As my wife and I traveled the highways and byways of the American Southwest during our summer vacation, one thing became apparent: The variety of flowers and plants are as diverse as the changing landscape. The trek took us from Erie, Colo., to Moab, Utah, then on to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, over to Mesa Verde and through Durango, Colo. Roughly a 1,650-mile, five-day journey to explore the great national wonders of America the beautiful.

As avid “flower watchers,” we are always on the lookout for amazing blooms, flowers, trees, shrubs and anything flora. We were not disappointed. Flowers complement every scene, around every corner, up every mountain, down every canyon, their presence complete the picture. Mother Nature sure had a good time painting them into every nook and cranny throughout our journey.

The flowers and plants growing in and around Moab, the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, give a stark contrast to the backdrop of red and copper colored soils and rock formations, slick rocks, sand and boulders that look like they are from another planet, supporting plants that must survive temperatures over 100 degrees, arid environment, blistering sun and harsh weather conditions.

photo 1-Moab-FB

As mountain bikers cruise through and enjoy the grasses, desert wildflowers and yuccas, they understand they must be durable and tough to survive the conditions. Many desert plants take advantage of the cooler temperatures at night to flower. These evening–blooming plants include evening primrose, sacred datura, sand verbena and yucca. Many species of lizards appreciate the shelters these plants provide.

Traveling from Moab, onward to the Grand Canyon, our landscape changes from reds to shades of grays and greens. The lichen-covered rocks jut out to overlook the Colorado River 1500 feet straight down below. Pinyon pine trees and Utah Junipers display their twisted trunks as a result of high winds and tough adverse weather conditions. The pinyon pine loves the altitude; it grows best at elevations of 5,200 to 7,900 feet and it thrives in the Four Corners region. Its edible seeds (pine nuts) are harvested by many Native American tribes, and are a good source of fat and protein. Its wood is used as a fuel source and incense for rituals.

photo 2-GrandUtah-fb

The variety of plants gathered from the diverse ecosystems of the Grand Canyon met many human needs. This native supermarket provided shelter, heat, food, clothing, footwear and medicine to the ancestral Puebloan people. Yucca is one of nature’s most versatile plants. People baked and ate its fruit. Leaves provided fibers for baskets, sandals, cordage, and paintbrushes. Sharp leaf tips, with attached fibers, served as needle and thread. The roots could be used as soap. Thank you Mother Nature.

On to Mesa Verdes in Colorado, the famous Hisatsinom Ruin, the great cliff dwellings that tower over the Four Corners. It offers a spectacular look into the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. It is now a park of 8,500 acres of federal designated wilderness. The semi-arid climate gets an average of 18.4 inches of precipitation annually. Sagebrush valleys to  pinyon-juniper forest to towering Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines. Prickly pear cactus is found on dry, sunny, rocky soils, whereas Douglas–fir is found in shaded, moist areas with deeper soils. Many mosses and ferns thrive here in perfect microclimates. Gambel Oaks, Mormon Tea and Mountain Mahogany shrubs provide shade and cover for birds and other mammals.

photo 3-Mesa-FB

Trucking into scenic Durango with its mountain vistas, clear blue skies and blooming wildflowers was a welcome treat. Temperatures cooled down and the colorful ox-eyed daisies, penstemons, and Queen Anne’s lace doted the landscape. The snowcapped backdrop of the San Juan Mountains welcomed us with beautiful sunrises and breathtaking sunsets. Native Rocky Mountain Columbine greeted us. Discovered in 1820 on Pike’s Peak and designated the Colorado state flower in 1899, Columbines bloom in pastel shades of blue, violet, red, yellow and white. This lovely flower with its rich aroma attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to its nectar.

photo 4-Durango-FB

So as you hike and travel scenic America, find your state flower and keep a sharp eye out for the flowers and plants that survive and thrive in the cities, farmlands, deserts, mountains and plains of our great nation. Be a “flower watcher,” and rejoice and respect Mother Nature’s gifts and creations.

What exciting flowers and plants did you see on your summer vacation?