City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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).

October 21, 2016

October 21st

Smart Trout

1:30 p.m. At the water striders’ pool at picnic site 5 (Sept. 12th), I see the first brown trout in the canyon for over a month. The light filtering through the trees brings out the molted spotting on its upper skin. This trout hides in the pool under a branch that dips across the pool’s middle. I remain motionless for a minute and in reply it station-keeps with one eye gazing at me. When I make a sudden move by taking one quick step the right, the trout frantically swims under a stream-cut overhang that is covered by dense foliage. It has excellent eyesight even through the water’s surface. In one corner of the pool is a single water strider, and these are what the trout has been feeding on. Later, the trout is joined by two smaller companions.

Today, the yellow tube of falling leaves (Oct. 11th) is over and temperatures have risen into the sixties. The predominate colors between mile 0.0. and mile 2.0 is brown and grey. Like the last sunflower (October 14th), this is another marker of seasonal Fall change. Because of the temperature, insects have again become active, but I count only thirty on the road, including possibly two Yellow-head bumble bees with black rumps, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, a large unidentified blue dragonfly, and, in the box at picnic site 11, a sole European Paper Wasp (see Oct. 11th). These rare late season insects are now more visually striking; they provide the only accents of bright colors now that the leaves have fallen. Crickets are still heard in meadows and forest undergrowth and some have come to die on the road. At picnic site 12, a woodpecker can be heard but not seen. Common woodpeckers in the canyon that drum on trees are the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) and the Northern Flicker.

Together, they will swim upstream to join their mates at a shallow fifteen by twenty foot pool below an outdated flood gate at mile 2.8. A regulatory “no fishing” sign on the sluice box protects them from humans. During the winter, ten or fifteen trout can be found there, resting in water so cold that it would kill a person in two or three minutes.The next marker of the seasons, as winter storms reappear at the beginning of November and December, will be season’s end for the flying insects, season’s end of the crickets, and the falling of the last remaining leaves during a heavy snow storm.

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