City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 27, 2017

June 26th

Wasp Explosion and Return of the Water Striders

4:30 p.m. It reaches 100 degrees in the valley; the estival heat has returned. The stream level continues to decline, and the pond at picnic site 5 is beginning to reform under the higher spring run-off. At its banks, a wetted sand and silt line has developed. Here, about fifteen Western Yellowjacket wasps land and take sips of water. In a small pocket of calm water, the season’s first water strider (Aquarius remigis) appears (Sept 12th). A similar scene is found at the water seeps below picnic site 6. Checking the stream and its opposite banks at several times along the first mile, I find areas with thirty or forty Yellowjackets. One one bank,a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly lands also seeking to take a drink. Individual Yellowjackets start dive bombing the swallowtail, and after the fourth, the butterfly move down canon. What the yellow jackets are eating is unclear. I find one crawling over a roadside weed that no longer has flowers. It crawls to the juncture between a leaf and the plant’s main stalk where a white liquid oozes out. The wasp spends a minute drinking before flying off. I estimate that there are about 400 wasps along the first mile of road: enough for two colonies. At picnic site 1, a Prairie rose (Rosa setigera), a cultivar, with delicate pink blossoms that surround fifty stamens, blossoms.

Another insect explosion begins. On Utah milkweed plants, a black, yellow-stripped flower loving borer beetle (Calloides nobilis var mormonus Schaeffer) is found. Several are along the road, either feeding on pollen or hovering in flight.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 26th, 1853, he notes that air is warmer after a thunderstorm. He describes a summer sunset and a faint afterglow three minutes after the sun falls below the horizon it lights up low clouds in the sky. He notes how in summer light, the outlines of mountain ridges are more distinct. On June 26, 1856, he describes the last remaining Native American, a seventy-year old woman, who lives alone in his neighborhood.

* * * *

On June 26th, R. J. Robinson, a consulting engineer who obtain water rights in City Creek Canyon, offered to sell his rights to the City (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 26th, 1908, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Chin Wo, who had been sentenced to the City Creek chain gang road crew for vagrancy and who was believed to have mental health issues, attacked police guard Kast with a shovel.

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

June 24th Revision 2

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 10:57 pm

The Oak Forest Over Time

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Composite images of lower City Creek and Ensign Peak oak forest in 1912 and 2017 (Fisher 2017, Shipler 1912 taken near 9th Avenue and A Street).

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Composite images of Dry Fork Canyon mouth in 1958 and 2017 (Drobnick 1958, Fisher 2017 taken near North Campus Drive and Mario Capecchi Drive, west of Primary Children’s Medical Center; Drobnick image is modified).

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Composite images of George’s Hollow in 1958 and 2017 (Drobnick 1958; Fisher 2017, taken from This is the Place Park; Drobnick image is modified).

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Composite images of the mouth of Deaf Smith Hollow’s mouth taken by Fisher 2017 at 9155 South 3100 East) compared to Rogers’ 1977 image (Rogers 1982, Plate 45B) and Gilbert’s 1901 image (Rogers 1982, Plate 45A; taken near SE half, Sec. 2, T3S, R1E, SLBM, near 9788 Wasatch Boulevard).

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Composite images of Landsat Images, 1985 and 2017 (NASA, 1985 and 2017).

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Trend in Acres Burned in Utah Wildfires, 1960-2012. (Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food 2013 at 8).

11:30 a.m. I am standing at the corner of 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive where the road turns north above the lower canyon that leads to Guardhouse Gate. The Gambel’s oak forest is visible on the distant hillsides around Ensign Peak. Across the almost forty years that I have lived near the canyon, I have had the subconscious impression that the Gambel oak chaparral forest is expanding on the southern half of the Salt Lake salient hillsides that overlook the city and on the slopes that face the canyon. I take a photograph of the Gambel’s oak forest around the Ensign Peak area and begin looking for historical comparison photographs.

Trees are unique among modern urbanite relationships with nature because of their longevity (Jonnes 2016). Our dogs share our lives for at most fourteen years, elephants in our zoos live to be forty, our life-long friends begin to pass and disappear in our sixties, and only a few zoo animals, like a giant tortoise in my boyhood Cleveland zoo will outlive me at 100 years of age. In our ordinary daily lives, only trees share our longevity. Using modern internet based maps, I am able to view near real time images of homes that I have lived in the past, and I look at images of a home where, as a boy, I helped my father plant four sapling oak trees. The first summer, I used to a broom to save them from an infestation of Eastern tent caterpillar moths. Now they have grown to a strong maturity of fifty feet in height. I wonder how the Gambel’s oak chaparral forest that has surrounded me over the last forty years has changed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 24th, 1852, he observes clouds and describes the virtues of watching clouds. He smells fragrances blowing off a meadow, and notes that twin flower (Linnaea borealis) is past its peak bloom. On June 24th, 1853, he notes that birds use hair to line their nests. On June 24, 1856+, he notes that the surface of springs are covered with dust and insects. On June 24, 1857, he examines a screech owl nest. On June 24, 1860, he sees young bluebirds.

* * * *

How has the Gambel’s oak forest changed over the last one-hundred years along the eastern face of the Wasatch Front Mountain range that rings Salt Lake Valley? Is it advancing or retreating in response to the high snow years between 1900 and 1990? Is it retreating in response to the now nearly multi-decadal drought from 1997 to the present? In 1949, Christensen examined the distribution of Gambel’s oak forests along the Wasatch Front, and he concluded that the oak forests had in some local instances proliferated since the arrival of the Euro-American colonists (id. at 64). He found increases in maples on the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of Salt Lake valley. In a 1957, he found that oaks on the BYU “Y” mountain were expanding downslope in a manner similar to that later seen by Rogers in the 1980s (Christensen 1957). Generally, Christensen concluded that most of the increases occurred after 1900 (Rogers, 19). In 1982, Rogers at Columbia University re-examined the question in light of the then developing question of climate change. He compared 49 historical images with some 400 contemporary matching photographs. Based on images hillsides near Tooele and west of Lone Peak, Rogers concluded that both Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks were expanding at selected locations (Rogers, p. 136 and Plates 43, 45, and 46). The oak chaparral forest is expanding at a rate of about 4 inches per year and was also thickening in place (Rogers 1982 at 19 and 132; Christensen 1964, 1957 and 1949). 4 inches per year implies a potential oak forest advance of 33 feet every 100 years.

Working geographically from the north end of the Salt Lake valley to the south, I created some “then and now” images of Wasatch Mountain Front Range slopes covering a range of 116 years. In 1912, local commercial photograph Harry Shipler took an image of City Creek Canyon near the corner of 9th Avenue and A Street (Shipler 1912). A comparison of Shipler’s photograph with one taken by me in July 2017 shows fill-in in lower City Creek Canyon, in the gulch to the northeast of Ensign Peak, and in the gulch that contains Bonneville Shoreline trail (far upper right hand corner of the image).

In 1958, botany graduate student Rudy Drobnick surveyed locations of Gambel’s oaks in northern and central Utah (Drobnick 1958 at Plates 2 and 3). He took images of the mouth of Dry Fork Canyon behind and before the construction of the University Hospital and of George’s Hollow below Wire Mountain to the west of the current Natural History Museum and state arboretum at Red Butte Gardens. Comparison of Drobnick’s 1958 and my 2017 images of Dry Fork shows some thickening of the oak forest at the left center (see images North Campus Drive and Mario Capecchi Drive). An oak copse in the foreground of the 1958 image, that is obscured in the 2017 image, also thickened. In contrast, comparison of Drobnick’s 1958 and my 2017 image of George’s Hollow shows a retreat of the oak chaparral forest (see image taken from This is the Place Park, west of the main statuary monument). A local informant states that the retreat of the oak groves in George’s Hollow was the result of a fire sometime between 1980 and 2010. This was also my recollection, but I could not find a confirming newspaper account.

Moving further south to Deaf Smith Canyon between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, I updated some of the prior historical photographic matches done by University of Utah graduate student Gary Rogers (1982) (later at Columbia University), and I created some new “then and now” images. Rogers compared historical images taken by Grove Karl Gilbert during 1901 of many locations throughout Utah, including of Deaf Smith Canyon above the Kings Hill Subdivision and between Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. Gilbert’s image was taken near the Grove Karl Gilbert Geologic Memorial Park south of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s mouth (9788 Wasatch Boulevard, Sandy). Gilbert authored a landmark geologic 1890 report on ancient Lake Bonneville, and he named Lake Bonneville after early Utah explorer B. L. E. de Bonneville (Gilbert 1890). Gilbert accompanied John Wesley Powell during his western surveys from 1874 to 1879, and worked for many years as a researcher under Powell, the second director of the United States Geological Survey. In 1982 by comparing his 1977 and Gilbert’s 1901 photographs, Roger’s concluded that there was some localized thickening of oak chaparral forest around the entrance Deaf Smith Canyon. This trend continues through a comparison image taken in July 2017 that combines my, Rogers’ and Gilbert’s images. Localized thickening is seen in the two areas marked with boxes in the Gilbert image.

On a larger scale, comparison of a 1985 and 2015 Landsat images of the Salt Lake Valley shows no definitive changes on the oak forest between Ensign Peak on the north and Parley’s Canyon on the south (image). Given the rate of potential growth of 4 inches per year, the resolution of Landsat images is insufficient to capture changes in the Gambel’s oak forest except for large wildfire burns.

Both advancing and retreating changes are seen over the last one-hundred years in Gambel’s oak chaparral forest of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range around the Salt Lake Valley, but the changes are localized. An increase of 33 feet in one-hundred years is generally not seen, but it did occur in lower City Creek Canyon where increased ground water percolation from the lawns of new homes constructed above the canyon provided an opportunity for expansion. That expansion is also seen in one area at the mouth of Dry Fork (2017 image, marked with box).

How will the forest change in the future? Rogers noted that most changes occurred after the 1940s (Rogers, 136). Rogers speculated, while calling for further research, that the cause of the expansion of Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks was increased precipitation (Rogers, 136-137). Although difficult to show with certainty, Rogers felt that improved fire suppression by modern Utahans was not the cause of the increase. The rate of fires after 1900 had been constant despite a ten-fold increase in fire suppression funding (id. at 140). In theory, the cycle of fire followed by rapid cheat grass invasion should slowly erode the boundaries of the existing oak forest. Rogers’ offered the tentative explanation that extreme cold weather in the late nineteenth century may have overwhelmed the negative effects of overgrazing and fire, and colder weather allowed the oak forest and maples to expand (Rogers, 138-139).

Rogers’ 1982 hypothesis is consistent with later, recent tree ring studies in the Intermountain West that reconstructed a 576 year precipitation record for Rocky Mountains, including Utah (Bekker et al 2014, DeRose et al, Wang et al; see January 30th and February 9th). From the tree rings, Bekker et al found that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah. The local advances of Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks may have been a long-term, delayed response to more frequent rain and snow. However, in 1984 and shortly after Rogers published his results, the number of acres annually burning in Utah began an upward trend that continues to today (Utah Department of Agriculture and Food 2013 at 8).

If global warming is considered, available modeling studies suggest the Gambel’s oak forest will retreat. Shafer and Bartlein at the University of Oregon and Thompson at the United States Geological Survey used global climate models to estimate, among other factors, the mean temperature of the coldest month and soil moisture index for 2090 (Shafer, Bartlein and Thompson 2001). Those constraints were compared to requirements for many plants in the Intermountain west. In their extreme scenarios that looked forward almost ninety years, they concluded, for example, that sagebrush would disappear from most of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming and would migrate north to Canada. Given the extreme nature of their scenario and time horizon, in 2007 McKenney et al at the Canadian Forest Service prepared an updated, an more refined climate envelope analysis for 130 North American tree species through 2070 (McKenney et al 2007). Under the modeling assumptions that carbon dioxide would increase and trees migrate into newly created favorable climate zones to the north, they concluded that the 130 tree species would shift northward an average of 700 kilometers and their favorable climate areas would decrease in size by 12 percent (ranging from a 93 percent decrease to a 44 percent increase depending on the species). McKenney et al noted that limitations of their method did not mean that broad regions of the United States would become treeless. In his massive review of current research on the Holocene environment of the Great Basin region over the last 13,000 years, Quaternary environment researcher Grayson at the University of Washington concluded that climate predictions are highly uncertain whether one uses reconstruction of past Great Basin in the which the climate was warmer than today, as he did, or whether one uses climate models, as Shafer et al did (Grayson 2011, Chap. 10).

Ignoring global warming and the issue of whether climate change is human-induced, if the local Utah climate regresses the historical mean, will future generations see the oak forests of the local Salt Lake hillsides retreat back up canyon?

* * * *

On June 24th, 1994, in a historical piece for the Salt Lake Tribune, Jack Goodman concluded that the “Lone Cedar” tree at 300 South 500 East was probably a pinyon pine.

June 24, 2017

June 23rd

Filed under: Cheat grass, Fire, Guardhouse gate, Jupiter, Stream, Western tent caterpillar moth — canopus56 @ 6:06 am

Canyon Habitat Overview

9:45 p.m. The heat wave has temporarily broken and temperatures fall in the eighties degrees Fahrenheit. I take only a short walk in the canyon’s summer late-evening twilight, and enjoy the coolness of night. The stream has gone down by two-thirds since the end of snowpack melt on June 4th. It must half again before the minimum flows of summer, at about 12 cubic feet per second, are reached. Now the stream runs only from underground water seeping from underneath both halves of Salt Lake salient. True darkness does not come until 10:15 p.m., and when it finally does arrive, bright Jupiter hangs over the road to the south like a guiding star. During the winter, Venus played that role (January 30th).

As I return to Guardhouse Gate, a large 4 inch moth is resting near the guardhouse lights. Its coloration is spectacular gradation of gray and ruddy brown, and it has large green frilled antennae the size of a woman’s pinky finger. It is a Western tent caterpillar moth (Malacosoma californicum). I have seen none of its characteristic tent colonies on trees in the canyon, but looking back through my photographs, I saw the caterpillar form of this moth on May 24th.

Reaching my car, city parking enforcement has left me a warning citation for parking at Guardhouse Gate after 10 p.m. Even five years ago, this would have been laughable, and throughout the winter this parking regulation was never a problem. But now the ridgelines are covered in early two feet tall dry cheat grass. A small spark could cause a brushfire that in the past have burned between 20 to 200 acres, or about one-third of a square mile. The city wants to deter summer nighttime revelers from entering the canyon in order to prevent them from starting campfires or lighting sparklers or other fireworks. Today, there are over 1,500 acres burning in Utah, about half of which I estimate are Cheat grass brush fires, and on arriving home tonight, the news reports a 100 acre grass fire in the Gambel oak chaparral above Farmington, Utah, about 20 miles north of the canyon.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 23rd, 1840, he hears a young golden robin. On June 23rd, 1860, he notes that night hawks fly in a path similar to butterflies. He describes three types of cinquefoil. On June 23, 1852, he hears a bobolink and an owl. He sees mountain laurel and partridge berry (Mitchella repens) in bloom. He smells wild rose, sweet briar, blue geranium, and swamp pink. He notes that the undersides of leaves, particularly of the aspen, are lighter than the top side. On June 23rd, 1853, he sees leaf-heart and loose strife. On June 23rd, 1854, he sees three broods of partridges. On June 23rd, 1856, he sees baywings.

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City Creek Canyon is an undeveloped east-west trending canyon that extends 12 miles from Salt Lake City’s downtown business district. The canyon clefts the Salt Lake salient, an east-west trending spur of the north-south running Wasatch Front Mountain Range. The salient was created by an earthquake faults, principally the Pleasant Valley fault, deep below the canyon that is also perpendicular to the main north-south running Wasatch Fault. The canyon defines the northern end of the Salt Lake valley. A similar fault at the south end of the valley created the Traverse Mountains, another east-west salient that defines the boundary between Salt Lake County on the north and Utah County on the south. The difference between the Traverse salient and the Salt Lake salient is that limestone formations that are the bedrock of Salt Lake salient allowed water to flow down the middle of the ridge, and over geologic time, water flows carved out a canyon that clefts the salient in two. The canyon bottom begins at the city near 4,300 feet in elevation and rises to about 6,000 feet in elevation another 8 miles up canyon.

There are four principal habitats in the canyon. At the lowest elevations are grasslands mixed with sagebrush that covered the valley floor before pre-European colonization (Christensen 1963). These grasslands spread up both sides of the canyon walls and ridgelines through canyon mile 6.0 where water is insufficient to support the drought tolerant Gambel’s oak forest. It includes Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata a.k.a. Agropyron spicatum), Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), invasive Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), and Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) (Christensen 1963, Rogers 1984).

The second habitat by elevation is Wasatch chaparral that is dominated by pure stands of Gambel’s oak trees (Quercus gambelii) (Hayward 1945; Christensen 1949). Such stands can be found around the base of and to the north of Ensign Peak. They continue below the western ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient to milepost 2.0.

The third habitat is Wasatch lower montane (Hayward 1945, p. 10; Hayward 1948; Rogers 1984). This habitat is a mid-elevation association between 4,500 feet and 8,000 feet above sea level that consists primarily of dwarf Gambel’s oak trees mixed with Norway maple trees (Acer platanoides), and Big Tooth maple trees (Acer grandidentatum) (Hayward 1948; Ream 1960). In City Creek Canyon, this habitat begins at the Guardhouse Gate and continues up to approximately milepost 4.0. On the shaded north facing slopes of the canyon, water-loving maple trees dominate. On the sun-exposed south facing slopes, Gambel’s oak trees that have deep water-seeking tap roots dominate. Between the two slopes and surrounding the canyon’s stream is a mixed community of oaks, maples, Box Elder trees (Acer negundo), Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia), and Western water or River birch trees (Betula occidentalis). Bohs at the University of Utah has prepared an extensive list of plant species in City Creek Canyon near the Guardhouse Gate (Bohs 201).

The fourth habitat begins about 6 miles up canyon, or four miles above the Guardhouse Gate above Bonneville Drive, where the Wasatch oak community gives way to Wasatch upper montane habitat (Hayward, 1945). This habitat is includes Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesli) and Quaking aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) (Hayward 1945, Hayward 1948). On shaded north-facing slopes conifers dominate, and on sunny south-facing slopes Aspens dominate with some Utah juniper trees (Juniperus osteosperma.

The Gambel’s oak trees in the vicinity of City Creek Canyon are all dwarfs. Gambel’s oaks can grow to be mature trees thirty or forty feet in height, but where they are limited by water or other environmental stresses, then they reach only about ten feet in height (Christensen 1949). Christensen also noted that the seeds of these oaks while not germinate if they fall under the shade of an existing tree, but that does not limit the rate of their expansion. He observed many species distributing Gambel oak acorns, such as Western scrub jays, rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus), and Lewis woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) (Christensen 1949). In the canyon during the winter, I have also seen mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) browsing for acorns. Thus, the oak’s acorns are widely distributed, and other constraints like lack of water must constraint its growth. Because the Gambel’s oak’s acorns are randomly distributed around the perimeter of copse, copses of these oaks have a characteristic inverted bowl shape. The oaks are found either in these bowl shaped groups on chaparrals or in uniformly covered broad sections of hillsides. The Gambel’s oaks around Salt Lake City are at the northern limit of that specie, and so, their development is under constant limiting pressure from northern Utah’s climate.

This journal primarily concerns the Wasatch lower montane habitat in the first two canyon miles above Guardhouse Gate within 500 feet on either side of the stream. Over the course of a year, all of the four habitats are visited.

* * * *

On June 23rd, 2012, Smith’s Food King, a dominant supermarket chain in the valley, decides to no longer sell fireworks because of the risk they pose to starting fires on valley benches and in valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 2010, the 31st Wasatch Steeplechase run over Black Mountain was run (Salt Lake Tribune). The Steeplechase was begun in 1979 by McKay Edwards as a summer solstice celebration (id). On June 23rd, 1918, the Salt Lake Tribune featured a photographic story-advertisement extolling the pleasures of automobile driving up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 1899, a City Committee will investigate the lack of water on the east side due to problems in the distribution system for City Creek water (Salt Lake Tribune).

June 23, 2017

June 22nd

Day of the Butterflies

Day of the Butterflies

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, the first mile canyon road is lined with butterflies, and in total there are about thirty in the first mile. A large Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), a black butterfly with contrasting red-orange chevrons, slowly moves up canyon. The Red Admiral is hawk of butterflies. Unlike most butterflies, that frenetically flap and change direction, the Red Admiral moves it wings in great, slow soaring motions. Cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) play in the hot sun as western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) also pass by. Two Common sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice eriphyle) chase each other. Two unidentified butterflies fly by. One is the bright yellow with a trailing black wingbar. The second is a small orange.

Large Common whitetail dragonflies patrol overhead. In the Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) weeds that lines both sides of the road, Western Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula penslvanica) feast.

At Pleasant Valley, city watershed crews are mowing the sides of the Pipeline Trail.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 22nd, 1851, he sees blooms of yellow loose strife and bladderwort. On June 22nd, 1852, he sees a rainbow after a thunderstorm. He observes that fireflies are numerous. On June 22nd, 1853, he notes that even night air is warm. During an evening walk, he notes that blueberries are coming in.

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On June 22nd, 2014, Nathan Peters set a new course record in the 35th annual Wasatch Steeple Chase, an annual running race that goes for 17 miles up City Creek Canyon, that gains 4,000 feet while going over Black Mountain, and end back down at Memory Grove (Deseret News). Two-hundred and forty runners participated. Peters finishes in two hours and eleven minutes (id). On June 22nd, 1996, Mayor Deedee Corradini temporarily ordered suspension of construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail due to complaints from Avenues’ residents (Salt Lake Tribune). Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Becker noted that that a controversial trail alignment near Ensign Peak was a condition of the developer receiving approval for a luxury subdivsion (id). On June 22nd, 1906, an Intermountain Republican editorial accused the Salt Lake Tribune of spreading lurid lies about Mormon culture in eastern newspapers, including that “Utah is steeped In lawlessness; that depravity runs riot; that the waters of City Creek canyon going down our gutters [are] tinted with the ruddy flow from blood atonement; that all Mormons are polygamist; and that a presentable woman is in peril of than her life . . .”

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate beetle (Tenebrionidae eleodes) is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by not heeding caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

* * * *

On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

June 20th

Summer

First Day of Summer

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Comparison of City Creek Canyon Road near Mile 1.1 in Winter on November 24th and on the First Day of Summer, June 20th.

6:00 p.m. It is nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit on this first day of summer. Although this is the longest day of the year, and the amount of total light is four times the amount of light that occurs on the winter solstice (March 21st), this is usually not the hottest day of the year. The Earth continues to absorb the sun’s heat by melting at the poles, and thus, the hottest days of the year with 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit are lagged by three or four weeks to the end of July. But the recent heat wave is an unusual preview of the coming summer hottest days. Today, and more typical of late July, the heat boils the water from the land, and in the afternoon, great cumulus clouds rise and re-deposit the day’s water during the cool of the evening. As I approach the canyon, the sky to the west is gray and boiling. The bottom of the cloud layer swirls in confused eddies and circles. Winds rage and the trees wave back and forth as if they are in a current below the surface of the ocean. Only the large Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia) hover in the strong breeze. The whitetail’s are misnamed; their tails are more often black. From the safety of the leaf screened branches, Song sparrows, Chirping sparrows and Black-headed grosbeaks call. First, the air smells of summer, but then it mixes with the rain primed, fresh moisture. Small spatters fall, and then a brief deluge comes. Runners on the road, including myself, jog without their shirts on. The afternoon storm passes, the air clears, and all is renewed.

Along the first mile road, Milkweed plants have grown large, fecund seed heads.

* * * *

Although Thoreau declares summer to begin informally on June 1st (see his “Journal” on June 1st, 1853), astronomically summer begins on June 20th. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 20th, 1840, he sees mica particles glittering in sand. On June 20th, 1852, he notes blue-eyed grass flowers are closed in the before sunset, and he hears an American Bittern drumming on wood. He notes that grass fields are red tinged because the grass has gone to seed. On June 20th, 1853, he sees meadow-sweet flower and water lilies. During a full Moon walk, he admires how water reflects black under moonlight. He encounters a skunk. He notes that elm leaves and trunks have the same hue under moonlight.

* * * *

On June 20th, 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published a historical article on George Ottinger, founder of Salt Lake’s fire department and later in the early 1900s, Salt Lake City’s Superintendent of Waterworks. He lived in an adobe house on 3rd Avenue and E Street. As a young man, Ottinger was an adventurer. He traveled as a sailor to China, Hawaii, the Indonesian Islands, and Panama, before returning for a late California Gold Rush (id). Omitted from this article is Ottinger’s witnessing of the last 1887 lynching of a man in downtown Salt Lake City. On June 20th, 1999, Utah Jazz assistant coach Mark McKown was injured while speeding down City Creek Canyon a bicycle (Salt Lake Tribune). He was accompanied by Utah Jazz star basketball player Karl Malone. On June 20th, 1998, City Creek Canyon was closed for three days after torrential rains caused a mudslide (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 20th, 1908, City Engineer L.C. Kesley budgeted 9,000 USD to extend an iron pipeline from State Street to City Creek Canyon Road and 50,000 USD for a distributing reservoir in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). On June 20th, 1896, ore samples taken from the Willard Weihe claim in the Washington mine group, 1.5 miles north of Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon, assayed at 94 and 84 USD per ton (Salt Lake Herald).

June 19th

Filed under: Astronomy, Birds, Geology, Insects, Mammals, Microbes, Mollusks, Plants, Seasons — canopus56 @ 9:18 am

Last Day of Spring and a Walk Through Time

3:00 p.m. It is the last day of astronomical spring, and the canyon has completed its seasonal growth spurt, has become pregnant, and is readying itself for the coming stress of summer’s heat. Today, as I sometimes do, I see a walk through nature as a walk through geologic time and the history of life. The canyon contains living refugees from each major geologic period.

The seep below picnic site 6 contains slimes, molds, bacteria and protozoa from the Hadean Eon to the Precambrian period in the Neoproterozic, 530 million years ago. There are 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes in the 4 kilometers of Earth beneath my feet from that era (December 20th), and another 7.2 x 10^24 microbes in the 4 kilometers of air above my head (id). The orange lichens on the Gambel’s oak trees also come from this time. The mosses also that adorn the oaks and that live on rocks in the stream come represent life’s first steps onto the land in the Ordovician period 485 million years ago. The trout in the stream represent the arrival of fish in the Silurian period 443 million years ago. The horsetails by the side of the road represent the vascular plants that also migrated to the land during the Silurian periods.

Insects first appear during the Devonian about 400 million years ago. The canyon’s conifers represent the Carboniferous period beginning about 350 million years ago. The Permian period beginning about 290 million years ago when mollusks arrived is represented by the Common garden snails seen crossing the road. The Permian is also when insects like the Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies arose.

The Mesozoic era, including the age of the dinosaurs during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, began about 250 million years ago. Presently, the dinosaurs are represented by their descendants, the many birds of the canyon. The many flowering plants and trees in the canyon first appeared during the Cretaceous, 130 million years ago. The late Cretaceous is represented by the canyon’s Western rattlesnakes and Western ground snakes (Sonora semiannulata). Small mammals like the Rocky Mountain deer mice and Rock squirrels also first appeared during that period.

The Cenozoic era, including the Paleogene period that began forty million years ago, is represented by the canyon’s many butterflies. The Neogene period that began about 25 million years ago is represented by the grasses along the road. The early Quaternary period, the Pleistocene, that began about 2.5 million years ago, are represented the canyon’s coyotes, mountain lions and black bears. The late Quaternary, the Holocene, is represented by homo sapiens, myself and the other walkers and runners on the road.

In the last 500 million years, the Earth has rotated around the core of the Milky Way two times. Life remains persistent, infinite, incomprehensible, and irrepressible.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 19th, 1852, he notes that clover, buttercups and geraniums are at their peak. Grapes and mullein are blooming. He hears robins and walks across a summer-dried swamp and collect orchids. On June 19, 1853, blue-eyed grass, a small iris, is blooming. He sees a blue jay, a tanager, and a cucokoo. He hears a night warbler and a bobolink. On June 19th, 1854, he admires a distant thunderstorm. On June 19th, 1859, he observes a squirrel nest and its young, and he sees a partridge. On June 19th, 1860, he follows a fox track back to its burrow.

* * * *

On June 19th, 1993, the 14th annual Wasatch Steeplechase was won by Tom Borschel with a time of 2:02:50 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 1993). On June 19th, 1992, the City and the L.D.S. Church develop a master plan that proposed a five block parkway with City Creek raised to the surface (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune notes an enlarged underground conduit was installed after the 1983 floods along North Temple (id). On November 19th, 2006, a human skill was found by tree-trimming crews working in City Creek Canyon, and a subsequent search failed to find any other remains (Deseret News). On June 19th, 1925, the City condemned land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 19th, 1917, the City reopened City Creek Canyon after initially closing the canyon out of concerns that terrorist saboteurs might harm the City’s water supply (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1913, in support of a national education convention held in the City, Parks Commissioner George D. Kesyer plans to open City Creek Canyon road to automobiles (Salt Lake Tribune). Prison labor will be used to improve the road (id). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L. C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from a cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon:

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before it. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until it, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing is not probable, it is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (id).

On June 19th, 1895, Watermaster Commissioner Heath reminds citizens that no fishing is allowed in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 19, 1894, the Lady Rosalind Stearns bicycle race was held up City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). Three racers went up the canyon at full speed, and the winner was forced by exhaustion to dismount at seven miles up the canyon (id).

June 18th

Filed under: Astronomy, Creek's Delta, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 8:17 am

Meridian Monument and the Survey Land Boat of 1897

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Schematic of Eimbeck’s 1897 land sled for surveying the Salt Lake valley (Eimbeck 1897).

5:00 p.m. When Euro-American colonized new lands in the West, how did they establish their systems of real property ownership which required accurate land surveys? Today, I visit the southeast corner of the Mormon Temple grounds in the delta of City Creek Canyon. There a three-foot tall sandstone obelisk bearing the word “Meridian” stands along with a nearby bronze plaque placed by the Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Latter Day Saints. This monument is central to the convoluted story of how the official land survey of the Salt Lake valley occurred. This monument on the canyon’s delta played a central role in Utah’s history and in Mormon mythology.

The historical plaque suggests that the obelisk is a replacement for an original marker put there by Mormon pioneer and church leader Orson Pratt in 1847. The 1932 plaque lists its position as Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W. But Pratt’s marker was at the northeast corner of the Temple grounds and it was used by the initial Mormon government of Utah to survey provisional city lots before the completion of an official United States Coastal Survey monument and the 1868 opening of a United States Land Office in Utah (see March 25th). In the 1930s and as is still sometimes heard today, the Mormon Relief Society claimed that the accuracy of Pratt’s determination of the location of the base and range meridian monument was divinely inspired. In 1855, United States Coastal Surveyor David H. Burr established the official sandstone marker at the southeast corner, and it was only a few hundred feet away from Pratt’s marker at the northeast corner. My modern GPS locator, which uses a modern but different coordinate geodetic system, puts Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W about one-half mile away from the sandstone monument. The myth goes that Pratt, a mathematician and astronomer, traveled with the 1847 advance party carrying a then state-of-art Dolland six inch refractor telescope, a mis-calibrated chronometer, and a self-made mileage meter attached to his wagon. Despite traveling over 1,000 miles over uneven prairie and mountains, Pratt was able to determine his position with high accuracy relative to Burr’s subsequent sandstone monument (Y.L.N.M.I. Assoc., 1900 at 343 “only a few feet short”; Giles Letter, Oct. 2nd, 1949, “misinformation in the minds of some of the guides on Temple Square”). This location of the sandstone monument is culturally tied to the adjacent Mormon Temple. The Temple has high significance in the Mormon religion as the physical Temple is viewed by members as the visible base of a celestial temple that extends upwards to heaven. Thus, Pratt’s high accuracy measurement of the temple’s location supports feelings that the Salt Lake Temple’s location is divinely ordained.

A loosefleaf folder in the archives of the University of Utah provides another interpretation (copy in possession of author). Bancroft’s “History of Utah” reports that Pratt originally measured the baseline and range meridian at 40°45’44” N, 111°26’34” W (Bancroft 1890). Pratt’s survey station was not at the existing monument at the southeast corner of the station, but rather his station was at the northeast corner of the Temple. An anonymous memorandum in the Pratt telescope file, reduces the position of Pratt’s station and the position of the 1855 United States survey marker, and concludes that Pratt’s position estimate was off by “0.26” [arcseconds] in latitude, equivalent to approximately 2630 feet, or 1/2 mile, and 27′ 26″ in longitude, equivalent to about 126,210 feet, or 23 9/10 miles” (id). The accuracy of Pratt’s latitude estimate was excellent given his high-quality Dolland refractor and that latitude is amenable determination from a telescope and star chart alone. The accuracy of his longitude measurement, although off by 23 miles, was also excellent for the 1800s. Highly accurate longitude measurement required the arrival of a telegraph wire to Utah through which the relative time of a star transiting directly over the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. and Utah could be determined electronically. The first transcontinental telegram transmission in Utah occurred on October 18, 1861. The United States Coast Survey did not begin to experiment with telegraphic determination of longitude until 1865 (Gould, 1865).

Burr’s 1855 sandstone monument would play a further key role in Utah’s Territorial history. The early Mormon settlers, having originally moved to unallocated lands of the United States in 1847, were understandably concerned that the United States Land Office that issued official federal deeds to homesteads on federal territorial lands would not recognize deeds issued by the Mormon’s unofficial State of Deseret prior to the Utah Territory Organic Act of 1850. The pioneers’ concerns were eventually borne out when the Federal Land Office opened with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868 (March 25th). The settlers were required to repurchase their lands a second time from the federal government (id). Thus, when United States surveyor Burr arrived in 1855, local government and its citizens were resistant to Burr’s efforts to survey the valley (White, 1983). In 1855, Brigham Young and the Utah Territorial Legislature had not obtained a commitment from the federal government to recognize the pre-1850 church deeds.

Although Burr attempted to execute his official duties, on August 30, 1856, he reported by letter that one of his survey contractors had been beaten by William Hickman, a member of the Mormon “Danite Angels”, and three other men (Burr Letter, August, 30th, 1856, in White at 316). The Danite Angels where known as a extra-judicial gang who worked at the direction of Brigham Young, and statements made by Hickman to Burr indicated that the beating occurred at the request of high church officials (Burr Letter). After further threats (White, 317-319) Burr fled Utah in 1857, and subsequently, this and other events lead President James Buchanan to proclaim Utah in open rebellion against the United States government on April 6, 1858 (Proclamation at White, 319-320). (White also reviews the many disputes regarding the veracity of Burr’s claims.) In part as a result of Burr’s allegations, in 1857, Johnston’s army was then sent by the United States from the east to occupy the territory and to quell with Utah Rebellion. Following resolution of the Utah Rebellion, the technological development of determining longitude with telegraphy and the arrival of the transcontinental railroad spurred further federal land surveys in Utah.

In 1869, George W. Dean and F. H. Agnew of the United States Coastal Survey were sent to establish the official latitude and longitude of the Salt Lake Base Meridian. Two stations used in making his official estimate of the location of the initial point were buried underneath the sidewalk about 117 feet northwest of the Burr sandstone marker under temple granite (White, 329). Those measuring stations were again moved after the 1893 completion of the Mormon Temple blocked necessary sight lines (White, 330). The present official location of the meridian and initial point for the purposes of surveying in Salt Lake City is Dean marker. To confuse matters further, Professor Orson Pratt continued to use his observatory to the northwest of the sandstone monument and inside the Temple grounds walls to make daily measurements of local noon. Those measurements set the official time for the state through 1897. Thus, over time some residents came to mistakenly believe that monuments setting the position of Pratt’s observatory were an earlier official initial point of the the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian (Giles Letter). White also clarifies that the official meridian for land surveys covering larger regions of public lands in Utah is about 55 feet away and parallel to Dean’s meridian (White, 330). Conversely, the Salt Lake County Surveyor’s Office online information system shows the Dean marker as the corner point for Salt Lake County surveys (Salt Lake County Surveyor 2017). That marker was last relocated in May 2000 (id).

In 1871, the Hayden U.S.G.S. survey expedition came through Utah, and one of Hayden’s task was surveying lands granted to the transcontinental railroads. He was not concerned with surveying Utah. Local peaks such as O’Sullivan Peak on the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon divide in Salt Lake County commemorate the early Utah photographic work of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, the expedition’s photographer. His early Utah pictures taken on glass plates under seemingly impossible conditions are legendary (see Utah Division of State History, 2017, Link). My favorite of his images is of the upper cirque below Lone Peak at the south end of Salt Lake Valley. Lone Peak, at 12,000 feet above sea level and 6,700 feet in altitude above the valley floor, can be seen from the canyon mouth, my home, and from all other locations in the valley. To the valley, the Peak presents a wall of granite columns, but these protect a glacial “U” shaped upper cirque the size of four football fields. In modern times, hiking Lone Peak involves an hour drive to the south end of the valley, and then an all day 12 hour hike through scrub forests and steep forty degree lower slopes with poor intermittent trails. In the 1870s, O’Sullivan would have taken a day to travel from the city to the south valley trail. Then he would have forced burros carrying several hundred pounds of photographic equipment with glass plates through the impenetrable, trail-less scrub oak. His photographic outing must have taken days to complete. Being a machine age modern, how he returned his exposed glass plates unbroken back to the valley floor seems superhuman. This is the stuff of real western legend and not some pale tale of provado and gun battles.

Kings and Hayden Peaks in the Unitas commemorates Clarence King and geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, the other co-leaders of the expedition. Wheeler Peak in Nevada commemorates the expedition’s fourth leader, George Wheeler. In 1878, the office of the United States Coastal Survey was renamed the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and in 1896, Utah was admitted to the Union as a State. In 1897, William Eimbeck of the U.S.C. and G.S. completed his official land survey of north western Utah and laid official township and range markers for the Salt Lake Valley based on the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian initial point (Eimbeck 1897).

With respect to his second task of surveying the Salt Lake valley in detail, Eimbeck was stymied by the many agricultural ditches that had been dug across the valley. Setting up and moving survey instruments by the usual method of horseback proved unworkable as horses could not cross the deep irrigation ditches. His innovative solution was to build a 56 foot long land boat or sled with catamarans and a central steel keel on which survey instruments could be mounted. Donkeys or horses then easily dragged the boat north an south along the valley and over any ditch obstacles (Eimbeck, Fig. 3, p. 768a). When a new measurement point was reached, metal stilts were ratcheted down, and the entire platform raised into the air and leveled. By this means, the corner monuments for each township and section in the Salt Lake valley were accurately laid.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 18th, 1852, he examines the construction of a hornet’s nest. He observes loosestrife and St. John’s Wort are blooming. On June 18th, 1853, he lists morning song birds: robin, chip-bird, blackbird, and martin. He finds a large toadstool, and notes that eglantine and sweetbrier are blossoming. On a night walk with a near full Moon, he hears whippoorwills and notes that white flowers can be seen by moonlight. On June 18th, 1855, he notes that late season grasses are beginning to flower. On June 18th, 1859, he describes raindrops falling on the surface of the water before, during and after a storm. He sees swarms of gnats.

* * * *

On June 18th, 2003, the City announced its annual prohibition against fireworks north of 11th Avenue and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On June 18th, 2011, Lowell Bodily, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, estimates that there are 3,000 homeless tent camps in Salt Lake Valley, and the Department finds about 15 to 20 camps in City Creek Canyon each year (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1995, the City began work on converting the greenbelt at 2nd Avenue and Canyon Road into a park with faux City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1992, Jack Quintana, a groundskeeper at the State Capitol notes that there an explosion of rock squirrels at the State Capitol, and he notes they their population varies on a nine-year cycle (Salt Lake Tribune). The adjacent City Creek Canyon is primary breeding habitat for the squirrels. On June 18th, 1930, William Monson, a smoker who started a fire near City Creek Canyon was fined $5 USD (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 18th, 1900, more than 12 cattle, bearing the Circle-9 brand, were impounded for illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

June 17th

Filed under: Douglas Fir, Gambel's Oak, Lodgepole pine, Maple tree, People, Runners, Wild bunchgrass — canopus56 @ 4:25 am

Masters of the Wasatch Steeplechase

8:00 a.m. It is Saturday, and in the cool morning air, birds are active. Black-headed grosbeaks and Song sparrows are the most common. This morning is also the 39th running of the Wasatch Steeplechase (Adams 2017). The Wasatch Steeplechase is purist running event whose 17 mile path goes up the south part of the Salt Lake salient, over the limestone knife edge at the top of Little Black Mountain, down Smuggler’s Gap, and then out the City Creek Canyon Road. Over the course, about 3,000 feet in elevation is gained and lost. Unlike other Salt Lake City running events, there is no registration packet, no inflated air start and finish line blasting loud rock music, and no prize money. About 200 runners just show up at Memory Grove Park at 6:00 a.m. and start. Participants tend to be lean ectomorphs between the ages of 25 to 50 years old, and the best finish the race in about two hours and fifteen minutes. Last place finishes in about six hours. The purist ethic of the race is reflected in its liability waiver agreement:

“Whereas, participation in the annual Wahsatch Steeplechase is a privilege and sacred ritual in celebration of the Summer Solstice and, whereafter, the undersigned acknowledges the uniquely and hazardous nature of the race course, including raging streams at full flood, wicked sagebrush, poisonous snakes, and precipitous crags, and has inspected the course or in the alternative freely assumes the risk or failure to inspect the course” (Adams 2017).

I am a stocky American football player-like endomorph. Although I have solo-run the track (in reverse direction) about nine times in the last forty years, my best jogging time was somewhat more than six hours, but each time the route was both an inspirational and mystical experience. First, the route goes up seven miles along the City Creek Canyon Road to the end of the paved road through both the Gambel’s oak and maple forest. Then a near vertical trail leads 2,000 feet through an upper montane forest of Douglas firs and Lodgepole pine trees that is thick with Stellar jays. Then the route goes along a knife-edge ridgeline for one-half mile along the top of Little Black Mountain. Here, one must boulder back and forth along limestone ledges that tilt downhill and away from the direction of travel. In most places, a slip means a fall of ten to twenty feet onto a sixty degree slope. Survivable, but something to be avoided given the difficulty of extraction from this high mountain. Next is a about ten miles stretch under the watchful eyes of hawks and eagles that descends back through a Pinyon Juniper forest, along the Wild bunchgrass southern salient past the Little Twin Peaks, and then back through the Gambel’s oak forest to the canyon bottom. Along the summit and south salient, expansive views of the urbanized Wasatch Front cities, the Great Salt Lake, and the Bonneville flats extend at most one-hundred and fifty miles. In some years, dramatic summer storms flow across the Great Salt Lake dropping streamers of lightening from gray and black clouds. The route is a tour-de-force of the many of the Great Basin’s habitats. The Steeplechase is less of a run and more of a spiritual experience brought on by fatigue, dehydration, strong summer sunlight, and exertion at altitude. After each traverse of the route, I fall into a meditative, contented state for one, and if I am lucky, two days.

In September, another extreme race, the Wasatch 100, goes from 100 miles from Farmington, north of City Creek Canyon, along the upper headwaters of the canyon, and onto Park City, Utah, a mining town turned upper income ski-resort. The maximum allowed finishing time is 36 hours. Unlike the Steeplechase, the Wasatch 100, which is beyond my physical capabilities, has a more tradition competitive road-race feel, and by disposition, I have always favored the Steeplechase.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 17th, 1852, he notes that crickets sing loudly in the morning after hot summer nights. He sees or hears a brown thrasher, a red-eye, an oven-bird, and a wood thrush. Citus are blooming. He notes how a boulder has made a micro-habitat in which several tree seedlings have taken root. On June 17th, 1853, he notes that pogonias, adder’s tongue, blue-eyed grass, lambkill and mountain laurel are at their peak. He records an egg in a night-hawk nest has hatched. On the morning of June 17th, 1854, he feels dew covered grasses and sees cobwebs hanging across the grass.

* * * *

On June 17th, 2000, the First Congregational Church planned to hold its annual outdoor service in City Creek Canyon. On June 17th, 1915, P. J. Moran was awarded the contract to build the reservoir at Pleasant Valley for the sum of $18,209.59 (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 17th, 1915, a locomotive was hauled to the capitol grounds along newly constructed track along the west side of City Creek (now East Capitol Street) to begin grading for the new state capitol building (Salt Lake Herald). On June 17th, 1894, the City changed from having a staff of full-time water tankmen (who clean water tank filters) to a part-time staff of day and night patrols (Salt Lake Herald).

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