“We’re going to the Basin!” we say excitedly when heading out in a Jeep on the dirt roads above the little town of Marble. A sign marks the place where it is four-wheel drive vehicle or foot-power only. This year’s trip to the Basin began on a cool morning after a day of rain, with rain-gear packed just in case. On the first steep climb up Daniel’s Hill we delighted in no-dust and balmy breezes. And the Colorado sun that can be so brutal at high altitudes shone but did not scorch. The road is rocky and unimproved with a stream or two to ford, but the scenery, which changes at every curve, beyond description. Climbing upward one can see wildflowers on either side and as the altitude heightens they change. Varieties rarely seen appear the higher you go. And then Lead King Basin! Wildflowers grow unimpeded in such amazing variety and color it can take your breath away. Water-loving plants cluster around little mountain creeks but most cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. Even though you are at high elevations, the Rocky Mountain peaks rise up on all sides even higher. The sky is blue, blue with white, white clouds. It might be heaven if not for the flies that also prosper in such country.
Over the half-century we have been coming to the Basin, it remains in its natural state. We seldom see the flowers at their peak because no one knows when that will be. Certainly its spring is our summer but the moisture and temperature vary so much, predictions are hard. The same is true for the timing of the autumn turning of the quaking aspen. This year we witnessed the flowers at their glorious best. In the clear mountain air, identification books come out again to verify the dizzying array of fireweed, aspen sunflower, mariposa lily and so many more. Colors range from purple larkspur to maroon kings’ crown to pure white columbine. Native varieties here are not the same as native in Michigan—I have to go back to the books.
Is it any wonder that my mother at age 90 still wanted to drive to Lead King Basin once more before she died? And we too, although believing that we are not close to the end of life, will hold the memories until next year when--even if we don’t hit the best time—we will come. And we’ll see that the gardener has maintained his weed-free wildflower meadow another year for our delight, with no help from us.