Lupine, Indian paintbrush, columbine, sunflowers, larkspur.

Crested Butte is known as the wildflower capital of Colorado, with its endless meadows and hillsides of Crayola-colored blooms that grow to human height.

The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival will celebrate the return of some of summer's finest scenery Friday through July 16 with more than 200 events, including art and photography classes, guided hikes, Jeep tours, catered events, botany and geology lessons and van tours.

"Folks will say, 'Why can't we go and see flowers anywhere in Colorado?'" said festival program director Michelle Bivens. "They're different here. On the Crested Butte side, you'll hike in flowers that are above your head. And on the Aspen side, they're little and scattered. You feel like you're hiking in a wildflower jungle."

Geologists have a hypothesis about the magnitude of the Butte's wildflower bounty, and it's mostly related to the shale soil that prevails in the mountain region. Trees turn up their noses at growing in shale, which leaves lots of room for flowers and grasses to proliferate. An immense number of pollinators and much moisture also are a boon to the growing cycle of the natural bouquets.

Hundreds of kinds of flowers thrive in the region, Bivens said. Lupine and mule's ears, a member of the sunflower family, are in peak bloom now. They'll give way to larkspur, Aspen sunflowers and Indian paintbrush. Snow still lingers in the area's upper regions, which means many flowers haven't even started to unfurl.

"In the valley, they'll last until the first week in August," she said. "There's always something blooming. When you get those vivid photos of the whole hillside blooming, that's right about now into July. If you go up a little higher, you'll see that again. It progresses its way up the mountainside."

Up to 2,000 people attend the Wildflower Festival, now in its 31st year.

"Come see something in nature that you can't see anywhere else," Bivens said. "People think they'll show up and see the flowers in the center of town, but they have to be willing to do a little exploration. They might want the perfect photo of a columbine, but (those flowers) might be finished. But they might get a perfect photo of something else."


A&E and features reporter