Schmoll's milk vetch, for instance, occurs nowhere else in the world except Mesa Verde National Park, in southwest Colorado, and it simply didn't appear this year. "I was supposed to go to the park and map the area where the plant is located," Anderson says. "But the park service called and said don't bother."
At the famed wildflower festival in Crested Butte last month, first-time visitors were excited, as usual, but longtime organizers could tell this year wasn't normal.
"Very dry," says Lee Renfro, festival director. "You have to promise yourself that, yes, they're there, and they will come up next year."
Bonebrake presses higher and higher, until at last he spies something purple sprouting from a rock. He stops. He gathers his gear and stalks toward the asters, as if any sudden movements might scare the flowers off.
A fat marmot watches dubiously as Bonebrake crouches over the flower and takes aim. The camera's click is nearly lost amid the howling wind and the cheeping pikas in the rock crevices.
Mission accomplished. It's not a sea, or a carpet, but it's color. Bonebrake climbs back into his truck. The marmot slides back into its hole.
You have to stay optimistic, Bonebrake says, rounding another curve in his truck. Our time on Earth is a blip, and we don't understand its cycles. You have to focus on the big picture, even when you don't have any big pictures to sell.
"This is the part of being a photographer people don't see," he says.
"The amount of time and the amount of miles I spend driving, looking for pictures. If I don't get them, then I just have a nice walk in the woods. There are worse ways to make a living.
"But I really would prefer coming home with work that blows you away."