Nature up close: Rocky Mountain Spring

By “Sunday Morning” contributing videographer Judy Lehmberg.

Do you remember the Peterson Field Guide Series? Roger Tory Peterson wrote the first easy-to-use bird field guide for the U.S. in 1934. I didn’t discover it until the mid-1970s. That was my first bird book, and I quickly acquired many of the others in the series.

My favorite is “A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers” by John and Frank Craighead and Ray Davis. The Craighead brothers were the first modern-day researchers to study grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They also published a plant field guide. That guide was my constant companion while I learned the plants of the Rockies. I love their book because it not only identifies plants; it adds interesting tidbits about them. I just randomly opened my copy and found blue flax. Under “Interesting facts” it adds, “Named for Captain Meriwether Lewis. … Try twisting the stems. … It should behave like a piece of string and not readily break.”

They also relate blooming times to other activities. For example, under “American Vetch” they add, “First appears about the time cow moose are dropping their calves.” I love how they link blooming plants with animal activities.

A bee collecting pollen from a thistle.

Verne Lehmberg

The Colorado Rockies are part of the Rocky Mountains, which stretch more than 3,000 miles from northern Canada all the way south into New Mexico. Geologically speaking, the Rockies are relatively young; we know that just by looking at their tall, jagged peaks. Older mountains such as the 480 million-year-old Appalachian Mountains are more rounded and not as high due to erosion. The Rocky Mountains began forming about 80 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny when two plates off the then-West Coast of North America slid under the North American plate. Mountains rise, and as they rise they erode. Their eroded soil is washed to lower elevations, where it is deposited as particles (gravels, sand and silt). Each soil variation has plants particularly suited to it, resulting in the great flower diversity found in Colorado, from high-altitude alpine meadows to silted-in oxbows in river floodplains.

Verne Lehmberg

Although Colorado is now home to close to six million people, it still has more than 16 million acres of public land, much of it in the Rocky Mountains, where wild flowers are just beginning to bloom now.

Some of the plants in this week’s “Sunday Morning” nature video are, in order of their appearance:

Verne Lehmberg

Wild rose — This is the provincial flower of Alberta, Canada. Unlike some newer domesticated roses, the wild rose is fragrant. Bees love them, and so do I. Its…

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