City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 10, 2017

March 10th

Filed under: Bicyclist, Moon, Owl, People — canopus56 @ 11:15 pm

City Creek’s Delta – Part I

7:00 p.m. I reach the canyon between dusk and dark under an overcast sky that obscures a full Moon. It is a night of exuberant wheelmen motivated by the coming change in seasons. Going up canyon, three skateboarders race down the canyon. The first two are dressed in tights and menacing helmets with darkened faceplates, and the third follows holding a cell phone. They are making a video for posting on the internet. The canyon is full of bicyclists. Going up canyon, many racing bicyclists whiz down canyon. After dark, there are up to twenty mountain bikers; they are equipped with bright LED lights and can ride in the dark. Some streak past yelling “pedestrian!” to others further behind. Many are riding up the Pipeline Trail, and due to the lack of leaves and their bright lights I can follow their progress. The clump in groups or looking up canyon, I can see several climbing the high Bonneville Shoreline Trail that goes to the ridge line. Two have become disoriented and are hacking their way through the brush between the Pipeline Trail and the paved road, not knowing that 100 yards away there is a trail between the two. I understand their excitement. When I was younger, I enjoyed the exhilaration of these fast bike rides down the canyon under a full Moon (Nov. 2nd), and it feels good to see another generation. Wheelman have frequently the canyon since the 1890s and the introduction of the safety bike. At mile 1.2, I can hear but not see wild turkeys and another unidentified bird with a warbling call. Near mile 0.2, I hear an owl on the south-east side of the creek, I cannot see it in the darkness, but from the sound I know it is perhaps twenty feet away. I stop and peer into the night, and owl stops calling. Then it spreads its great wings as it silently lifts in the forest canopy, and I just see its outline. Two hundred yards down canyon, it is again calling and its mate replies from the west side of the canyon.

After leaving the canyon, I drive past the intersection of South Temple (formerly “Brigham’s Street”) and State Street (formerly “First East”). On the southwest corner is Brigham Young’s 1850s residence, the Lion House. One can see why Young put his residence there. Looking down either State Street, one gets a grand view down to the valley floor two or three miles away. At night, the streets lights leading off in a straight line for several miles is dramatic. On the next street to the west, Main Street (formerly called “East Temple Street”), there is an statute of Young to the north of the intersection in which Young stands in an archetypal roman orator’s pose (called the “Brigham Young Monument”). At his feet are statutes of a Native American, e.g. the Ute Wakara, on one side and on the other, a statute of an early mountain man, e.g. Jim Bridger. On the backside of the statute is a plaque with the names of the 147 members of the July 24th advance party, including three “colored servants”. The monument was relocated from the middle of the intersection to the north sidewalk in the mid-2000s. A Salt Lake City resident insider joke is that Young points towards to his left and the front door of Zions Bank, the Latter Day Saint church owned financial institution, and not to the Mormon Temple, located over his right shoulder. He perpetually beckons tourists to bring their money to the bank, and then visit the church’s temple.

Both State and Main Streets along South Temple Street are elevated above the valley floor. Although obscured by modern skyscrapers, there is a slight east-west parabolic curve in the land between State and Main that trails off three blocks away to either side. This is delta of City Creek Canyon, and the ground consists of the excavated remnants of the negative space in what is now Memory Grove and the canyon below Bonneville Drive. The land in that space was eroded away as Lake Bonneville receded from its highest elevation to its current level between 11,000 and 7,000 years ago, and the earth was deposited in the delta. From this vantage point, Young could politically, spiritually, and physically keep an eye on his flock, and today, the skyscraper Church Office Building to the north of Lion House fulfills a similar role in Salt Lake L.D.S. Church members’ zeitgeist.

On arriving in the valley in 1847, one of early Church’s and Young’s earliest tasks was to channel City Creek in a series of open ditches (Bancroft, 262) in order to support the plan for an agrarian city of 5,000 to 7,000 of the earliest Mormon immigrants to the Mexican territory. By the end of 1847, there were 2,393 immigrants in the valley (id), and by the time of the 1850 census just less than 5,000 persons. They needed water. The parabolic topography of City Creek’s delta naturally lent the colonists to extend a main gravity fed aqueduct ditches to the east and west along North Temple Street and thence along north-south running ditches to individual homesteads. The rectangular grid plan adopted by the colonists was already well-known in the mid-19th century. It had already been used by the Greeks and the Romans, and the grid plan was also used before 1847 as the design of both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The north-south gravity fed ditches were a natural fit to a grid plan and it also fit with prior spiritual city designs by the Mormon prophet Smith. Smith envisaged a theodemocratic city laid out on a grid, that is a city led by religious elites with lower officers selected by election.

With the availability of hindsight of the minimum volume of water coming out of City Creek Canyon, about 32 acre-ft per day (1300 acre-ft per month) at its lowest, it is reasonable that the initial City of 7,000 persons would be sustainable (see Feb. 6th). Even at its lowest December flow of 32 acre-ft per day, there would be sufficient water to flood 384 acres or 38 ten acre blocks with one inch of water every day. Each ten acre block had 10 lots on a side and at five persons per household, City Creek alone could provide, without considering water from Red Butte or Emigration Canyons, sufficient water for 38 ten acre blocks containing 7,600 persons. Thirty-two acre-ft is about 10,400,000 gallons of water per day, or 1370 gallons of water per capita per day, and this seems sufficient on a per capita basis to meet the personal and agricultural needs of the first 7,600 immigrants along with their associated farm and labor animals. The 32 acre-feet per day is only a minimum. In June, the pre-water treatment plant creek peaks at about 3100 acre-feet per month, or about 100 acre-feet per day (about 32,600,000 gallons per day or 4,600 gallons per day per capita for 7,000 persons), and in late-summer September, the pre-water treatment plant historical flow is about 1450 acre-feet per month, or about 45 acre-feet per day. Including other water sources from Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Canyons, it was reasonable in 1847 to believe that a much larger city could be accommodated. A city plan of 1849 envisaged 291 ten-acre plots and 460 five-acre plots, and 800 acres of church farms, for a total of about 600 ten acre plots (Bancroft 290, ftn. 8).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 10th, 1852, he sees a flock of 12 bluebirds, a sparrow and a blooming mountain plantain. Mosses and lichen are growing. March 10, 1853, he describes as the first real day of spring. He describes numerous shoots and plants blooming with green leaves. He sees minnows in a brook. On March 10th, 1854, he experiences heavy rains and captures a skunk. On March 10th, 1855, he sees the first expansion of willow buds. He describes how the first animal signs of spring come and go.

On March 10th, 1914, the City plans to install two measuring weirs in City Creek so the stream flow can be accurately determined (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 14, 1910, construction of the concrete underground conduit to hold City Creek, which is proceeding from south to north, has reached within 700 feet of the North end. It will be ready for spring runoff (Salt Lake City Herald).



  1. “On the southwest corner is Brigham Young’s 1850s residence, the Lion House.”


    Good post, fascinating.

    Comment by owentt — March 16, 2017 @ 3:13 am

  2. Thanks for the correction.

    Comment by canopus56 — March 16, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

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