Though flora and fauna may be typical of a particular life zone, borders often merge. The area between Leadville and Buena Vista is considered the Montaine Zone, between 8,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. Douglas fir grow here on moist north-facing slopes and along the river, and ponderosa pine are found on dry south-facing slopes, becoming more plentiful down river between Granite and Buena Vista.
Pinon pine generally grow where it's less moist, often in stands with juniper. Pinon nuts can be ground into a nutritious meal which was integral to the diet of Native Americans. Throughout the semi-arid river valley, there are a number of cactus species such as yucca, prickly pear and cholla.
Below Salida, the large trees of the foothills give way to the shrubs and grasses of the plains, and some of the best riparian habitats on the river can be found here. These wetlands act like giant sponges absorbing and holding large amounts of water, regulating the river flow, removing sediments and filtering toxins.
There are thickets of short, leafy Gambel's oak which beaver prize for their bark. The brush, shrubs and willows along the river also provide protection and homes to many small birds and mammals. The plains and mountain valleys wouldn't be complete without the cottonwood. These stately trees line the river in peaceful groves, and they provide the main source of shade for relaxing visitors as well as critical roosting habitat for large birds like eagles and blue herons. The core of a cottonwood tree decomposes in a way that provides homes for many animals, and even if dead, they should not be completely removed.