Walk on the Wild Side

Wildflowers are boomin’ and bloomin’ at the annual Crested Butte gathering.

Crested Butte is notorious for its nude ski days, its invention of the fat-tire bicycle -- and its wildflower walks.

This weekend, the old mining town is just the place to stop and smell the primroses. And the columbine. And the cinquefoil. Crested Butte is known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado -- it's the micro-climate, stupid -- and you'll realize that the title's well deserved after just a few minutes at the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. Now in its sixteenth year, the festival has grown from a small, undiscovered posy into a riotous bouquet of exotic events. From a half-dozen workshops back in 1986 -- including a slide presentation by photographer John Fielder, who's since joined the board -- the festival has grown into 150 activities ranging from wildflower-identification walks (beginner to advanced) to concerts to art shows to cooking classes to art and photo classes to an overnight hike to Aspen. Also new this year are four-wheel-drive tours to look at flowers.

The festival, which started on July 9, has grown so popular that many of the programs sell out. "People need to understand that," says director Lee Renfrow. "In the beginning, this was a small weekend event, the brainchild of some businesspeople from Crested Butte who were traveling in Europe, where they saw the emphasis on flowers and garden festivals. In those days, summer was very, very quiet here."

Wildflower power is the order of the day in Crested Butte.
Wildflower power is the order of the day in Crested Butte.

Not anymore. "Now, of course, we're overwhelmed," she admits.

Despite its explosive growth, the festival remains as fresh and invigorating as an alpine meadow after a summer shower. And should your herbal-remedy class or that high-altitude garden tour be closed out, you can content yourself with an unauthorized hike to a field filled with bright flowers -- the wildflower crop this year is better than last, Renfrow says, and this is the peak week -- or drinking yourself silly in one of Crested Butte's classic bars.

Gather ye rosebuds -- and Bud Light and microbrews -- while ye may. But remember, it's bad karma to pick the columbine.

 
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