City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 31, 2017

January 31st

Filed under: Cottonwood tree — canopus56 @ 9:12 pm

Tree Rings

4:30 p.m. Another day of heavy air pollution. It is also the last day of the anterless elk hunt. The elk are free from human predation until next August. Near mile 1.0, I take a photograph of the end of a machine cut mountain cottonwood log that is about thirty inches in diameter. Processing the digital image and counting the rings yields that the tree was felled at about 105 years of age. I do not know how long ago this cottonwood was cut down, but from the state of the bark, I suspect it was within the last twenty years. This dates the tree to between 1900 to 1920. Thirty inches in diameter is about as large as any cottonwood grows. There are perhaps ten cottonwoods of this size in the first mile of the canyon, and all of those shows signs of illness. I know of only one larger in the city at the corner of Third Avenue and J Street, and it is healthy because it is well cared for.

A 2016 forest resource report by Werstak et al. describes distribution of the age classes of various trees on national forest lands in Utah (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). For elms, ashes and cottonwoods, about twenty-five percent reach between 101-120 years in age and then decline rapidly. None appear to live past 160 years old.

I first came into the canyon about 40 years ago, and thus, some of the cottonwoods that I now see were seedlings in the 1980s. Others were mature sixty year olds and are now one-hundred. But I have no conscious recollection of see any of these trees change over the years. Their growth is too slow to be perceived by humans. Later at home through an internet utility that allows viewing homes on streets anywhere in the United States, I look at a recent photograph of a home where my father planted trees fifty years ago. I remember them as one-inch stems brought home from the nursery that barely survived their first year due to attacks from tent caterpillars. Now they are great trees with trunks two feet across and are seventy-five feet tall. I hope that somewhere with modern technology, an academic biologist will set up a fixed camera and record a forest on the same day, once during each season, for one-hundred years, so a future generation may see how a forest grows and changes.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 31st, 1917, City Commissioner Herman H. Green reported that jail prisoners are continuing work on grading the boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 31st, 1902, City Engineer L.C. Kesley submitted his report to the mayor recommending the construction of a concrete reservoir at Pleasant Valley and reporting the expenditure of $22,792 USD (approx. $631,000 in 2016) for the construction of a water pipeline up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Evening News). On January 31st, 1900, the Board of Public Works asked for authorization to implement City Engineer Kesley’s recommendation to replace the water main in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The Land and Water Commissioner asked for an additional deputy to police the canyons to prevent arrest persons for “violating the law by befouling of the streams” (id). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin that in City Creek, about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald).


January 30, 2017

January 30th

Filed under: Birds, Elk, milepost 1.5, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:52 pm

Wing Flutter

4:30 p.m. Because of the inversion layer, the air quality index on this clear day is in the unhealthy range of 150 and about 55 micrograms of PM 2.5 dust for each cubic meter of air. There are no air quality monitoring stations in the canyon, but a private station up Emigration Canyon also reads an AQI of 150. At milepost 1.5 in City Creek, on Black Mountain, the trees are no longer white frosted (Jan. 27th), but are again green. Black Mountain is seen through a dusty haze and as the sun sets is glows pink, not yellow, from the air pollution.

Turning down-canyon, two events quickly happen in the twilight. On the high west ridge the silhouette of a large bull elk appears. He has large antler rack that is visible to the naked eye from almost a mile away. Through my monocular, I count five points on each antler. This bull is safe from hunters (Jan. 27th); only taking antler-less elk is currently legal, and the antler-less hunt ends tomorrow.

Next, a flock of small birds silently flies about fifty feet overhead traveling up-canyon. There are about seventy-five in all, and although there is simple city rumble noise (Jan. 14th), I can hear the delicate sound of their wings fluttering in the thick cold air. In the dimming light I cannot identify them, but I suspect that they are European house sparrows. A owl and three chickadees are heard but not seen. At one of the spring seeps near mile 0.7, another unidentified bird lands a tuft of grass in the seeps and expertly dips down to take a sip of the cold trickle of water. It flits to another tuft and then repeats this twice before flying off.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 30th, 1877, Carl Dahlgreen displayed his painting of Pleasant Valley, City Creek Canyon at the Salt Lake Tribune offices (Salt Lake Tribune). It is one of his series of Utah landscapes. Carl Dahlgreen (a.k.a Charles Dahlgren) immigrated from Denmark to Salt Lake City in 1870 where he opened an art school. In 1878, he moved to California and become a noted California landscape painter (askArt, Family History). The current location of his painting of Pleasant Valley is unknown.

January 29, 2017

January 29th

Filed under: Seasons — canopus56 @ 9:20 pm

Reminiscences of Warmth

5:00 p.m. Another clear but very cold day. Air pollution is creeping up into the canyon. It is Sunday, and there are many young couples walking up the road. After jogging today, I spend some time reviewing pictures that I have taken in the canyon during this summer and fall. There is a teasel in late summer that is now snow covered. The Zen rock contrasts in late summer and winter (Jan. 3rd-Jan. 4th). An autumn brilliant yellow Box Elder tree at mile 1.3 and bright red maple leaves at mile 2.0 are now all branch and twig. Looking back over previous entries, there many days of one-hundred degree heat between July 25th and August 3rd where I would relish the feeling of sweating all of the salt and toxins out of the my body. Now both accumulate inside me waiting for another summer. The heat peak heat and the person who ran through it seem like another foreign life lived by some one other than myself.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 29th, 1856, Thoreau comments that since many animals move out of inhabited areas, humans have little knowledge of the state of nature before colonization. On January 29, 1858, he finds a bright red fungi. On January 29th, 1860, he sees conical rainbows in the snow that continually precede his direction of travel.

January 28, 2017

January 28th

Filed under: Crow, People — canopus56 @ 8:21 pm

Ski Tracks

3:00 p.m. Because it is a heavy snow year, at milepost 1.5, the south ridge slopes are covered in back-country ski tracks. This is a rare occurrence. Normally, there is insufficient snow to even consider skiing in City Creek, and the two feet of snow pack that currently exists is not sufficient. Back-country skiing always involves a risk benefit trade-off. In the high-country, the risk is avalanche, and at the lower altitudes of City Creek, the risk is running into a hidden rock. In order to turn in back-country telemark skiing, the skier drops one leg behind the other and dips the knee deep below the surface of the snow. The risk is that one will run that trailing knee into a two-foot boulder hidden below the snow’s surface, as occurred to an acquaintance of mine many years ago in Emigration Canyon. Although I admire whoever laid the tracks down, the risk is too high, or perhaps I have simply gotten older. Age increases the perception of risk. The sinuous tracks add beauty to the snow.

In the lower mile of the canyon, I see two smaller birds at a distance, and watch two crows glide across the canyon cawing to one another. A smaller bird rises and harasses one of the crows. The canyon remains deeply silent.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 28th, 1857, he observes sparrows taking a water bath in puddle during an early thaw.

On January 28th, 1908, George Crimson, who with his father constructed the first flour mill in City Creek Canyon in 1847, died. A plaque along Memory Road north of Third Avenue marks the location of the mill.

January 27, 2017

January 27th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Elk, milepost 1.5 — canopus56 @ 8:18 pm

Black Mountain, Yellow Mountain

4:30 p.m. It has been the first clear day of blue sky in almost one week, and I have forgotten what Black Mountain looks like. In the lower canyon, the snow-covered high walls are covered in deer or elk tracks, but I do not see either mammal directly. On parts to the south ridge, a three or four feet cornice has formed. Near sunset at milepost 1.5, Black Mountain comes into view. Normally, the Black Mountain is black or dark green due to its heavy coverage of Lodgepole pine and Douglas firs, but today the mountain is completely snow-blasted white. This makes Black Mountain look more fierce and crag-like than it really is, and, as the sun sets, the mountain becomes ablaze in yellow light.

At mile 0.5, I pass two anterless elk hunters coming down-canyon. They drag a sled that contains at most thirty-forty pounds of meat. They have not butchered well and have left two-hundred to three-hundred pounds of meat rotting in the watershed. Later, I discover that this is possibly an illegal take. Near mile 1.3, their sled tracks and footprints trudge up and back down the mountain side, but legal rifle hunting in the canyon does not begin until after mile 4.0. This may also explain why I see no elk or deer. The anterless elk hunt ends on January 31st.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 27th, he sees small nests of wasps made from mud. (These are probably nests of the mud dauber wasp.)

January 26, 2017

January 26th

Filed under: Black-billed magpie, Gambel's Oak, Sounds, Unidentified, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:35 pm

The White Tube Frozen

4:00 p.m. Throughout the morning, a light snow falls and this refreshes the snow on the trees in the canyon. It remains in the twenties during the night and into the day, and as a result, the snow that has accumulated on branches remains. The White Tube (Nov. 24th and 25th) has continued since last January 21st (“Snow Storm”) through today. In this regard, the January White Tube differs from its November counterpart. In November, the snow quickly melted raining water and slush droplets on the road’s walkers and runners. Now, the White Tube is frozen in time; nothing melts.

The canyon is extraordinarily quiet; there is no city rumble intruding into the canyon. There are only a few other walkers, runners and bicyclists. I find myself stopping every third-of-a-mile and just to listen to sounds. Every golden note from the stream is relatively loud and crisp. Where the road runs immediately adjacent to the stream and its spill-ponds, I stop and I am entranced by stream-song.

High on the south-east ridge at the entrance to Pleasant Valley, a group of Black-billed magpies have congregated in a Gambel’s oak copse. Although they are distant, their distinct profile with their long tails gives them away. Over this ridgeline copse, the silhouette of a large raptor appears. It is too far to identify, but the black shape suggests it is an eagle. It is traversing the canyon to the western ridge using continuous strong flaps to gain altitude. In contrast during the summer, great thermals effortlessly carrying the soaring raptors from ridge to ridge. A lone Northern flicker is heard in the woods. Unseen under the snowpack, squirrels and Rocky mountain deer mice lead hidden lives.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 26th, 1853, he observes that some snow drifts in regular spaced bands.

A letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Herald proposes two alternatives to the City Engineer’s proposal to spend $400,000 to buy up water rights in Big Cottonwood Canyon. First, was to build a reservoir in City Creek Canyon.

January 25th

Filed under: Cottonwood tree — canopus56 @ 12:59 am

Crenulated Trees

4:30 p.m. Another storm refreshes the snow. While jogging up-canyon, I notice the various depths of creases in the barks of trees, particularly in mountain cottonwood trees. When young, their bark is almost smooth. The depth of the crenulations in cottonwoods’ bark increase with age, until near mile 1.0, an aged cottonwood has creases that are almost two inches in depth.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 25th, 1852, he describes a frozen cattail. The sight of the sun reflecting off of the bottom of a stream reminds him of summer. On January 25, 1856, a collected pine cone opens are being warmed in Thoreau’s home. He marvels at the difficulty of and the ability of squirrels to remove seeds from a closed cone. On January 25, 1858, Thoreau notes the many types of buds on trees.

On January 25th, 1925, forty-one students of the University Hiking Club, went up Black Mountain, slid down the mountain’s backside, and hiked out City Creek (Utah Daily Chronicle, Jan. 30th, 1925).

January 24, 2017

January 24th

Filed under: Seasons, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:21 pm

Out of the Refrigerator

5:00 p.m. In the valley, temperatures have risen to the mid thirties during the day and to the mid-to-low twenties at night. The entire canyon remains frosted with wonderful beauty of blasted snow, and although in the canyon, temperatures are lower, deep winter no longer has its grip. It is also warmer here, and the character of newly fallen snow has changed from a light powder to dense, wet mix. This wet snow will dominate during storms from now until spring melts the snow pack. Clearly a vertical line in the snow bank with my foot, this seasonal division appears as layers in the sound. The early sugary snow is a lower layer. Last week after some severe cold, this layer had condensed to where in some places, I could walk on the snow’s surface without breaking through. Then the snow made a crunching noises. Now, this lower layer is covered by a second layer of recent dense wet deposition which separates as noiseless slush. We are out of the “Refrigerator”, the coldest portion of the year (Dec. 28th) where temperatures stay in the low twenties during the day and drops into the single digits overnight.

This change in seasonal climate corresponds to the change in the length of the day. At the winter solstice, there were 9 hours and 15 minutes between civil sunrise to civil sunset, but now the length of daylight has quickly risen to 9 hours and 54 minutes. At this time of year, speed of the advance of the length of day is near its greatest and although this advance will continue, its rate of change will slow. The result is entry into the next February phase of winter. It features overcast weeks of light cold punctuated by days of bright sunshine with crisp air. Even with this change, psychologically, winter weighs heavily on the spirit. People in the City are exhausted from traversing the Refrigerator, and even with the increased daylight, they react more strongly to the cold and overcast light and have long faces.

Being in the canyon each day connects me more to this new slight trend that leads back to spring. But I have been jogging closer to twilight, and as a result, I see fewer people and birds are not active. The now silvery night canyon is nearly empty, and there is a deep healing silence where silence has a sound. I feel it is time to return to jogging during mid-day, when birds and wildlife are out, and the sun warms body and soul.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January January 24th, 1858, he sees water skimmers active in the cold weather. On January 24th, 1858, he finds a caterpillar that is two-thirds frozen, but alive and moving in the remaining one-third.

On January 24th, 1979, a man was hospitalized after becoming lost overnight while on a snow-shoe hike from City Creek to Bountiful (Davis Clipper). He survived by building a snow cave (id). On January 24th, 1918, the City Creek night watchman was approached by a naked man, who then disappeared into the darkness (Salt Lake Herald).

January 23, 2017

January 23rd

Filed under: Watercress, Weather — canopus56 @ 11:38 pm

The White Tangle

5:00 p.m. As another storm front passes over the valley, great winds beat tree and building alike, but no rain or snow arrives until the afternoon. As I enter the canyon, another foot and one half of snow has fallen and the storm continues with a heavy sheet of white. All of the branches are covered with a thick coat; whiteness is everywhere; the canyon is a white tangle of chaos. The snow banks rise to two feet in the lower canyon and in some spots to three. I see a thousand hues of white and grey, except for one break at the spring below picnic site 6. There, the spring water is filled with a green mat of the invasive watercress (Oct. 19th). Because the watercress is surrounded only by white, its color is luminous. But it is not cold.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 23rd, 1857, he records a -8 degree temperature and on January 26th, 1857, -24 degrees. On January 23th, 1858, he records that the ground is bare and snow free. On January 23rd, 1859, Thoreau again sees snow fleas.

On January 23rd, 1904, City Engineer Kesley again proposed a 5,000,000 gallon storage tank be built at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram and Salt Lake Herald, Jan. 24th). On January 23rd, 1901, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the City had received a proposal to purchase 240 acres of land in City Creek owned by an eastern bank. On January 23, 1896, the Red Bird Mine at the City Creek-Morgan County divide was leased in order to restart the 1,300 foot tunnel that already existed at that mine. On January 23, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald published two rumors: first, that placer gold had recently been found in City Creek Canyon, and second, of a long-time Salt Lake City shoemaker who in the 1860s purportedly had a hidden gold mine in City Creek. The miner died without revealing the location of the now lost mine. The Herald predicted that by spring, “the mountains east and north of Salt Lake [would be] fairly covered with prospectors and miners and are confident that within six months the mountain sides will be pierced with shafts and tunnels and the canyons lined with sluice boxes and tail races.”

January 22, 2017

January 22nd

Filed under: Chokeberries, Colors, Meadow Mile 1.3, wild rose — canopus56 @ 9:21 pm

The Brown Ribbon

4:00 p.m. Yesterday’s heavy snowfall made the canyon a wonderful monotone white, and this emphasizes the stream. Usually, I do not notice the varying shades of brown of the stream, but now without the distraction of other colors, I perceive subtle variations of its dark brown bottom, the red of the bank’s soil, and various shades of brown stones sticking up above the water. There are a few other colors besides white snow, an overcast white sky, and grey tree trunks.

At mile 0.2 around the first bend from Guardhouse Gate, a chokeberry tree, a large wild rose, and a red osier dogwood (Aug. 31st, Nov. 6th) intertwine with their branches covered in snow. The chokeberry is one of the few that still retain many of its dark purple dried fruit, and these are suspended next to red bulbs of the wild rose bush. White, red, and purple provide a reminder of brighter colors now gone from the canyon, except for winter’s bright subtle pinks and yellows in the sunset. At mile 1.2 off of a side trial that leads to Pipeline Trail, there is one other notable example of a large wild rose bush. I have to shake the branches to reveal the color hidden underneath. There a wild rose bush is intertwined with a cultivar green apple tree. Some of the shriveled and ice-frozen fruit of the apple tree are plum or orange colored, and they contrast against the red buds of the wild rose and the snow. This is the largest wild rose bush in the canyon.

As I jog up canyon, there is man muttering to himself in revelry. “Fantastic”, “amazing”, “beautiful”, he stammers while he watches the snow covered trees and takes numerous photographs. He is in his early fifties and remarks that although he has lived in the city all of his life neither himself or his relatives have gone into the winter canyon during his lifetime. He rides bike here during the summer and recalls how as a boy, he and his friends would do annual summer hike. They would hike to the end of the canyon at camp near the divide with Morgan County. The next day they would hike out Hardscrabble Canyon and then to East Canyon, where their parents would pick them up. As we part, he notes, “it is strange how a man can be near something the like this, but never really see it.”

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 22nd, 1852, he turns a rock over and finds a colony of black ants. On January 22, 1854, he sees subtle hints of rainbow colors in the clear, setting sun sky. (These were probably due to ice crystals in the air.)

Older Posts »

Blog at