Posted by: Kurt M. Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director
My family and I are currently relaxing on an end-of-summer vacation. Well, we are relaxing as much as one can when vacationing with a 5 and 6-year old.
One of our excursions was to ride a chairlift up the ski hill, and I tried to ignore the beautiful noxious weeds that I kept seeing. Overhearing the comments from other tourists reflecting on the beautiful "wildflowers" that were blooming, I kept glancing at the musk thistle, yellow toadflax, and myrtle spurge. I can only assume they were looking at the same flowers that I was.
Reaching the top of the ski lift ride and grabbing our alpine slide sleds, we walked along the weed-lined path. Uugh! I did wonder what it would be like to be the overheard tourists still admiring the beautiful flowers. Unfortunately, I know the environmental damage these weeds will and are causing, lowering the aesthetics of the flowers we are seeing.
I climb into the sled with my excited 5-year old, and note the beautiful carpet of field bindweed next to the slide track. We listen to the bored teenager give us our safety lecture, something he has done hundreds of times this summer. He said the most dangerous part of our ride is the burn we would get from touching the slide walls while we are moving. Soon, we are off.
Since I am allowing my 5-year old to run the brake, we are off at a snail's pace down the mountain. It allows me time to view the musk thistles overhanging the slide we are paralleling. Luckily, it grows to about 6 feet tall, so the sharp thorns surrounding the purple flowers are above us as we rocket past at about 5 mph. I don't recall the thorns from the thistles in the safety lecture!
At the end of our ride, I note another teenager running a weed eater along the bottom of the ski hill. He was standing amongst the rosettes of the thistles, cutting down some Canada thistle, ester, and curly cup gumweed. While mechanical controls like mowing work well for many weeds, he probably is stimulating the spread of the Canada thistle. Sigh!
We get out of the sled and the kids are very excited. I'm a bit depressed that such a pristine mountain environment is under siege from a variety of problematic weeds. Of course, maintaining a diverse crop of desirable plants can be difficult with the number of people recreating on these slopes, but recreating in a field of Canada thistle or musk thistle doesn't sound like much fun either.
Oh well, time to look up the hills to the droughty gamble oaks, turning their fall colors early. The oranges and reds are quite nice, highlighted by the wildfire smoke from the dry thunderstorm which moved through earlier in the day. I again think about ignorance being bliss, and make a quiet wish for it to rain on our vacation.
Though it may not sound like it, we are having a wonderful time, relaxing in the Utah mountains. Our kids are still commenting about the bike ride and short hike to the Bridal Vail falls. The freestyle ski jumping show was amazing at the Olympic Training Center. Just turn an ignorant eye to the noxious weeds that may be joining you on your vacation. Or better yet, learn about noxious weeds and take steps to keep them from growing in your home landscape.