City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

August 21, 2017

July 1st; Revised, Reposted

Talking Plants – Part I – Hidden Scents, Hidden Networks

Revised to include plants talking to each other by subsurface common mycorrhizal networks.

2:00 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, it is another butterfly day. Cabbage white and Western tiger swallowtail butterflies line the road. Families stroll through the heat on a holiday weekend.

It is also the time of mature trees. The giant trees of the canyon – those taller than seventy-feet – now dominate the canyon experience. Species include Box Elder trees, Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees and Freemont’s cottonwood trees (Populus fremontii). They now provide a partial canyon that protects the mid- to small-sized trees and the understory bushes from the harsh summer sun. Walking past one of these biological skyscrapers, one can feel the increase in humidity from their exhalations. In winter, their skeletons are ignored and when walking up-canyon during the cold season, one does not give them a passing thought.

At Guardhouse Gate, Black-headed grosbeaks and Lazuli buntings dominate. At picnic site 3, Song sparrows are prominent, and at third active zone of birds appears at milepost 1.1.

At seep below picnic site 6, the Starry solomon’s seal has, in seemingly a few days, been overrun by Western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii). It is now a deep green, and in the fall will turn a deep red (Sept. 23rd).

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 1st, 1852, he notes that rabbit’s foot clover is turning colorful, mulleins are turning yellow, wild roses are at their peak. He describes a white lily in depth. He hears a red-eye, oven-bird and a yellow-throat. On July 1st, 1854, he again notes that the edges of distant objects are distinct in clear air. He watches the shadows of clouds moving across the land. On July 1st, 1859, he notes white ranunculus is in bloom.

* * * *

Plants communicate with each other and with insects by volatile airborne chemical signals in order to coordinate defenses against herbivores (Hartley 2010, Hartley 2009, Alba 2012, Engelberth 2012, Heil and Karbon 2009, see Witzany and Baluska (ed) 2012). Experiments suggest that Box Elder trees, the Gambel’s oaks, the bushes of the understory, the Curly dock weeds, the Starry Solomon plants, the sagebrush, and the other plants currently active in the canyon are carrying on a conversation, unheard by human interlopers. Experiments have been done on plants outside species of the Gambel’s oak forest, but one example exists for communication between the sagebrush groves along east Bonneville Drive. In 2011, Shiojiri at Kyoto University, Karban at University of California at Davis and Ishizaki at Hokkaido University replicated and expanded Karban’s 2006 study on Great basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) plant communication (Shiojiri, Karban and Ishizaki 2011). They found that the neighbors of sagebrush plants mechanically damaged with scissors but allowed to spread VOCs suffered less damage from grasshoppers than sagebrush plants not allowed to receive VOC emissions from the damage sagebrush. In short, sagebrush plants talk with their sagebrush neighbors and warn them to start producing insecticides to ward off grasshoppers. In 2008, Mäntylä et al at the University of Bristol demonstrated that birch trees issue volatile airborne chemicals, not detectable by humans, when attacked by caterpillars. To control scents, they contained some damaged branches in plastic bags, but left other branches exposed. Birds preferentially visited and attacked branches where trees’ VOC scent was present. In short, their Great Britain birches talk to birds. Although the specific species in investigated in Great Britain are not present in the canyon, the canyon hosts Birchleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus Raf.). In 2011, Mäntylä et al demonstrated a similar effect in Scottish pines (Mäntylä et al 2011). Engelberth notes that some plants use VOCs to signal predatory insects, e.g. predatory wasps, that they have been damaged by insect herbivores that are preferred foods of the predator insect (Engelberth 2012).

Plant species talking between themselves, with other species of plants, and with insects and birds may have arisen by conferring an evolutionary advantage (Heil and Karban 2010). By alerting its same-specie and inter-specie neighbors, sagebrush, for example, can create a herd-like resistance to grasshopper attacks. Similarly, by talking with insects and birds, plants create co-evolutionary relationships that benefit both the plant and associated insect eating birds (id., Engelberth 2012). Through 2010, Heil and Karban summarize known examples of plant “talking” with VOCs (id). In this Great Basin canyon, such communication has only been shown specifically for Great basin sagebrush, but Heil and Karban also list known plant VOC demonstrations for families of plants whose cousins are also present in the City Creek Canyon, including willow trees, sugar maples, poplar trees and alder trees. That the other trees and other plants present in City Creek Canyon are talking to a each other seems a reasonable extrapolation, but demonstration of their VOC communication remains to be shown by future researchers.

Trees also may be talking with each via networks of fungi that permeates the soil beneath the trees. That tree roots make complex associations with fungi has been known for many years (Lanner, pp. 98-100), but with respect to canyon and Wasatch Front Mountain Range trees, this has only be studied extensively with respect to Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and even then, studies were performed principally in Washington State. When trees and fungi form associations, they are called mycorrhiza, and such associations are broken down into two parts. First, when fungi merge with interior of a root, they are termed arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), and second, when fungi form fungal mats underneath and around the roots, they are termed ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF). When AM or EM fungi connect between trees, they form a common mycorrhizal network (CMN). There can be more than 200 species of fungi that participate in arbuscular mycorrhizal association with a single plant. In this symbiotic relationship, fungi, for example with respect to Douglas firs, release additional nutrients from the soil that increases the firs’ ability to grow (Cline 2004), and conversely, the trees manufacture and provide unique nutrients to the fungi that they cannot obtain from the soil such as glucose. Thus, although trees can grow without an AMF or EMF, they grow slower and with less vitality (Cline). The CMN is formed by long hypae, or narrow primitive vascular tubes – that are characteristic of fungi. AMF or EMF associations occur in 80 percent of terrestrial plants.

A recent hypothesis suggest that the common mycorrhizal network of AMFs that provide a pathway by which chemical information is exchanged between trees (Barto et al 2012). Under this hypothesis, plants coordinate their defense against insects and disease using the CMN, and experimentally, this has been shown to occur in AMFs for three invasive grasses (id). Gorzelak and colleagues at the University of British Columbia extended this theory to EMFs (Gorzelak et al 2015). Once again, new modern biochemical and genetic analysis techniques provide insights into the complex life of seemingly simple trees. In 2015, Song and colleagues found in British Columbian forests where they artificially defoliated Douglas firs chemically signaled Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) through the EMF-CMN. The pines responded by issuing stress chemicals. Thus, two different species of trees “talked” with each other over a fungal network.

Both Douglas firs and Pondersa pine are found in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range generally, but not in the canyon specifically. Given that eighty-percent of species and over ninety-percent of families of pldants form AMF and EMF associations, many of the other unstudied trees with AMFs and EMFs in the canyon, like the oaks and maples, may also be talking between themselves over fungal networks. But this is supposition, a “just so” story, and confirmation of whether the canyon’s trees along the first road mile awaits future research by biologists.

* * * *

On July 1st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith notes that a gate has been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1997, a small grass fire broke out near Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1925, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial approved of the City’s use of “hoboes, drunkards and indolent men” on the prison road work crew then working in City Creek Canyon. On July 1st, 1920, twenty-five service men convalescing at St. Marks Hospital will be given a picnic outing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 1st, 1919, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial reported that a large fire had been burning in City Creek for several days (Salt Lake Telegram). The Telegram reported rumors that the fire may have been started by I.W.W. members (id). (Famed I.W.W. organizer Joe Hill had been previously executed in Salt Lake City in November 1915.)

Advertisements

July 30, 2017

July 21st, 2016 – End of Cyclical Year, Revised and Reposted

Microorganisms, Moss, Lichens, Glaciers, and Climate Trends

(Revised and expanded after lichen identification completed.)

3:30 p.m. It is another day intense summer heat, and as I pull into the parking lot, I take notice of a large Limber pine (Pinus flexilis at the lot’s end, south of the row of cultivar Horsechestnut trees. The Limber pine, Narrowleaf cottonwoods and the Horsechestnuts are among the largest plant organisms in the canyon, excepting some of the 50 foot diameter copses of Gambel’s oaks that may be one large, genetically identical sister plant. A bizarrely twisted, immature Limber pine hides behind to the east of side of the Guardhouse Gate building, and just past the gate, another conifer, a mature 70 foot tall native Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). Key taxonomic differences between the two is that round pine needles occur in groups of two and flat fir and spruce needles are single. At mile 1.7 at picnic site no. 12. There a forty foot tall Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is flanked by two taller Engelmann spruce trees. Although native to northern Utah, these three trees have been artificially planted to provide shade for picnic area.

Jogging up canyon about 100 yards up from the gate, I pass a deadly Bittersweet nightshade plant with small 1.5 inch green fruit. Splitting one of the fruit open, it is full of 1 mm bright orange larvae, and testing a few more, they are all infected. Given the number of young children that pass this spot, this is probably not a good place for a poisonous plant.

In the heat, I jog alone through an empty road, except for bicyclists. Near mile 0.3, sounds in the Gambel’s oak forest undergrowth betrays an yearling Mule deer stares back through the leaves. It is waiting for me to pass, so it can reach the stream and water. A bicyclist streaks unaware of its presence. A slight anabatic up-canyon wind provides a brief relief.

Beginning at mile 0.5 and the pond at picnic site 5, I collect the sponges placed in the stream and seeps on July 15th. The sponges have been collecting microorganisms for several days. I have looked at water samples from the stream under a microscope several times since May, but have never seen any microorganisms. That is a testament to how pure City Creek Canyon water is. My microorganism observing guide suggests using the sponges to trap organisms over time. The sponges also provide a protected framework that might appeal to microorganisms by providing shelter. The first sponge was located below the pond at picnic site 5, and it was placed under a cover of rocks such that stream water would continuously flow through the sponge. The first from the stream is a dark brown – a good sign. The second collected from the seep below picnic site 6 and the third is retrieved from the watercress seep also below picnic site 6. All three are a dark brown-grey color; the sponges have worked.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the Horsemint is in full bloom, and I count 32 Cabbage white butterflies feeding on them. A single Central bumble bee (Bombus centralis) collects among the butterflies. These are joined by an orange Mexican queen butterfly. I stand mesmerized by the glade for a few minutes. Nightshade is now also blooms in this glade.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) reappear after their first spring flight. Uniquely, they fly in a circular pattern closely around me twice, and having rejected me as potential food, they fly off with purposeful intent.

Proceeding again up canyon through the heat, only a few birds are heard at some distance from the stream. I cannot distinguish their calls, except for the nasal cawing of a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

At mile 1.1, I stop where a large rock ledge overhangs the stream and admire a tremendous cottonwood cross, a Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats. This 100 foot tree with a twenty-four inch trunk betrays it hybrid nature through two suckers, each 8 inches in diameter at the base. The parent tree has ovate leaves typical of the cross. Those leaf forms continue on one of the suckers, but at its very tip is one perfectly formed triangular Fremont popular leaf. Mid-way up the second sucker, that is also covered in hybrid leaves, is a bracket of perfectly formed thin Narrowleaf cottonwood leaves. This tree must be at least 100 years old, and perhaps it is older and witnessed the arrival of the Euro-American colonists in 1847. At a few minutes of enjoying this tree, I notice that it is looking back at me. More precisely, another Mule deer is on the rock ledge on the far side of the stream, and it is intently following me. I continue up canyon so it can reach water unmolested.

At mile 1.2, I turn down-canyon on the Pipeline Trial in order to photograph some of the lichens on rocks that line the trail down to where it is perpendicular to the Red Bridge and Chimney Rock. The Gambel’s oaks that border each side of the trail are covered in a ubiquitous dusky orange lichen that is found throughout the canyon. Here the rocks are principally volcanic breccia or limestone conglomerates. The first rock has lichens that are three inch diameter turquoise dollops with raised fruiting centers. The second rock has a large turquoise dollop on one corner and fire yellow bright lichen on one face. This rock also has small dark black lichen circles. The third rock has bright orange circles with darkened brown centers. The fourth has similar bright orange two inch dollops with fruiting orange centers. This same orange rock lichen is common in the canyon. For example, it covers parts of the rock bridge at Weeping Falls near mile 5.2. This bright orange lichen only appears on rocks, and its dusky orange brother keeps to the trees. Near the end of this segment, a gully provides more shade an water. Here, the rocks are covered in complex moss complexes, and unidentified green-black small-onion like moss with fine white hairs.

Continuing up canyon to a western gully near mile 2.3, there is another slope with favored lichen rocks. Here the rocks are sandstone based. In the gully, the first rock is a kaleidoscope of circular lichens colored bright orange, turquoise, and black. The next rock is covered with a bulbous green-black moss with fine white hairs. This is followed by a rock covered in turquoise-green lichen that has a darker brown center. Finally, two foot square areas of an unidentified green-black bulbous lichen attach to a rock ledge’s horizontal surface. Looking over some of my other lichen photographs above milepost 5.0, two prominent upturned limestone ledges stick out next to the road. On these a montane grey-milk lichen that look like delicate leaf petals cling to the stone.

This is all a riot of color mixed with abstract design. Lichen are oldest and, for me, they embody the most alien of terrestrial life. I also hold them in the highest respect because they are all a form of extremophile. They thrive on canyon rocks that both bake to temperatures over 150 degrees during the summer, and they continue to reproduce during the subzero cold of deepest winter. They live on the surface of barren rocks and take all that they need from the passing air and rain. And, what else the need in terms of minerals, they obtain by dissolving the solid rocks to which they attach. Moss are less of an extremophile, but tree moss are one of the few plants that continue photosynthesis through the depths of winter (January 10th).

Returning down-canyon near mile 1.3, ahead, I again here the screeching of a Peregrine falcon. Two falcons are chasing two unidentified hawks away from the sandstone cliffs on the east wall of the canyon near mile 1.0. One falcon easily chases a hawk up canyon and over the ridge. The second hawk begins to climb in lazy, large circles, and the remaining peregrine follows. The peregrine raises higher and then stoops the hawk, all the while screeching loudly. This continues for about 15 minutes. At times I loose sight of the pair as they circle overhead with the Sun behind them. The spring sky is a deep blue, but today, the summer sun makes the atmosphere a white turquoise.

Continuing down-canyon, at picnic site 5 where I collected one sponge, an innovative young couple using long lengths of climbing webbing, have suspended two bright Central American woven hammocks over the stream. They lay side-by-side enjoying the stream-cooled air.

At Guardhouse Gate, there are the cut fireplace-sized remains of a large tree. A quick count of its rings indicates the tree is over one-hundred years old. As the the city cuts down infirm trees in the canyon, they leave the carcasses here as free firewood. The cause of this tree’s demise can be seen in one segment of log – it is riddled to the inner pith with boring beetle tunnels. To supplement my gathering of water borne small life, I also collect from the logs’ surfaces, samples of Green tree moss (probably Orthotrichum sp.) and of orange, black and turquoise lichens.

The lower flood retention pond is full of algae mats. A family of mallards graze on the greenery. The chicks, who a few weeks ago where only four inches long, are now twice that size.

At home, I examine water from the three sponges in under a microscope at 60 power of magnification in order to see some of the smallest plants and animals of the canyon. All of the samples consist mostly of bits of algae, some of which are strung on the ends of mold filament, pulverized bits of plant, and specks of silica. No moving protists are seen. A few rectangular-celled with diatoms with well-defined glass-like walls of the genus Fragellaria are found. Two circular diatoms of the genus Stephanodiscus are seen. Finally, a single, transparent perfectly formed leg of an insect exactly fills the eyepiece and then floats away. This is clean City Creek water.

At home and through the hand-lens, the leaves of the moss, which are present both on trees and on rocks in the stream, reveal their earlier evolution as compared to the leaves of the surrounding trees. They are thin and transparent sheets of green cells, and they lack any vascular features found in true leaves.

Under the hand-lens, where the black lichens interface with the tree’s bark, a separate white hyphae through which digestion occurs. Lichens are composite organisms of algae or green bacteria living symbiotically with fungi. Through the hand-lens, one can see two colors, representing the two organisms in the turquoise and orange lichens. The turquoise portion of the turquoise lichen is also surrounded by white hyphae. The second color is green, and through the lens, these resolve as small bits of algae. That lichens exist on almost all of the trees in the first two miles of road is a good sign. Lichen are sensitive to air pollution and will disappear if Salt Lake’s air quality severely deteriorates over a long period.

The length of the day have changed noticeable from June 20th’s summer solstice. Sunset comes an hour earlier around 9 p.m.

* * * *

St. Clair, Newberry and Nebeker (1991 and 1995) provide a comprehensive list of Utah lichens. They and Flowers (1954) describe which species of lichen are common in various northern Utah habitats, including for the scrub oak forest of Gambel’s oaks, the higher subalpine habitat of Quaking aspens, and the montane habitat of conifers. Brodo of the Canadian Nature Museum and Sharnoff and Sharnoff of the Missouri Botanical Gardens published the definite photographic identification guide for lichens: their massive 2001 “Lichens of North America”. They note common lichen species for the Gambel’s oak forest include Lecanora hageni, Phaeoplzyscia orbicu/aris, Physcia adscendens, Physcia dubia, Physcia stellaris, Plzysconia grisea, Xanthoria fallax, and Xanthoria polycarpa. Using these sources, my descriptions and photographs match with the following scientific names:

List of Lichens

• Hooded sunburst lichen (Xanthoria fallax): This is the dusky-orange lichen that covers most of the Gambel’s oak trees in the canyon (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 744).

• Pin-cushion sunburst lichen (Xanthoria polycarpa): This is the bright orange lichen that covers many rocks in the canyon, including the stone bridge at mile 5.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 746).

• Stonewall rim-lichen (Lecanora muralis): This lichen was the even-toned yellow-green (turquoise) circles on rocks along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 383)

• Sagebrush rim-lichen (Lecanora garovaglii). This is the yellow-green (turquoise) lichen with a darker green center on a rock along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 380).

• New Mexico rim-lichen ( Lecanora novomexicana): This darker yellow-greenish lichen with yellow fringes was found in the gully near mile 2.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 384).

• Gold cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum): This is the bright yellow lichen on one rock along the Pipeline Trail. (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 578).

• Powder-tipped rosette lichen (Physcia dubia): This is the delicate leaf-shaped lichen on the limestone vertical fins near mile 5.0 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 554).

Like today’s Great Salt Lake (May 26th), ancient Lake Bonneville’s water levels and glaciation of the Salt Lake’s canyons at the end of the last ice age gives clues as to the climate of the Salt Lake valley and the canyon. That record is hidden within the valley’s rocks and trees. In 2015 and updating a prior study from 1997, Oviatt at the University of Kansas reconstructed date ranges in which ancient lake rose and fell by radiocarbon dating organic material in tufa deposits along the lake’s former shorelines. He concluded that Lake Bonneville began its rise about 30,000 years ago (id., Table 1). Between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville reached its maximum height at about 5,100 feet, or near the northern end of Pleasant Valley in the canyon near mile 1.7. Following the failure of the Red Rock ice dam in Idaho, the Lake drained to the Provo Shoreline, which is Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue in the City. Other the next 15,000 years, the lake gradually declined to the current level of the Great Salt Lake (id).

In 2011, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe and colleagues used residual Beryllium 10 isotopes in rocks, taken from the glacial moraines in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake valley and American Fork Canyon in Utah valley, in order to date when glaciers retreated up from the ancient lake’s shores. An ongoing question existed amongst geologists, based on conflicting earlier studies, concerning whether the Salt Lake glaciers receded before, coincident with or after the end of the last Ice Age and-or before, coincident with or after the end of the peak level of Lake Bonneville. Figure 1 of their study shows the area of glaciation stretching from American Fork to the south and Farmington, Utah in the north, thus, including City Creek Canyon. They concluded that glaciers covering the Salt Lake valley canyons started to retreat 15,700 plus or minus 1,300 years before the present, either during or shortly after the maximum 5,100 foot shoreline height of ancient Lake Bonneville. Their confidence interval overlaps the 15,000 to 18,000 years before the present found by Oviatt for the maximum height of Lake Bonneville. Deglaciation started about 4,000 years after the end of the continental Ice Age at 18,000 years ago. Because the lake reached its maximum and retreat of the local glaciers started after the end of the Ice Age, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe et al concluded that the local climate between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago was wetter than thought by prior geologists.

That there were glaciers in City Creek Canyon below Grandview Peak and at the canyon’s final hanging valley (September 8th) seems evident from an examination of any terrain map and hiking the canyon. But to my knowledge, there are no studies dating the glacial deposits in City Creek Canyon. Van Horn and Crittenden’s geologic map shows no surficial glacier features (Van Horn and Crittenden, 1987, U.S.G.S. I-1762). Perhaps there was a lighter ice sheet over the canyon 15,000 years ago, but it was insufficient to crave the bedrock.

The Engelmann spruces and other pine trees that live in association with the spruces, tell the history of Salt Lake valley’s and the canyon’s climate for the last 13,000 years before the present. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Engelmann spruce share the glacial scoured hillsides with Limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Engelmann spruce is more tolerant of wet earth and colder soil temperatures, and Limber pine is more tolerant of dry earth and warmer soil temperatures. Thus, as climate changes occur over thousands of years, the relative amount of pollen left in soil layers beneath their canopy gives a general indication of weather in the distant past. In 1979, Madsen and Currey at the University of Utah used a bog in Gad Valley near Snowbird Ski Resort to reconstruct Utah’s late Holocene climate (Madsen and Currey 1979). Based on moraine deposits, the maximum extent of glaciation that extruded glaciers into the Salt Lake valley floor occurred about 25,000 years ago. After a period of warming, a second smaller glacial period ensued and Madsen and Currey, using the bog at Gad Valley places that around 12,500 years ago. Then glaciers within Little Cottonwood Canyon retreated and disappeared. A similar bog in Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood is dated at 9,500 years (id, 258). Using the ratio of Engelmann spruce and Limber pine in the Gad Valley bog, Madsen and Currey were able to reconstruct the relative climate of the canyon, and by extension the Salt Lake Valley and City Creek Canyon, for the past 12,500 years. Between 13,000 and 8,000 years before the present, the valley’s climate was cooler and wetter than today. Between 8,000 and 5,000 before the present, advancing Limber pines indicate a warmer and drier climate than today. Then there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (id, at Fig. 6 and 265). In contrast, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (id). These are consistent with Grayson’s climate divisions for the Great Basin Holocene generally: 10,000 to 7,500 years before the present (early), 7,500 to 4,500 years before the present (middle), and 4,500 years before the present until today (late) (Grayson, Chap. 8).

Over the last 4,500 years, a picture of trends in Salt Lake City’s local climate can be developed from tree ring, Gad Valley bog pollen, and other climate research. Since 4,500 years before the present, there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey, Fig. 6 and 265). It is now colder than average than over the last 13,000 years. The Little Ice lasted from about 1300 C.E. to 1850 B.C. There were highly variable swings in temperature during this time, but those changes were not global, but regional (Solomon et al 2007; Houghton et al 2001). In Utah, the Little Ice Age ended in 1850 and was followed by the most severe winter in Utah history, the winter of 1855-1856.

Since 4,500 years before the present, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey). From 1492 to the present, the tree rings show that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah (Bekker et al 2014). Variability in Salt Lake City precipitation since the 1960s, including severe drought in the 1960s and peak flooding in the 1980s, is tied to the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, an 11 year cycle of drought and heavy precipitation tied to ocean temperatures off the coast of California and Japan. The level of the Great Salt Lake acts as a recorder of climate, and the Lake’s level has been recorded continuously since 1875 (USGS, 2017a, USGS, 2017b). In the summer of 2016, it dropped to a new historical low of 4,190.1 feet (id).

In 2010, Wang and colleagues at the Utah State University associated the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (PQDO) with a northern Utah three-year leading precipitation and a six year leading level of the Great Salt Lake (Wang, Fig. 4 at 2166). In the association with the level of the Great Salt Lake, PQDO warm phase peaks are associated with the lowest lake levels and PQDO cool phase troughs are associated with the highest lake levels. In 2013, DeRose, Wang and colleagues used tree rings to reconstruct the level of the Great Salt Lake back to 1429, and they associated the lake’s level to the pacific oscillation back to 1700 (DeRose 2013). In recent years, the PQDO has been good for Utah. While California has suffered severe drought, the PQDO has kept annual precipitation relatively higher in Utah (IWWA Project).

The PQDO has not had a phase change since 1997 and the change to a heavy precipitation pattern is overdue. Despite heavy winter snowfall in the high mountains during the winter of 2016-2107, Utah remains in an extended drought with unseasonably warm summers.

Future uncertainty is added by the effect of global warming. Has global warming disrupted the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation? What will its future impact be? However, even excluding global warming, Salt Lake City and Utah are on a path towards relatively hotter weather and declining water supplies as compared to the past.

* * * *

On July 21st, 1942, the City banned the entire north bench of Salt Lake City to entry due to fire hazard, but access to City Creek Canyon would remain open (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1906, the Deseret Evening News published a picture of a 10 foot snow bridge across City Creek Canyon about nine miles up the canyon. On July 21st, prize fighter Tommy Reilly trained by taking a long run up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1903, about 100 Ute Tribe members gathered for an annual celebration at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). (In the present, the Ute Tribe holds an annual meet at Liberty Park.)

July 28, 2017

July 16th Revised, Reposted

Bird dialects; Grasshoppers and Locusts

2:30 p.m. With the continuing heat, an inverted layer of polluted air continues to building in valley, but the pollution has not yet entered the canyon. Today, the canyon air is clear, but later in the summer, the inversion layer will rise in altitude. A small black and white “bee” hover next to the road, but on closer inspection, it is a fly – Sacken’s bee hunter (Laphria sackeni). I find a small stink-bug like insect on several plants. It is a 3mm dark grey diamond with a orange-yellow border. It is probably a member of the Bordered plant bug (Largidae family), but I can find no specific specie example in my guides. Another dead Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) is on the road, and the continuing seasonal heat removes other characters from late spring’s cast. Yellow sweet clover has lost its leaves and become dried green sticks. Pinacate beetles have not been seen for a week.

Fruits betray infrequent lower canyon plants. On the trail spur leading from the road up to the Pipeline Trail, there is a single lower-canyon example of a dwarf Mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) with bright red-fruit. Near mile 0.2, one Western blue elderberry bush (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) sports deep blue fruit.

I have continued self-study on learning to read the bird soundscape of the canyon (May 6th), but I have become disillusioned with my reference recordings of bird songs. It is evident that the canyon’s birds use calls that not among my reference recordings, and I suspect between some unrelated species that the birds are imitating each other’s calls. I have followed another of the many Lazuli buntings in the lower canyon today, and they use a trill call that is not in my sample recordings. Like birds, the several species of grasshoppers that frequent Utah are difficult for amateurs to distinguish, because they are mostly are seen only during flight before they disappear into thick grass.

* * * *

Birds form regional dialects (Podos and Warren 2007, Luther and Baptista 2010). A consequence of this is that without amateurs building a large centralized body of recordings, no one reference audio will sufficient for a local area. Only long experience, in which visual observations can be paired with local dialectal calls, can make one a “wizard” of the local bird soundscape.

Grasshoppers are often confused by North American lay people, including myself, for a variety of insects, including katydids and locusts. The Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex H.) of that religion’s 1848 “Miracle of the Gulls” (Nov. 30th) were katydids and not crickets. In addition to katydids and grasshopper outbreaks that continue to the present day, historically, Salt Lake City was also visited by many locust plagues. There are several species of grasshoppers in Utah. The principal kinds are Melanoplus confusus Scudder, Melanoplus packardii Scudder, Melanoplus sanguinipes Fabricius, Camnula pellucida Scudder, and Aulocara elliotti Thomas (Watson 2016).

Salt Lake City and Utah were one of many regions that were devastated by the Rocky Mountain Locust outbreaks of the nineteenth century. Between the 1855 and 1900, the Plains states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, and the Intermountain States (Colorado, Wyoming, southeastern Idaho and Utah) were inundated with periodic plagues of this mega-pest locust. In one June 1875 stream seen crossing the Nebraska plains, a swarm of 3.5 trillion locusts were seen (Lockwood, 19-21), and on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, drifts six feet high and two miles long, or 1.5 million bushels, were reported by Orson Pratt (Lockwood, 10; Deseret News May 25, 1875). The volume of the Salt Lake 1855 locusts were sufficient to cover four and one-third of Salt Lake City’s ten acre blocks with a one foot layer, or about 507 Salt Lake City ten acre blocks, or 0.8 square miles, one-inch deep (id). While the exact population of Rocky Mountain Locusts at their peak is unknown, one carrying capacity estimate for the western and plains lands puts the maximum 1875 Rocky Mountain Locust population at 15 trillion insects (Lockwood, 163-164). In terms of biomass, the Rocky Mountain Locusts of 1875 weighed in at an estimated of 8.5 million tons, and this compared favorably to the estimated 11.5 million tons of the 45 million North American bison of that same time. Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri were particularly hard hit by the 1875 locust outbreak, and those states and the federal government had to reluctantly implement large scale relief programs to aid bankrupted and starving farmers who had moved to those states and taken up undeveloped farm lands under the Homestead Act (Lockwood, Chap. 5).

The crisis lead to a governors’ commission, the creation of the United States Entomological Commission headed by prominent entomologists Charles V. Riley, Cyrus Thomas, and Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr. to study the insects, and the Entomological Commission issuing several classic nineteenth century scientific reports (Riley 1877, Packard 1877, United States Entomological Commission 1878 and 1880). Figure 1 of the Commission’s 1878 First Report elegantly shows the migration patterns of the Rocky Mountain locusts from their permanent nesting zones somewhere in the foothills leading to Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming and their circular migrations west and south to Utah and north and east through the Great Plains. Key among the Commission’s findings were that the Rocky Mountain locusts had a permanent nesting zone and within that zone, they preferred a particular type of sandy soil in which to reproduce.

The impact of Rocky Mountain Locust invasions were also substantial in Salt Lake City and Utah. In May 26, 1875, Wilford Woodruff, church apostle and then president of the Deseret Agriculture and Manufacturing Society noted that significant locust “grasshopper” infestations occurred in Utah in 1855 and during each year from 1866 to 1872. The 1855 invasion was the worst. Packard reported that in 1855, about 75 percent of all food stuffs were devoured, and this required the Utah settlers to live on thistles, milkweed and roots (Packard, 603-604). Heber C. Kimball estimated that there was less than fifty acres of standing grain left in the Salt Lake Valley and that the desolation stretched from Box Elder county to Cedar City (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 342-343). The 1855 outbreak was part of a larger outbreak that covered present day Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, parts of Texas, and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains (Packard, 34). The 1855 outbreak was followed by one of the worst winters in Utah history, the winter of 1850. 1850 marked the end of the 1300-1850 Little Ice Age. In the 1850s, one Salt Lake child described dunes of dead locusts along the Great Salt Lake shoreline as high as houses (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1986). In June 1868, Alfred Cordon reported crossing a locust stream while traveling north of Salt Lake City for four miles, and in Tooele, an 1870 resident described the destruction of all of his crops (Bitton, Davis and Wilcox, 338).

As the Rocky Mountain Locust hordes passed, they would lay eggs in favorable sandy soils, such as those found in the foothills above Salt Lake City. In August 1879, Taylor Heninger and John Ivie of Sanpete County estimated that Rocky Mountain Locusts had laid 743,424,000 eggs on each acre (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 344). On August 28th and 29th, 1878, the Entomological Commission’s Packard witnessed a few locusts hatching from the benches above Salt Lake City (e.g. including the present day Avenues foothills) for a radius of ten miles (Packard 1880 at Second Report, 1880, 69-70).

Through 1896, further outbreaks occurred, but the locust population continually diminished in size through the Plains and the Intermountain states (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, Table; United States Entomological Commission 1880). Without explanation, by the early 1900s, the Rocky Mountain Locusts disappeared, and by 1931, it was considered extinct (Lockwood, 128-136). That made the North American continent the only continent, excluding cold Antarctica, that is free of locusts. In 2012, a locust outbreak destroyed part of Russia’s wheat crop, resulting in that country halting wheat exports, and another Russian outbreak occurred in 2015. Curiously, since there were some many of the locusts, adequate specimens were not preserved in the United States’ academic insect collections.

Various theories arose between the early 1900s and the 1950s concerning why the Rocky Mountain Locusts became extinct (Lockwood, Chap. 10). Lockwood reviews why each was discarded in turn: The end of the Little Ice Age in 1890 and the decimation of the bison populations occurred after, not before the locust outbreaks. The decline of the rate of fires associated with the decline of Native American populations was rejected because Native Americans did not burn a sufficiently large part of the Great Plains. In another theory, the Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus) in response to the planting of alfalfa by farmers phase transformed into another grasshopper that still exists today – the Migratory grasshopper (Melanopus sanguinipes). This was rejected because the number of alfalfa fields planted in the Great Plains was insufficient to deny the Rocky Mountain Locusts of their preferred food sources (id).

In order to obtain further evidence regarding this last theory, in the 1980s, Lockwood and colleagues searched glaciers in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana for Rocky Mountain Locusts that had been preserved. Eventually, frozen locusts were located in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and at Knife Point Glacier in Wyoming. Subsequent taxonomic comparision confirmed that the Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus) and Migratory grasshopper (Melanopus sanguinipes) are two distinct species (Lockwood, Chap.s 10 and 11). Genetic testing in part confirms that conclusion (Chapco and Litzenberger 2004).

Then what caused the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust – the mega-pest of the nineteenth century? Lockwood suggests that the permanent breeding zones of the Rocky Mountain Locust were similar to the Monarch butterfly (Lockwood, Chap. 13). The Monarch butterfly overwinters in a few small forest groves in California and Mexico. The Monarchs (of which I saw two of in City Creek Canyon on July 24th) could easily be made extinct by a few loggers armed with chain saws. The Rocky Mountain Locusts concentrate their favored breeding zones on sandy soils in foothills raised above stream banks. Lockwood suggests that a triumvirate of three human activities brought the end to the locusts. First, farmers in Wyoming or Montana flooded, as suggested by the Entomological Commission in 1880 (Second Report, 311-313, Utah irrigation practices), or farmed the relatively small permanent breeding refuges of the Rocky Mountain Locust. Farmers also planted alfalfa for cattle feed, a plant disfavored by the locusts. Second, ranchers released millions of cattle that quickly denuded sandy grasslands next to streams and canyon headwaters. Third, this led to cloud-burst flooding that washed out the breeding areas and-or covered breeding zones with layers of thick mud. Combined, these factors destroyed the Rocky Mountain Locusts permanent breeding refuges and led to their extinction.

These factors were also seen locally in the Salt Lake Valley. On their arrival, Euro-American colonists found a valley inundated with Rocky Mountain Locusts and kaytdids (March 6th). Their first tasks included forming a committee of extermination to kill much of the bird life in the valley that might eat agricultural crops and that incidentally eat locusts (March 6th). They then released some of the 4,500 cattle brought with the first 1848 settlers on both the valley floor and the foothills, and planted large tracks of grains on the valley floor. Next they began lumbering operations that denuded the upper canyons (March 13th and March 14th), and removal of the time resulted in cloudburst flooding (March 11th and 12th, July 7th) (id).

In modern Utah, outbreaks of less robust katydids and other grasshoppers still occur. On May 7, 2002, former Governor Micheal Leavitt declared a state of emergency in Utah due to an outbreak of Mormon crickets and other grasshoppers in which 3.3 million acres in Utah were infested (Ut. Exec. Order May, 7, 2002, Karrass 2001). Grasshoppers periodically infest up to 6 square miles in the Salt Lake valley, but their cousins, the Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex H.), had their last 2 square mile outbreak in 2009 (id). Statewide, grasshoppers peaked in 2001 (1.4 million infested acres) and 2010 (approx. 800,000 acres) (Watson 2016, Karrass 2001). Acres infested by Mormon crickets crashed from 3 million in 2004 to only 10,000 in 2016 (Watson).In Salt Lake County, the last Mormon cricket infestation was about 1,300 acres in 2009 (Watson 2016). Given the rapid urbanization of the west half of the Salt Lake valley beginning in 2008, the katydids’ breeding ground on the valley floor has been further reduced, and thus, it is unlikely that they will return here. On July 16th and after their hatching, I saw four Mormon crickets in the trees around mile 0.5 in City Creek Canyon.

This does not mean that the ecological niche occupied by the Rocky Mountain Locust and the Mormon crickets remains empty. On July 6th, I estimated that in the foothills surrounding the north end of Salt Lake City – these are the same hills that Packard saw Rocky Mountain Locusts rise from in 1879 – there were 310,000,000 million House crickets (Acheta domestica) with a mass of 85 tons on the city’s northern foothills. Unlike the larger Utah grasshoppers and katydids, the House crickets do not invade the valley floor, and they are not perceived as a pest despite their numbers.

Mormons have a cultural tradition of storing one year’s worth of food against hard times. This practice has a thin doctrinal basis. There is an ambiguous reference in their texts directing members to “organize yourself; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house . . . ” (Smith, Doctrine and Covenants, 109:8), but a more direct religious source is Levicitus, Chapter 25:1-13, of the Christian Bible. In Levicitus, followers are enjoined to observe a fallow seventh sabbath year after six years of harvests. The fifty year after seventh sabbath years is to be a jubilee year in which debts are forgiven.

In present day Mormon country from Idaho to Arizona, selling and buying a year’s worth of dried disaster supplies is big business. Probably, this cultural practice is an echo of western colonists’ encounters with the now extinct Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus). Numerous plague scale invasions of this locust visited Salt Lake City between 1855 and 1877.

The outbreak of 1855 was seven years after the 1848 “Miracle of the Gulls” katydid incident. On July 13, 1855, church apostle Heber C. Kimball drew the parallel between biblical injunctions in Leviticus to allow land to lay fallow every seven years and the need to store food stuffs to tide a believer over the seventh Sabbath year:

“How many times have you been told to store up your wheat against the hard times that are coming upon the nations of the earth? When we first came to the valley our President [Brigham Young] told us to lay up stores of all kinds of grain, that the earth might rest . . . This is the seventh year, did you ever think of it?” (quoted in Lockwood, 44-45).

After touring the devastation of the 1868 locust outbreak in the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young in a sermon to the Mill Creek congregation returned to the need to keep a seventh sabbath year of provisions on hand as a hedge against calamity:

“We have had our fields laden with grain for years; and if we had been so disposed, our bins might have been filled to overflowing, and with seven years’ provisions on hand we might have disregarded the ravages of these insects, . . .” (quoted Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 354).

Thus, the Mormon practice of storing a year’s worth of food supplies is in part inspired by their encounter with the extinct Rocky Mountain Locust.

* * * *

On July 16th, 1946, the Salt Lake Telegram reported on the costs of recovery from an August 1945 cloudburst flood. The airport was wrecked and a flash flood down Perry’s Hollow ripped through the city cemetery and tombstones were swept onto N Street. The downtown flooded:

Two hours later [after the cloudburst] State St. was still blocked by the overflow from flooding City Creek. Boulders weighing 300 and 500 pounds were left along the way. Parked automobiles were carried for blocks. Tree branches and trash cans were left in four and five-foot drifts.

On July 16th, 1940, a young bicyclist lost control of his machine and was injured on crashing into a tree (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1922, hundreds of young girls hiked up City Creek Canyon as part of a city parks recreation program (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1916, the YMCA planned a hike up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1891, District Court Judge Zane in Duncan v. E. R. Clute declared the City’s water main improvement district that developed the City Creek water system infrastructure to be unlawful and he suggested that the City Council should be impeached for implementing their plan (Deseret Evening News). On July 16th, 1882, Salt Lake City passed an ordinance establishing the Salt Lake City Waterworks for the development of water system infrastructure in the city and in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). The ordinance set a schedule of connection fees to City water mains (id).

July 26, 2017

July 23rd

Filed under: American dipper — canopus56 @ 12:46 pm

Dapper Dipper

3:00 p.m. An American Dipper or Water ouzel (Cinclus mexicanus) is playing along the stream at mile 0.7. It darts tirelessly over the rocks and in and out of the stream with frenetic abandon. Both John Muir in his “Mountains of California” and Barnes in “Four Seasons” speak highly of the water ouzel as an entertaining and delightful bird to watch. Its reputation is reinforced by its pleasant song. For me, the American dipper is a metaphor for the modern rushed life. I see little difference between its life of frenetic activity in search of sustenance and the endless work people need to do in order to support themselves in a post-industrial hyper-marketing world. The dipper reminds to me to also some fun and sing along the way, no matter how hot the day may be.

* * * *

On July 23, 2011, a brush fire broke out at Bonneville Drive and City Creek Canyon. (Salt Lake Tribune). A young man turned himself into the Salt Lake City Police, admitted to setting three fires, including two in Memory Grove (id). He was charged with arson, convicted and later released (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 2011 and October 13, 2011). (On May 13, 2014, the man, who had mental health issues, was convicted of attempting to set another fire in Memory Grove.) On July 23rd, 2010, a 2 acre grass fire broke out in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 29th, 2007, historian Ardis Parshall published a piece in the Salt Lake Tribune regarding Fisher Harris, a tourism promoter who in the early 1900s in conjunction with the Commercial Club hosted an annual three-day carnival festival at 200 South and 300 East. In the three day carnival, “Hatumai”, the Wizard of the Wasatch would descend from City Creek Canyon to host the carnival (id). “Hatumai” is “I am Utah” spelled backwards. On July 23rd, 2003, the Deseret News published a historical piece on the drought of 1931. During the 100 degree summer days, the hills north of 11th Avenue and City Creek Canyon were closed and patrolled to keep residents out due to fire danger. On July 23rd, 1938, a fire burned 50 acres on Ensign Peak and 100 acres near Fort Douglas (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 23rd, 1913, the first adobe manufacturing mill built on City Creek in 1847 was torn down (Salt Lake Telegram).

July 25, 2017

July 22nd, 2016, Beginning of Cyclical Year

Filed under: Western flycatcher — canopus56 @ 6:42 am

Flycatcher

3:00 p.m. A Western flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) is playing around the pool at picnic site 2. It flits from stream rocks into vegetation on the stream banks, apparently attempting to flush out small insects. It is full of nervous energy. I am in a mood today and my affect projects on the flycatcher. Is the flycatcher a ceaseless worker like so many people are in modern post-industrial capitalism with no real prospect of rest? Or is the flycatcher at one with itself and nature, and so it goes about its work with a sense of joy and wholeness?

* * * *

On July 22nd, 1992, a 150 acre brush fire started near the Lime Kiln near the Avenues-City Creek ridge and next to luxury homes on Tomahawk Drive (Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1992).

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).

July 19, 2017

July 18th

Radio Tower Run and Anti-wind

8:30 a.m. In the morning air, I begin one of my more favorite canyon jogs: the Radio Tower run. This track begins at lower Pleasant Valley at mile 1.3, ascends straight up the natural gas pipeline road to the western ridge of the Salt Lake salient, down to a set of large microwave radio towers on the ridge, and then returns via the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to Guardhouse Gate. The total physical distance is about five miles, but in spirit is longer. The trip begins with a half-mile hike up a forty degree slope through Gambel’s oak and Cheat grass, but one is rewarded by increasingly improving views of the urban city below. At the ridgeline, there are several acres of Kentucky bluegrass and in prior years it was not unusual to find a morning or evening moose grazing in the field. This year, there is no moose, but as in prior years, I again flush a pair of Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) from the undergrowth. Commanding views of Wasatch Mountain Front Range, Salt Lake City, the Oquirrh Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake coupled with cooling, strong ridgeline breezes release the mind. Descending along a fire road to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, I next follow the Trail horizontally through two dense valleys of Gambel’s oaks that are hidden behind Ensign Peak. These are the breeding grounds of the local population of Black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia), and consistent with their curious personality, one or two break from their continuous challenging cawing to give me a brief inspection. By now the combination of increasing heat and exercise begins to take effect as I descend the last leg of the trail as it crosses a pass and descends back down into City Creek Canyon. The trail passes under ledges of brown sandstone created from the erosion of a vast, but now disappeared mountain range in Nevada (January 7th). In past springs, cliffs have hosted Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) nests. Before noon, I am tired but happy to reach the water fountain at Guardhouse Gate. An afternoon down canyon breeze provides more cooling.

* * * *

Because of its unique geography and proximity the Great Salt Lake, the first 1.2 miles of City Creek Canyon Road is subject to unusual anti-winds (Steenburgh 2016). The direction of winds through mountain canyons are normally thermally driven by the relative temperature of the surrounding mountains and the valleys below. As with high and low pressure weather systems, wind moves away from the center of a region of hot, high pressure air. In the afternoon when flat valley floors are hotter than the surrounding cool mountain ridges, up-canyon anabatic wind blows. Down-slope katabatic wind blows at night and during the mornings away from the mountains when the mountain air is relatively hotter than valley floor air (Whiteman 2000). Any long-distance weekend bicyclist in northern Utah are aware of these winds. When pleasure riding up-canyon in the mornings, the katabatic winds produce fierce headwinds, and then in the late afternoon, when returning home down the canyon, a rider is met by strong anabatic headwinds. The afternoon winds can be near hurricane force. I remember a few unique experiences in the 1980s and 1990s of be unable to pedal downhill against anabatic winds even though I stood up on the pedals and pressed downward as hard as possible.

Meteorologist Steenburgh of the University of Utah notes that the geography of City Creek Canyon generates antiwinds that blow down-canyon during the heat of the day (Steenburgh 2016). The western ridge of the Salt Lake salient is higher than the eastern Avenues ridgeline. Afternoon cool breezes flow off of the Great Salt Lake from the west to the east across the lower canyon. This induces wind in the canyon to overwhelm the usual afternoon up-canyon anabatic wind, and antiwind, or wind that is flowing downcanyon against the normal direction of anabatic wind, results.

The Great Salt Lake breezes that cross over the western and eastern Salt Lake salients may explain why so may soaring birds are seen transiting the canyon. The west-to-east cross breeze allows them to tack up wind and up canyon like sailboats. They can either again climb the south-eastern salient as the breeze turns upward off the ridge, or they can shoot down canyon along its middle and riding the anti-wind.

* * * *

On July 18th, 1934, 74 citizens, as part of military training at Fort Douglas, hiked up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 18th, Waterworks Superintendent F.L. Hines boasted at a national convention that Salt Lake had some of the purest water in the nation (Salt Lake Telegram).Salt Lake had some of the purest water in the nation (Salt Lake Telegram).

July 14, 2017

July 14th

An Upside Down Side Canyon

2:00 p.m. Today, I drive 4.3 miles up-canyon to Freeze Creek, an north trending side canyon that begins at Lower Rotary Park. The side canyon leads uphill to Mueller Park below Unnamed peak at 8283 feet. The trail was probably constructed in the 1920s by the Rotary Club, and the canyon supports piping and a cement encased natural spring that delivers water to the picnic area below. What I like about the Freeze Creek hike is that the canyon is, botanically, upside down. Because the canyon rises towards the north, it spends most of its time in perpetual shade, and thus, the canyon is colder at the bottom than at the top. The hike begins at its lowest elevation along a stream and through a grove of Lodgepole pine, a tree that normally grows at colder and higher elevations, and then ascends through tall maple trees and Quaking aspen trees. Off in the distance of this lower part of the Freeze Creek, I can hear the taping of a Downy woodpecker(Picoides pubescens). Then as the trail exits higher into warming sunlight, open grassland appears that ends at an impenetrable forest of Gambel’s oaks. To the east of the oak forest, a Birchleaf mountain mahogany grove can be penetrated, and after a few minutes of effort, access to a trail that leads to Mueller Park Grove is gained.

* * * *

On July 14th, 1906, the Salt Lake Herald published two panoramic photographs of Salt Lake City by George Mortimer Gutch. One contrasted downtown Salt Lake City at 200 South Main and the second was taken near the top of Smuggler’s Gulch on Black Mountain, City Creek Canyon. On July 14th, 1886, City Engineer George Ottinger and work crews were cleaning out the City Creek stream bed of debris in order to increase water quality (Salt Lake Herald).

July 13, 2017

July 12th

Latter Saint Day Conservation

7:30 p.m. Today, I go for a short jog up to the seep below picnic site 6 and then back down the Pipeline Trail. The successive days of summer heat is transforming the canyon. The tips of some Gambel’s oaks begin to curl and turn brown, and Starry solomon’s seal on the dry side of the road below picnic site 3 have curled up and turned brown. The road divides plants that are dry verses water tolerant. On the wet stream side of the road, Scouring rush horsetails line the stream. On the bank of the dry side of the road, Spikerushes have grown up to four feet in height. Herbaceous plants along the first one-third of road mile have turned from green to yellow-green. The Foxglove beardtongues are the only flowering plants that seem to grow more vigorously in this dryness and heat. Hidden near the stream, yellow-flowered Goldenrod plants (Solidago spp. L. or Solidago canadensis) grow three feet tall. Near mile 0.6, a new grove of yellow Toad flax (also called Butter-and-eggs) blooms out of its spring season in a microclimate of a shaded-cleft of the stream’s bottom. Yellow, the color of warm sun, is the color of this season.

It is the time of grasses. Along the road are the tall and slender Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), fuller-headed Blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus), and open-headed Wild bunchgrass. The smaller roadside Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.) weeds begin to turn brown. At the seep below picnic site 6, there are Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus (Rchb.) Palla spp.), a sedge like marsh grass with large round heads, and the delicate bunchgrass Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides). All have turned brown, and multiple shades of brown are the other color of this season.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the six foot tall Cattails have gone to seed and they start to turn brown from the top of the green cigar-shaped female pistillate down towards the pistillate’s base. The male spikes above the pistillates are flush with pollen. Blue Chicory and blue Common California aster (Aster chilensis a.k.a. Symphyotrichum chilensis) are also found in the seep.

Turning back towards the City and down the Pipeline Trail, young Lazuli buntings call in the fading light from the oaks and while perched on the powerline above the trail. Underneath the dwarf Gambel’s oaks, the subshrub Creeping Oregon grape (Mahona repens) grows with its pale blue fruit. Somehow, I missed its yellow flowers during the spring. Just down trail from Oregon grapes on dry exposed soil, a 50 by 20 foot patch of cylindrical green immature Broom snakeweed bushes (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is responding to bright, hot days. They will expose their yellow flowers in a few weeks.

Overhead, high linear clouds turn bright pink as the sun sets and the sky darkens.

* * * *

Mormons have super-majority voting control in the Mormon corridor – roughly an area three hundred miles on either side of a line running from Coreur d’Alene, Idaho on the north, through Salt Lake City, and then to Scottsdale, Arizona on the south. In the Utah portion of the corridor about sixty-six percent of voters identify with the L.D.S. Church. Mormons pride themselves on a tradition of conservation and foreword-thinking urban planning. As evidence of that cultural tradition, they site the early cooperative efforts of the Euro-American colonists of 1847 in cooperatively building irrigation ditches when the valley was settled (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Salt Lake City’s long-standing water manager, LeRoy Hooten, Jr., credited church leader Brigham Young with preserving the City Creek Canyon watershed with early, far-seeing water pollution laws (Hooten 1986). The early settlers laid out Salt Lake City in a grid pattern based on a vision of the City of Zion by their first prophet, Joseph Smith. This Mormon tradition of stewardship has a basis in their religious teachings (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Their teachings extoll that “the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings” and that eventually, a divine creator will require “every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship” (Doctrine and Covenants, sections 104:12-13; Galli 2006). Brigham Young University history professor Thomas Alexander describes how Brigham Young and early church leaders taught mixture of religious conservation with entrepreneurship. Church members were expected to pursue a business life and to development natural resources while preserving and enhancing a divinely provided trust of the natural life (Alexander 2006).

This cultural tradition reappears periodically in Utah political dialog. Local attorney and former head of the Bureau of Land Management under President Clinton, Patrick Shea, often alludes to it. In supporting President Clinton’s declaration of the Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument, Shea claimed that Brigham Young declared “City Creek Canyon off-limits to logging, mining or any activities that could pollute the creek or harm the environmental refuge next to the growing city” (Salt Lake Tribune Oct. 6, 1996). Shea has also been active in preserving City Creek Canyon and in supporting the construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that crosses the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 1997). In 2015, he opposed the Mountain Accord, a private proposal to limit development in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range canyons on the grounds that it did not provide enough protection, citing Brigham Young’s historical precedent of sustainable use in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune March 21, 2015). The Mormon tradition is cited by Utah free-market proponents as a justification to transfer all federal lands to state control. Because of their dominate Mormon religion, Utahans will be good stewards of any newly received lands, it is claims.

Although Mormons talk environmental values, their conduct is little different from aggressive commercial exploitation of the natural environment (Flores 1985). Brigham Young engaged in heavy of logging that denuded much of the first growth forest in the City Creek Canyon (see entries March 21st through March 25th). His lumber operations in City Creek was an important component of Young’s personal and early church wealth (March 25th, April 4th). Water pollution controls and modern water infrastructure in City Creek Canyon were enacted after the non-Mormon Liberal Party and “Gentile” Mayor Richard Baskin first took control of Salt Lake City government in the 1890s, after Young’s death (Feb. 6th). Even after non-Mormons took control of city government, they allowed extensive mining in City Creek canyon through 1920 (March 26th). Hull noted the contradiction between the rise of Utah forest conservation in the early 1900s that stopped the over-harvesting of timber and the concurrent unabated overgrazing of rangelands (Hull 1976). But Hall’s research answers his own question. He noted that Bancroft (1890) reported that by grazing for free on public lands, early Mormon ranchers realized gross margins of 40 percent on sheep and of 84 percent on cattle. Because of simple greed by 1900, early Utah ranchers denuded the rangeland by overgrazing, and then through the 1930s, they continued practices that allowed invasive cheat grass to cover the state (July 7th).

Another disturbing aspect of fringe Mormon environmental beliefs, not discussed by Alexander or other Mormon scholars, relates to Armageddon or “end-days” theology. My own personal experience with a few Mormons, admittedly a non-representative sample from lower income classes, is that they believe that environmental protection is not necessary because the degradation of the Earth is a symptom of biblical end times. They candidly state that there is no need to preserve resources because after the end-time, a divine creator will provide the religious post-Armageddon few with a brand new earth, free of pollution and restocked with natural resources. One historian has also noted this cultural phenomena (Flores, 173-174).

Alexander’s response to critics of Mormon stewardship of Utah lands is that church leaders can only extol their members to conform to its religious teachings (Alexander 2006). Their secular actions are no different than the followers of the modern environmental movement, such as Deep Ecology, where the actual commercial practices of individuals may deviate from doctrinal ideals (id). A modern example might be subscribing to the Sierra Club magazine while opting to purchase a Humvee instead of a Prius. In this respect, I agree with Alexander: the environmental behavior of historical and modern Utah Mormons is not exceptional or different from their secular consumer counterparts. But those LDS conservation traditions and religious teachings provide a useful reminder that can be employed to counter the environmental excesses of the Mormon controlled Utah state government and local private industry.

* * * *

On July 12th, 1916, the YMCA led an outing of boys up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 12th, 1906, City Creek Canyon was closed to fishing because the stream had been fished out, and the Fisherman’s Protective Association was working to re-stock the stream (Deseret Evening News). On July 12th, 1905, City Mayor Hewlett signed a resolution approving construction of a bridge across City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). This is probably the bridge were the stream crosses present day Bonneville Drive. On July 12th, 1890, plans for a 120 foot high wooden bridge across City Creek Canyon at Ninth Avenue were obtained by E. L. Craw (Salt Lake Times). On July 12th, 1899, John W. Snell reported assaying high quality lead, silver and gold ore eight miles up City Creek Canyon, and the Red Bird Mine is still producing (Ogden Standard).

July 12, 2017

July 10th

Field on a Slope

7:30 p.m. To see other areas where the Cheat grass sea has not yet penetrated, I am jogging up canyon to milepost 2.0. I am also seeking one of the few canyon locations that has a field of cacti. Along the way at the Gambel’s oak forest near mile 0.4, a female American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) drops out from behind the leaves, perches on a large oak branch. It cocks its head, listening to the branch, and then starts tapping it, looking it for insects.

Barney’s Hollow below picnic site 13 begins with fields that climb up to mile 2.3. The fields at milepost 2.0 like the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve are covered with still green native Wild bunchgrass. There are four types of grass in this field, and I am only able to identify the one. The field is interspersed with white-topped weed Hoary cress and Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). At one end of the field, I find the first purple Fireweed (Charmerion angustifolium L.) of the season in the lower canyon. In the high Wasatch, fireweed is usually red.

Above mile 2.3, there is a hanging field of about 15 acres and an inclined nose of about 20 acres on the west side of the canyon. In the spring, the hanging field is covered in thick Kentucky bluegrass and the inclined field above it is covered in native Wild bunchgrass. It is a special place in the canyon below mile 3.4. In the deep winter, Elk using these fields as a transit point to cross the canyon road from Little Black Mountain to the western salient ridgelines. During winter, Wild turkeys also congregate in the oaks below these fields, sometimes in flocks of up to thirty birds, and there winter coyotes attack. They pause in these fields, and there hunters wait during the October and November seasons. Mule deer use this same crossing in the spring. Reaching the hanging field is moderately difficult. The hanging field is hidden behind a step two hundred foot embankment cut by the stream over the last few thousand years. The slope is covered with Cheat grass.

Moving up to mile 2.3, I decide to try a new route up from one of many side gullies along the Pipeline Trail. In a gully heavily shaded by large overhanging oaks, the grass is thick. About every fifteen feet are funnel webs of another non-native – Hobo spiders (Eratigena agrestis). At the bottom of each funnel, there is tunnel, but I have to inspect about 20 nests before I actually see one of the spiders at the mouth of its burrow. It is unclear from the webs what the Hobo spiders are eating, and I suspect their numbers are supported by large House crickets population seen on July 6th. But there are no crickets in the grasses in this small gully.

Eventually, I come to a small seep-pond about four feet in diameter and two feet deep. Western Yellowjacket wasps rest on the surface drinking, and in the wet mud at the side of the pond is the clear massive foot print of a Shira’s moose (Alces alcs shirasi). In the late spring to early summer, single moose are sometimes seen on making their way through the oak forest near the ridgelines or in open fields on the top of Salt Lake salient’s west and east ridges. Shortly after the pond, I am stopped from going forward by thickets of Gambel’s oaks, and am forced to retreat back to the trail and try again by my usual route.

Returning to the trail and going down-canyon for a two-tenths of mile, I work my way up to the hanging valley by the usual route. The field is still thick with green native grasses, but the its soil reveals its source as the ancient mud bed of ancient Lake Bonneville. This slope faces to the south and west, and despite being covered in still growing green grasses, the mud is baked to a cracked solid. Everywhere the tracks of spring mule deer have been hardened into a grey mudstone. The large leaves of spring’s Arrowleaf balsamroot are baked to a golden and dark brown. Like the gully, these fields are also covered in numerous Hobo spider funnel webs. Although covered in native grasses, these fields just beginning to be invaded. I count fourteen Starthistle plants spread widely across both areas. Above the hanging and inclined fields of native grass is a field of Plains prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). It is too late in the season for them; their bright red blossoms have past; and the green is draining from their spiked leaves.

As the Sun gets low in the sky, the light turns golden as the grasses wave in a newly risen breeze. A flock of five American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) float over the ridge to the west, slowly circle and descend into woods at Barney’s Hollow on the opposite, south side of the stream. They are settling down for the night. Crows are distinguished from Common ravens (Corvus corax) by their smaller size and square tails. Ravens have diamond-shaped tails and soar on thermals to cross the canyon, but crows flap their wings to power their crossing. Before landing, one crow comes over to inspect me, and finding nothing interesting catches up with its mates.

Coming back downhill, there are several odd three foot diameter distorted purple rocks. They are covered in green and black lichens. The rocks and lichens make their own abstract sculptures.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 10th, 1851, he admires a sunset after a rainstorm. On July 10th, 1852, he notes again the peak of summer heat, and notes that soil has become dry. He sees white lelilot, a clover, in bloom, and he hears huckleberry bird, oven bird and red-eye. St. John’s worts are peaking. On July 10th 1854, he lists song birds active in summer including robin, warbling vireo, song sparrow, flicker, crows, and many others. On July 10, 1856, he finds an owl’s burrow and comes within six feet of a screech owl with its two young. On July 10th, 1860, he sees yellow Pennsylvania sedge grass.

* * * *

On July 10th, 2010, a 59 year old man, who enjoyed bicycling in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Deseret News). On July 10th, 2003, during the celebration of the Boy Scouts 90th anniversary in Utah, the Scouts reported that Irwin Clawson, at the age of 18, started one of the first Boy Scout Troops in Utah in 1911, and his first activity back in 1911 was to take his troop on overnight camping trips up City Creek Canyon (Deseret News).

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.