What Are Those Wildflowers Over Beartooth Pass?
A couple of weeks ago we made a trip over Beartooth Pass to Cooke City, while enjoying a long weekend in Red Lodge. The drive was gorgeous, as always. It's beautiful in early spring when the road is almost like a tunnel between the snowdrifts, oftentimes piled 10+ feet above your car near the top of the pass. The Beartooth Highway is also beautiful in early fall, when the Quaking Aspens turn a golden hue, contrasting with the green pines and granite boulders. Honestly, anytime the highway is open it's well worth the drive on the popular "All American Road" that climbs to over 10,000 feet altitude between the Montana and Wyoming border.
When we drove through last time, the wildflowers weren't quite in full display. Sure, there were a few here and there, but nothing that made you say, "wow." Last weekend (7/25), when we took my two younger kids to Yellowstone National Park for their first visit, the wildflowers were absolutely stunning. They started showing their colors shortly after we began climbing up the twisty road south of Red Lodge. They were EVERYWHERE from Cooke City and throughout Yellowstone National Park--miles and miles of mostly purple and yellow flowers in the ditches, and crawling up the hills into the woods.
Purple and yellow are visually appealing and naturally contrasting (and just happen to be Minnesota Vikings colors). As we drove past, I wondered what they were. A quick search on the US Forest Service website revealed the prominent purple flower you see from the highway is likely Polemonium viscosum, or Sky Pilot (for those of us not into Latin). These were the dominant flower we saw for miles and miles. The yellow flower that grew in harmony with the Sky Pilot appeared to be Geum rossii, or Alpine Avens.
We weren't lucky enough to see a bear on our journey, but the wildflowers almost made up for it. It was tempting to stop and dig up a few to take home, but I knew that the chance of them surviving a transplant and growing well in Billings was pretty slim. Some things are better left in the mountains.