This post was meant to be about the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. Of which there was virtually none. No wildflowers and no festivities. Imagine my surprise to strategically plan my itinerary to coincide with the Wildflower Festival in the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” only to find nothing going on. Granted, when a festival is as dependent on weather as wildflowers, it’s only understandable that there will be off years. And lack of snow melt and rain in the 2018 season has certainly made for an off year.
But one would also think that some additional activities would be planned for such a grandiose title as “The Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” just in case Mother Nature was feeling out of sorts that year. For example, take the Lavender Festival in Sequim. There is live music staged throughout the town. There are harvesting demos, cooking demos, and even lavender infused food and lavender margaritas, just to make sure everyone has a good time. Arts and crafts booths line the streets, and shopkeepers get in on the act by featuring tee shirts, hats, and just about any trinket that can be made in the shade or shape of a lavender bud. And that’s just one flower! But do you think there was a single sign of the “Wildflower Festival” aside from the banner that hung over Hwy 135? Nope. It was just another mountain town weekend.
Having read that many of the boondocking spots are closed for the festival, including the meadow where I parked in 2015 up on Washington Gulch Road, I decide to leave the Winnie parked back in Gunnison, and just attend the festival as a day trip. Fearing traffic will be impossible on a festival Sunday, the last thing I want to do is drive through those crowds towing a car.
In researching public transportation, I learn that there is a free bus that goes from Gunnison into Crested Butte! It runs every hour, and stops at the Four Way Stop in Crested Butte, where I can transfer to local Mountain Express shuttles that run throughout the town. The website advertises, “There’s no need for a car when you visit Crested Butte. The valley is easily accessible through a variety of transportation services, including a one-of-a-kind Town Shuttle. The ride is free, and each bus has been painted by a different local artist.” So I decide to see if it’s true…one does not need a car in Crested Butte. I find a couple of hikes I would like to do right along the bus route. I will attempt the entire day trip, going green.
The bus ride from Gunnison is pleasant and efficient. As I have mentioned before when talking about Mexico, I am one who loves riding the bus. Being the sole driver, I don’t ordinarily get much chance to sight-see along the highways and byways. So I enjoy the short 40 minute drive alongside the Gunnison River through meadows and mountain towns.
The Gunnison Valley RTA terminates at the Four Way Stop which is next door to the Visitor Center, where I get information on trails that might offer a last chance at wildflower viewing. The guy gives me a map, recommends both Judd Falls and Trail 401, a mountain bike trail up toward Rustler’s Gulch Rd. He tells me at least if there are no wildflowers, the views are still nice.
Paul is my bus driver to Judd Falls, and I am only one of three people on the bus. I sit in the front row to maximize my view. It’s a long ride to the trail head, giving Paul and me lots of time to chat. He stopped in Crested Butte on his way to Alaska nine years ago, and never went any further. He tells me about what it’s like here in winters versus the summer season. He talks about the amusing paint schemes on all the buses, including the “Cow Bus” that he only learned had an actual tail when he went to add fuel. He tells me the bus yard is just a couple of blocks off the main drag if I want to walk over and see the plethora of unique paint jobs. And he chokes up as he shows me pictures of where he just buried his constant companion and best friend up on the mountain, right below a thick patch of paintbrush. “What was her name?” I ask. He responds half in a word, half sob, “Dog.”
Paul lets me off at the Judd Falls trail head, and tells me he’ll be back to pick me up in two hours. He gives me some pointers on the trail, then offers “Don’t miss the 2:30pm, or you’ll have to wait until 4:30pm. See you then!”
My search for wildflowers soon starts to feel a bit ridiculous. On any given year, I am certain these meadows are filled with wildflowers. But not this year. I realize I am reaching. Finally, I put the camera away and just enjoy the hike.
I did later learn there are quite a few activities planned for the wildflower festival, they just have to be booked far in advance. The Visitor Center offers a brochure outlining events for the week. There are organized hikes, some photography seminars, and quite a few artist workshops. So really, it’s more of a “Wildflower Symposium” rather than a festival. But if you happen to be someone who just shows up for the day, there’s nothing special on offer. I say, if you can’t have wildflowers for the Wildflower Festival, at least have a festival!
Paul shows up right on time in the bus adorned with aspen trees. On the way back, I ask him about a stop at Snodgrass Hill. He tells me he thinks I need to give up on my wildflower search. “You can see from here, the hill is nothing but green as far as the eye can see.” So I opt to get off the bus back at the Four Way Stop and explore the downtown. For all the flowers I didn’t see in on the mountain, the streets of Crested Butte are a riot of blooms from hanging plants, prolific planted beds, and overflowing flower boxes. This year, it’ll have to do.
“The earth laughs in flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson