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.

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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.

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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).

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April 26, 2017

April 23rd

Benefits of Nature – Part I – The Restorative Effects of Simulated and Wild Nature

3:00 p.m. On this overcast day, the parking lot is full and the stream still runs higher from recent rains. At mile 0.3, a round a bend in the road and startle a female mallard who is stand overlooking the stream. Ten feet in front of me, she rises in a flight response that is a flurry of molted dark browns mixed with light browns and white. Her receding figure is punctuated by bright rump feathers.

Local bird observer Brian Olsen reported at Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory’s “E-bird” list (Cornell 2016) that on April 21st, he saw or heard a extensive list of native and spring migratory visitors including Turkey vultures, a Red-tailed hawk, a Cooper’s hawk, Peregrine falcon, a Scrub jay, Northern flicker, Chukar, California quail, American robin, two Black-capped chickadees, House finch, a Lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria), and a Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphour platycercus)

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Ulrich also cites human health and cognitive restoration responses to nature therapy also provides indirect support for the biophilia hypothesis (Ulrich 98-108). Patients exposed to to nature while confined to a hospital accelerates their healing (id), and resting in an unstressed natural environment accelerates the brains recovery of executive and cognitive functions after they have been dulled by stress (id). This idea has given rise to an entire architectural philosophy called biophilia design, and its impact can be seen in many new urban buildings that seek to integrate wide natural lighting windows with views of natural environments into office working spaces.

Whether or not study of nature restoration supports the biophilia hypothesis, the restorative and healing quality of nature continued as an active area of research between Ulrich’s 1993 summary and the present. Ninety-percent of all time spent by humans of developed nations are spent indoors and between 1982 and 2008, there was a declining per capita trend in the amount of time that developed nation residents spend outdoors, although total recreation days continues to increase (Pergams and Zaradic, 2008). This trend raised concerns about the impact of that time on both physical health and mental health. Research conclusions about the effects of nature exposure provides scientific support for the commonplace that nature heals and restores. Capaldi at Carleton University and colleagues review benefits of exposure to nature on ones sense of well-being (Capaldi et al 2015). Those benefits can be characterized as increasing or maintaining hedonic well-being, that is a subjective emotional well-being consistent of positive feelings and satisfaction with ones life, and increasing or maintaining eudaimonic well-being, that is a general sense that one is functioning well with a sense of meaning, autonomy and vitality (id).

In 2015, McMahan of Western Oregon University and Estes of the University of Wyoming conducted a meta-analysis of thirty-two studies involving 2,356 participants concerning the effects of exposure of nature on emotional well-being (McMahan and Estes 2015). They reviewed studies that involved actually going into nature as opposed to viewing images of natural environments. They found an moderate increase in positive affect from short-term exposure to nature, found no difference between the effect of exposure between managed nature (e.g. urban parks) and natural environments, and they suggested how future research programs could be improved to provide better results. For example, research has not addressed dose-dependent exposure. Does increasing the amount of time spent in nature have an increasing affect on emotional well-being? Coon and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 11 studies with 833 participants that compared the effect of exercising outdoors in nature verses indoors, and they found an increased sense of well-being from exercising outdoors as opposed to indoors (Coon et al 2011). Lohr summarized how studies from 1984 through 2000 have indicated that exposure to nature reduces stress, improves social interactions, speeds recovery from illness, reduces mental fatigue, increases attention and reduces violence (Lohr 2007).

Do true natural environments have the same effect as managed open spaces like parks? McMahan and Estes’s meta-analysis did not find a difference, but other researchers have reported a distinction. White at the University of Exeter and colleagues analyzed survey results of 4,255 participants in a national survey of English residents (White et al 2013). They found that respondents reported the level of restoration achieved was associated with a declining level of urbanization stretching from coastal areas, natural woodland forests, and urban parks. White et al also found that restoration was dose-dependent: higher levels of outdoor activities in a natural setting resulted in a higher level of restoration (id). Korpela and colleagues surveyed 1,273 randomly chosen urban Finnish residents for their emotional responses when using urban woodlands verses managed urban parks, and the restorative experiences of people using urban woodlands was stronger than those using urban parks (Korpela et al 2010). Korpela et al also found the the degree of worry over daily life, e.g. such as money worries, was negatively associated with utilizing the outdoors.

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Exercise outdoors has a higher restorative effect than indoor exercise. As time indoors increases and increased urbanization raises barriers to outdoor recreation, the issue of whether indoor verses outdoor recreation has the same health benefits and restoration of emotional well-being become significant. Hug at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and colleagues surveyed 319 persons at Swiss exercise centers during the winter months regarding their exercise preferences (Hug et al 2009). Persons who exercised outdoors during the winter months reported higher levels of restoration than those who exercised indoors, but Hug et al noted that this does not imply that exercising in nature is necessarily better than indoor exercise. People who exercise indoors also seek social connections and rate indoor exercise as better satisfying that equally important need. Hug suggested that the higher restoration from outdoor exercise is consistent with exercising alone. Outdoor exercise provides a release from social constraints and worries that would not be found in a social exercise setting, even where the social ethic of a club permits members to exercise alone and without social interruption from others.

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On April 23rd, 1997, a group of prominent locals who ran regularly in City Creek Canyon, remembered Tony Cannon on his passing (Salt Lake Tribune). Cannon was a descendant of the 1847 advance party. They were informally known as the “City Creek Maintenance Crew”. Tony Cannon, who ran in City Creek Canyon every day for years, dies from a stroke (Deseret News). Cannon knew “every landmark, among them Little Black, Smuggler’s Notch, Rudy’s Flat, Pleasant Valley and North Fork.” (id). On April 23rd, 1993, City officials warned about increasing coliform levels from unleashed dogs being found at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 23rd, 1997, Tony Cannon, who ran in City Creek Canyon every day for years, dies from a stroke (Deseret News). Cannon knew “every landmark, among them Little Black, Smuggler’s Notch, Rudy’s Flat, Pleasant Valley and North Fork.” (id). Cannon was also known for hauling “armloads” of trash from the canyon during his runs. On April 23rd, 1916, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune in a real estate promotional piece, noted that there was a housing construction boom occurring and that among the amenities of living in Salt Lake was the closeness of City Creek Canyon. On April 23rd, 1913, the City Commission refereed Morgan County’s request to construct a highway down City Creek Canyon to the Health Commissioner. On April 23, 1888, the Salt Lake Herald suggested that to solve the city’s water shortage, a dam could be constructed across the entrance to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon.

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