City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 12, 2017

February 12th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Mule Deer, People, Watercress — canopus56 @ 4:53 pm

Tough Plant – Part III

1:00 p.m. Today has a truly warming sun of latter winter. The air in the canyon has a sharp, cold crispness, but the low midday Sun is bites on the skin in infrared. The result is ones spirits are lifted in anticipation of the coming spring and from relief from winter’s oppression. As a consequence, the road is filled with runners and numerous families strolling with young children. A sign of advancing technology is that one young boy is not walking; he is riding a wheeled hoverboard up the road. I estimate their density within the first mile as close to eighty persons. Ice forms in small pockets of water by the side of the road and as rime on branches that hang above the stream, but unlike in the depths of winter, this ice is a clear glass. At winter’s peak, ice is a milky white. Between the rain and the melted snow, the ground is saturated and no longer holds water. The stronger Sun has also started to melt the snow in the upper canyon, and the stream now runs four to six inches deeper. At picnic site 3, the flock of six Black-capped chickadees again plays in the trees. I hear three more in the brush. Their joy and constant antics is mimicked in the play of the children walking up the road. Although I enjoy the company of children, by mile 1.2 I am ready for solitude and decide to run back down the Pipeline Trail although I know it will be muddy this time of year.

The Pipeline Trail is a patch work of drained soil, tracks of two inch deep mud, and in the much shaded portions, snow covered ice. The varied terrain provides a good training reminder for trail running later in the season. A fresh circle of mule deer dung marks the passing of the deer that I saw last-night at the meadow up-canyon. A tree snag has fallen across the trail, but it is too large for me to push it aside, and near trail mile 1.0, where a seep crosses the trail, there is a patch of bright green watercress. The trail is about seventy-five feet above the road at this point, but somehow this non-native species has managed travel uphill to this isolated spot.

I hear a crow cawing. Searching the sky, one is up canyon circling at about three-hundred feet above the meadow at mile 1.3, but there are no air rising air currents this time of year. The air is still, and the crow is flapping strenuously while circling in order to gain more altitude and is cawing loudly in complaint. Although the crow is almost one-half mile away, its voice travels through the cold still air with amazing clarity. It sounds like it is only a few hundred feet away. After recent about six hundred feet above the canyon floor, it resumes its journey and quickly glides out-of-sight in a straight line up-canyon.

The evolutionary narrative that emerges from this tale of two species of Gambel’s oak and their hybrid (Quercus gambelii, Quercus turbinnell and Quercus gambelii x turbinnell) is that both existed along the banks of ancient Lake Bonneville. When the lake receded to its current levels as the climate warmed 9,000 years ago, Quercus turbinnell was unable to adapt to extreme droughts of the new Utah summer climate, and turbinnell receded southward. Quercus gambelii remained, became more abundant, and started to reproduce asexually. Isolated pockets of Quercus turbinnell remained in northern Utah, but they hybridized into Quercus gambelii x turbinnell.

Pockets of Quercus turbinnell have been found at This is the Place Monument at Cottam’s Grove (Warchol), at Dry Fork Canyon near City Creek, and at Red Butte Gardens. I make a calendar note for next summer to look for this Quercus turbinnell in City Creek Canyon.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 12th, 1854, he remarks on how white birches trees next to a pond spread in a pleasing manner. The same is true for water or river birches found in along the stream in the canyon. On February 12th, 1857, he observes another frozen caterpillar, and when he thaws the insect, it comes alive again. On February 12th, 1860, he finds the earth partially free of snow and a yellow-brown color, and it contrasts with the blue sky and white patches of snow. He describes a spectacular sunset and states that in winter, “the sunset sky is double.”

From Feb. 12th to Feb. 20, 1986, massive flooding began in Northern Utah, including in City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 30, 2000).

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