Once we were on top of Grand Mesa and sliding out of the Honda for the first of many stops, we were greeted by a low, steady drone: ZZzzzzZzzZzzzZZ.
What was it? I glanced up, expecting an airplane, but saw only a cottony tumble of gray-bottomed rain clouds pushing each other through the blue sky.
“What’s that sound?” I asked fellow features writer Melinda Mawdsley.
“Bees,” she replied. “So many bees.”
Of course! And not just any bees, but the world’s happiest bees — bloom-greedy, pollen-drunk bees with the most abundant, rainbow-brilliant array of choices. They practically staggered from flower to flower in a dizzy attitude of, “So many! So many!”
Never before had I so strongly related to a bee.
Melinda and I had gone in search of wildflowers on July 16, and after our Ill-Fated Camping Trip (not to be confused with our Ill-Fated Hikes 1 and 2) we decided to stick close to home. Plus, we didn’t see that many wildflowers on our otherwise delightful drive up Slumgullion Pass on July 11, so we approached Grand Mesa with an attitude of, “This is a local treasure! Even if we don’t see many flowers! It’s always a delight to get out on this wonderful, flat mountain! So lovely! So near!”
And it happened gradually. Approaching the summit, we enjoyed modest scatters of Indian Paintbrush and Shrubby Cinquefoil and other flowers I couldn’t identify despite the thorough, excellent assistance of “Guide to Colorado Wildflowers Vol. 2” by G.K. Guennel (it’s a fantastic book, I’m just a lousy botanist). We weren’t disappointed — far from it — but ours was a quiet appreciation, a mellow acknowledgment that nature is tremendous and we are blessed to live here.
As we climbed in altitude, though, the floral display became increasingly profuse and vivid.
“Wow!” Melinda said, pointing to a yellow-red-white-painted meadow just beyond Mesa Lakes on our way to the top. I seconded with a fervent, “Seriously.”
Then, rounding a corner, almost in an instant: Kablooey! Explosions of blossoms in every direction, as far as we could see, fields and meadows and hillsides of them. We gasped in unison and Melinda jerked her Honda into the first gravel pull-out we saw.
My senses hardly seemed up to it. The air was cool and light, dewy from the previous evening’s rain. It lifted the clean, mountain earthy scent from the spongy soil and danced around us. We stepped delicately through a field of flowers at the edge of a pond, emphatic that we not step on a single bloom, our eyes flitting as rapidly as the cadre of bees guzzling from them.
Every color, every shape, every incarnation of velvety softness.
“I don’t even have words for this,” Melinda said, and I agreed.
I thought about a passage from one of my favorite books, “The Secret Garden” by Francis Hodgson Burnett:
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.”
Psychologist Abraham Maslow called it a peak experience, that feeling of ecstatic euphoria and interconnectedness with all life — with the whole universe, really. I felt that, up in those flowers — I wanted to sprint through them and fling myself down among them and breathe them into every atom of my body and crawl into the throbbing heart of each living bloom.
We continued down the dirt road to Lands End, stopping for Colorado columbine and wild roses and seemingly endless fields of sunflowers growing in harmony with a clamoring profusion of other flowers in hundreds of other colors.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Melinda said.
Neither had I. It was so heart-burstingly beautiful, in fact, that I didn’t really mind that I ended up riding home with my left foot in a reusable shopping bag, on account of I accidentally stepped in a pond and sank up to my thigh in muck.
The wildflowers were worth it.
(And OK, maybe “accidentally” is a little generous. Lesson: If you’re trying to get a little closer to the yellow pond lilies to take a nicer picture — which will eventually lead to your dad commenting, “That’s what telephoto is for, dingbat” — DO NOT be deceived by what looks like perhaps an inch or two of mud beneath that skiff of water. It is several feet of muck and will cause you to wonder if you’re ever going to get your sandal back.)
Get going: If you go in the next several days, the wildflowers on top of Grand Mesa still should be spectacular thanks to the recent rains. Take Interstate 70 east to the Collbran/Grand Mesa exit (exit 49) and drive Colorado Highway 65 up and over. As a consideration to other drivers, and since you’ll be stopping a lot, please pull over at designated pull-outs. If you’re a photographer, amateur or otherwise, take every lens and card you own; thank me later.