Telluride Mushroom Fest: #43, It's A Wrap!

It is estimated that there are a million and a half species of fungi – with about 90 percent remaining undocumented. The number of mycophiles? Countless. One of those amanita hat-wearing, mold- and spore-worshipping mycelium fanatics is photographer Lisa Barlow, who shares the following wrap-up in words and images.

Go here for more on the history of the Telluride Mushroom Festival. (Scroll back to 2009.)

No mushrooms to be found, but this year’s Mushroom Festival was still a spectacular success. To be clear, there were some mushrooms, but none of last year’s edible bounty. If 2022 yielded hillsides carpeted with chanterelles, 2023 was an exercise in lichen spotting and exultation over a few lbms-little brown mushrooms. But the lecture halls were full of esoteric discussions, dazzling movies, and delicious culinary demonstrations. In Elks Park, there was much mushroom merch and an ID tent full of experts scrutinizing raggedy little fungal finds. The Mushroom Parade and drumming dance party in town park were as clever and celebratory as always.

My favorite moment of the weekend turned out to be the hapless foray I embarked on from Carhenge on Saturday morning. Racing out of the house to catch up to my group, I forgot water, proper shoes and snacks. By the time I had reached Alta Lakes, our leader had lost the last 5 cars in the caravan, and I found myself standing with a group of strangers about to hike, leaderless, thirsty, and hungry into the woods on an unknown trail.

But soon, someone had offered me Chaga mushroom water from his thermos. Another offered me some fruit and we all looked and looked for fungi. Unlike years prior, when people raced to stake out little fungal fiefdoms where they could harvest the best mushrooms in sight, this group ambled amiably, sharing any paltry find, a stick with some bird’s nest fungi, some shelf mushrooms growing on a dead tree, a few desiccated wood ears that we nibbled. Reaching a small lake, some of us took off our shoes and waded into the cool water. The mud felt deliciously squishy on my feet. Some people wet their hair. We all drank in the view.

Hours later, when we found each other again back in Telluride, we greeted each other as old friends. We hadn’t found many mushrooms, but we had found something better, a serendipitous connection in a spectacular place.

Then again, a picture is worth, well, you know…

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