Disclaimer: I am a complete beginner at mushroom foraging! Do not use any of this story for the purposes of identification and never eat a wild mushroom without the 100% positive identification of a seasoned expert! Fortunately, if you are interested in learning more about the edible mushrooms which grow just west of Buena Vista, you can learn all about it at the King Boletus Mushroom Festival.
Update- we found some! Scott came into a big stash of King Boletus (gathered in the shirt off his back), and I came across my first few as well (on the cutting board)…
“That’s a great sign- a gigantic puddle” Scott said as he parked his 4Runner. We stepped out, grabbed his woven foraging basket (preferable to a bag because it allows the spores of gathered mushrooms to spread) and immediately stumbled upon several clusters of “Shaggy Mane” mushrooms busting through moist dirt beside the forest road. Our spirits were high at having found a flush of edible mushrooms so early in our hunt… if only we had known how ironic this immediate find would become…
Scott Johnson lives in Guffey, Colorado and cultivates edible mushrooms- from Shiitakes to Oysters to Lion’s Manes- which he sells at farmer’s markets throughout the region. Scott is also one of South Main’s soon-to-be residents; he and his family are just completing the design for a mixed-use building which they plan to break ground on this fall. It will be located just across River Park Road from Eddyline Brewpub, and the first floor will be a retail space for Sundance Sheepskin and Leather. Scott’s in-laws started the business which is now in its fourth decade. Stay tuned for an in-depth design article on the Sundance Building in the coming weeks.
But I digress. Back to the mushroom hunt! It was the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) which originally turned Scott onto edible mushrooms and mycology. He had come across and eaten a bunch of Shaggy Manes with some friends who knew what to look for. After that, a whole slew of Shaggy Manes popped up in his yard in Guffey. The fact that this edible fungus had emerged, seemingly randomly, from a patch of barren dirt in his back yard intrigued him and was the moment that really got Scott interested in mycology and mushroom cultivation.
Perhaps we were at the wrong elevation. We drove higher up Cottonwood Pass and found ourselves in a promising zone. We traipsed about in the woods, our eyes glued to the ground, the visual equivalent of a hound dog sniffing out chipmunks or squirrels. There is something zen about combing the forest floor so thoroughly, paying such close attention to every fold of the land, each downed log, the increased moisture accumulated in a low spot.
We had plenty of time for Scott to bestow on me some of his mycological wisdom. He told me about how the mushrooms we were hunting are mycorrhizal, meaning that they exist in a symbiotic relationship with certain types of trees- usually spruce. The tree exchanges its sugars for the increased water and mineral absorption provided by the fungus’s mycelium (the underground, vegetative body of the fungus which can connect whole groves of trees). Research has revealed that these mycelium networks are indispensable to the health of a forest and are even capable of transferring nutrients from healthy to distressed trees.
Alas, the mushroom hunting was not as good as the conversation. We harvested a few edible Hawk’s Wings (Sarcodon imbricatus) and stumbled upon a few impressive specimens from the Boletus family, but they were not the Boletus edulis that we sought.
For our last attempt, we drove to the lowest elevation yet, theorizing that perhaps we were too early for the high elevations and that the boletes would be further along here. We combed the area, and our fortunes seemed to have shifted when Scott stumbled upon an unassuming cap that looked more like a stone than anything else. But its underside revealed the tell-tale, bright gold coloration and ridges of the prized Chanterelle. “Uphill and downhill of this spot are now our target zone” Scott told me, adding “there’s no such thing as a lone Chanterelle.”
Or is there? Whether it was another forager that beat us to the stash or merely an ironic turn of fate, our last ditch effort yielded none of the gold morsels.
Like prospectors after another fruitless day of panning, we slogged back to the car. Driving down the pass, Scott spotted another roadside flush of Shaggy Manes. We harvested our consolation prize, which would also become my first wild mushroom meal. The novelty and flavor were enjoyable, but I still look forward to tasting Chanterelles and King boletus; I’ve ‘caught the bug’ and am certain that this will not be my last foray. After all, ‘there’s gold in them hills’ dang it!
If you’re still with me, I’m impressed! And I’ll share with you a final bit of irony. This morning I got an email from Scott with this picture and the following note: “This white King bolete (Boletus barrowski) appeared before us on the trail to the volleyball court not 200 ft from our house. I’ve never found one of the white variety before, and there it was in my own back yard after not finding any of its relatives all day. Go figure…”
Indeed. Many thanks to you, Scott, and I look forward to next time. May it be a bit more fruitful…
- A Fall Color Drive to St. Elmo Ghost Town
- Sundance Sheepskin & Leather Comes to South Main
- Who Will Be Crowned King and Queen of the Wave?
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