We were to have two groups: one leisurely wildflower walk group and one group that would split off to climb Grassy Mountain. Instead, we did something in between: we did two wildflower walks, but the mountain climbers convinced the walkers to hike to the top of two small peaks. And we weren't disappointed with the flowers.
We left Great Falls at an early 6:30 a.m. in an attempt to beat the heat, stopping briefly at Memorial Falls for a break. We arrived at Skidway at 8:45 and were on trail just before 9 a.m. Even in the parking area we started to see flowers: Indian paintbrush (red and sulphur) and lupine really showed their faces. But the flowers kept coming. On this portion of our hike, we named over 70, including chocolate lily, fairy slippers and early orchids. We even saw a white clematis or virgin's bower. See our list below.
This hike stays in the trees among lush meadowlands, but we went off trail to tag Skidway Hill, a former ski area for the people of the area including Townsend and White Sulphur Springs. We saw the remnants of the lodge and ski tow and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains, including Edith, that largest peak in the Big Belts. Then we took a glance up the mountain at what would have been the climbers path that we will save for a cooler day when more gals can join us.
Then we headed back into the trees and continued our three-mile loop to our cars. We arrived at the cars at 11:30 a.m. After our hike into the Big Belts, we decided to hit another high point, this time in the Little Belts and halfway on our way home: Kings Hill. Jo Ann is not called "Flower Finder" as her trail name for nothing. She is a member of the Native Plant Society and sure has an eye. It is she who spotted the early coralroot orchid and chocolate lilies when the rest of us would have walked right by them, so when Katie said there was an opportunity to see limestone columbine on Kings Hill, she was up for it, even though it would mean a six-mile day, more hiking than she had done in a year. And it was uphill all the way on our next three-mile adventure.
Before we jumped into our cars for Kings Hill, we said goodbye to Sheila, who decided to stay for some fishing instead of the second hike. We arrived at Kings Hill in about an hour and started up, hitting a bit of snow on the old road and trail. Along the way, Jo Ann and Katie found even more flower varieties than what we had seen at Skidway, marking over 70 flowers in the 80s if you count the white versions), but the real treat was on top: among the rocky outcroppings lay dozens of limestone columbine, their bright violtet-blue heads with yellow centers seeming to smile at us through the wind that was whipping at the top. But it was all worth it. Jo Ann finally was able to photograph this special flower.
To help her out, Amber played Sherpa, carrying other people's water and running back and forth to get her exercise. We figured she put on an extra mile going to the top and back several times.
We got down around 3 p.m. and were home by 4. A wonderful day.
Who went: Jo Ann, Karen, Sheila, Amber, Susan, Katie
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WILDFLOWERS WE SAW
Alum Root, Roundleaf
Anemone, Cut-Leaved, creamy white
Calypso Orchid aka Fairy Slipper
Chickweed, Mouse Eared
Collomia, Narrow-leaved/Tiny Trumpet
Columbine, Jones aka Limestone
Daisy, Showy Fleabane
Death Camas, Common aka Meadow
Fern-Leaved Desert Parsley
Forget-Me-Not, Many Flowered Stickseed
Geranium, Sticky Pink
Geranium, Sticky White
Hound's Tongue (noxious weed)
Indian Paintbrush-Lime color
Indian Paintbrush-Salmon color
Indian Paintbrush-Pallid (yellow)
Meadow Rue, female
Meadow Rue, male
Northern Miner's Candle
Orchid, Early Coralroot
Oregon Grape, Creeping
Phacelia, Silverleaf (leaves only)
Serviceberry aka Sarvisberry aka Saskatoon
Solomon's Seal, False
Solomon's Seal, Star Flowered False aka Wild Lily of the Valley
Spring Beauty, Pink
Spring Beauty, White
Stoneseed aka Gromwell aka Lemonweed
Virgin's Bower/Clematis (purple)
Virgin's Bower/Clematis (white)
Western Sweet Cicely
Woodland Star aka Prairie Star