June 25, 2016

The NARGS 2016 Conference - Denver and the Loveland Pass

Joe and I are attending the Annual Meeting of NARGS, the North American Rock Garden Society, which this year is being generously hosted by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of NARGS and the Denver Botanic Garden. I'll try to post as much as I can as we hike, attend lectures and talks, and basically enjoy the high elevation mountains in both Denver and the Steamboat Springs area.
Yeah - this is how I spend my summer vacation, and I am not complaining.

Colorado in June! How iconic is this?

Over the next week or so, I'll be sharing images from the Denver Botanic Garden, and Steamboat Springs Colorado, while I am attending the Annual Meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society. With hikes planned for every day, and speakers in the evening, our schedules are packed. Please consider joining this very active society which seems to attract both very accomplished plant people as well as curious beginners looking for something different and active. I'm currently the president, so yeah, there is that, too!

On our drive up the pass, we noticed other NARGS members who were making their way to  Steamboat Springs photographing something pink. We dismissed the idea of stopping, assuming that it was just another penstemon. At the summit, we met the team, which happened to include Kenton Seth from the Denver Botanic Garden who asked us if we stopped to photograph the Primula parryi. We had to drive back, of course.

Even the lazy plant person can botanize from a car.

Rhodiola integrifolia

A few hearty snowboarders were enjoying a nice, June day in the mountains on Loveland Pass, while a few crazy plant people botanized. Just a typical day in Colorado while attending the annual General Meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society.

Lloydia serotina, Loveland Pass near Clear Creek

What may appear to be a barren meadow from a distance, holds many treasures when viewed up close. Here, at nearly 12,000 feet, the air is thin (think about when you are in a jet at 10,000 feet and they turn off the seat belt sign).

Tetraneuris grandiflora, or 'Old Man of the Mountains'.

Oreoxis alpina, at elevation 11,900 is a relative of common parsley. Break a leaf of an smell it, and you'll know why this relative of the carrot family is indeed a relative. 
Pedicularis groenlandica

The alpine flora on Loveland Pass blooms just as the snow melts, offering opportunities to get images like this.

Loveland Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 11,990 feet - high enough to get ones heart racing if you are like us, two guys from sea level Massachusetts.  While most travelers use the convenience of the Eisenhower tunnel, which cuts through the pass as they rush to the posh ski areas of Vail and Beaver Creek, botanists know (and a few bikers) know that if one cuts off just before the tunnel and takes the cut off intended for trucks carrying dangerous materials, fantastic views and even more fantastic high elevation flora can be found, all within relatively easy walking distance from ones car. This tip was shared with us by Panayoti Keladis from the Denver Botanic Garden, and when PK slips one a tip on where to see great plants, one listens.

Polemonium viscosum color variations on population found on Loveland Pass, CO.

This is the continental divide, and well known to high country skiers ( Arapahoe Basin ski area is here, as is the Loveland Ski Area). In earl June, the flora peaks with colorful buns and mats, which honestly might be missed by tourists who may come here to snap a pic with the Loveland Pass Continental Divis sign, but for plant geeks, it's just an easy stop, and an opportunity to catch some view of high season wildflowers, often set against a backdrop of a late melting snow field.

Kenton Seth, of the Denver Botanic Gardens showed us an early blooming Penstemon whippleanus, purple form that he found. We saw many in bud, but only one beginning to bloom.

Penstemon Whippleanus can be found in a white flowered form, and a dark purple form like this.

View of the habitat on Loveland Pass in June, just at snowmelt.

Most alpine plants a small, and can be missed when viewed from a speeding vehicle. Still, care must be taken when traversing alpine meadows. Staying on trails is key, for stepping on a cushion plant may seem harmless, but at this high elevation, a plant can be many years old, yet only a few inches tall.


  1. Enjoy your visit to Denver and The Rocky Mountains! I love my city, and I hope you have a great time while you are here.

    1. MathewG - you are surely fortunate to live in such a beautiful city - it's so close to everything!

  2. Who would have thought one of the best days of the conference would be driving to Steamboat over Loveland Pass? So fantastic. But where are the Eritrichium pics?

  3. Love the photography of the alpine flora. Truly breathtaking.

    1. Thanks! I do like taking photos!!

  4. This place is so serene and devine. Flowers on Denver valley must be rare and precious.Flowers are incredibly beautiful.


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