Where to go for wildflower pictures

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BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
Besides just being a hiker, I also love taking landscape and nature pictures, and always look forward to wildflower season. Here’s where to find some of the best wildflowers:

• Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a local hidden treasure for wildflowers. Mariposa lilies and prickly pear cacti usually start to bloom from mid-May to late June, depending on weather conditions. The best location is the southwest end of the park, along the Sand Canyon Trail. As of this writing, Red Rock Canyon is closed due to flooding, but hopefully it'll re-open soon.

• Rainbow Gulch is a popular — and free — way to get to Rampart Reservoir and the trail that surrounds it. The trail starts on Rampart Range Road and winds its way, for approximately a mile, to the banks of the reservoir. About halfway there, the trail meets with a creek that ends at the reservoir. It’s along the beginning of the creek where you’ll find a richness of wildflowers, especially. The peak bloom here is during June and July, again depending on weather.

To get there from the Springs, take U.S. 24 to Rampart Range Road in Woodland Park (look for the McDonald's at the traffic light on the right side). Turn onto Rampart Range Road, and turn right onto Loy Creek Road after several miles. Follow the winding Loy Creek Road until the pavement ends at the intersection with Rampart Range Road. Turn right onto the dirt road and continue past the wide-open area and Bald Mountain. Look for the signed parking area on the left for Rainbow Gulch.

• Mt. Herman, overlooking the towns of Monument and Palmer Lake, is not only a great hike, but also a fine place to see wildflowers, especially the Columbine, Colorado’s state flower. You don’t even have to climb to the top of the peak; most of the wildflowers are within a stone's throw of the trailhead.

From the trailhead, go up the trail until just before the trail hooks to the left and starts uphill. If you’re there at the right time of the year, usually from late May and into June, you’ll know when you’re in the right place by all the Columbines on both sides of the trail, along with a wide variety of other wildflowers. If you cross the creek to your left, the trail continues along the creek before heading uphill toward Raspberry Mountain. There are more opportunities for wildflower pictures along the creek, too.

To get there, take I-25 north to Exit 161. At the end of the exit ramp turn left, and continue back over to the west side of I-25. Continue straight on Second Street through downtown Monument until you come to the intersection on the other side of the railroad tracks. Turn left, and then turn right at the well-marked Mt. Herman Road. Continue on Mt Herman Road for approximately five miles — it will turn from paved to dirt along the way — and look for the small parking area and the marker for Trail 716 on the right side, where the road makes a sharp turn to the left.

• If you want to take a road trip, Shrine Pass and Shrine Ridge near Vail are almost unparalleled for wildflowers around the end of July.

Shrine Pass is accessible by most vehicles when approached from the east, until the final downhill toward the small town of Redcliff, where small cars may have some difficulty. Wildflowers abound all along Shrine Pass, and there are plenty of places to stop for photos. But the best place is along the trail to Shrine Ridge.

Located at the top of Shrine Pass, the Shrine Ridge Trail starts at the large, well-marked parking lot and trailhead on the east side of the road. The trail is easy/moderate, and goes through several eco-zones on the way to the top of Shrine Ridge. At the top of the trail, you can turn right for the short hike to Shrine Mountain, or left for a slightly longer hike to the very edge of the ridge, where it seems as though the earth just falls away from you.

The best wildflowers are to the right, toward Shrine Mountain. There are plenty of places to set up camp along Shrine Pass, and I highly recommend camping on the pass overnight and shooting the sunrise.

Flying insects seem to like the upper portions of the Shrine Ridge trail, so good DEET bug repellent is highly suggested. Also, the Shrine Ridge Trail is very popular and sees a lot of foot traffic, and the parking lot fills up fast. Try camping overnight or going on a weekday for the best, least-crowded experience.

To get there, take I-70 west to the exit at the top of Vail Pass. Cross over I-70 to the south side and go past the turn-off for the rest area, continuing straight on the dirt Shrine Pass Road.

A few words about the ethics of nature photography:

• Stay on the marked trails.
• Don’t pick the flowers. Wildlife, birds and insects depend on them to live and the eco-system needs them to help pro-create.
• Don’t cause damage to other plants to get your picture. If something is in your way, shoot from a different angle, or just move on.
• Be aware of other trail-users and don’t block their path unnecessarily.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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