City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 3, 2017

March 31st

Filed under: Glacier lily, River birch, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 11:48 am

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XII – Water Protection

2:00 p.m. It has rained through the night and into the morning, but in the afternoon the front passes and all is sunlight. The stream’s seasonal flow has peaked, and I measure its decline using the Zen Rock (January 4th) as a measuring weir. The rock is narrower at its base for about eight inches above the stream bed, and this is the result the annual high water erosion over geologic time. Three days ago, the stream was at the top of the narrowing base, but today, it is four inches lower than this high-water mark. The stream’s melodious and meditative sound continues to dominate the canyon road. The automated SNOTEL hydrograph for the Lewis Meadows station shows how unusual this year is (Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2017). The 1981 to 2010 median behavior of the snowpack is to accumulate through the middle of March, decline slightly, and then re-accumulate snow to the first of April. Only then does the annual melt and peak run-off occur. This year snow accumulated through the first week of March, precipitously declined through mid-March, had the smallest of increases, and now is resuming its fast evaporation.

One River birch below picnic site 3 has begun to grow its spring seeds. The leaves of the Wood’s rose bushes have grown to one and one-half to two inches in length. Keay at the University of Idaho found that mule deer and squirrels forage on glacier lilies (Keay 1977). I will keep a watch on the lily field above the west side of picnic site 6 for grazing squirrels and deer, but I expect few deer, since they prefer the east side of the stream where they can quickly escape into the thickets.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 31st, 1853, he observes that hazel tree catkins are turning yellow and shedding pollen. He and hears robins and a warbling vireo. On March 31st, 1860, he notes that white maples have red fringe tops. n March 31, 1857, he notes that the earth is sufficiently unfrozen to dig a garden. (He notes that during winter at that time, the dead are left frozen outside until the ground unfreezes, and then the dead can be buried.) On March 31st, 1858, he sees a flock of 12 black ducks. On March 31st, 1860, he sees small red butterflies.

* * * *

It was during the 1952 to 1975 canyon access hiatus that a major natural gas pipeline was run in a straight line across the canyon at mile 1.3 from the Avenues to Bountiful. The pipeline’s alignment disregarded contours, and on the south side of the road, a switchback road runs up a near vertical face, repeatedly crossing the pipeline track. On the west-south side of the canyon, a single road makes one switchback and then steeply climbs directly to the west ridge. (Personal observation).

During the hiatus, wide dirt fire protection access lanes were run west-to-east along both the north and south ridgelines, and where four-wheel drive enthusiasts might try to drive down into the canyon the erected steel wire barriers. These have fallen into disrepair and are now replaced with paper signs. Additionally, a network of Forest System routes where allowed to fade back into the landscape. In the mid-1980s, I reviewed with the two Wasatch-Cache National Forest recreation officers an old map of the forest system trails that covered City Creek and the other canyons to the south. Numerous small trails, probably made by earlier miners and lumber harvesters, existed in City Creek. (I did not copy the map.) By Forest Service policy, these were allowed to overgrow and disappear in the modern forest (Personal communication). The best example of an old, now disused trail is the Freeze Creek Trail that used to run north from Lower Rotary Park to Rudy’s Flat and on to Mueller Park on the City-Creek Bountiful ridge. The old trail is well-preserved for the first mile, but it now fades out one-half mile below the ridge. This route was once considered as part of a skyline drive from City Creek and back down to Bountiful (Salt Lake Telegram, September 14, 1927). Effectively, this prevents hikers and mountain bikers from riding down the trail from Bountiful and into City Creek.

The effect of these trail and fire road changes made during the public access hiatus was to wall off canyon access except at the lower gate, at the two roads that follow the natural gas pipeline, and at the Smuggler’s Gap trail (September 1st and 9th) at about 1.2 miles above the end of the road and 6.5 miles from Guardhouse Gate. With those closures and the annual exclusion of automobiles from the canyon for six months each year, the canyon has time to recover.

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