Going Green from Gunnison

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.

The 40 min free ride on the Gunnison Valley RTA is pleasant.

It’s nice to be able to watch the scenery for a change instead of watching the road.

The Four Corners Stop at the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado.”

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 up to Gothic and Judd Falls Trail Head is known as the “Aspen Rhythm Bus,” painted by a local artist in 2010.

The other Mountain Express bus known as “The Pineapple Express,” painted in 2016.

There goes Paul in the bus on the left, headed back down the mountain.

I begin my wildflower quest….does fireweed count as a wildflower?


I’m reaching here…

Pretty, nonetheless.

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.

Judd Falls

You know there are years when this trail is strewn with wildflowers…it just looks the part.

Pedicularis groenlandica, but elephant head is easier…the tiny blooms resemble the head and trunk of an elephant.

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.

From the 401 trail.

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 is right, wildflowers or not, it’s still a lovely hike.

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.

The main street of Crested Butte is quite a colorful place.

Summertime use for chair lifts.

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!

Kat Brown, if you’re reading, this brochure’s for you!

Cultivated in someone’s flowerbed, not wild.

A beautiful specimen of the Colorado State Flower, the Columbine.

I am having my own festival…vodka festival, tomato festival, olive festival, celery festival, etc. etc.

The closest thing to a “wildflower festival” decoration I saw…

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 Crested Butte Mountain Express bus yard…yes, I went there.

The Zodiac Bus, painted 2002.

The Imagica Bus – 2002

This is the second version of the Cow Bus, painted 2010. Note actual tail out of Emergency Exit.

I’m not sure the name of this bus, but I am intrigued.

The Bubble Bus, 2017

The Wildflower Bus “Fleur Sauvage” – 2018. The script on the tailgate reads, “Pick a winner, pick your friends, pick your nose, but DON’T pick the wildflowers!”

“The earth laughs in flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

10 thoughts on “Going Green from Gunnison

  1. Glad you had some good hikes and were able to create your own festival! We have found almost no hiking in the hinterlands of Quebec and Ontario and on the short jaunts we have taken the trails were shared with billions of skeeters. Lovely photos and we love the busses!
    Ed and Marti

  2. What a great idea! We are heading to Colorado for September. We haven’t been to the Gunnison, Crested Butte, Ouray, etc area yet to do any hiking. I love the bus idea. Do you think the buses run in Sept? I can’t believe the buses weren’t crowded when you were there. I would have thought early Sept would be prime time for tourists. Sorry you didn’t find the fields of wildflowers but the views were still beautiful and Crested Butte looks like a cute place.

  3. I love the painted buses! Though I don’t remember seeing them when we day-tripped there a few years ago, but I do remember Crested Butte as a very pretty, yet very expensive town. It IS really weird that a “festival” has not festival!

  4. You were smart to take the bus. Several years ago, while driving from Gunnison to Crested Butte, Dave almost hit a deer. On the way back, in the same spot, there was a dead deer on the side of the road. It’s a dangerous area.

  5. I am reading your wonderful post and the song “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty comes on. You belong among the wildflowers…..You belong somewhere you feel free….. LOL. I n spite on the nonevent you found adventure. Not so surprising. Happy travels! -Maureen

  6. I’m sorry you missed the wild flowers but you certainly made up for it with other color to fill your time. I love the busses and some of your pictures show beautiful potted flowers.

    I used to try to tell Rich to let me drive some of the time so he could see more, but he was reluctant to let go of the wheel!

    I don’t know where you will be in September, but Maroon Bells in Sept., if I recall, is known for it’s display of wildflowers. I think there may even be a site where you can, like the leaf peepers here in the east, can monitor their peak times.

    Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed your post.

  7. Looks like you mustered up enough festivity in Crested Butte to make up for the lack of wildflowers…the buses in your post were fun to see, the Columbine (my favorite flower, ever) beautiful and, oh, yes! That gorgeous Bloody Mary! What a colorful little town…thanks for telling us about it. 🙂

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