We spent a wonderful weekend as amateur wildflower enthusiasts, taking part in the 2015 Annual Conference of the New Mexico Native Plant Society. One of the first things that we learned was why a conference of the New Mexico Native Plant Society was being held in Durango, Colorado. Every state and region has its own unique native plants. Southwestern Colorado and El Paso, Texas, are 2 regions where the native plants are more closely related to neighboring New Mexico. Hence, the 8 chapters of the New Mexico Native Plant Society include an El Paso, Texas, chapter and the San Juan chapter, which hosted this year’s conference “Flora of the High San Juans”.
Driving home from Oregon last year, we passed through Durango, Colorado, and, until this weekend, that was my only acquaintance with the San Juan Mountains. Being out in the mountains on the 2 field trips that we had signed up for, I got excited, not only for the wildflowers we saw, but for the incredible scenery and hiking opportunities in the San Juans. I hope that one of these days soon we will be able to spend more time there enjoying the area.
One of the flowering plants that I was not familiar with until this weekend is the tall, impressive Monument Plant, also known as Green Gentian. They are perennial and grow for many years before blooming. In a given area the blooming is synchronized so that all the plants flower at the same time. We happened to walk through one of those areas on the first day’s field trip and the surrounding slopes were covered with the tall, stalky, blossom-covered plants, reminding me of a lush version of Arizona hillsides covered with giant saguaro cacti.
For both of our field trips we drove north from Durango on Hwy 550 towards Silverton. The first day we stopped at the Coal Bank Pass parking area and walked across the highway, where we hiked partway up the Pass Creek Trail.
The second day we drove almost as far as Silverton, stopping at the Molas Pass Summit to look at Botrychium (moonwort), a wild fern that you would never think to look for, except that we had an expert botanist in the group who has studied them extensively. From there we drove to Little Molas Lake, one of the trailheads for the Colorado Trail. We didn’t walk very far on the Colorado Trail, as the wildflowers weren’t as abundant as expected. Most of our time was spent walking through marshy areas and along the shore of the lake.
Our last field trip of the weekend was very different from the other two. We spent Sunday morning on an ethnobotany tour, led by a ranger at Aztec Ruins National Monument. This meant we were back in desert country, walking through an arroyo and up a mesa, learning the many uses that have been found over the centuries for the native plants in the Four Corners area. A lot of restoration work is being done at the monument to get rid of invasive species and encourage the growth of native species.