Above the Tree Line

How cool to be so high I could actually see where the trees stopped. Just like that. No more trees.

While in Denver, a friend of ours (thanks Ross!) generously offered to take us up to Mt. Goliath, an alpine area that is managed by the Denver Botanic Gardens.

As an alpine plant fan this was a big deal for me and I even planned the trip (in part) based on when a good number of the alpines would be blooming at that elevation. They did not disappoint.

Some Brief Stats: When we set out that morning, Denver was already a blazing 95°F or so and the altitude 5,280 feet above sea level. As the car climbed Mt. Evans on the way to Mt. Goliath, the temperature dipped below 60°F and the altitude was somewhere around 12,000 feet! We never did make it to the very top of Mt. Evans (14,240 feet), but we did get high enough to touch snow and it was cool enough to require a change into long sleeved shirts and socks.

This is the view at Summit Lake, a stop that is just below the peak. This panoramic is an amalgam of images that I took with my cellphone. I also brought a film panoramic camera… someday I will process that film and post them here. Some. Day. As I’ve said before, I’ve got a film backlog dating to 2008 (and countless trips) so I have no illusions about when they will see the light of day.

These are just some of the stunning views I saw from the parking lot at Mt. Goliath. The air was crisp and fresh. I had some trouble with the elevation. Just that morning we met a couple at the breakfast table at our B&B who recounted stories of hiking at 14,000+ feet in Peru. I listened to their stories in awe and without a clue that we would soon be traversing similar heights! The Denver Botanic hosts educational hiking tours of the area and while I had hoped to sign up for a tour I am glad we didn’t this time around. Due to the elevation, I found it hard enough to catch my breath walking slowly around the grounds and bending down with cameras to take shots of the diminutive plants at my feet.

This part of the mountain features bristlecone pines, the OLDEST KNOWN SINGLE LIVING ORGANISMS at just under 5,000 years. To recap: I went above the tree line, saw snow in July, AND touched the oldest living organisms in the world. How’s that for a morning?

Visiting both this garden and the alpine garden in Denver really made me long for some large rocks with which to create more structure in my own garden.

A wetland area.

I didn’t expect this post to be so long so I’m going to stop here for now. My next post will include lots of close-ups.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “Above the Tree Line

  1. It really is lovely up in the mountains. That’s part of why I settled in Wyoming.

    If you take another trip to the mountains, you can help prevent some of that trouble catching your breath by increasing your iron intake for a couple of weeks before you come up here — there’s less air altogether, so more iron in your blood will help you bond what oxygen there is to be had.

    Another thing that helps (especially if you got any headaches tooling around up here) is doubling or trebling your water intake — you lose between two and four times the amount of water at Denver’s elevation than you do at sea level. Altitude sickness is pretty much a combination of low blood oxygen and dehydration.

    Free unsolicited internet advice from a stranger, of course, but that should be enough information for you to double-check it on your own before your next trip, so maybe you can enjoy a future tour!

  2. I’m so glad you go to see the bristlecones!! I think they’re simply fantastic and try to get up to visit them at least once a month in the summer. A friend of mine got some seeds a few years ago and is growing them in pots at his house in the mountains. They’re about 5 yrs old now and only approximately 30cm tall. Such amazing little trees. I hope you also got to see some Silene acaulis and Eritrichium aretoides- they would have been around Summit Lake.

  3. How amazing are those bristlecones? Did you feel the wisdom of the ages leaching to your being when you touched them? Did you weep? That is so cool!!!

    Also what in the world is that little fuzzy plant in the last picture. How cute!

  4. Wow, the first photo is so dramatic. And everything, as has been said, stunning. Yes, you experienced quite the morning. Summit Lake looks glorious — what colour was the water? Did you put your toe in it?

    Looking forward to part 2 and close-ups.

  5. The bristlecones have such cool textures and lines. It’s hard to fully comprehend that they are the oldest living organisms. What a mind trip!

    I love alpine gardens as well. It always feel like you’re surrounded by the toughest (and cutest) plants on the planet. I can’t wait to see the close-ups (especially, the fuzzy one in the last picture).

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