Not Just Another Pretty Coffee Table Book

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens' conservation efforts are captured in photos and words in a new book
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Delicate flowers bloom in Vail’s cool and temperate climate. More than 3,000 alpine species thrive in this high-altitude garden. | Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce / BFAG

Flowers are in bloom at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, Colorado. At 8,250 feet above sea level, the breathtaking site secures the title of highest botanical garden in North America. A book highlighting this unique attraction aims to educate readers on the importance of plant conservation and the gardens’ mission to promote the preservation of alpine plants.

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A winding footpath allows visitors to immerse themselves in nature. Stairways constructed of native sandstone help guests navigate through elevation changes. | Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce / BFAG

Sarah Chase Shaw, author of On the Roof of the Rocky Mountains, offers an in-depth narrative on this alpine treasure, as well as the climate challenges facing this fragile ecosystem. “It’s not just a coffee-table book with beautiful photos: Its message is a resounding call to arms to make the reader think differently about the role of botanic gardens and their mission to connect people and plants,” says Shaw.

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Vibrant, colorful plants border the meandering walkway. Comfortable benches offer a quiet respite for rest and reflection. | Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce / BFAG

The garden has been connecting people and plants since it opened in 1986. The inspiration to build a public garden in Vail initiated in the unlikeliest of places. In 1983, landscape designer Marty Jones was driving through Georgetown, Colorado, when his truck broke down. Stuck on the side of the road, Jones eventually hitched a ride home with Vail residents Helen and Bob Fritch. During the car ride, the crew discussed their collective vision to build an alpine garden in the resort town. Several meetings later, a plan developed to designate a small piece of land outside the entrance to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater as an alpine demonstration garden. Over time, the garden flourished, in large part due to former First Lady Betty Ford, an avid gardener and part-time resident of Vail who championed fundraising efforts. The garden was later renamed Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in appreciation of Ford’s many contributions to the gardens and the Vail community.

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A daily scavenger hunt begins at the Education Center and leads children on an adventure of plant identification throughout the gardens. | Photo by Dominique Taylor / BFAG

These days, guests are able to connect with more than 3,000 alpine plant species either by foot or snowshoe. Alpine flora that are exclusive to Colorado, including the lavender-hued Rocky Mountain columbine and vibrant blue alpine forget-me-not, are prime examples of the prized plants.

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A mountain stream is lined with drifts of eye-catching candelabra primrose. In the background, a waterfall cascades over native boulders. | Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce / BFAG

Year-round, visitors gather to take in the breathtaking views of Vail mountain while immersing themselves in the natural beauty of the gardens. Children get up close and personal with plants in the vegetable garden and connect food to garden in Betty’s Market, a realistic farmers market for kids. Yoga in the Park and Guided Garden Tour programs appeal to all ages. “More than 120,000 people pass through the gardens on an annual basis, making it an integral part of a visit to Vail and a critical piece of Vail’s economy,” says Shaw.

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Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce / BFAG

A garden concept that started in the back seat of a car is now a 5-acre sanctuary for worldwide visitors. Shaw has captured the splendor of this “land above the trees” and hopes that despite climate concerns, the garden continues to thrive for years to come. “Gardens have
an enormous opportunity to advocate on behalf of threatened ecosystems, and by their apolitical nature, maintain a substantial responsibility to influence public opinion in favor of conserving them,” says Shaw. “I invite you to engage in the mission of the gardens,
to deepen your understanding of these magical yet fragile mountain environments.”

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On the Roof of the Rocky Mountains (Gibbs Smith) is available for purchase at $45


522 S. Frontage Road East, Vail, Colorado 81657

Open every day, dawn until dusk. Admission is free; $5 suggested donation.

Located in Ford Park, east of Vail Village and next to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, below Ford Park soccer and softball fields and across the creek from Manor Vail Lodge and Golden Peak.

Categories: Books, Outdoor Living