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Nature’s fireworks

The Columbine is the Colorado state flower.

They say people come to Vail for the skiing and stay for the summers. Our temperate climate, sunny days and cool breezes provide a perfect backdrop for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts alike.

Although Mother Nature has thrown us a heated curve ball this season, there are still denizens of the valley thriving in the hot and dry conditions. While we may have missed the fireworks this year, nature does not disappoint – Colorado’s wildflowers provide a display just as showy and colorful. Many species either thrive in dry environs or are well-protected by cool forest cover.

Perhaps the most beautiful and abundant of Colorado’s floral display is our state flower, the Rocky Mountain columbine (columbine aquilegia caerulea). With rich violet-blue petals, a white cup and a vibrant yellow center, this flower attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to its aromatic nectar.

Chosen as the winning vote in 1899 by Colorado school children to become the state flower, its blue, white and yellow colors are representative of sky, snow and Colorado’s gold-mining history.

In the Eagle Valley, you will find this stunner everywhere – a ghostly creature claiming spots here and there under the forest canopy or commanding entire fields throughout flattop meadowlands. In 1925, a law was enacted to protect the columbine – it is illegal to uproot the flower on public lands, and gathering of blossoms and buds is limited to 25 in one day.

There are dozens of wildflower species here in Colorado. On hikes throughout the valley, you may encounter those as rare as the Calypso orchid or others in more abundance, such as columbines, lupines, larkspurs, paintbrush, heart-leaved arnica and fairy trumpet flowers.

Flower viewing typically begins in late June, peaks in mid-to late July and continues through the end of August. This year, early sun and hot weather may have us seeing a pinnacle somewhat earlier than normal.

For those interested in hiking or photography, you may find the biggest bang for your buck on the Shrine Ridge Trail hike, just west of Vail Pass on Interstate 70. This 3-mile hike is easily accessible by car, has an easy to moderate difficulty and offers a large show, highlighting many different wildflower species. The trail begins as a boardwalk where once a bog had to be crossed. It traverses easy slopes and then turns up through evergreens to reach open meadows before rising more vigorously to gain the tundra, along the Tenth Mountain Trail. Aside from a colorful show at 11,760 feet, inspiring mountain views will knock your socks off on this impressive hike.

Directions to Shrine Ridge Trail Hike: Travel on I-70 to exit 190 (Vail Pass). Just off the exit, turn right onto Shrine Pass Road. Proceed 2.3 miles on this well-maintained dirt road to the trailhead and parking lot on your left (restroom facilities are available across the road from the trailhead).

Kristen Belschner is the marketing manager at Walking Mountains Science Center. A longtime resident of the valley, she enjoys the outdoors and has a passion for flower photography.