City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 23, 2017

July 20th

Smuggler’s Gap

11:00 a.m. To escape the estival heat wave, today I decide to jog and hike up the switchback trail to Smuggler’s Gap on Little Black Mountain. At the end of paved canyon road and after a short three-quarter mile jog, the trail to Smuggler’s Gap begins to wind up a a fifty degree slope on the western side of the Salt Lake salient. This also marks the beginning of the ridgeline that divides the City’s Avenues neighborhood from the canyon. Because of its step angle and orientation to the Sun, this slope is in perpetual shade, and that makes for both the cool hikes on a hot days and a micro-climate that supports the giant Lodgepole pines on either side of the trail. The Smuggler’s Gap trailhead is partially washed away, and the hike begins with ill-footing and unplanned slips and slides before the Civilian Conservation Corps era resumes. The trail is firm and well-packed, despite being unmaintained for several decades. This is also the result of the climate and Lodgepoles whose chemical containing needles prevent other plants from sprouting. Hiking in the Wasatch Mountain Range always involves steep vertical gains, and the quick rises always provide a physical metaphors for rising spirits traveling to an emotional release from daily life. Here, going “higher” means more than simply walking uphill. This slope is also the domain of the canyon’s population of Stellar jays (Cyanocitta stelleri). Over the 1,000 foot elevation gain to the ridge, I count about 30 jays in various groups. All are loud, raucous, and characteristically complain about by my intrusion into their home. The clean air clears the mind.

One of the last switchbacks turns at a “U” shaped gully about 30 feet across that descends precipitously back to the end of the road. In late spring of 1985, this gully was still choked with a 100 year snowpack event, and as I then starred down its tube, approaching storm clouds obscured the view after the first one-hundred feet. Wearing late winter shell clothing, I pulled out my ice axe and jumped. About ten minutes later of high-speed sliding and ice-axe arrests, I arrived at the parking lot and a long walk out the canyon.

Today, there is no ice and snow, and after another 100 feet altitude, I reach the pass at Black Mountain. After a fifty foot rock scramble, I reach the 200 million year old limestone fin that defines the first one-half mile of the ridgeline of Little Black Mountain.

The Utah State Department of Health announced yesterday that a another invasive has reached Utah – the microorganism West Nite virus (Flavivirus family). Health department sampling has found five mosquitoes in Salt Lake valley. Although the department has not stated where the samples were located, tree holes in the canyon mark sites from which samples are collected (Nov. 7th). Like its predecessor, the dry, brown Cheat grass on the hills above the canyon and on the City’s northern foothills, this new invasive species has the potential to dramatically change the landscape, if it is not checked early.

* * * *

On July 20th, 2004, a female runner allegedly disappeared while jogging in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On July 20th, 2004, three-hundred volunteers search City Creek Canyon for a jogger, Lori Hacking, who was reported missing by her husband (Salt Lake Tribune, July 20, 21 and 24, 2004, Deseret News, 1,200 searched). Eventually, 4,000 people will participate in the search (Salt Lake Tribune, August 1, 2004). The husband later pled guilty to killing her and of disposing of her body elsewhere (Salt Lake Tribune, April 15, 2005).

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