Exploring the Anne U. White Trail

We gathered at the trailhead early Saturday morning, larkspura small bunch of strangers. The sky was overcast, a perfect start to a hike in July. Lauren introduced herself—the naturalist who had called our new Meetup group together. (Within days of posting her invitation, 80 people joined the group!) We were going to explore the mile and a half at a leisurely rate, see what we could find.

At the trailhead the last of the larkspur greeted us. Lauren said a week or two ago the trailhead was awash in larkspur. Now the larkspur gathering had shrunk, and a new purple flower had taken over: bee balm.

Bee balm has a stem that is square not round—a dead giveaway for the mint family (though there are a few plants besides mints that also have square stems). We rubbed bee balmits leaf between our fingers and sniffed. Sure enough, minty fresh, with the hint of something earthy and herbal. Wikipedia says it tastes like spearmint and peppermint mixed with oregano, which sounds about right.

Bee balm has an antiseptic in it, thymol, which is the active ingredient in most commercial mouthwashes. Next time you swig and swirl, think of the plant that provided that fresh taste. It’s got a lavender-pink flower that looks as fresh as its taste, and here in Colorado it blooms in late July along moist creeksides.

Seas of bee balm accompanied us as we made our way uphill.

bee balm patch

The Anne U. White trail is special—a riparian corridor, which means the rippling sound of a creek followed us throughout the morning. The creek is Fourmile Canyon Creek, the northernmost tributary of Boulder Creek. It flows from its source in the mountains near the old mining town of Sunshine down to the plains, joining Boulder Creek near 63rd Street. The Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network has more info on this creek.

Hiking close to the creek, we were often shadowed under a canopy of trees. Creekside trails invite you in with their intimacy—just you, the willows, the rocks, the gurgling brook.

creek and willows

The trail crosses the creek several times, stepping-stones placed just right.


We kept heading up the gentle slope,


stopping now and then to sample berries or gaze at rock formations or get to know each other a little better.

beside trail

Berry bushes were hanging thick with fruit. Wax currant bushes were everywhere, their fruit a small bursting bud in the mouth. Wax currants have a subtle flavor, not as sweet as raspberry, not sour like cranberries, just smooth and warm with a hint of tartness.

Lauren, our naturalist leader, likes to encourage people to nibble the berries. “Telling people not to pick the edibles just reinforces a feeling of separation from nature,” she says. “It’s all about connecting, interacting, with the nature that surrounds us.”

A good trail ethic is to nibble, not gorge. Remember the birds, bears, and people to follow you. We can all share.

wax currant

And hope that any mountain lions lounging on the other side of the rocks creekside rocks

are not hungry at the moment. A trailside sign warns that this is mountain lion territory. Personally, I’d never let my dog off leash in this kind of country. Most of the hikers along the trail were following the same guideline. We met lots of people and dogs, and they were all polite. The mountain lions? We didn’t so much as catch a glimpse.

poison ivyOne more hazard: be on the lookout for poison ivy, with its three leaves. Poison ivy loves creeksides. And there is tons of it along this trail—more than I’ve seen anywhere else in Boulder County.

Every hike is a mix of old friends, like wild rose—the largest, showiest, and most fragrant wild rose I’ve ever met—

wild roseand milkweed, almost as fragrant and sweet,


with new friends, like curly cup gumweed. Notice the tiny curls around the bud. Squeeze the bud, and a sticky sap comes off on your fingers, strong like pine sap.

curly cup gumweed

We saw two flowers none of us could identify. Native plant buddies, can you tell us what they are?

mystery flower #1

mystery flower #2

At the end of a mile and a half, we shed our shoes and socks and dipped our toes into the pool below a five-foot-tall waterfall. Ahhh!

waterfallTo get to the Anne U. White Trail:

At the north end of town, turn west on Lee Hill Road. Go a mile and turn left on Wagonwheel Gap Road. Go another mile, to Pinto Road, and park. Do not park on the side of the road with the mailboxes; you will get a ticket. Or drive up Pinto Road .2 mile to the trailhead, where there are five parking spaces, and hope it’s your lucky day.

To join Lauren’s Meetup group:

Click here for the Boulder Naturalist Outings hosted by Lauren Kovsky. Lauren plans to organize an outing every other week. In addition to the scheduled hikes, she’s dreaming about tubing on Boulder Creek (downstream from downtown, where it’s calmer) and canoeing along a placid river.


21 Responses to Exploring the Anne U. White Trail

  1. Robert Hill says:July 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I could not help but look up your blog. You are a delightful writer. You really captured some great shots of the bee balm. I never did get a good one of the bee balm or the curly cup gumweed. Kudo’s.

    Take care and keep writing,


    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks Bob! I was coveting your shot of the waterfall for the end, though. That was gorgeous! Thanks for stopping by. Maybe we’ll be snapping photos on another hike soon.

  2. Gail Storey says:July 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    What a gorgeous tour of the flowers along this creek, thank you thank you! I especially appreciate the photo of poison ivy–I never remember what it looks like. I know people describe it as “leaves of three…” but don’t a whole lot of plants have three leaves?

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      Not as many as you’d think! Poison ivy and its cousin poison oak, which I know from California, both have shiny leaves too. If it’s three-leaved and shiny, keep your distance. I think I got a bit of poison ivy–dots like a mosquito bite, but way itchier, and they are activated by warm or hot water, so they swell and get red when I take a shower.

  3. Marian Thier says:July 27, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Both beautiful to look at and informative. My life partner is a biologist, so whenever we hike I learn–often to his chagrin, the same information over and over since I rarely remember names of anything (he knows the names, so I don’t bother learning them). Your writing is very invitational and not at all condescending.

    I stopped going to the White trail because I got PI there for the 1st time in my life.


    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Marian! Too bad you’re missing out on this trail. But we’re lucky–there are lots of trails nearby. And I hear that there’s a lot more traffic on this one recently, as it’s been getting more publicity.

  4. chandi says:July 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

    What a great post! Loved it. Felt like I was there with you all!
    I should join this meetup, although I’m in so many already that my attendance ends up being low in most of them.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 28, 2010 at 10:04 am

      This is my first meetup, and it was great. I knew of lots of others but had never gone to check them out. In a culture where people feel so isolated, meetup is a wonderful trend.

  5. Jerrie Hurd says:July 28, 2010 at 11:37 am

    WOW! I hike and get pleasantly sore. You hike and see . . . .

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Jerrie, I’ve been working hard for some years at upping my level of seeing. Glad you appreciate the results. I’m hoping to encourage everyone else to notice all the friends out there too. And by friends, I don’t mean nicey-nice. I’d rather not meet up with a hungry mountain lion, thank you very much. (A full mountain lion, that would be spectacular. I did see a young one near Monterey, CA, once.) We humans suffer from a sense of separation from all the other beings whom we are actually relying on without noticing. We don’t notice either them or our reliance on them. I’m hoping to hone my ability to see those connections–and pass along as much of it as I can.

  6. Cindy Morris says:July 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    What a LOVELY blog post about a trail I absolutely adore.
    Your post reminded me of all the wonderful plants that live right in our own wilderness backyard.
    The worst poison ivy I have ever had (and I am insanely allergic to poison ivy)
    I got right along the Front Range, not in a heavily wooded back East, as one would imagine! The densest growth of Poison Ivy I have found grows right along Boulder Creek just east of Eben G. Fine Park at 3rd and Pearl.
    Stay alert to our plant co-habitants, hikers!
    Cindy Morris

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm

      Cindy, thanks for the heads-up about the poison ivy near downtown. I’ll be on the lookout! Yes, this big backyard of ours is spectacular, isn’t it?

  7. linda johnson says:July 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I don’t check your blog often enough. I felt like I had gone on the hike with your descriptions and photos. I loved itl Took a while to download with dial up but well worth it. Miss you.

    A note. I get poison oak and the last time I boiled manzanita leaves and painted the tea on the rash. It felt wonderful and got rid of it quickly. Ah the internet can be very informative! Mother nature at her best!

  8. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for coming along virtually, Linda! I know you can buy a manzanita liquid to apply to poison oak. I’m glad to hear about your experience with gathering leaves and boiling. Good to hear that it works!

  9. Beth Partin says:August 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm


    Thanks for all the pictures of flowers; very fun to look at. Curly cup gumweed is one of my favorite flowers. It comes up in my yard every two years.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:August 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm

      So it’s only every other year? I didn’t know! But I did just find out that the crushed flowers were used by some Indians as a poultice to treat poison ivy. On our hike, one person said that wherever a poison plant grows, its antidote is nearby. Maybe that’s why there’s so much curly cup gumweed on this trail.

  10. Beth Partin says:August 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Apparently, curly cup gumweed likes disturbed soil. I was all excited about its emergence in my yard, less excited after I found that out. But then, my yard is “disturbed,” since I regularly do things to it.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:August 2, 2010 at 2:33 pm

      Beth, do you recognize the two unidentified wildflowers?

  11. Beth Partin says:August 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    No, I’m sorry, I don’t. I checked my Alpine Wildflowers book, just in case, but of course, this location isn’t alpine.

  12. Laurel Kallenbach says:August 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Oh! I love this trail! Haven’t been on it since February (when it looked a lot different under snow). Your photos of the plants and landmarks along the trail are superb. Hurray!