By John Fielder
Originally published: May/June 2017
The people of Colorado find solitude and tranquility in the state’s 44 wilderness areas—public lands protected by The Wilderness Act of 1964.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” the law reads.
Though physical fitness is required to explore the best and most remote parts in Colorado, their edges are often accessible to people of any ability or age.
Colorado’s economy depends on a healthy ecology—something all of us should keep in mind while driving the highways and byways, and hiking the trails, in search of the most beautiful wildflower meadows on Earth.
Dwight and Gus (above)—my rented pack llamas—joined me on a walk through the aspen sunflowers in the Raggeds Wilderness near Crested Butte. These good-natured animals haul my heaviest gear on 10- to 20-mile daily hikes. Llamas require very little water, and feast in mountain meadows and tundra as if they were salad bars.
The Colorado State Flower, Columbine
For the best columbine viewing in the state, as illustrated in this image, take a one-half-mile hike, suitable for children and older folks, from a public parking lot to a meadow near Lower Cataract Lake, in Eagles Nest Wilderness in Summit County.
Depicted here, claret cup cactus grows near the 800-year old towers of Hovenweep National Monument. May and June rains also bring blooms of pink loco, orange paintbrush, lavender phlox, copper mallow, and hundreds more on the Great Plains.
Colorado’s largest wilderness
This image is typical of the unparalleled biodiversity still found in Weminuche Wilderness: orange sneezeweed, crimson kings crown, red Indian paintbrush, bluebells, purple larkspur, and Colorado columbine, and white osha—all in one meadow.
The Wildflower Capitol of Colorado
Snowmelt from big winters and fertile soils allow wildflowers to grow taller and thicker in the mountains around Crested Butte than anywhere else in the state. This is a July display of aspen sunflowers in the West Elk Mountains near Ohio Pass during one of the workshops that I teach in Crested Butte. I also offer workshops in Steamboat Springs, Summit County, Telluride, and while rafting the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness near Delta.
Wildflowers of Colorado, a photo album with 100 John Fielder images of wildflowers throughout the state, is available at all Colorado bookstores and online retailers. Fielder hosts photography workshops through spring, summer and autumn 2017; learn more at johnfielder.com/workshops.