wildflowers

Bloomin’ beautiful: wildflowers along State Highway 145 on June 27. (Photo by Carl Marcus)

Colorado’s record-setting winter moisture is pretty much guaranteed to result in brilliant flora.

Wildflower-watchers in the San Juans, however, must continue to wait to see the abundance of flowers they’ve been expecting. “A lot of good alpine terrain is still covered in snow,” Jon Miller, the manager of Jagged Edge Sports, explained on Friday.

That fact hasn’t kept locals and visitors from appreciating the extreme beauty on State Highway 145, opposite Silver Pick Road, a burst of wildflower abundance so eye-popping that it has been stopping cars and attracting selfie-seekers for the last week or so.

Telluride Photographer Carl Marcus says the past two years mark the first time “I’ve seen so many flowers at the foot of Silverpick Road.”

Knute Adcock departed the box canyon early Friday morning, just so he could show — and photograph — his family amongst the abundance of blooms on the way to their flight home to Virginia.

Adcock’s wife, Courtney, photographed their sons Weston, 15, Milo, 13, and four-year-old daughter Poppy posing and smiling, surrounded by flowers.

Johanna and Sam Larsen, in town from New Mexico, were enjoying breakfast by the blooms. Johanna said she’d learned about them “the classic” way — via Instagram. “Someone posted a photo, and I reached out,” she said. “I asked, where do we have to hike to see these? I was told we could find them right by the side of the road.”

The blooms’ brilliance belies the productive — and toxic — history of their setting. The Vanadium Alloys Company mined radium in this region beginning in 1908; the mill was situated where SH 145 lies today, and the hillside where wildflowers bloom was a Superfund site. Remediation was completed in 2006 (a mix of wildflower seeds was scattered as part of the remediation effort).

Marcus said it is his understanding that in contrast to this one, “most wildflower reclamations aren’t successful.” He added that the abundance of wildflowers in the wake of the site’s reclamation reminds him of the way local wildlife seems to have flourished following the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. University of Oviedo (Spain) wildlife researcher German Orizaola recently provided an update on Chernobyl wildlife 33 years after the accident on the website theconversation.com. In March of this year, Orizaola reported, “about 30 researchers” from the U.K., Europe and the Ukraine came together to present “the latest results” of their studies on Chernobyl wildlife ranging from “big mammals to nesting birds, amphibians, fish, bumblebees, earthworms, bacteria and leaf-litter decomposition. These studies showed (that) at present, the area hosts great biodiversity. In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone.”

Closer to home, there is more good news: it should be a wonderful year to see even more naturally-occuring wildflowers, as soon as the snow melts.

“Hope Lake is always a winner,” Miller said. “Sneffels Highline, the Wasatch Trail, Cross-Mountain Trail on Lizard Head Pass.” All places Jagged Edge’s staff usually sends those in search of an eye-popping wildflower walk.

The visitors at the wildflower bloom along Highway 145 weren’t even slightly put off by the fact that it’s a Superfund site. Adcock called the place “beautiful, with a fascinating history.” Johanna Larsen wondered whether she should even tread on the flowers, given how many people have been visiting them. She didn’t want them to become damaged: “For this to be on the side of the road, that’s awesome,” she said.

“It’s been super wet, and super nice,” Miller summed up. But in terms of riotous wildflower blooms in the high alpine, “it’s one of those seasons where it just hasn’t happened yet. When it does, it should be amazing.”