While the ski slopes of Copper Mountain are still covered in deep snow, parts of Summit County are emerging from a deep winter's sleep. Believe it or not, hikers are reporting early wildflowers from some lower-elevation south-facing slopes.
The pasque flower is the first to bloom each year in Summit County. The species that grows here is incredibly adapted to the extremes in temperatures that springtime brings. The entire plant is coated with a thick layer of insulating hairs, and since they emerge so early, they have the first pollinators all to themselves.
Our local pasque flower is related to a worldwide group of plants that all seem to appear right around Easter, no matter where they're growing, in the Himalaya or the Austrian Alps. The earliest blooms always seem to be along the Ptarmigan Peak Trail in Silverthorne. The first half mile of the trail is mostly snow-free, and there, hiding in rocky nooks, the lavender-pink blossoms are unfurling, along with a couple of dots of bright yellow buttercups.
The lower slopes of Tenderfoot Mountain, above Dillon, also dry out early, and will all the moisture this year, should put on a great show of early wildflowers. If you venture along the Tenderfoot Trail, be on the lookout for old Douglas fir trees. They're usually in a small clump or standing alone, away from the main bulk of the higher forested slopes. Scientists have studied the growth rings of these trees to track climate changes going back 700 years.
Check this U.S. Forest Service website for more information on finding wildflowers.