For the last year I’ve been chasing spring from the east coast to the midwest to the west coast and on to New Zealand with some whiffs of summer in between. With the weather cooling off in this side of the world I decided to turn to the season opening before me: autumn. Early this October I decided to get a taste of fall in Denver, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was one of the most beautiful places I’ve traveled to in the United States. Flanked by tall, jagged mountains that were covered in evergreens and copses of yellow aspens the park spans over 265,000 acres and upwards of 14,000 feet above sea level. The park is divided into elevation zones as you move through it beginning with the montane ecosystem, subalpine ecosystem, and alpine ecosystem. Lucky for me I was able to visit all three!
The montane ecosystem is considered the gateway to the park where the grasslands make their way up to an elevation of 9,000 feet and give way to aspen trees, Douglas firs, and lodgepole pines. When I arrived the skies were a deep, expansive blue and the grasses were tall, dry, and golden brown. I started here in search of elk, but had no luck finding them. Instead I found a secluded group of aspen trees that was filled with their tracks and beautiful vista views. The day started out sunny, but as I started up the mountain (by car) the wind began to pick up and the sun moved in and out of the clouds.
I made my way up the mountain roads into the supalpine ecosystem, which ranges in elevation between 9,000 and 11,400 feet. This portion of the park was filled with evergreen trees like Engelmann spruce and firs as well as small shrubs and hearty wildflowers like blueberries and arnica. The sun was strong as I continued up the mountain, but the wind began to pick up and shook the car was I made my ascent.
By the time I made to the tundra of the alpine ecosystem I began to feel the effects of the thinning air: dizziness, nausea, and unsteadiness. The alpine ecosystem is the highest and most extreme ecosystem with elevations above 11,400 feet. This area of the park is tundra, which means that both the air and the soil is thin. Like the plants and animals who live in this part of the park I had to adapt quickly in order not to succumb to altitude sickness. The entire time I was moving around at this altitude I had to be conscious of breathing slowly and deeply. While I was there, the weather began to change rapidly from clear blue skies and warm sunshine to thick clouds and a cold, light drizzle. According to the park literature, the weather in the tundra can change rapidly and can be unforgiving. Luckily for me the worst I saw was a little rain, but this was remedied by hot mint tea in the Alpine Visitor’s center. While I was out walking around the tundra, I noticed that the plants all lie close to the ground and have waxen leaves and stems. These are also adaptations that protect the plants from the strong light and bitter cold as well as prevent them from dehydrating or freezing.
Seeing the park in all its golden glory was spectacular and I was completely blown away by its diversity and beauty. I loved it so much that I’ve booked another trip to Denver this December. Crossing my fingers it doesn’t snow too much to prevent me from seeing the park as it turns into a winter wonderland!
Denver Botanic Garden
The Denver Botanic Gardens has to be on of my top 5 favorite gardens that I’ve been to the in the United States. It’s gardens are exceptionally well planned and cared for and the diversity of their collections is spectacular. While I was a bit disappointed with the cactus and succulent gardens, I discovered that the crown jewel of Denver Botanic Gardens are its perennial and prairie gardens. With 7 major collections this garden has a little something for everyone. I was particularly impressed with their Amenity collection, which unlike other collections is not relegated to a single plot. The Amenity collections is in fact spread throughout the garden and showcases native and not so native plants that can grow in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains regions, which are semi-arid, steppe climates. The collection includes tall grasses, both shrubby and lanky flowers like arnica and sunflowers.
I was also completely impressed with their water gardens. According to their website their seven water gardens contain over “450 aquatic plant species and varieties,” which helps to make Denver Botanic “a world leader in aquatic gardening.”The 2 most impressive of their water gardens are the Monet Pool and the 4 Towers Pool. The Monet Pool is located just behind the glass houses as you approach the far end of the garden. When I saw it in early fall, it was filled with flower and large lily pads. In fact, it has the biggest lily pads I’ve seen outside of Kew Gardens! The 4 Towers Pool is located just behind the Science Pyramid, which is a building filled with interesting, interactive activities that help you learn about different aspects of physics and biology that relate to the world at large and Colorado locally. When I saw this beautiful garden it was filled to brim with Australian lily pads and blooming water lilies. According to the website, “the tower fountains.. are the entry point for water recirculated throughout all of our waterways running west to the Gates Montane pond.” In essence, this garden is the nexus of all the water in gardens. How cool is that?
I was most captivated by the Perennial Walk and the Welcome Garden, which are towards the front of the gardens, but are the gardens I saved for last. The Perennial Walk was filled with asters and sunflowers and cosmos galore with mixed evergreens such as boxwood and dwarf confers dotted throughout. The Welcome Garden was a similar burst of color that was filled with dahlias, cosmos, zinnias, and coreopsis to name a few. All of my favorite flowers along a long walk made me feel like I could crawl in the flower beds and sit beneath their beauty forever. It’s amazing the peace I felt when I was surrounded by my favorite flowers in all my favorite colors. These 2 gardens have inspired me to create something of a similar scale when I eventually have my own yard.
Overall, the Denver Botanic Gardens were inspiring. So inspiring that I’ve since gone back to experience their Blossoms of Light (but more on that later!)
Do you have questions about my visit to Denver? How about the Denver Botanic Gardens? Are you looking to plan a trip? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies? If you’d like to know more about my travels or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!
More to come from my adventures in Chicago, San Francisco, and right back to Denver. This late fall and early winter, I’ve been really into the West. To keep up to date on all my adventures, be sure to follow me on Instagram.