

Lewisia pygmaea (White form?)

Delphinium nuttallianum

Delphinium nuttallianum

And a final sighting on this ridge was a very nice ground orchid.

Spotted Coralroot

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

All in all, a wonderful trip, with a suitcase full of tiny treasures brought back to Maryland from the plant sales at the conference.  My thanks to Laporte Avenue Nursery and Sunscapes Rare Plant Nursery.

Also, I should mention that the Denver Botanic Garden has published a very nice book on this region of the world (and similar) entitled ‘Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-arid Regions‘.  Check it out…

3 comments on “A Higher State (Steppe to Alpine)

  1. Sarah

    Really beautiful photographs, John. Nice to relive the trip and see some things I missed!

  2. Elaine Lahn

    very nice pics of flowers I have never even imagined but did recognize the genus!! It gives me inspiration to try harder for troughs etc!! Thanks.

  3. Mike

    Great write up and lovely shots!