How the dry weather is impacting the Wildflower Festival
By Dawne Belloise
The white of winter left the high country very early this year as snowfall was far below average. The Western Slope of Colorado is in a drought serious enough to warrant a Stage Two fire ban. Still, with natural defiance of the odds, and earlier than normal for some wildflower species, the color persists: blossoms bursting in an artist’s palette of spellbinding purples, brilliant reds and oranges, pristine whites, delicate blues, mysterious indigos, splashed across slopes, fields, and valleys.
Tiny petals to towering spikes of the century plant, gauzy seed heads, alpine sunflowers backlit by the sun in the late afternoon as the long shadows of mountain peaks finger their way through golden masses—these are why Crested Butte is the designated Wildflower Capital of Colorado.
This year celebrates the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival’s 32 years of offering guidance and education in all things wildflower, from photography and plein air painting to cooking, garden tours and identification hikes into the high country, from July 6 through July 15 with events continuing through August.
Wildflower Festival executive director Michelle Bivens notes the drought this year has had some effect on the wildflowers and explains, “At lower elevations the flowers are appearing earlier and fading faster than usual. Higher elevations seem to be tracking on time. Surprisingly, the drought has had less impact than we expected—flowers are blooming and beautiful. Alpine sunflowers on Scarp Ridge are peaking right now and are more prolific than last year. We expect alpine to peak earlier and the show should be good, right on time for the festival. Due to the earlier blooming, our July guests may see masses of fireweed, which usually bloom after the festival in August.”
Most of the festival’s events now take place at their new home in the Historic Train Depot, 716 Elk Avenue. “Registration, the boutique and 85 percent of our programs meet there,” explains Lindsey Freeburn, the new assistant director. “We’re having our inaugural Members Appreciation Party at the Mt. Crested Butte Wedding Garden on July 12, from 4:30 to 7 p.m.,” she says of the members-only party but adds, “People are still welcome to join by purchasing a membership.”
Memberships range from $25 to $1,000 and can be purchased at the Depot or online. The event will feature light appetizers, drinks, and recognition of this year’s poster artist, Nick Couts.
There are several exciting new programs this year that are filling up quickly.
Ruby of the Rockies is a hike referred to as classic and unique, according to the festival’s website (crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com). Led by instructor Eva Montane on July 6, it skirts the grand rock “Dyke” outcrop of the Ruby Range as it weaves
and winds through one of North America’s largest aspen forests. The tour touts a selection
of flowers, of which a few are not present in other areas around
Crested Butte. The hike suggests a minimum age of 15 years for participants and is rated as advanced to expert because of its steep, rocky terrain.
On July 7, Tom Zeiner and Jeff Delanay lead an expert-only hike through the spectacular Oh Be Joyful valley to beautiful Blue
Lake, nestled beneath Purple and Afley Peaks in the Ruby Range. The 13-mile, very steep and rocky trail is worth the effort to see wildflower-filled meadows and several waterfalls along the way. Since there’ll be multiple water crossings, shoes and water sandals are a must, and a steep ascent to the lake suggests you bring hiking poles. Minimum age is 16 years for participants.
Join Kirsten, a local adventure mama, as she takes Strollers and Striders on the Woods Walk for two hours of hiking, strider-biking, snack time, stories, and free play on July 10. The two-mile stroll meanders through the aspen groves, basically in town, and is perfect for strollers and kids on strider bikes, bikes with or without training wheels. Parents must accompany their children and are responsible for supervision.
Walrod Gulch and its caves are home to one of the most impressive displays of mules ear sunflowers and lupine in the valley and on July 9 instructor Julie Bremer will guide you to incredible views of Cement, Red, and Whetstone Mountains. This hike is considered intermediate with four miles of rocky, very steep and uneven terrain, for kids and adults 12 years and up.
Meander through wildflower paradise on July 7 and July 10 with Eva Montane to discover which wildflowers are garden-appropriate, when you sign up for Wildflowers Fit for a Garden. Eva is a botanist and garden designer who will take you through rolling terrain and gardens at a relaxed pace, allowing for discussion on the
availability of wildflowers, the ethics of transplanting them from the wild, and the
viability of cultivating wildflowers from seed. It’s a beginner level two- to three-mile hike for adults and kids over 12 years of age.
The Art of Preserving Flowers on Fabric is a workshop taught on July 11 by Joan Shaffer, who will show the technique of creating a floral print by
pounding flowers and leaves onto fabric to release their natural dyes. The class will cover
how to treat fabric to accept natural dyes and the pounding process to make a floral
print. Participants will take home a matted picture suitable for framing. All materials
are provided and minimum age requirement is 14 years.
What could be better than a hike, lunch and yoga among the wildflowers along the Lower Loop on a beautiful day in Paradise? This beginner-level event is taught by Lori Mason, who will take participants on a three- to four-mile hike across rolling terrain on July 14.
Also on July 14, international chef Kieran Creevy will conduct a hands-on workshop that will explore the vast array of
what’s possible with food in the great outdoors, using basic camping and backpacking
gear. Participants will be shown how to utilize wild ingredients to prepare a variety of gourmet meals that will include salmon, avocado, pepper and
grapefruit ceviche with tomatillo and cactus salsa, or eggplant, spinach, green chili
and sweet potato curry with cilantro and jalapeno chapatti and cucumber rajia. Kieran
is an expedition and private chef, and international mountain leader with more than
20 years of experience cooking and leading in a wide variety of countries around the
The festival has greatly expanded from its roots when it started as a small seed back in 1987 when three local ladies, Rosie Catmur, Michelle Simpson and Dana Bradley, decided to hold a weekend of workshops on wildflower hikes. From there it was carried to the state legislature to petition Crested Butte as the state’s designated Wildflower Capital and received the honor in 1990. The concept of the Wildflower Festival is conservation, education and economic development and it’s evolved into more than 200 events, well beyond the week-long festival.
The events attract a good cross-section mix of ages, from the younger generation of earth-oriented 20-somethings to a very durable senior generation. They come to spend time in the open air and unmatched beauty of our piece of paradise, where to hike through a Crested Butte sunny summer day with puffs of clouds sailing through blue skies contrasted by snowy peaks is to stroll in heaven, but to arrive at the height of wildflower season, in its brief but furious seasonal explosion, is unforgettable.
For complete information on events, to register and to visit the shop online, crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com.