City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 7, 2017

March 6th

Filed under: History, Squirrel, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:59 am

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part IV

2:30 p.m. In the early evening last night, high winds induce tiredness and then a deep, profoundly restful sleep. I reawake at midnight to a white world. Everything is covered in a layer of ice and about three inches of snow. A deep sleep after high wind events is a common occurrence for me. One urban health myth is that high pre-storm winds flood cities with positive atmospheric ions that cause irritability, and a storm brings negative atmospheric ions that promote calm and rest. These negative ions attach to pollution particles at draw them from the air. This is the basis for a substantial trade in negative ion generators. In a 2013 meta-analysis, Perez, Alexander and Bailey of a private research company reviewed thirty-three negative and positive ion studies published between 1957 and 2012. Many of these were controlled studies in which subjects sat in sealed rooms into which negative or positive ion charged air was pumped. In the majority of those controlled conditions, no change in mood was detected, although clinically depressed subjects did show some improvement. Perez and colleagues questioned some studies results due to the short period of exposure to ion-charged air and the differing means by which changes in mood were assessed. For myself, I have no doubt that some atmospheric changes induce a deep, restful sleep. Anecdotally, I have experienced it many times. But if the effect is not caused by the air’s positive or negative ion charge, then perhaps it is something else, for example, the higher concentrations of mold and dust stirred up by such winds?

Today, in the late morning, the overcast skies clear, it warms and the snow-ice melts. While jogging up the canyon, the combination of ice and snow layers causes mini-snow slides on the lower ice surface and down the many gullies on the western canyon wall. In the small bowl at the top of each gullies, a snow slide, perhaps only of a half-inch in depth, starts. The sloughs run down the gullies and turn them a brighter white than the surrounding snow and brush covered hillside. The west canyon wall is covered in picturesque vertical white lines. At Guardhouse Gate, the Rock squirrel reappears and runs across the road.

* * * *

The Euro-American colonists of 1847 found a valley full of insect and animal life. On their first arrival in the valley, Lorenzo Young reported several million crickets that completely covered the ground (Bancroft, 262; Little, 99-100). Clara Young described how the First Peoples “made a corral twelve or fifteen feet square, fenced about with sage brush and grease wood, and . . . drove [the crickets] into the enclosure. Then they set fire to the brush fence, . . . Afterward they took them [the crickets] up by the thousands . . . ” (Bancroft, 262, ftn. 24.) The cooked crickets were then wrapped in skins and buried for winter food. The “crickets” were a basis element of the Salt Lake ecology – the now extinct Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) (Lockwood 2009, Kevin 2012). They were a local primary food source for both the local bands of Ute and Goshute First Peoples (Chamberlin 1911, 335; see Little). The biological mass of these now extinct locust swarms are unimaginable by modern standards. In the 1850s, Euro-American colonizer child Mary Knowlton Coray Roberts describes dunes of dead locusts along the Great Salt Lake shoreline as high as houses (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1986). The June 25th, 1855 Deseret News reported a flight three miles across (Bitton and Wilcox 1978, 337), and in June 1868, local Mormon bishop Alfred Cordon travelling through a flight four-miles long (id., 338).

That early Utah Euro-American experience was only a small part of a much larger migratory pattern of the extinct locusts, according to an 1877 report by United States Geological Service’s Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden was an early Utah explorer after whom Hayden Peak in the Unitas is named (Hayden 1877). The locusts’ great circular migrations began on the Great Plains in central Montana, came down through Wyoming, ended at the Great Salt Lake, and then returned to the plains via Wymoing (Hayden, Map 1). Less frequently, they would move on to devastate the grain farms of North and South Dakota, Arkansas and Missouri (id). This is only one of three major R-reproductive strategy members of the orthopteran family of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers present in Utah on the colonists’ arrival. The second is the flightless katydid, the Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex H.), and the third are Grasshoppers, principally Melanoplus sp. (Watson 2016, Evan 2003). It is the third which is a central character in the Latter Day Saint narrative of the “Miracle of the Sea Gulls” in which their first 1848 crops were protected from locusts by divinely sent flocks of California gulls (Larus californicus). Both the Mormon crickets and grasshoppers survive today in fluctuating infestation levels in Utah, including about 3,800 acres, or about 6 square miles, in Salt Lake County in 2016 (Watson 2016, Missoulian and Karrass 2001, Leavitt 2001).

The colonists reported their first fort was harassed by “wolves, foxes, and catamounts [a term used for eastern mountain lions]” and Lorenzo Young “spread some strychnine about, and in the morning found fourteen white wolves dead” (Bancroft, 277, ftn. 8; Little, 99). Young also reported jack rabbits (Little, 99). A startled deer, then unfamiliar with idea of a “fort”, jumped over the fort’s high wall and into the enclosure (id., 276). Deer herds traversing the valley and surrounding canyons were sufficiently large to provide both food stuffs and hides for the making of shoes and clothing for 1,500 persons (Bancroft, 277). The stockade was also quickly overrun by swarms of mice, and noise of the mice was loud enough that fifty or sixty had to be killed nightly (Bancroft, 277-278). Buffalo herds were also present as the pioneers reported using in their hand-looms buffalo hair snagged on sage brush from passing herds in order to make cloth in the absence of cotton (id., 276, ftn. 6). They traded with First Peoples already in the valley for buffalo hides (id., p. 277). In the present day, a re-introduced buffalo herd is maintained on a Antelope Island State Park.

While no historical record of fish life in valley or City Creek streams was found, Utah Lake was an annual spring gathering place of several Ute Tribe bands due to an abundant fish runs. Utah pioneer George W. Bean described that fish were so numerous that, “suckers and mullet passing [sic] continuously up stream that often the river would be full from bank to bank as thick as they could swim for hours and sometimes days together, and fish would be taken in all ways and places” (Gottfredson, 21). Utah Lake connects the Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River and hence to all of the Salt Lake valley streams, including City Creek Canyon. In a 2012 article, Utah Audubon Society’s Wayne Martinson described the pre-colonization Jordan River as,

comparable to any international wildlife area in the world . . . It was a riparian area in a desert that connected one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi and the largest saline lake in the Western hemisphere. What we’ve lost on the Jordan is something we don’t even think about anymore. I can appreciate all the restoration that’s going on now, but it’s just a remnant of what was. (Salt Lake Tribune and Baird, Oct. 22, 2012).

In December 1848, a newly created Salt Lake county government organized a committee of extermination for wildlife. Two hunting parties systematically removed all wildlife in the valley. That winter, they reported killing “2 bears, 2 wolverines, 2 mountain lions, 763 wolves, 409 foxes, 31 minks, 9 eagles, 530 magpies, hawks and owls, and 1,626 ravens” (Bancroft, 287, ftn. 2). In January 1849, city administrators made plans for a 17 mile fence to be constructed surrounding the city and 5,153 acres of farmland (Bancroft, 285-6 ftn. 3), presumably in part to keep any remaining wildlife out of crop fields.

While wildlife was excluded from the valley, wildlife retained their refuge in the surrounding canyons. In City Creek, on January 19, 1875, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the account of a member of a rescue party sent to check on the welfare of two missing miners at the Red Bird Mine on Scott’s Hill (probably the Unnamed peak at 8283 feet west of Lower Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon. The rescuer reported that “game of all kinds is abundant. We saw twelve blacktail deer in one band for a starter, ducks in great abundance, many snipes, a brace of California quail, to say nothing of prairie chickens, grouse and white hare. The stream is also a favorite resort for brook trout” (id). As late as September 1916, sheepherders Jerry Ellis and George Neill reported that they killed twenty-eight bears in City Creek Canyon, near Beck’s Hot Springs and in Hardscrabble Canyon since June of that year (Salt Lake Telegram). Seven of the most recently killed bears of 1916 weighed over 500 pounds, and the state paid the hunters a $105 USD predator bounty (id).

(For an excellent narrative on the pre-European state of Utah nature and how it was altered through the 1930s, see Flores 1985.)

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 6th, 1853, he watches two red squirrels. March 6th, 1855, he finds a mouse nest under the snow.

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