We gathered at the trailhead early Saturday morning, a 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 its 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.
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.
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.
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.
And hope that any mountain lions lounging on the other side of the 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.
One 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—
and 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.
We saw two flowers none of us could identify. Native plant buddies, can you tell us what they are?
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!
To 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.