City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

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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