City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 10, 2017

March 10th

Filed under: Bicyclist, Moon, Owl, People — canopus56 @ 11:15 pm

City Creek’s Delta – Part I

7:00 p.m. I reach the canyon between dusk and dark under an overcast sky that obscures a full Moon. It is a night of exuberant wheelmen motivated by the coming change in seasons. Going up canyon, three skateboarders race down the canyon. The first two are dressed in tights and menacing helmets with darkened faceplates, and the third follows holding a cell phone. They are making a video for posting on the internet. The canyon is full of bicyclists. Going up canyon, many racing bicyclists whiz down canyon. After dark, there are up to twenty mountain bikers; they are equipped with bright LED lights and can ride in the dark. Some streak past yelling “pedestrian!” to others further behind. Many are riding up the Pipeline Trail, and due to the lack of leaves and their bright lights I can follow their progress. The clump in groups or looking up canyon, I can see several climbing the high Bonneville Shoreline Trail that goes to the ridge line. Two have become disoriented and are hacking their way through the brush between the Pipeline Trail and the paved road, not knowing that 100 yards away there is a trail between the two. I understand their excitement. When I was younger, I enjoyed the exhilaration of these fast bike rides down the canyon under a full Moon (Nov. 2nd), and it feels good to see another generation. Wheelman have frequently the canyon since the 1890s and the introduction of the safety bike. At mile 1.2, I can hear but not see wild turkeys and another unidentified bird with a warbling call. Near mile 0.2, I hear an owl on the south-east side of the creek, I cannot see it in the darkness, but from the sound I know it is perhaps twenty feet away. I stop and peer into the night, and owl stops calling. Then it spreads its great wings as it silently lifts in the forest canopy, and I just see its outline. Two hundred yards down canyon, it is again calling and its mate replies from the west side of the canyon.

After leaving the canyon, I drive past the intersection of South Temple (formerly “Brigham’s Street”) and State Street (formerly “First East”). On the southwest corner is Brigham Young’s 1850s residence, the Lion House. One can see why Young put his residence there. Looking down either State Street, one gets a grand view down to the valley floor two or three miles away. At night, the streets lights leading off in a straight line for several miles is dramatic. On the next street to the west, Main Street (formerly called “East Temple Street”), there is an statute of Young to the north of the intersection in which Young stands in an archetypal roman orator’s pose (called the “Brigham Young Monument”). At his feet are statutes of a Native American, e.g. the Ute Wakara, on one side and on the other, a statute of an early mountain man, e.g. Jim Bridger. On the backside of the statute is a plaque with the names of the 147 members of the July 24th advance party, including three “colored servants”. The monument was relocated from the middle of the intersection to the north sidewalk in the mid-2000s. A Salt Lake City resident insider joke is that Young points towards to his left and the front door of Zions Bank, the Latter Day Saint church owned financial institution, and not to the Mormon Temple, located over his right shoulder. He perpetually beckons tourists to bring their money to the bank, and then visit the church’s temple.

Both State and Main Streets along South Temple Street are elevated above the valley floor. Although obscured by modern skyscrapers, there is a slight east-west parabolic curve in the land between State and Main that trails off three blocks away to either side. This is delta of City Creek Canyon, and the ground consists of the excavated remnants of the negative space in what is now Memory Grove and the canyon below Bonneville Drive. The land in that space was eroded away as Lake Bonneville receded from its highest elevation to its current level between 11,000 and 7,000 years ago, and the earth was deposited in the delta. From this vantage point, Young could politically, spiritually, and physically keep an eye on his flock, and today, the skyscraper Church Office Building to the north of Lion House fulfills a similar role in Salt Lake L.D.S. Church members’ zeitgeist.

On arriving in the valley in 1847, one of early Church’s and Young’s earliest tasks was to channel City Creek in a series of open ditches (Bancroft, 262) in order to support the plan for an agrarian city of 5,000 to 7,000 of the earliest Mormon immigrants to the Mexican territory. By the end of 1847, there were 2,393 immigrants in the valley (id), and by the time of the 1850 census just less than 5,000 persons. They needed water. The parabolic topography of City Creek’s delta naturally lent the colonists to extend a main gravity fed aqueduct ditches to the east and west along North Temple Street and thence along north-south running ditches to individual homesteads. The rectangular grid plan adopted by the colonists was already well-known in the mid-19th century. It had already been used by the Greeks and the Romans, and the grid plan was also used before 1847 as the design of both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The north-south gravity fed ditches were a natural fit to a grid plan and it also fit with prior spiritual city designs by the Mormon prophet Smith. Smith envisaged a theodemocratic city laid out on a grid, that is a city led by religious elites with lower officers selected by election.

With the availability of hindsight of the minimum volume of water coming out of City Creek Canyon, about 32 acre-ft per day (1300 acre-ft per month) at its lowest, it is reasonable that the initial City of 7,000 persons would be sustainable (see Feb. 6th). Even at its lowest December flow of 32 acre-ft per day, there would be sufficient water to flood 384 acres or 38 ten acre blocks with one inch of water every day. Each ten acre block had 10 lots on a side and at five persons per household, City Creek alone could provide, without considering water from Red Butte or Emigration Canyons, sufficient water for 38 ten acre blocks containing 7,600 persons. Thirty-two acre-ft is about 10,400,000 gallons of water per day, or 1370 gallons of water per capita per day, and this seems sufficient on a per capita basis to meet the personal and agricultural needs of the first 7,600 immigrants along with their associated farm and labor animals. The 32 acre-feet per day is only a minimum. In June, the pre-water treatment plant creek peaks at about 3100 acre-feet per month, or about 100 acre-feet per day (about 32,600,000 gallons per day or 4,600 gallons per day per capita for 7,000 persons), and in late-summer September, the pre-water treatment plant historical flow is about 1450 acre-feet per month, or about 45 acre-feet per day. Including other water sources from Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Canyons, it was reasonable in 1847 to believe that a much larger city could be accommodated. A city plan of 1849 envisaged 291 ten-acre plots and 460 five-acre plots, and 800 acres of church farms, for a total of about 600 ten acre plots (Bancroft 290, ftn. 8).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 10th, 1852, he sees a flock of 12 bluebirds, a sparrow and a blooming mountain plantain. Mosses and lichen are growing. March 10, 1853, he describes as the first real day of spring. He describes numerous shoots and plants blooming with green leaves. He sees minnows in a brook. On March 10th, 1854, he experiences heavy rains and captures a skunk. On March 10th, 1855, he sees the first expansion of willow buds. He describes how the first animal signs of spring come and go.

On March 10th, 1914, the City plans to install two measuring weirs in City Creek so the stream flow can be accurately determined (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 14, 1910, construction of the concrete underground conduit to hold City Creek, which is proceeding from south to north, has reached within 700 feet of the North end. It will be ready for spring runoff (Salt Lake City Herald).


March 9, 2017

March 9th

Filed under: Eastern Boxelder Bug, mile 1.2, Moon, Moth, Mule deer, Mule Deer, picnic site 7 — canopus56 @ 10:14 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – First Peoples – Part VII

5:30 p.m. It is again warm today, but I do not get to the canyon until late, and even so, the parking lot is overflowing and their are thirty people in the first mile. It is the warmth of pre-spring that draws people. The canyon looks dreary, but perhaps that is because I am in a poor mood. Everything is waiting for more light. Plants on the side of the road look dirty; the leaf litter is slowly transforming into a paste that will foster this spring’s growth. Although it is dusk, a few Box Elder bugs are out and a moth flutters by. Below picnic site 7 on the west side of the road and across from the overhanging rock (Jan. 3rd), there is an intermittent spring whose small rivulet runs down an earth bank and along the road. I start up the bank to trace the rivulet back to its source, but then hear a branch crack behind me. Turning around, on south-east side of the canyon and across the stream, two mule deer are picking their way through the undergrowth. They see me turn and freeze. One of the deer stands with one foot held above the ground in mid-step. I wait for a minute and rather than stress them further, I decide to continue up the road and leave their forest home to them alone. At mile 1.1, a nearly full Moon hangs over Black Mountain, and this contrasts the earlier earlier afternoon Moon also seen over Black Mountain on March 7th. Coming back down canyon, I remark about the deer to a canyon regular – a man who daily walks an abused dog that he rescued from a shelter. He patiently was been working with the animal for a year, trying to reduce its aggressiveness. He reports that at dusk yesterday, there was a herd of fifty or sixty deer on the western slope above mile 1.2. Although he is known to me to be a reliable reporter, not prone to exaggeration, this is the type of report that needs to be witnessed directly. Fifty or sixty deer in one herd is more than I have ever seen or heard reported in the canyon, but his description does indicate that the deer have begun their spring move.

Occasionally, humanity does aspire to greatness and it tries to fix its missteps and injustices. For example, the Northern Ute Tribe received $272 million under the 1992 Central Utah Project as compensation for the United States’ failure to complete the Unitah portion of the multi-basin water project. In 2010, the State of Utah agreed to pay $33 million to the Navajo Nation related to the mismanagement of trust royalties for the 6,000 Navajos living in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. Conversely, no monies were actually paid to Northern Utes when they succeeded their lands to the United States under an 1868 Treaty with the United States.

In modern economics study, much is made of the economic miracle of the United States since the initial North American colonization and the exceptional peoples who created that miracle. A typical undergraduate first economics course is Heilbroner and Singer’s “The Economic Transformation of the America: 1600 to the Present”. Heilbroner and Singer’s economic narrative parallels the history of Euro-American Utah: hard-working, creative, persistent immigrants following free market principles took a raw valueless land and turned it into an economic powerhouse unparalleled in human history. The subtext message of the authors is that Americans are exceptional, and, similarly, the Mormons by their religious beliefs also feel themselves to be exceptional even among exceptional Americans. A simpler explanation of the Utah and United States economic miracle is that Euro-Americans were better capitalized. In settlement of the 1848 water with Mexico, the United States paid Mexico about $19.65 per square mile, or 3 cents an acre, for western lands including present day Utah. In present day Utah of the 84,899 square miles, or 54,335,360 acres, about 31 percent is held privately or by the State of Utah. After 1851, Utahans could buy homestead land at $1.25 per acre in 1850 currency, and in 1805, United States undeveloped land was valued at about $2.00 per acre. Thus, in 1850, future private and state lands were conservatively worth about 33,687,922 USD in 1850 currency or 740,198,508 USD in 2016 currency. That is about 148,039 USD for each of the 5,000 colonists of 1847. Viewing Utah as a “business venture”, starting a business with about 150,000 USD capitalization per shareholder is likely to be a successful prospect. Unknown to both the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists was the value of Utah’s mineral wealth, which extracted and still extracts billions of dollars per year from the earth. In 2016, the value of minerals extracted from Bingham Canyon and the Great Salt Lake were about $3 billion USD. Had the Euro-Americans of 1847 and western United States settlers kept to their fair market and contract law principles and paid the First Peoples the fair value for their lands, the Utah Euro-American colonists would have started out their business venture with a per capita debt of 150,000 USD in 2016 currency. If the Utah colonists had been true to their professed beliefs, then the economic history of Utah would have been much different. The same economic reasoning applies to much of the Manifest Destiny expansion of the United States westward of Appalachia’s in the 1800s. This reasoning should not and does not mean to denigrate the struggle, hard-work and sweat equity that the Euro-Americans, my ancestors, put into transforming the nation. But context is important to understanding the past and present, and certainty in one’s exceptionalism is the enemy of democracy because it prevents a person from seeing issues from another’s perspective and thus from reaching compromise.

Exceptional abilities implies choice within a given context. By 1847, the Euro-American colonists were well into the era of the Indian Removal Act of 1930, that established the precedent of removing First Peoples from lands west of the Mississippi. Removal of First Peoples was their cultural and political policy of first choice. But there were choices. The 5,000 colonists of 1847-1850 could have chosen to remain confined to Salt Lake Valley; they could have slowed the rate of their migration; they could have chosen to expand first to the north; they could have chosen to engage in a reparations program of providing supplemental cattle to First Peoples during the winter. The options are endless, but at the forefront of the colonists Indian policy was seizing the most fertile land in the region in Utah, not Salt Lake, valley. In this regard, the colonists of 1847 were not exceptional, and their behavior differed little from previous Euro-American contact with First Peoples up to that time.

City Creek Canyon also exists in a larger context. Sometimes that context is climate (Feb. 7th), and sometimes that context is the economic and political needs of the Euro-Americans as they developed the surrounding region (Feb. 24th). It is this relationship between nature and human resource and infrastructure needs that modified the pre-colonization condition of City Creek Canyon into what is seen today. Here, again context and ability implies choices. While the canyon has been modified since 1847, by historical accident and by political design, much of its 1847 pre-colonization state remains.

What choices did the Euro-Americans make, and how has nature in City Creek Canyon been changed from its 1847 condition by those choices as compared to the six other Salt Lake Valley canyons?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 9th, 1852, he notes that bluebirds arrive with the first warm wind (see March 7th here). March 9th, 1853, he opines that the first bark of the red squirrel is a sign of spring. On March 9th, 1854, he see a large flock of ducks and reflections of the landscape in water. On March 9th, 1855, he scares a rabbit from the brush.

December 19, 2016

December 19th

Filed under: Astronomy, Light, Moon — canopus56 @ 1:23 pm

Iridescent Moon

8:00 a.m. I go for an early morning jog up City Creek, and under a clear early morning sky, a third-quarter moon hangs in the sky. Its image is a false negative. Elevated highlands are in white, but the lowland “seas” are filled-in with blue.

7:00 p.m., December 14th. From December 12th through the 14th, there have been several overcast days has been overcast as the Moon’s phase reached and passed full Moon. For several nights over the canyon the near full Moon hangs high overhead as it pierces the clouds, the Moon is surrounded by a circular halo of rainbow colors. The ice crystals are forming prisms that disperse the light into its components.

On December 19th, 1890, City Engineer Doremous rejected the idea of putting a dam in City Creek Canyon to assure an adequate water supply for the City, and he opined that “It would be a dangerous and expensive undertaking. The fall [the gradient] is so great that even a very high dam would not back it up very far” (Salt Lake Times). He also felt that a City Creek dam would quickly fill with sediment and become unsuitable for drinking water.

September 21, 2016

September 14th

Filed under: Astronomy, Gambel's Oak, Moon, Plants, Smells, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:22 am

Cricket Song by Moonlight

9:30 p.m. I do not reach the canyon until late. It is night and overcast, but a full Moon is above the clouds, and thus, the canyon is well lit. Last night and today the canyon has received substantial rainfall, and the roadside dry brush gives off a pungent nutty smell. It has become so cold, that tonight I must wear two undershirts, a wind-breaker, and gloves to jog, and my breath is visible. At mile 1.3, the meadow crickets are silent, but the crickets under the Gambel’s oaks continue their singing. There is a break in the clouds between storm fronts, and the full Moon shines through. Its light casts shadows and the undersides of clouds have a yellow-brown ting. The air is sufficiently clear that I can see the bright spots of craters Aristarchus and Tycho on the Moon’s disk.

September 20, 2016

August 14th

Pipeline Trail

7 p.m. At this time of day the lower canyon is completely in shade and the evening air in the canyon is growing cooler. It is Sunday and this brings out couples and families with small children. To have more solitude, I jog up the pipeline trail that runs parallel to and 30 meters east of the road. The first mile and a half of the trail can be divided into three sections. The first half mile consists of dense water tolerant scrub oak and brush, but the pipeline trail itself is rocky and exposed to the full sun. The power line runs next to the trail but above the scrub oak. In the spring and early summer, this provides a favorable habitat for small songbirds. They live in the oak groves, but the colorful males perch on the power line to make their display songs. During the spring migration, this is a favorite bird watching spot for many. In the second half mile the canyon narrows and cliffs to the west provide water seeps. The increased shade and availability of water changes the trail to over hung oak and beech trees. After the first mile, the canyon opens up into a wide brush meadow, and from the meadow, the mountains that frame the upper canyon can be seen. These include Black Mountain on the south and an unnamed ridge that blocks the view of Grandview Peak on the north. The entire trail is alive with the evening sounds of crickets. As I exit into the meadow, the sun is setting behind the east and north ridgelines. This bathes Black Mountain and the upper canyon in a yellow-orange alpenglow. Over the south ridgeline, a three quarter moon is rising. It is an idyllic and special moment.

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