Tag Archives: Wildflowers

Native Plant Master Training

Native Plant Master Training

The spring snow brings a brilliant display of flowers to the foothills of Colorado and I’ve always wanted to know more about them.   Each year, I hike the trails with my camera and take dozens of photos with plans to look up their names.   When I heard about the Native Plant Master program offered by the Colorado State Extension, I rushed to sign up.  Each county offers classes in local parks with three 12 hour courses required to earn the NPM certificate.   For enthusiasts like me, three courses is just a start!

In early May, I started this journey with a course at Deer Creek Canyon Park near my home.  The course met each Monday morning at 8:30 am for three weeks.   Our instructor, Amy Flanagan, a former Lockheed Martin engineer and native plant master in retirement, led the 14 of us on three hour hikes of the flora of the canyon.   To aid in our learning of both native plants and noxious weeds, we were treated to a variety of books, brochures and insider information.   The cornerstone of our studies has been the respected textbook “The Flora of Colorado”  written by Jennifer Ackerfield.   At $78, this text is an investment but well worth the expense to have the gold standard of plant identification in the state.

9781889878454-usThe first day, Amy handed us a spreadsheet listing the common name of the plants to review along with their plant families and Latin names.   During our hikes, we were introduced to at least 30 new plants.   I took photos of each one and tried to match each photo to the numbered list on the spreadsheet.   Familiarizing myself with what the plants looked like was just a start since we also needed to learn how to “key” each plant using the Ackerfield text.   By looking at the plant, we learned how to discern their unique properties — the structure of the leaves, the color of the flowers, the placement of the stamen and the sepals, etc.   The new terminology associated with plant identification is immense and sometimes confusing and admittedly, I have so much to learn.   But, I’m feeling good about learning new things and building some new pathways in my brain.

For the exam, we needed to use the Latin name of each plant marked with a flag as wellimg_5397 as describe identifying characteristics of the plant families.  There were questions about noxious weeds as well. Fortunately, we were able to write a key in the back of the Ackerfield and use the book as a reference during the hour exam.   In preparation, I spent at least 8 hours preparing my cheat sheet.   As I continue taking courses, I believe the absorption of the new knowledge will get easier and the exams will get easier.   So excited to learn more about the wildflowers I’ve appreciated for so long.   Can’t wait for my second course to begin in June at Chatfield Farms!

Below is a sampling of some of the May flowers I endeavored to learn during my first Native Plant Master Course:

Western Sand Lily, Redstem Filaree, , Bluemist Penstemon, Three-leaf Sumac, Sticky Willy, Nelson Larkspur, Miner’s Lettuce, Wavy Leaf False Dandelion, Western Wallflower, Death Camus, Spreadfruit Golden Banner, Chiming Bells, Fendler’s Waterleaf, Dalmation Toadflax, Boulder Raspberry, Mouse-eared Chickweed, Canada Violet, Western Wallflower, Narrow-Leaf Puccoon




The Flowering Fragrant Trails of Spring


Just days after our last snows in Colorado, spring flowers start to emerge to brighten up the landscape and fill the air with lovely fragrances.  During this time of year,  I make it my mission to get outside as often as possible to fill my senses with the joy that spring has to offer — and actually surprised myself with how many wonderful many blooming trails I’ve visited lately.   Here are some of the highlights of my recent adventures in Jefferson County:

Crab Apple Route, Littleton,  April 23, 2018 – Blooming Bike Ride

A group of us got together to ride the 7 mile Crab Apple Route in Littleton — a 40 year old loop lined with crap apple trees that bloom for a few beautiful weeks in April.


South Platte Trail, April 29, 2018 – Crab Apple Trees just North of Hudson Gardens

The Sunday Run I attend with the Columbine’s Running Club is secretly known at the LTR’s (Love to Run) and we meet at Carson Nature Center every Sunday at 8 am, 7:30 in the summer.   About two miles down the trail, there is a tunnel of crab apple trees that bursts into white and pink blossoms at the end of April.    Running through this fragrant stretch of the trail is a worthy goal for my Sunday workout.   Once I reached the trees, I had to stop, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to saturate my senses with the heady aroma of the sea of flowers surrounding me.



Writer’s Vista Park, Highline Canal, April 30, 2018 – Pam’s Last Marathon Training 

During my sister Pam’s marathon training this winter and spring, I often agreed to accompany her on the trail.   At her last training run before the big race, we met at Writer’s Vista Park to run one of our favorite trails.   It is a relatively flat tree-lined crushed gravel trail that winds through the backyards and horse pastures of Littleton.   As an added bonus, the crab apples trees were in full bloom.


South Valley Park, May 5, 2018 – Trail Running Practice

Pam and I decided to participate in a trail running program this spring and so far, the training has taken us to a variety of beautiful trails in Jefferson County.   I ended up missing the group on Saturday morning (since it was rescheduled to the evening) but hit the trail at South Valley on my own and enjoyed the pleasant weather, spectacular rock outcroppings and many flowers.



Hildebrand Ranch Open Space Park, May 10, 2018 – Fly Girls Flower Run

The leader of our Thursday morning running group (Suzanne Buntrock) selects a different trail every week depending on trail conditions, weather and this time of year, flowers.   One of our favorites in the spring is the Two Brands Trail at Hildebrand Park. The park is accessible in two spots — in the Trailmark neighborhood near my house and from a parking lot just past the Denver Botanic Gardens on Deer Creek Canyon Road.   It runs along the hogback and wraps around my neighborhood of Trailmark.   This week, the flowers were blooming!



Deer Creek Canyon, May 12, 2018 – Training Running in the Rain

Our trail running group meets rain or shine and despite the morning drizzle on Saturday, we all met at Deer Creek Canyon Park.   The run up the trail was damp but fragrant and beautiful.   Many of us “power hiked” up the slippery trails but when the the path evened out, we jogged.   Dashing up the “stairs” was challenging and fun but definitely an exercise I might have skipped if alone.   The jog down was a nice reward after the two mile ascent.   We heard about a very challenging half marathon called “Fear the Deer” being held at the park next weekend.   Pam and I are committed to train and sign up to do it next year.


Chatfield State Park, May 16, 2018 – Walking Bennie along the River

My friend Suzanne is a naturalist guide at both Chatfield and Roxborough State Parks and we often meet to walk.   I always enjoy our get together’s because she is so familiar with the flora and fauna of the area and I inevitably learn something new.   On this day, we were walking her grand dog Benny who poked along while we looked at trees felled by beavers, enjoyed new flowers, found plum trees and choke cherry bushes and marveled at the running water in the river.   A beautiful day for a leisurely stroll in the park!


Massey Draw in Ken Caryl, May 17, 2018 – Fly Girls on the Private Trail

Thanks to Kim, a resident of Ken Caryl Valley, our Fly Girls group, could enjoy a morning workout on the Massey Draw Trail in her neighborhood.   Our hike/run started with blue skies and a warm morning.    The dirt trail ascended quickly and was decorated with mobs of bright flowers all along the route.    I was too busy snapping photographs and chatting with Jan to run too much.   We still worked up a sweat climbing up the trail and down.    A lovely prelude to our coffee talk at Atlas Coffee down the road.



Roxborough State Park, May 17, 2018 – Naturalist Wild Flower Training Hike


When my naturalist friend Suzanne mentioned that she had to attend a wildflower talk this evening, I was immediately interested.   How can I go?   Do I have I have to sign up?   It was a training for naturalist guides, she said, but she’ll call and see if I could tag along.   Yes, I was in.   She picked me up at 5 and we headed to Roxborough State Park and there, met about ten other naturalist guides.   The leader Ann handed me a sheet with a list of about 50 wildflowers and told me that we’d be attempting to see almost the entire list in the next two hours.  Wow!   What a treat and a mind bender.   We hit the trail with our list, pens and cardboard squares for note-taking.   The tree-lined trail was chock full of blooming flowers of every color — naturally growing in this spring forest.  Ann shared scientific detail of each flower we observed, the family name, species identifiers, uses by native Americans, color, etc.    Rather than being overwhelmed, I took great notes, many photos and left with the urge to come back tomorrow to solidify the new knowledge I’d gained.


Whew!    Its hard to believe I’ve been on so many trails and enjoyed so many flowers during this busy time of the year!   My gardens are keeping me very busy after all.   I’m within days of planting warm season crops so have been prepping plots, tending to seedlings, planting the last of the cold crops, weeding and shopping for garden provisions.   But busy or not,  I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to inhale the beauty of the season!


Spring Flowers, Bear Tracks and Running (Fast!) at Hildebrand Ranch Park.

Spring Flowers, Bear Tracks and Running (Fast!)  at Hildebrand Ranch Park.

This morning I met my running group for a lovely sunny Spring run on the Two Brands Trail in Hildebrand Ranch Park.   This newer trail in Littleton is accessible from my neighborhood of  Trailmark and from a parking lot on Deer Creek Canyon Road.    This time of year,  the grasses are low and the rattlesnakes  have not yet appeared in the relatively cool weather.   A perfect time to hike, run or bike this five mile loop!  Today’s idyllic four mile jog brought to mind another similar expedition in June 2015 which followed a Seattle-like rainy May in Colorado.   That morning, we reveled in the sea of colorful wildflowers and ambled much of the way taking photos and posing  — until we saw the bear tracks on the trail.

Fortunately, we didn’t see the bear tracks until after we turned around.   We’d run about 30 minutes out and had turned around to head back down the hill to our cars. I was the first to see the bear paw prints in the dirt and alerted the others.   Geez — there was bear somewhere nearby and it had trotted along the same path we had run on for about a quarter of a mile!   We knew the bear probably wouldn’t bother us as long as we were noisy.   So we talked and concentrated on finishing our run — fast!   We all laughed how normally we might slowing down on the last leg of a run but not today.    Being one of the slower runners in the bunch, I focused on keeping a brisk pace and not being the last one.  Nothing like a bear to motivate a slow jogger!

Whew!   We all made it to our cars safely with a load of beautiful photos and a lot to talk about at our post-run coffee klatch!

Alpine Flowers at their Peak — Hiking Upper Piney Lake Trail, Colorado

Alpine Flowers at their Peak — Hiking Upper Piney Lake Trail, Colorado

1610975_1611224589116975_4121019414959504395_nJuly 14, 2015.   My husband and I recently had a rare opportunity to enjoy a week in the mountains sans bambini.   Our last interval of more than two days without children  happened more than three years ago!!    With almost a week to ourselves, we decided to head up to the Beaver Creek/Avon area of Colorado to relax, hike, read, explore the surrounding mountain towns and sample local microbrews.    One day, Dave suggested we try a hike at Piney River Ranch, a resort situated in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness and only accessed by driving up an 11 mile long bumpy unpaved road.   With perfect sunny warm temps on our side, we headed to Vail Exit 176, turned up Red Sandstonre Road and followed it up to Lost Lake Road.   After nearly an hour of winding and bouncing, we arrived at the parking lot of Piney River Ranch — a seemingly remote location buzzing with tourists just like us.

IMG_9065We parked just steps away from the entrance to the Ranch, jumped out and walked toward the quaint resort dotted by cabins, yurts, a gift shop/resturant and a few other small buildings.   We were immediately impressed by the beautiful little lake rimmed by majestic mountains, blue skies, aspen covered foothills and clusters of colorful wildflowers dotting the grassy fields and meadows beyond   After passing a little playground and a horse picturesquely lassoed to a ponderosa pine, we were drawn to the canoes tied to a little dock jutting out into the quiet waters.   The $30/hr canoe rental made us think twice and we wondered whether we could bring up our own boats someday.IMG_9073


We then hiked up to the lodge headquarters to pick up a brochure and check out the accomodations.  After popping our heads into the adjoining dining hall with ribs posted as the dinner special, we reviewed the map and set out on the seemingly flat dirt path known as the Upper Piney River Trail.    The narrow path quickly left the resort property and headed out toward the tops of the Gore Mountain Range in the distance.   We heard that there is a waterfall about two miles out and headed in that direction.   Along the way, the plethora of blooming wildflowers was amazing and pause for much photo taking.   I cannot imagine a more beautiful mountain hike or a more perfect day to do it.IMG_9091 IMG_9089 IMG_9083 IMG_9108 IMG_9095

After returning from an hour and a half on the trail, we decided to have lunch  at the rustic pine resort lodge.   For such a remote location, the place was filled with other hikers, travelers and large family groups — quite fun to observe while waiting for the delicious burger we split.   The summer breezes blowing through the open windows and double deck doors punctuated by the laughter of children and their families enhanced our dining experience.   We both thought about how awesome it would be to vacation up here with our children one day    What fun we would have boating on the lake, fishing, hiking and looking at the stars.    After lunch, we relaxed in a set of Adirondeck chairs overlooking the peaceful lake shores and the mountain vistas.   What a great day!!!IMG_9116

The picture taking was breathtaking and voluminous.   Here, I share many photos —  as much for you as for me.   Enjoy!!!IMG_9078 IMG_9080IMG_9113 IMG_9115 IMG_9108 IMG_9107 IMG_9106 IMG_9103 IMG_9102