City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 11, 2017

July 6th

Dry Fork Canyon

3:45 p.m. It is the third day of 100 degree Fahrenheit heat as I return to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the University of Utah Hospital. I plan to jog up Dry Fork Canyon at the southeast end of the Salt Lake salient and then west along the Shoreline Trail above the Avenues. The Trails goes up Dry Fork for about one mile, crosses a pass, and then traverses a series of gullies that come down from the ridgeline to the Avenues and city below. The Trail begins in a invasive Cheat grass sea that is typical of the city’s foothills. Here, small light brown House crickets (Acheta domestica), another non-native, infest the Cheat grass. There are twenty or thirty per square yard. I round a corner into Dry Fork Canyon, and quickly its narrow walls close in and shade the canyon. The Fork’s walls are covered in dense Gambel’s oak forest, and this forest broken higher up by fields of the brown sun-dried husks of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In an example of color adaptation, at the base of the oaks, larger, unidentified grasshoppers live, but unlike the sun-exposed crickets, these are colored green in order to better blend in with their surroundings.

At a seep one-third of a mile up canyon, there is a mini-oasis. In ten feet with Wood’s rose bushes on either side, Common sulphur butterflies, Western tiger swallowtail butterflies, small bluet dragonflies, Common whitetail dragonflies, Western Yellowjacket wasps, and Circumpolar bluets, all compete for space and landing rights around a small ditch of shallow water.

Further up canyon, the oak forest comes alive with sounds of birds: Black-headed grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings and Song sparrows call from the oaks spaced perhaps 100 feet apart on both canyon walls. Their songs are clear and strong, and I estimate there are about 250 birds between the canyon mouth and the upper pass. Unexpectedly, this density exceeds that of the stream areas in City Creek Canyon. The birds here, unlike in the City Creek Canyon, are fearless. I am able to stand only five feet from a Lazuli bunting as it tilts its head back to make a song. I am able to make a good recording and spectral graph. I flush two California quails (Callipepla californica) from the brush.

House crickets may explain the high density of birds in Dry Fork Canyon, where as the name implies, there is no water. Assuming a cricket weighs about one-quarter gram (0.000551 lbs), then there are about 85 tons of cricket mass on the city facing foothills between Dry Fork Canyon and the peak at the top of North Terrace Hills Drive in Valley View Canyon (see June 10th) (3,097,600 square yards per square mile x 4 miles x 1.25 miles x 20 cricket per square yard x 0.000551 lbs. per cricket divided by 2,000 lbs. per ton). The crickets exist at a similar density for another ten square miles between Memory Grove in lower City Creek Canyon and milepost 3.5 above Bonneville Drive. This suggests that there may be about 300 tons of these non-native crickets, and this is more than enough to support the summer bird populations seen in Dry Fork and City Creek Canyon.

As the canyon dries out, purple Bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) covered with small black ants, a blue-white thin-petaled Eaton’s aster (Aster eatonii a.k.a. Symphyotrichum eatonii), and invasive blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) grow. The roots of Chicory are roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. The white-topped weed Hoary cress (Cardaria draba) is also found.

As I near the upper Trail pass out of Dry Fork, I count two Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and just before the pass, I am treated to a rare display by a pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri). The male has trapped a female hummingbird at the base of Gambel’s oak sapling. For several minutes the male does its pendulum mating dance. It rapidly flies back and forth in a figure-eight pattern about six feet across, its wings buzzing loudly. Then the male gives up, and he does two high speed runs over the female while making a zinging noise. At the pass out of Dry Fork, I am greeted by expansive views of the city and of the Great Salt Lake, fifteen miles in the distance. The Sun is pounding, but my spirit soars from both the views and the hummingbird’s display.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 6th, 1851, he walks by moonlight and again sees it reflected in water. He notes crickets sing with a different frequency at night. On July 6th, 1852, he hears a pewee and a red-eye. He sees tufted vetch, a fern, a tansey, and a parsnip. He watches a pickerel in a stream. He hears a duck on a pond. On July 6th, 1856, he stumbles on a peet-weet with its nest and young. On July 6th, 1858, he hears and sees loons. On July 6th, 1859, he describes heart-leaf.

* * * *

On July 6th, 1905, the City passed Councilperson’s Woods proposed ordinance banned automobiles from City Creek Canyon. On the same day, the Salt Lake Tribune urged that the road should be sprinkled with oil to keep dust down. Also on July 6th, 1905, the City Council held a heated debate on whether a bridge should be constructed over City Creek Road in support of the Commercial Club’s proposed scenic boulevard (Salt Lake Tribune).

July 4th

Hybrid Gambel’s Oak – Part II

4:00 p.m. Determined to find a sample of the oak cross in the wild, I go behind the University Hospital, where in 1958 Professor’s Cottam’s graduate student, Rudy Drobnick, located a grove of F1 hybrid oak crosses (Drobnick 1958). It is located on a steep slope above the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Climbing the slope in the 100 degree heat and under the afternoon sun, after two attempts and twenty minutes of climbing, I finally find a copse of the cross. It was worth the climb. This F1 cross developed at the end of the last ice age about 7,500 years ago when in a wetter and warmer climate, both true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak existed at its northern limits around the Salt Lake Valley. (Ehleringer and Phillips suggest that the F1 cross may have occurred as little 750 years ago (Frates 2008).) As the post-glacial valley dried out, the true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak were forced further south. Now only four patches of the F1 hybrid remain.

I also want to verify if this F1 hybrid grove is the same dimensions as found by Drobnick in 1958. This requires climbing up a steeper slope and around of wall of oaks to the grove’s backside. This whole mis-adventure has been one comedic event after another. Today, I am under-geared. I am also jogging, so I am wearing sneakers and not my usual bushwhacking hiking gear. For bushwhacking in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, I usually have walking poles and my favorite now well-worn thirty-year old pair of calf high leather boots with industrial grade soles. You can walk up-hill and over any grade and any condition with those boots. The slope is forty-five degrees and covered in a combination of dry cheatgrass and Winter rye grass (Secale cereale L.). The stems of both invasives are biased pointing downhill. About fifty feet up, I lose my footing and begin a quick fifteen mile-per-hour slide downhill. But I am smiling. This is the summer version of a fall and back-side slide on dense spring snow while back-country skiing in the mountains. My feet go out in front and I am able to self-arrest as I reach the edge of the oak grove. Another try, and I am around to the back of the grove.

In 1958, Drobnick recorded is size at 25 x 15 x 8 feet, and this is similar to what I find today. At the back of the hybrid copse, is a small sapling, three feet high. The hybrid copse is continuing to reproduce.

Later in the evening after a nap to recover from the heat, I return to City Creek Canyon and the stream. Cool canyon and stream breezes make of a pleasing walk to milepost 1.0. Since it is a holiday weekend, the canyon is nearly empty except for a few hand-in-hand strolling couples and families. Tracks reveal a mule deer has come down a steep slope and rested on a clump of crushed horsetails. I count four Broad-tailed hummingbirds in the first mile. Why have they come now, since all of the nectar producing flowers have gone? They also eat insects, and evening air is now thick with Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum). For sugar, they drink the sap that the summer heat will shortly begin to boil from the Big tooth maple trees.

I have touched the canyon’s living past; I have touched the canyon’s living future; and this evening, I stroll in its present.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 4th, 1852, he describes a summer sunrise. He hears a blackbird and sees a kingfisher. As the Sun reaches him, flies and mosquitoes rise. A humming bird passes by. He notes water lilies are damaged by insects. On July 4th, 1858 at night, he hears a loon, a screech-owl, and cuckoo.

* * * *

In 1954, University of Utah graduate botany student Rudy Drobnick noticed the existence of hybrid oaks along the Wasatch Front due to differences in the late fall foliage between the hybrid oaks and other Gambel’s oaks along the mountain range (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 1). University of Utah botany professor Cottam dispatched Drobnick to locate all the patches of these hybrids in Utah (Drubnick 1958). There had been a long-standing debate in amongst botanists about what exactly Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) was. At the turn of the century, P. A. Rydberg had classified eleven types of Gambel’s oaks, including Quercus utahensis, Quercus submollis, Quercus gunnisonii, Quercus vereelandii, Quercus novo-mexicana, etc., but by 1942, it was generally recognized that Quercus gambelii Nutt. had an amazing variety of leaf shapes (Christensen 1949, Christensen was another of Cottam’s graduate students). Thus, all of Rydberg’s previous species were collapsed back into one species – Quercus gambelii Nutt. (id., Tucker 1961), and Rydberg’s former names were abandoned.

Cottam and Drobnick and University of California at Davis botany professor John Tucker sought some explanation of the bewildering array of leaf shapes of the Gambel’s oak throughout the west. Their provisional hypothesis was that in the post-glacial era about 7,500 years ago, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak co-existed in northern Utah (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Drobnick 1959, Tucker 1961, Tucker 1963, Tucker, Cottam and Drobnick 1961, Tucker 1963). As Utah’s climate became drier and in order to better adapt new conditions, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak hybridized into the F1 form, the hybrid copse that I viewed today. But the F1 hybridized form, with its spiked ends and shallow lobes did not explain multitude of forms of Gambel’s oak leaves seen today. Another of Cottam’s University of Utah botany graduate students, Robert R. Ream, could find no north-south pattern in the variation of Gambel’s oak leaves (Ream 1960).

Doctor Cottam retired from the University of Utah, but in his retirement he continued to work as an emeritus professor on a cross-breeding hybridization experiment of western “white” oaks in part to demonstrate that the current Gambel’s oak forest in northern Utah was a hybrid of other species (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). Using his grandchildren to nurture hundreds of seedlings, he undertook a massive block experiment to examine first (F1) and second (F2) generation of cross-breeds of western white oaks including Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.), Arizona shrub oak (Quercus turbinnell Greene), Quercus douglasii, Quercus lobata, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus robur, Quercus virginia, and six other lesser oak species. Two-hundred and forty-one cross-breeding experiments (id. at 61) and ten years later, Cottam, Drobnick and Tucker had their answer: only one F2 generation cross between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene was stable (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). This result supported, by brute force experimentation, the post-glacial hypothesis that the three investigators formulated in 1958.

Cottam’s F1 hybrid generation shows some remarkable adaptations that place it squarely between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene. Quercus gambelii has deep penetrating roots adapted to northern Utah’s snowmelt high-water season that is followed by drying summers. Quercus turbinnell is shallow rooted and adapted to the summer monsoons of northern Arizona. Quercus gambelii x Quercus turbinnell have roots of intermediate depth (Ehleringer and Phillips 1996). Electron microscopy of the leaves of the hybrid and of its parent plants confirm how the F1 hybrid has taken on the waxy upper surface and hairless underside of Quercus gambelii (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 62, 70 and 71), but the gross shape of the F1 hybrid follows Quercus turbinnell (id. at 72). Similarly, measurements of the F1 hybrid’s lobe ratio (the ratio of a lobe’s vein length to its lobe length), puts the hybrid statistically between Nuttal and turnbinnell (Tucker, Cottam, and Drobnick 1961).

* * * *

On July 4th, 2007, the City announces that City Creek Canyon will be closed for four days during July in order to host various road races (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 2006, legendary local endurance runner Heikki Ingstrom, who trained daily in City Creek Canyon, was reported to have passed away (Deseret News) On July 4th, 1999, City managers describe plans to update the City’s Watershed Management Plan, including for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1993, the City proposes a 100 mile bikeway system that will connect regional parks, including a bikelane from the University of Utah to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1908, Fisher Harris of the Commercial Club and Lon J. Haddock of the Manufacturers and Merchants’ Association urged that the Ensign Peak area should be turned in a large park (Salt Lake Herald). The Commercial Club provided $10,000 towards the expense of improving City Creek Road and along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas (id). On July 4th, 1883, City Surveyor Jesse Fox and City Waterworks Superintendent G. M. Ottinger surveyed City Creek Canyon in order to determine possible locations of the construction of new higher water reservoir tanks (Salt Lake Herald).

July 7, 2017

June 29th

Hidden Nests

3:00 p.m. On December 10th and after last season’s leaves had fallen, I made an inventory of nests visible along the first two miles of road. There were thirty-six bird nests. This season although there are many birds raising broods along the road, I cannot find a single nest, and this includes rechecking the locations of last year’s nests. The nests are hidden behind a screen of leaves. Known snag nests in tree holes are empty. They were probably made by Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) or the rarer Lewis woodpeckers. Over the years, I have come to suspect that the Downy woodpeckers have moved to the cooler up canyon and have abandoned any nestbuilding in the hotter lower canyon. Hummingbirds have not rebuilt any of the last years’ four nests in the brush around picnic site 1. It may also be too early in the year of some of the canyon’s hummingbirds to nest. Four species of hummingbirds visit the canyon, and in order of frequency, they are: the Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) whose males have a black-head; the Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus), whose males have a bright pink-red patch with a green breast; the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) whose males have a red chin; and the rarer Calliope hummingbird (Stellula calliope), whose males do not have a green breast.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 29th, 1852, he describes white and yellow lilies, notes that blueberries are ripe, and sees thistle and columbine. On June 29th, 1859, he describes a warbler.

* * * *

On June 29th, 1938, Richard R. Jones was fined $3 for setting a campfire in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 29th, 1915, work began constructing the 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On June 29th, 1907, an automobilist was cited for ignoring a large sign at the mouth of City Creek stating “No automobiles allowed in the canyon” (Intermountain Republican). On June 29th, 1899, City Creek patrolman Brown warned July 4th holiday campers that the making of campfires, shooting wildlife or fishing was prohibited in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 29th, 1872, St. Marks school announced their annual school children picnic in City Creek would be held (Salt Lake Herald).

June 1, 2017

May 29th

Memorial Day

3:00 p.m. Today, I drive up to mile 4.2, picnic site 20, and jog in the upper canyon to mile 5.1, and the Weeping Rock Cave. While the lower canyon and city are in the summer-like eighties, the upper canyon remains in the low sixties. In the lower canyon, all Gambel’s oaks have leafed out, but at milepost 2.0, most are not leafing. There is distinct band of bare oaks or oaks that have leafed out by twenty to thirty percent, but the canyon’s appearance is still a heavily wooded green, because all of the other deciduous maples, ash, and cottonwood have leafed out. These create an illusion of green around the stream, but the maples, together with Douglas fir and Norway spruce, block the view of the oaks further away from the road. The higher one goes in the canyon, the less leaves that oaks have until a glimpse of slope at milepost 4.5 and Lower Rotary Park shows all the oaks to be leafless. The upper canyon transitions from oak woodland to a mountain fir habit, and by mile 5.0, over half the trees are firs or spruces.

Although the stream is at first wider than the lower canyon, near mile 5.0, the canyon narrows as vertical limestone fins, turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The canyon closes in further and the stream turns into a white, turbulent mass as it crosses younger volcanic rocks. This western canyon feels more like an eastern forest because it is directionless. Green meets the eye in all directions, and only the flowing of the stream gives a sense of location or direction. American wild mint (Mentha canadensis) grows by the roadside, and I gather a few leaves to make tea with at home.

The butterflies have taken refugee here, having followed the thermocline up canyon. Fifteen Desert elfin and Spring azure fly intertwined a dance. Mourning cloaks abound. Blue-eyed barner dragonflies are seen. Unlike the hotter lower canyon, the shaded upper canyon with its step sides is flooded with insect life. Numerous small biting flies and other insects force me to move on after stopping for a few minutes. Picnickers light fires to keep the insects at bay. There is enough life here to keep small birds well fed.

Bird communities along the road are dispersed, homogeneous and larger than in the lower canyon. Warbling vireos dominate near mile 5.1. Song sparrows are at mile 4.8. The large group of vireos allows me to spend sometime listening to their calls with some assurance of matching unusual calls to a species. A bird will make familiar textbook Warbling vireo call, followed by another unrecognized call. I hear three distinct vireo calls that I cannot match with catalogue recordings for this bird. A single female Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) hovers a few inches off the ground inspecting a dandelion. A few flashes of blue streaking into the forest reveals Stellar’s jays. A Rock squirrel peaks from around a bush. Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0, but I see no chicks.

At Weeping Cave, the stream is split in two. The western stream carries about 12 cubic feet per second of water down-canyon in a torrent. The eastern branch consists of about 2 cubic feet per second of subterranean flow that emanates from a vertical Mississippian limestone fin. The fin itself is distorted into melted lines of red and browns, not from water, but from extreme heat when this outcrop was buried far underground. On one volcanic boulder in the stream’s middle, a Red maple and a Norway spruce shrub are growing from crevasse in the bare rock. Backlit by the southwest sun, the maple casts a reflection of a pure light green on the flat water’s surface.

Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0. I see no chicks. The heat, the sunlight, and that it is a holiday, make everyone in the city lethargic. No one is focused, including myself, and a day of relaxation is the rule.

* * * *

All parts of City Creek Canyon function as a place of remembrance and grieving. We connect death with a return to nature, and it is not uncommon to read about, hear of, or pass small informal wakes in the canyon. Memorials are also left by people grieving the loss of loved ones along City Creek Canyon road. Physical memorials typically consist of cards or a handwritten note with flowers left at the base of a tree. A specific part of the canyon, Memory Grove, has been set aside for grieving and formal remembrance of war dead.

The origins of Memory Grove begin in 1912 as a general use park, similar to Liberty Park. On April 14th, 1912, a petition from citizens proposed the creation of a park system for the city, including establishing a park at the canyon’s mouth, now Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). Memory Grove was created in the context of the construction of the State Capitol Building and the aftermath of World War I during the 1920s. In 1920, the Gold Star Mothers of the Service Star Legion asked the city to donate land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon to create a memorial park for their sons who died in WWI (Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman, May 30, 1993). On April 25th, 1920, the Salt Lake Herald published an artist’s rendering of a proposed iron bridge that would cross City Creek at 7th Avenue. A similar proposal was suggested by G. A. Iverson of Northeast Bench Improvement Association on May 24th, 1920 (Salt Lake Telegram). The bridge was to be part of a proposed memorial WWI war dead at what is now Memory Grove. By the end of 1920, the Gold Star Mothers had purchased 300 trees and planted them near the mouth of the canyon (Salt Lake City Tribune and Goodman, July 31st, 1994). On November 5th, 1920, a subcommittee of the City Planning Committee, including Mayor Clarence Neslen, outlined plans to create a new park at the canyon’s mouth (later Memory Grove) and to turn City Creek Canyon into a large park (Salt Lake Telegram). By 1926, Mrs. E. O. Howard, a Gold Star Mother, raised 60,000 USD from private donations, a state appropriation and contributions from the city and county for the park and Memorial House construction (Salt Lake Tribune and C. Monson, Sept. 16, 1994; Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman July 31st, 1994), or about the equivalent of 830,000 USD in 2017. The Memorial House was to be constructed by renovating the abandoned Salt Lake City Waterworks maintenance shed. On December 17, 1926, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that a mature horse chestnut tree, that was being dug up at the corner of 100 South and 300 East, was being donated and relocated to Memory Grove Park in City Creek Canyon. On May 30th, 1927, Governor George Dern (grandfather to actor Bruce Dern and great-grandfather to actress Laura Dern) dedicated a monument to the Mormon Battalion at the southeast corner of the Utah State Capitol grounds that overlooks lower City Creek Canyon and Memory Grove (Monument plaque visited May 2017). The sculpture was rendered by Chicago artist Gilbert Riswold (id).

Memory Grove Park was constructed in increments from 1920 through 1927, and Memorial House served as the meeting place and wedding chapel for the Gold Star Mothers for several decades thereafter (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1993). In 1920 and 1924, trees were planted (Salt Lake Herald, April 16, 1920; Salt Lake Telegram, April 15, 1924). On June 14, 1926, the Memorial House was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 27th, 1926, a tablet containing the names of 732 Utahans killed in WWI was unveiled (Salt Lake Telegram, June 24th, 1926). In a March 1927 ceremony, Gold Star Mothers R. W. Fisher and Clesson Kinney noted the contributions of “Mayor Nelsen, Councilman Crabb, Mr. Slater of Liberty Park, Mr. Parkinson of the U.S. Forest Service” to the park’s creation (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31st, 1994). On October 8, 1927, the Austin Artillery Memorial was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). The Austin Artillery Memorial, an obelisk to the north of the pink meditation chapel, commemorates Capt. James Austin and three other Utah officers who were killed in the Argonne Forest during WWI (Salt Lake City Tribune and Dawn House, May 26, 2003). During this period, the Rotary Club constructed the related Rotary Club park at miles 4.5 and 5.5 of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram, August 17, 1927).

Riswold sculpted the art deco female reliefs on the columns at the entrance to the Grove. They set the grove’s tone. In a west relief, a Grecian clothed mother looks over her shoulder to a military cross in the background. Riswold also did the sphinxes on the entrance to the Masonic Temple near 700 East South Temple (Utah Capitol Preservation Board 2017). In 1932, a second round greek style structure was added to the south of meditation chapel. It holds an octagonal bronze plaque that lists about 732 Utahans killed in WWI (Plaque visited 2017).

On April 2nd, 1935, Gold Star Mother E. O. Howard of the Salt Lake Gold Star Mothers Committee presented the Committee’s opposition to a City Street Department Plan to build a bridge across City Creek Canyon above Memory Grove (Salt Lake Telegram). They supported a plan to build stone stairs on the east side of Memory Grove to the Avenues.

World War II saw the addition of other monuments. On July 28th, 1948, the war dead chapel was dedicated at Memory Grove in front of a crowd of 10,000 (Salt Lake Tribune and John Ure, November 9th, 1997). This is the pink granite chapel in the center of the park. The Memorial Chapel was donated by the family of Ross Beason Jr., a pilot killed off the coast of Italy in WWII, but whose body was not found (House 2003). The Beason family dedicated the Memorial Chapel to all soliders whose bodies were never found (id). A step leading to the Chapel reads “In memory of 42 brave sailors who followed me to their death. C.A. ‘Red’ Beam, USN (ret.).” Beam dedicated the step in memory of his platoon that was wiped out, except for himself, during a WWI raid on Tarawa Island (House 2003). This step could not be found in 2017. 1,405 Utahans died or were missing in action in WWII (United States Military Archives 2017).

In May 1983, the park was damaged during a 100 year flood of City Creek. On February 3, 1991, the City Parks Department considered proposals to renovate the then abandoned Memorial House in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On October 4th, 1994, the Utah Heritage Foundation reopened the renovated Memorial House, where its offices remains today (Salt Lake Tribune, October 16th, 1994). On November 9th, 1997, the Memory Grove Foundation announced its plans to raise $500,000 to renovate war memorials in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 9th, 1999, the successful completion of the Memory Grove Foundation’s program to repair monuments in City Creek Canyon was reported (Salt Lake Tribune). On August 11, 1999, trees in the park were substantially destroyed by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1999).

On September 24th, 1999, Rep. Ralph Becker announced a $250,000 grant from the Metropolitan Water Conservancy District to rehabilitate Memory Grove following its destruction by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune and Jim Woolf, Sept. 24th, 1999). On September 30th, 1999, City Director of Public Utilities LeRoy Hooten, Jr. announced the construction of a six-by-six foot concrete pond near Memory Grove in which dogs can wade (Salt Lake Tribune). Dogs entering City Creek’s stream have quadrupled the coliform count. On July 20st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith noted that a gate had been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune).

In 2003, a Korean War Dead monument was added to the park (Plaque visited 2017). (The Vietnam era memorial is on the west capitol lawn. The Iraq Afghanistan war memorial is in Cedar City, Utah.) 141 Utahans died in Korea (Salt Lake Tribune. Apr. 25, 2013). 370 Utahans died in Vietnam (Virtual Wall). Through 2010, an unofficial count for Iraq and Afghanistan was 39.

A stone monument listing 6 Utah Medal of Honor recipients was also added. Recipients include George E. Wahlen, after whom the Salt Lake Veteran’s Hospital is named. Medic Wahlen was shot several times during the Battle for Iwo Jima such that he was unable to walk. Nonetheless he crawled across a battlefield under enemy fire to give assistance to other wounded soldiers. Whalen survived. George T. Sakato, a member of the WWII Nisei battalion led a charge against repeated enemy attacks. Brian Miles Thacker, still living, defended Firebase 6 in Vietnam as it was being overrun by North Vietnam regulars. He stayed behind and provided cover fire that allowed all other base members and wounded to evacuate. He evaded the NVA as the base was overrun and made his way back to US held territory through hostile ground. Jose F. Valdez’s WWII platoon of six was attacked by German tank. Valdez drove the tank off using only a carbine. The German army counter attacked with two companies (160-500 men). Valdez volunteered to and stayed behind to hold off the attack, allowing his platoon mates to escape. He was shot more than once, but still managed to evade capture and return to US lines. Valdez later died from his wounds sustained in the counter attack.

Battle deaths, meaning military deaths on both sides of a conflict plus collateral civilian deaths, were: WWI, 17 million; WWII, 60 million; Korea, 1.2 million; and Vietnam, 2 million (Lacina and Gelditsch 2005), or a total of about 80 million persons.

On February 1st, 2011, the Salt Lake Rotary Club, who built Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon in 1921 and who renovated the Ottinger Hall in 2005, the former fireman’s association meeting house near Memory Grove, celebrated its 100th anniversary (Salt Lake Tribune and Mike Gorrell, Feb. 1st, 2011). Ottinger Hall is now a youth center.

In counterpoint to the Memory Grove memorial to war dead, Salt Lake City hosts another unique memorial indirectly related to the non-combatant victims of war: the International Peace Gardens in Jordan Park at 1000 South and 900 West. The Peace Garden was conceived in 1939 by Mrs. Otto Wiesley and the Salt Lake Council of Women as a beautification project for the 1947 Utah Centennial (Salt Lake Council of Women 2017). Construction was halted by WWII, resumed in 1947 after the end of WWII, and the peace garden was dedicated in 1952. The garden contains monuments donated by 28 different countries. The United States’ “Peace on Earth” statute in the gardens features heroic images of mothers that was created by Mormon sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks. The statute is dedicated to “the hope we can leave a more peaceful future to our children.” Inscriptions on the statute read “Our Hope to the Children”, “Peace on Earth”, and “The Dawn of a New Era”. After the 2002 Winter Olympics, 84 “Peace Poles” were installed at the entrance to the gardens: one for each country participating in the winter Olympics. (Other sources list 78 countries as participating in the 2002 olympics.) There are about 156 similar peace gardens and another 146 larger peace parks around the world (peace.maripo.com)

Political scientist J. R. Rummel of the University of Hawaii (d. 2014) specialized in systematically counting civilian non-battle deaths – those deaths in conflicts not between two states – and he total an astounding 262,000,000 losses from 1900 to 1999 (Rummel, 1994, 1997, 2002). Examples include the Khmer Rouge in the 1970 and Stalin in the 1930s. The world population increased by 5.5 billion persons between 1900 and 1999, that is the net of live births less deaths. Therefore, Rummel’s 262 million represent at at most 5 percent of all persons alive during that century. Using more sophisticated estimates, some experts place the figure at less than 1 percent of all persons who were alive during the twentieth century.

Many more days are devoted in the United States to remembering military battle dead as compared to civilian battle dead, other civilian victims of conflict violence or life in general. Memorial Day is one of the three official United States’ holidays that are related to war and the solemn remembrance of war dead: Memorial Day (May 30th), Independence Day (July 4th), and Veterans Day, (November 11th). Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day that remembered the war dead of World War I, and four other days are now observed primarily by the United States military: Pearl Harbor Day (December 7th) marks the beginning of World War II; the less well-known Armed Forces Day (May 21st); D-Day (June 6th) marks the landing of allied forces on the French coast; and V-J Day marks the end of World II (September 2nd). German Remembrance Day, the German day for remembering war dead, is observed annually around November 14th at Fort Douglas cemetery at the monument to 41 German WWII prisoners of war who died in Utah. From the view of First Peoples, Columbus Day (October 9th) marks the beginning of Euro-American genocide against native Americans and is also a day of remembrance. From the view of United States working people, Labor Day (September 4th), celebrates a compromise that ended violent conflict between labor and upper classes. Although not widely observed in the United States, International May Day celebrations began in Chicago in 1886 with celebration of labor’s declaration for the eight-hour work day, but was quickly followed by the violence of the Haymarket Massacre on May 4th. Today, it is observed worldwide as a day commemorating the struggle between labor and capital.

In contrast to the seven days commemorating war dead, two unofficial and one official United States holiday celebrates life and nature: Earth Day (April 22nd), Arbor Day (April 27th), and Christmas near the first day of winter. These are supplemented by two other unofficial days related to the movement of life through the seasons: the first day of spring and autumn. No official United States holiday commemorates civil battle dead or other civilian victims of conflict violence. In 1981, the United Nations established the International Day of Peace on September 21st of each year (United Nations, 1981). Small observations around the globe are coordinated by the International Peace Day organization.

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On May 29th, 2009, Utah Governor John Huntsman, county Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker held a press conference in City Creek Canyon to announce a new planning process administered by Envision Utah called “Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow” (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 29th, 1993, James R. Cook, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, proposes to transform Traverse Ridge at the south end of Salt Lake Valley into a nature reserve similar to City Creek Canyon at the north end of the valley. (By 2017, Traverse Ridge was transformed in a luxury subdivision). On May 29th, 1914, City officers visited the newly completed City-Creek Wasatch Boulevard in anticipation of its opening on May 30th (Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake Tribune). City Creek Canyon Road has been widened to Pleasant Valley (id).

May 9, 2017

May 6th

Wizards of the Canyon Soundscape

7:00 a.m. The entrance to the canyon along Bonneville Drive is closed today for one of the many social 5K runs that occur during the summer. This adds an extra mile jogging along the drive to reach Guardhouse Gate. As I start, the sun line is just beginning to descend the snow capped peaks of the western Qquirrh Mountains and the small sliver of the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake reflects slate blue. The clear western sky shows the last vestiges of dark slate band of the Earth’s shadow retreating from the sun. Along the first stretch of road there are many sage brush bushes that provide cover to chukars. I stop to pick and crush a bracket of this pungent bush to remind myself of what Utah smells like during the heat of summer. About one-half mile from the gate and around a bend, the canyon explodes with the sounds of stream and birds. Although hidden, a male Lazuli bunting peaks from behind some red maple leaves, singing loudly. His colors are muted, since he perches in early morning shadow of the canyon’s east ridge. The sound of the stream is overwhelming, and this indicates the vernal season’s heat is melting the high snowpack. At the gate, the parking lot is full, and includes the enormous truck of the wild turkey bow hunter (May 4th). I must have just missed the race organizer’s closing of the road.

Along the road, the grasses are now twelve to eighteen inches thick, and the first quarter-mile is nearing full leaf out. Near mile 0.3, I look up through the trees to the step slope above, and there a young female mule deer idly grazes on the new grass. I stop to watch and after some minutes, she takes notice of me, stares back, and knowing that it is not hunting season and she is in no immediate danger, she slow walks and disappears into the Gambel’s oak forest. A bird loudly chirps from a nearby tree, and I catch a fleeting glance of black, white and red-brown from below. It is probably a Rufus-sided towhee (Pipilo maculatus). I count about forty or bird separate birds calling the forest thickets in the first mile.

I am not a morning person, most of my daily observations are in the afternoon, and the morning spring canyon is a new place. The warm morning light crawls down the western ridge of the canyon, and makes the thick grasses of spring bathed in an inviting green light. Although it is a pleasant high fifties along the road, one can feel the advancing daytime heat in the seventies approaching. Between mile 0.5 and 1.0, large overhanging trees in partial leaf-out form a series of green tubes through which the rising south-eastern sun penetrates. The lighted end of these tubes with the darkened green leafed foregrounds reminds me of the religious ceiling paintings of European cathedrals. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

In this half-lit morning reflected light, the canyon has a different character. I have misjudged the Starry solomon’s seal. In the afternoon, I have found two or three open out of an estimated 20,000 plants (May 4th). This morning, most are open, and I easily count 200 open blossoms in the solomon grove surrounding the seep below picnic site 5. The number of active birds is astounding, and a multiple of several times over my afternoon encounters.

At the entrance to Pleasant Valley, I run into the Tracey Aviary sponsored birding, a course directed by and led today by aviary biologists Bryant Olsen and Cooper Farr. I am happy to find the group; I have followed their Cornell birding logs in the canyon for some years; and in the spring, they regularly return to the canyon. Other seasons draw them to other habitats. Traveling down canyon, there seven group members including the leaders, and their five students are a diverse group that range from their thirties to eighties. They allow me to tag along as they proceed down the Pipeline Trail for the one mile walk back to the parking lot. Since I have been frustrated for some years in identifying the thicket hidden birds by sound, and I hope to gain some insight into the process by watching and learning. I quickly learn that I am in the presence of masters. Many birding skills quickly become apparent that explain the large number of birds that they record each week in the Cornell University E-bird log system (Cornell Ornithology Laboratory 2016).

First, birding in groups greatly increases detection. I first encountered this in amateur astronomy. Looking for detail in nature, which involves rare events, is more likely with more eyeballs that can cover the whole sky. In addition to the chance of making a sighting, the ability to perceive rare events also differs greatly by both the ability to perceive and by the knowledge to understand what one is seeing or hearing. The seven of the birders stare intently towards a sound coming from a clump of leaves, and one or two of the seven will first detect the bird, and then direct the others to it. Seven sets of eyes scanning the sky’s dome catch fleeting glances of bird movements in opposite directions, and this greatly increases the number of exclamations that one or another of some species has been seen.

Second, time explains the groups many sightings. As we descend the trail, younger runners and bikers wisk by at six to fifteen miles per hour. They traverse the mile of Pipeline trail in five to ten minutes. When I was younger, I has one of these. They smile as they pass, confident in their belief that in their superiority that their youthful ability to exercise makes them the most important denizens of the canyon. My slow jogging takes twenty minutes, but the birding group takes about one and one-half hours to walk this mile. Perception and time are inversely related. The slow see more; much more. Chance visual sightings reveal common sightings such as the cliff-soaring Red-tailed hawks. In this way, the group quickly seeings a Peregrine falcon resting on the top of the western massif at the entrance to Pleasant Valley and a brood of cliff dwelling Violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) living nearby in the crumbling deposits of Van Horn and Crittenden’s Triassic conglomerate No 2. sandstone. Are these the peregrine’s prey? Peregrines prey on many of the plentiful birds and mammals in the canyon, including mallads, swallows, Mourning doves, Northern flickers, starlings, American robins, Black-billed magpies, American crow, hummingbirds, owls, mice and Rock squirrels. Thoreau used the Peregrine’s historical name – the duck hawk – and Audubon memorialized this predator-prey relationship in a noted 1827 oil painting (Audubon 1827). The peregrines are in turn fed upon by larger birds of prey like Bald eagles and Red-tailed hawks. The birding group has great interest in following the falcon back to its nest, since these birds, although removed from the United States endangered species list in 1999, remain popular and are known to raise young near Pleasant Valley.

Third, these are the wizards of the canyon’s bird soundscape. Raw knowledge, expertise, and practice allows the group to identify many birds by sound alone or first by sound and then by sight. A member will hear a call of interest, and all will stop intently listening while leaning in one direction; some cup hands around their ears. Someone will call out a name, there is a discussion, and then a final determination is made as to the species. Sometimes, this is accompanied by a pointing figure and the exclamation “There it is!”, and all binoculars are raised in unison. I humbly learn the calls of one or two common canyon residents, like the chirping of the Rufus-sided towhee, and can notice distinct obvious sounds, like the wing-beat of a passing Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) and the obnoxious squawking of the Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). But the group’s ability to identify unseen colorful birds by sound alone is astounding. They hear a Green tailed towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), an Orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata), and a Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

The group’s ability is distinguish between similar calls is uncanny. I have a particular interest in the rapid chirping call of the Rufous towhee. Later at home, I compare audio recordings and spectrographs of several species found along the trail that all include to my uneducated ears, subtle variations on a series of four to six rapid fire trill chirps, preceded or followed by two tones. The songs of the Rufous-sided towhee, the Green-tailed towhee, and Orange-crowned warbler, are all variations on a theme.

The group continues down the trail as the bright line of sunlight engulfs them. The celebrity bird of the afternoon are many Lazuli buntings. On the western brightly lit slopes, perching on a Gambel’s oak, several of these buntings are seen. They males are aflame in their cloaks of brilliant iridescent blue. Bryant notes that a bird’s coloring are the result of their feathers refracting sunlight. The explains why colorful birds have dulled colors in diffused light, but radiant colors in full sun. Near trail mile 0.5, a Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) sits on a powerline and obligingly ignores the birders as they take photographs. In the last third of trail mile, the sun and temperature has risen, the birds are less active, and the group quickly exits back to the road. A mallard rests in the flood retention pond.

I point out the cliff nest site that I followed last spring near mile 1.0 (Dec. 9th, 40°48.227 N, 111°52.204 W), but only about one-half of the group can see the nest. I had previously thought it was built by Peregrine falcons or Cooper’s hawks, but Bryant notes I am mistaken. Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks do not build stick nests, he says, a point supported in literature (Utah Legacy Raptor 2011). A later search on the internet returns many photographs of peregrines nesting in nearly identical stick nests. A probably resolution of the difference is found elsewhere: peregrine falcons sometimes will take over the stick nests of other raptors like eagles (White et al 2002).

Comparing the group’s Cornell Ornithology Lab birding logs for the canyon since April 30th reveals the arrival of many small migratory song birds with the abrupt rise in temperatures and the arrival of the vernal season (April 29th and May 1st). Common canyon birds in their logs in April through May 6th include mallards, European starlings, American robins, House finches, Song sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-billed magpies, Mourning doves, Ravens, American crows, Red-tailed hawks, and Cooper’s hawks. New spring heat-seeking migrants that arrived just as the temperature switch tripped two or three days ago include the Peregrine falcons, Plumbeous vireo (Vireo plumbeus), Warbling vireo (Vireo gilvus), Orange-crowned warbler, Yellow warbler, Virginia’s warbler, Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), Green-tailed towhee, the Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), Broad-tailed hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), Black-chinned hummingbird, Lazuli bunting, the Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria). These new colorful arrivals have followed the north running heat wave from the southern states and Mexico for a thousand miles to this northern canyon, and now that they have arrived, their next tasks will be mating and beginning the construction of nests.

I ask a question about what some of the most common canyon birds eat. I am interested in not only the simple phenological list of what bird species arrives when (this is what Thoreau did), but also how the web of insects, plants, and birds link together. The aviary experts’ answers are general and unsatisfying. “Seeds” (there are none), “grass” (they have not developed grains), and “insects” (there are still few, given the newly higher temperatures). The same vague discussions are found in my various paper and internet birding guides. I have witnessed a few instances in which canyon birds actually eating something over an entire year. A scrub jay ate acorns in the fall (Oct. 6th); wild turkeys ate winter acorns (Dec. 29th); chickadees ate winter fruit; spring kingfishers fish along the ponds and stream, although I have never seen them catch anything (March 19, April 6, 11, and 18); in the mallards eat spring algae from the stream; hummingbirds and dragonflies feasted on summer gnats (August 1st and August 11th), and a few days later, cliff swallows gorged on the dragonflies (August 22nd). In the spring of 2015, two falcons ate a mouse. But what are they, in particular the new arrivals, eating now? After this morning with the soundscape wizards and a subsequent literature search, I am struck both about how much science knows about the birds and how little science knows about birds. All things cannot be known, and I suspect there is little grant money available to fully construct and quantify the ecological relationships of even close natural areas, since minerals, logs, and skiers only have economic value and iridescent sheen of the Lazuli buntings do not.

A lone mallard sleeps near the shore of the flood retention pond. Jogging out of the canyon, the social-cause, 5k fun-run has begun, and three or four-hundred joggers are going towards milepost 0.5, along the opposite western leg along Bonneville Drive. A loudspeaker blares out popular music. Groups of racing bicyclists stopped by the police to allow the race to pass joke about blindly coming around a curve into such a mass of humanity. Their focus on life is different from mine, and neither, as they go about their respective enjoyment of the canyon, will perceive the dazzling blue of the Lazuli buntings seen by the wizards of the canyon soundscape.

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Iridescence in birds is caused by both pigments and the refracting structure of their feathers (Doucet and Meadows 2009; Rajchard 2009), and many birds also perceive light, including the iridescent refraction, in the ultra-violet spectrum (id). The view that humans see of birds is not what they see of each other. The blue feathers of birds, like the Lazuli bunting, may be hint that a bird can see ultra-violet light (see Doucet and Meadows, S118). Falcons use the ultra-violet reflection of mole and mouse urine to determine the density of their mammalian prey in fields (Rajchard). Fruit seeking birds like crows better see mature fruits because the ripe fruit better reflect ultra-violet light (id). Blue tits switch to the ultra-violet spectrum to see insects against non-contrasting backgrounds (id). The iridescent patches also help birds to distinguish their sexes, just as human birders do, but in some birds, the ultra-violet spectrum of their iridescent patches enhance the sex difference of their pigments seen in the human visual spectrum (id). Another study suggests that in the ultra-violet spectrum, some birds find it easier to distinguish eggs (id). Iridescence can also be an indicator of fitness to breed. Male birds lose iridescence as they age and when they are sick (Doucet and Meadows, S120-S121).

The iridescent patches of birds involve a trade-off. Iridescent patches, like those of the front-chin of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the side-neck of the Black-chinned hummingbird seen today, may be more visible to their predators, but they are also more visible to their potential mates (Doucet and Meadows). To reduce the predation cost of these patches, some patches are directional. A bird living in a diffusely, dark lit forest can perch in a ray of sunlight and send a narrow beam “flash” to other members of its own species and to potential mates (id). Predators circling above will not see this visual chatter. Conversely, the bright Lazuli bunting simply shines like a beacon. What do the hawks and falcons circling above see of these beautiful song birds in the shorter-bands of light that we human birders are unaware of?

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On May 6th, 1899, work to replace the City Creek water main with a larger diameter pipe was underway (Salt Lake Herald), although a suit seeking an injunction against the construction had been filed. On May 6th, 1888, Z. Jacobs canvassed citizens for suggestions on how to increase the city’s water supply, including Fire Chief Ottinger (Salt Lake Herald). Jacobs argued against building a dam in City Creek Canyon, since failure of the dam would destroy the downtown (id).

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