The Painted Hills unit of Fossil Beds National Monument seems to be an anomaly in an otherwise grey/black terrain. Dark basalt flows give way to bright horizontal bands of alternating red and ochre clays appearing as ribbons of color on rounded undulating hills draping the landscape like reclining naked female forms. Towering over these hills are rocky volcanic ridges that host fields of crested wheatgrass on their summits. The beauty here strikes the visual sense through contrast and surprise.
Every Spring, I make a pilgrimage to this place to experience the annual display of wildflowers rising from nooks and crannies within the clay hills. Other species intermingle within the grasses on Carol Rim. But my timing is not always good to catch the best bloom. This year, I am a bit early as the weather has been cool. The flora are just now slowly emerging into the sunlight.
As I hike up Carol Rim, I notice orange blossoms of fiddleneck beginning to reveal themselves in baked whitish clay. Higher up, feathery foliage of biscuit root splay open in anticipation of the lacy white flowers to come. A few prairie stars peek out from patches of prairie grass. Deep blue/purple larkspur that usually float upon shards of broken rhyolite are nowhere to be seen but for a solitary specimen. That lonely flower seems to be testing the weather to make sure it is safe for others.
When I stop to visit and share my passion for geology and botany with a family of curious hikers, I see a minuscule cryptantha plant cradled next to their boots. The white blossoms are barely larger than the head of a pin. Pointing out this small wonder, I muse at the fact I would probably not have seen this particular specimen had I not stopped to chat. The hikers thank me for the plant knowledge and I suggest other areas to explore…
In writing these words, the little cryptantha looms large in my awareness—something about stopping to say hello and the miracles that ensue. The little flower speaks about beauty arising from spontaneity—a rare commodity in this age of texting, social media, caller I.D., and death of the doorbell.