Wet spring brings dazzling floral show
Rocky desert landscapes around Grand Junction usually dressed in drab shades of brown and Army green lately have given way to a riot of colorful wildflower and cacti blooms.
Thanks to dousing rains in April and a lingering spring, locals and visitors to the area are being treated to palettes of fuchsia, lemon yellows, sunset oranges and commanding purples.
Visitors to Colorado National Monument are delighted by the blooms, Interpretive Park Ranger Mark Abetz said.
“We certainty have more visitors asking about them because it’s been such a great spring,” he said.
Abetz said he’s been sending hikers to the park’s one-mile round trip Alcove Nature Trail to take a peek at the colors. Another good spot is the upper portion of the Liberty Cap Trail, a hike Abetz recently completed and was rewarded with sightings of a number of blooming desert flowers.
However, you’re bound to spot the blooms just about anywhere you look right now in the monument, he said.
“I know this is a better year than last year,” he said. “Just about anywhere is a good place.”
Indeed, a hot spring without much moisture produced lackluster colors in the desert last year.
Blooming now are hot pink and yellow blooms on prickly pear cacti, the lipstick red blooms of the claret cup cactus, and if you’re lucky, you may spy the striped blooms of the fishhook cactus. The succulent regional plant is named for its curved, fishhook-shaped spines.
Yuccas, those long-trunked plants adorned with a number of white flowers, are “blooming like crazy right now,” Abetz said.
Also in abundance are Indian paintbrush characterized locally by their fiery red spikes, shrubby cinquefoil plants with yellow rose-like flowers, and the honey-colored stalks of Mormon tea.
Sego lilies, characterized by a single goblet-shaped bloom usually decked in pastel shades, also are opening.
Kenton Seth, a gardener who creates native landscapes for people in the Grand Valley, said a good year of desert blooms encourages people to consider incorporating native plants into their yards.
“It makes people realize there’s a lot of color out there and a lot of life,” he said. “It sways people’s hearts that it could be beautiful. A tulip blooms for five days, but most desert plants bloom for a lot longer than that. It makes the case for native a lot easier.”
Seth said he’s been thrilled to see the bright yellow stalks of Princess plumes and blooming Utah serviceberry, a shrub he nearly forgot was here until seeing its blossoms recently near the monument. Some plants that don’t bloom every year are out in force this season, including sundrops, a golden flower that fades to orange. Recently, the Cisco woody aster, which looks like a daisy, dominated the open spaces off Horizon Drive, he said.
Susan Rose, a horticulturist for Mesa County’s Colorado State University Extension Office, said she had to postpone for a week a class for native plants in the monument. Cold winter temperatures had blooms opening a few weeks later than normal this year, she said.
Now, it’s go time.
“Last year was a terrible year — there were really fleeting wildflowers. I really recommend people get out there now and have a look,” Rose said. “Things are just bursting out everywhere.”
Most recently Rose has been leading a class about native plants at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, another area experiencing an explosion of colors. She’ll lead another class in late June at Skyway on Grand Mesa, where wildflowers are expected to be spectacular.
Promoting a desert in bloom is good for tourism, especially as most of Colorado’s mountain towns are just getting out of winter mode, said Mistalynn Meyeraan, a spokeswoman for the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Meyeraan issued a press release earlier this week about blooms all around the Grand Valley to generate interest.
She snapped a stunning shot of yellow cliffrose blooming against the backdrop of the monument’s red rocks on the Canyon Rim Trail. She met some international visitors on the trail and encouraged them to walk the entire length of the trail to get the view.