Flowers fading fast

Dumont Lake fewer than 20 miles from city limits

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Last call for wildflowers. There are still glowing reports of spectacular wildflowers blooming high in the Mount Zirkel and Flat Tops wilderness areas. But July is gone, and the blooms surely will fade this month.

People who don't think they have time to mount a wilderness expedition should hustle up to the often overlooked south shore of Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass this week. The Indian paintbrush is in its full glory and nearly two feet tall in some places. Wherever one turns, the showy red plant stands out in contrast to delicate lavender asters and purple blue lupine.

Many people don't realize that the showiest part of the paintbrush isn't the flower but the uppermost leaves, or bracts, which turn scarlet.

The paintbrush is also a parasite, or more accurately a semi-parasite. The plant is incapable of making all of the food it requires. It's no coincidence that paintbrush often is found in close proximity to sagebrush and other plants. The roots of the paintbrush penetrate the roots of neighboring plants and steal some of their nutrient production.

The thunderstorm that swept over Rabbit Ears Pass in the middle of the afternoon last week sent picnickers and campers at Dumont Lake scurrying for their vehicles. But the fresh precipitation and the overcast sky created ideal lighting conditions for wildflower photography.

Strong sun tends to wash out the delicate colors of wildflowers. By far, the most pleasing photographs are made in the bright overcast sky that often comes with the trailing edge of a storm.

Some people think they need a "macro" or close focusing lens to make strong images of wildflowers. That is not the case. Anyone with a 35mm single lens reflex camera fitted with the commonplace 80-200 zoom lens and a tripod can make rewarding wildflower photographs.

It helps if your tripod is the kind that has releasable joints on the legs, allowing them to be spread out to lower the tripod head close to the ground.

Zoom the lens out all the way to 200mm and focus on a wildflower about 7 feet away. The telephoto lens allows the photographer to condense the color of many flowers into the same picture while rendering just one blossom in sharp focus.

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