Southwest mountain wildflowers put on summer show

Beautiful wild gardens greet high-country visitors throughout the West during the brief season between snowmelt and snowfall. Hastening to produce seeds or bulbs for future seasons, wildflowers of the high mountains and plateaus bloom rapidly and profusely in summer. Their colorful show usually peaks in mid-July. Any summer outing into the high country is more enjoyable when you pause to admire the flowers.

You can start with the wildflowers now enhancing mountainous areas in Nevada. Within a 45-minute drive of Las Vegas, the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area offers scenic roads and trails where bright wildflowers are blooming, including varieties found nowhere else.

Wildflowers are among the first signs of life in areas swept by wildfires, such as the Carpenter One Fire that burned from the mountain ridges to Kyle Canyon Road, then briefly jumped across it. In an older burn area along Deer Creek Road, wildflowers and other vegetation now cover the maimed slopes right up to the cliffs.

Elsewhere in Nevada, roads accessing high mountain meadows promise spectacular wildflower displays. Lamoille Canyon Road, state Route 227, into the Ruby Mountains near Elko is a lovely drive made more beautiful by flowering plants that start early, pushing up through lingering snows, to blossom. Success Summit Road near Ely creates a scenic loop through Cave Lake State Park. It climbs to the summit through flower-strewn slopes dominated by golden blossoms atop a fuzzy-leafed plant called Mule’s Ears.

In Arizona, some of summer’s best wildflowers will be seen near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is higher and wetter than the South Rim. The road to the national park from Jacob Lake, state Route 67, cuts through forested areas where roadside flowers vie for attention and open meadows are brightly decorated with hundreds of blossoms. The fir and spruce forests share space with a showy small native tree, the New Mexico locust, that bears blossoms ranging from pale pink to lavender.

Some of the best wildflower displays in the West occur in Southern Utah atop the area’s high plateaus. Outdoor enthusiasts beguiled by mountain wildflowers can hardly find better roads and trails to explore than those near Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Both of these beautiful sites are remarkable for their locations at the edges of plateaus where erosion has created colorful wonderlands from the underlying red stone.

The scenery along the approach roads to both these parks is outstanding, but summer wildflowers do their best to catch your attention with brilliant colors and perfumed mountain air. Look for the best flower displays in wide meadows and forest clearings. Expect to pay park entrance fees of $5 at Cedar Breaks and $30 at Bryce.

Cedar Breaks National Monument boasts so many blossoms that park officials and boosters created a festival featuring the wildflowers. The 11th Annual Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival runs July 2 to 17. Guided hikes with flower experts are offered twice daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., starting at the visitor center. Exhibits in the visitor center introduce the wide variety of plants that bloom in Cedar Breaks.

Experts advise wildflower photographers to improve their photos with a few simple tips. Get close and fill the screen with your subject. Avoid direct sunlight. Take plenty of photos, but leave the flowers blooming in the wild for others to enjoy.

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