Hunting for porcini and wildflowers near Aspen

While on a visit to see my Dad and stepmother in Aspen the other week, Chad and I had a free morning to take a hike. On our previous visits, we enjoyed Maroon Bells and Crater Lake so this time we wanted to try something new. My stepmother and her family have an intimate knowledge of the area hiking trails since they have been in Aspen for decades. They suggested Savage Lakes Trail, which is at the end of a long but incredibly beautiful drive up to a remote spot past the Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt. 

A salesman at the local sporting goods store had told us that we might find porcini mushrooms along those trails since it has been such a wet summer. (Most locals seem to use the botanical name Boletus instead of porcini or the Anglo-French cèpes.) We never made it up to the 11,000-foot summit of the steep trail and Savage Lake, but instead we got happily sidetracked by a forest full of wild mushrooms and wildflowers of all kinds. It was definitely much more about the journey than the destination that memorable day.

Even though this was our first time, Chad turned out to have a hidden talent as a mushroom hound and could spot the fat little chestnut-brown piglets at 15 paces. I would like to say that his talent comes from superior eyesight or powers of concentration, but I suspect it is his love of getting expensive stuff for free that made him so good at the job. "This is about $120 dollars worth of mushrooms!" he would exclaim while joyfully shaking his plastic grocery bag for emphasis. I was always a few steps behind in the hunt and usually got hung up photographing some other beautiful—but perhaps deadly—fungus like the ones above right. We were careful not take anything that we weren't absolutely sure of. We ended up with a basket full of porcini that we took home and carefully identified before sautéing them for a pasta dinner for the folks and my sister. The mushrooms were delicious.

Being so high up around 10,000 feet, we saw all the wildflowers that had already bloomed down in town, plus many more. There were pale blue columbines, mertensia (M. lanceolata) and a mysterious blackish flower I had never seen before called star gentian (Swertia perennis).

The orchid-like elephant's head (Pedicularis groenlandica) is an alpine wildflower that grows beside mountain streams.

Chad, with his bag of precious boletus, is flanked by a wild monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) on the left and a white cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) on the right.

All sorts of composite flowers were blooming among the tall trees. I think the one on the left might be an arnica and the one on the right might be a senecio. I am trying to get to know my Rocky Mountain flora better with each trip.

These lovely pale lilac flowers looked like asters, but I wasn't able to identify them in any of my books.

The crepe-y petals of this hardy geranium (Geranium richardsonii) look too delicate for its remote and rocky setting but the forest was full of them.


Les said...

What good fortune on the mushrooms. It would have to be a trusing house to let you prepare wild gathered mushrooms, or either they knew what you brought home. I had the good fortune to hike in the Rockies last summer and was overwhelmed by all the plants unfamiliar to this southerner. I went to the library and checked out all 3 books on western wildflowers to help with ID, but the below web site was good too, it has them grouped by color.

Stephen Orr said...

Thanks for the great link Les. Yes we were absolutely sure that the porcini were in fact boletus. They are one of the easiest mushrooms to identify since so few other species look like them.

wlh said...

stephen, i'm trying to reach you about some freelance writing; could you give me an e-mail? thanks, bill hamilton/ garden design magazine

pezzica1981 said...

Those in the pictures are not porcini!!! Porcini has sponge below the cap not blades... Those were for sure very good but in italy we call them Russula. You have been very lucky not been sick