City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 30, 2017

Conclusion – End of Blog

Filed under: People — canopus56 @ 7:57 am


The mountains rise into the cool sky, furrowed with canons [sic] almost Yosemtic in grandeur and filled with glorious profusion of flowers and trees. Lovers of science, lovers of wilderness, lovers of pure rest will find here more than they may ever hope for. John Muir. Deseret News July 11, 2017, quoting the Salt Lake Herald, June 27th, 1877 and Muir on his visit to the Salt Lake Valley and on his opinion of its canyons.

This completes a year’s worth of daily journal entries, and is the end of this blog. If you elected to follow this blog, please unsubscribe at this point. This site will be removed in one month. WordPress registered users have an account option to unsubscribe and public email subscribers should have a link at the bottom of the blog emails to unsubscribe. Let me know if you have any difficulties in unsubscribing. I have retained a list of persons who followed this blog. In a few months when I have this completed in epub format, I will offer a copy to the blog followers. Be well – Kurt

Thoreau’s nature experience of the early nineteenth century can be replicated in the contemporary western United States by observing nature on a daily basis for one year. In some respects, nature experience in this present day western United States canyon adjacent to a major urban center exceeds Thoreau’s nature. Species eradicated in the east during Thoreau’s time such as moose, elk, otter, and bear still exist in City Creek Canyon today. The benefits of consistent nature observation are many, and these include daily restoration of attention and executive functions (April 23rd and April 24th). My motivation in observing nature closely every day for one year came from Thoreau. He insisted that daily exposure to natural places was necessary for the maintenance of mental health (July 13th), Thoreau self-prescribed four hours of daily nature exposure (Thoreau 1862, 658), and he noted that “[t]here is a subtile [sic] magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright” (Thoreau 1862, 662). I wondered if I would be set “aright”, if I also focused on experiencing nature. After a year, some things became apparent.

I cannot claim to be set “aright”, but after a year, I am more contented. I like to think that I am a better person because I am kinder and gentler with others. When I go back to the canyon for restoration, I am more connected to the experience because I have a better innate understanding of ecological relationships between the canyon’s organisms. Because the canyon provides me with a stable base, I am better prepared resist the wear of daily life.

The pursuit of a Thoreauian nature experience is not self-absorbed. Nature experience is about sensitivity to the subtle relationships between plants, animals, geology and weather, and there are few better metaphors for preparing oneself to better understand human relationships or to be a more caring, tolerant person (July 13th).

Thoreau’s nature experience can be replicated, but it differs from his nineteenth century encounters in some significant ways. First, the modern landscape has been substantially modified, not by population increase or development, but principally by anthropochory, that is the importation of non-native plants and insects (July 17th). The grasslands of Utah that comprise most of the State’s and much of the Salt Lake salient and canyon’s surface area look nothing like it did before before the Euro-American colonization of 1847 (March 4th, 5th and 6th (pre-colonization state); March 6th and July 7th (extinction of Rocky Mountain locust); March 23rd to March 26th (early lumbering and mining in the canyon); April 23rd (non-native plants); July 7th (livestock grazing and the cheatgrass invasion), July 9th, (hobospider infestation)). The extent of modification of the landscape by non-native plants, animals and insects is far more than the average Utahan is aware off. Even so, the natural residual is substantial and remains inspiring. Second, the modern Thoreauian nature experience also is changed by information technology. That anyone can access vast reservoirs of sensor information about small areas of the Earth’s surface and quickly find and read the newest scientific journal articles about weather, plants, insects and wildlife makes the modern nature experience different from Theoreau’s explorations. But the difference is not in kind – Thoreau also traveled to Cambridge and consulted the leading books, journals and experts of this day. The difference is in degree and the incremental increase in that degree of information access qualitatively and fundamentally changes the modern encounter with nature (July 13th). I do not judge whether that change is on the whole for the better or worse, but simply note that it provides another more deep understanding of the world around us and it is consistent with our time.

This exploration uncovered some cautionary environmental issues that deserve awareness by present and future Salt Lake City residents. On June 16, 1881, J. J. Branch, a former L.D.S. Church member turned evangelist, predicted that God would send a great flood from City Creek Canyon to destroy the City in retribution in retribution for the “wickedness and lying and blasphemy and abomination” of the L.D.S. church (Salt Lake Tribune). While Branch can be disregarded as a lunatic, as is sometimes the case, there is a modern scientific basis for such predictions. In two contemporary policy decisions by Salt Lake City, insufficient weight was given to the potential for catastrophic snowmelt and-or cloudburst floods to again flood the downtown. Those decisions warrant re-examination. A fourth issue involves the potential for the Great Salt Lake to evaporate and become dry lake bed.

First, after the 1983 downtown flood from high snowmelt, the City rebuilt the storm sewers that divert City Creek Canyon stream from its historical delta, on which the modern downtown is constructed, sufficient to handle 210 cublic feet per second flow. That capacity is insufficient to handle future high snowmelt flooding or cloudburst flooding events. The highest recorded flow in City Creek from the 1983 flood was 331 cubic feet per second (March 12th to March 14th). The need for a higher capacity City Creek storm sewer is particularly true in light of recent research that indicates Utah’s climate is regressing to a 500 year mean pattern (id). In that weather pattern, the City’s climate will be drier, but also will punctuated by more severe peak precipitation events. A permanent, higher capacity solution to carry City Creek storm flows proposed in 2007 by the Army Corps of Engineers envisaged moving City Creek along North Temple from 300 West to the Jordan River on a proposed abandoned railway right-of-way (March 13th, Love 2007). But the City decided not to pursue that 20 million USD project, and instead used the proposed above ground route for an interurban railway. A large fire in City Creek Canyon, coupled with a rare cloudburst event could send far more floodwaters down City Creek than the 2,400 cubic feet per second that issued from Perry’s Hollow in 1945 (July 7th). The diversion of City Creek Canyon stream to the west of the downtown was a historical urban planning mistake caused by the Mormon church’s insistence on adherence to a divinely inspired grid plan (March 10th). In light of the current high density residential development of the downtown, that urban planning error made during the City’s foundation must be permanently corrected.

Second, in 2010, the City decided not to pursue a controlled-burn experiment for the oak forest and cheat grass hillsides in City Creek Canyon (April 23rd, July 8th). Such controlled burns should be reconsidered in consultation with national experts (Young and Clements 2009, Monson and Kitchen 1992) in order to restore native Wild bunchgrass. Cheat grass is to susceptible to frequent burns that put the City at risk for subsequent summer cloudburst flooding. At costs around 1,000 USD per acre to treat about 8 square miles (5,120 acres), a rough estimated total cost is 5 million USD.

Third, there are still substantial lands that are privately owned on either side of the first one-half mile above Guardhouse Gate. The city should make acquisition of conservation easements over those lands a priority.

Fourth, the City should aggressively work with the Great Salt Lake Commission to determine the population carrying capacity of the Wasatch Front given the water supply constraint of not drying up lakebed of the Great Salt Lake. If more water is withdrawn for human consumption it is probable, and not a speculative proposition, that the Great Salt Lake will disappear in the next thirty years (May 26th). If the Great Salt Lake disappears like the Aral Sea on the Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan border, great dust haboob-like dust storms may make the City an undesirable, if not uninhabitable, place to live. As in many social and environmental issues, as Utah’s largest city, Salt Lake City needs to take a self-interested lead on this question and not leave the matter to Utah State government. The evaporation of the Great Salt Lake is an existential threat to the City and the health of its human residents. The loss of Great Salt Lake as an transnational continental migratory bird flyway would have inexcusable impacts on Utah’s birds and on northern Utah’s forests. The extinction of the trillions of Rocky Mountain Locust in the west is testament to our ability to induce large scale changes to the west’s and Utah’s environment through simple inattention (July 16th).

With respect to the continuing national debate concerning trade-offs between economic expansion and environmental development, the history of the exploitation of City Creek Canyon and its preservation mirrors the larger debate framed by Thoreau in the nineteenth century. As economic expansion occurs, what should be left alone? Stegner documented the failure of the nation to preserve lands as suggested by Thoreau, and as a representative of his time lobbied for the completion of Thoreau’s worldview. The modern environmental movement expanded that issue by insisting of the preservation of health from the deleterious effects of industrialization. The national consensus in favor of the desire for a healthy urban environment lead to both the improved air quality enjoyed in America today (February 8th, February 26th) and to the offshoring of polluting industries and United States manufacturing jobs to India, Indonesia, and China (February 26th). A consequence of that trade-off has been increased economic inequality in the United States and other countries suffering the adverse effects of our consumption. As I write this, the Air Quality Index in Salt Lake City is 28; in parts of Bejing, the AQI is 216. The cultural and engineering challenge for the United States for the next generation is development of zero-pollution manufacturing techniques in order to return of manufacturing to the United States without the associated ill effects of pollution. This is a matter of national and cultural will.

How do natural areas come to be preserved? A final lesson from a year pursuing a Thoreauian experience is that our modern nature experience with its greatly increased access to scientific information does not change the basic moral quandary identified by Henry David: When do we decide to move out of that gray area between the injustices committed by our communities in our name and the desire to choose the easier course of becoming insensitive to them (Menrod 2012)? The history of City Creek Canyon’s preservation as a natural area is instructive. The decision to remove an area from commerce (April 7th, April 27th) in order to serve the inherent non-economic needs of citizens for recreation and nature (April 19th to April 27th) is the sum of a thousand individual actions. It is not the result of leaders making decisions that benefit citizens. In the nineteenth century, the impetus to preserve City Creek Canyon as a natural area was borne from its residents’ desire to protect their children from waterborne diseases that claimed an estimated 14,000 Salt Lake resident lives between 1870 and 1917 (March 28th, Cater at 94 ftn 5). While modern water treatment technology and antibiotics obviated that concern, in the 1960s, Stegner identified the new motivation to continue to protect and preserve City Creek Canyon and the other Salt Lake Valley canyons is the equally important need to preserve mental well-being (July 13th). Since the 1970s, that has been the driving force that keeps City Creek Canyon a protected natural area. The specific experience recorded here for a small nature area outside this remote western metropolitan center can be illustrative for other citizens elsewhere in the United States who wish to move out the gray area and to preserve one of Stegner’s refuges of sanity in their lives. ve retained the



  1. Thank you for helping me look at what is literally my backyard with more attentive eyes.

    Comment by Barbara Cox — July 30, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

  2. Hello, I’d love to get a copy of the epub as well. I’ve been following for a while but probably don’t show up in your list since I use Feedly, not WordPress, to follow blogs. Anyhow my email is Thanks for the great material.

    Comment by johnregehr — July 31, 2017 @ 12:58 am

  3. Thanks, Barbara.

    Comment by canopus56 — July 31, 2017 @ 1:46 pm

  4. John, I’ve got your email on file. The writing engine was Sigil, an epub editor. I still have some years of Salt Lake newspaper articles to slog through (1935 through 1982) before I have a final. – Kurt

    Comment by canopus56 — July 31, 2017 @ 1:47 pm

  5. I really appreciate you sharing this year long exercise with us. My back yard abuts the foothills above the canyon and I have enjoyed hearing about the daily goings on “down there” from your unique perspective. Take care, Kurt.

    Comment by aaron — August 2, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

  6. Thanks for following along Aaron. – Kurt

    Comment by canopus56 — August 9, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

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