City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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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.

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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).


May 18, 2017

May 15th

Peregrine Falcon

5:00 p.m. Under an overcast sky, the first mile of canyon forest is nearly at full leaf-out. Temperatures have dropped by ten to fifteen degrees overnight, and thus, there are no butterflies along the road except for one. About ten Rocky Mountain duskywings (Erynnis telemachus) are found alone and in pairs feeding on a white-flowering roadside weed. They are forever frenetic; they never seem to stop moving despite the cold and light breeze. Near mile 0.6, a new unidentified purple orchid has bloomed. It looks like Purple milkvetch, but its leaves are more ovate and the plant rises like a small rose bush, instead of hugging the ground. There is only one plant in the lower canyon. A Sticky Wild Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), also deep purple in color, blooms from the disturbed ground of a steep roadbank and sheltered in shade. Small blossoms of another purple flower, Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), have opened at several sites along the first mile road. The Houndstongue blossom has a two-toned flower: a lighter purple-pink surrounds inner dark purple petals.

On the road, two three-to-four inch Blue-eyed darner dragonflies (Rhionaeschna multicolor) are grounded by the cold. One has found a patch of sun and warms itself. But these “blue-eyed” darners are not blue. They have the distinctive blue, brown and black geometric pattern of Blue-eyed darner abdomens, but their heads are black, not blue. The first small, biting mosquitoes have risen, probably the common Western Encephalitis mosquito (Culex tarsalis), and a small trickle of blood runs down my leg from the feeding of an unseen assailant. Others land on my arms and neck, but forewarned of their presence, they are unsuccessful.

Song birds have again divided into two main groups. The first is near Guardhouse Gate and the second resides in Pleasant Valley. I count about ten calls in each group. At Pleasant Valley, again about 8 unidentified raptors are soaring above the eastern ridge line and quickly disappear on their flight over the valley. In the spring, these flocks can also be seen crossing over the Avenues, often after a storm front passes through.

Coming back down the Pipeline Trail another hummingbird is heard hidden in the green tube. Near Shark Fin Rock at mile 0.5, a Peregrine falcon is driving a Red-tailed hawk out of the canyon. From the higher Pipeline Trail, I can watch the conflict unfold from an equal or higher altitude than the hawk. The Red-tailed hawk is injured, and it is missing to large trailing feathers on its right wing. The hawk has probably found the peregrine’s nest in the cliffs, and the smaller raptor seeks to deter it from returning. The Red-tail flies straight down canyon, and the determined peregrine flaps furiously about one-hundred feet above it. Then the peregrine turns into a bullet shape and stoops directly at the hawk. At the last second, the hawk rotates on its side and extends its talons. The peregrine open its wings to break its dive and extends its own sharp fingers. The two briefly touch finger tips. How the hawk sees the peregrine is a mystery because the stoop began slightly from behind the larger bird. The attack makes the larger hawk to turn into a circular flight pattern, holding at about 100 feet above the ground. The peregrine stoops again, and again, driving the hawk lower. Finally, the Red-trial disappears into the maples on the far side of the canyon. The peregrine circles above for a three or four turns and then flies off, back up the canyon. I am honored to have witnessed the skirmish.

Although I have never seen a peregrine take a small bird or mallard in the canyon, they do frequently catch mice in Pleasant Valley. Baker describes their feeding on mice as mere “morsels” that supplement their real diet of larger birds. I suspect that the peregrines only nest here, and fly over the ridge to feed on the gigantic bird populations in the marshes of the Great Salt Lake. For many years, a peregrine pair had a nest on the top of one of the grand old hotels in downtown Salt Lake City. There, they fed on plentiful flocks of city pigeons, and an artificial nest equipped with a popular web camera was constructed. Pairs returned to the site until the exterior of the building was renovated in 2010. Next they moved to artificial cliffs in an abandoned quarry along the western-facing slope of the canyon (Monson 2017). In 2016, I watched them raise two young in an abandoned hawk nest near mile 1.1. This year, they have a nest somewhere else in the canyon, not yet located. The Utah peregrines have returned from the abyss.

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Historically, there have been between 20 and 30 nesting peregrine falcons in Utah (Porter and White 1973). The Utah peregrines favor cliff nesting sites similar to the City Creek canyon walls that surround west and upper east sides in the first road mile (id.) Through 1973, the number of breeding peregrines in Utah dropped to two or three pairs, and this was consistent with a world-wide decline in peregrine populations. In 1970, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service place the peregrines on the endangered species list. The United States Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT in 1972. Although the corresponding national decline is presently universally accepted as being caused by DDT as presented in Rachel Carson’s 1963 Silent Spring, but in 1973, Porter and White were hesitant to attribute pesticides as the cause in Utah, even though they found that “[b]etween 1947 and 1961 many thousands of pounds of DDT were deposited . . . directly on the marshes and waters in the Great Salt Lake Valley where nesting peregrines obtained much of their food” (p. 47). Following the ban, their population has recovered worldwide, and in 1999, Fish and Wildlife Service removed the peregrine from the endangered species list. In April 2017, Monson at Brigham Young University published an updated inventory of Utah pergerine falcon nests (Monson 2017), and he found 45 peregrine nesting sites in northern Utah (p. 34). The peregrine’s range also expanded from their 1973 boundaries along the east side of the Great Salt Lake down to Utah Lake. They now are found on the western shore of the Great Salt Lake, east into Summit County, and south to the southern end of Utah County.

In a remarkably poetic book, The Peregrine, British draftsman and amateur naturalist John Alec Baker, followed peregrine falcons from October to April, 1967 near his west English home about 10 miles from the coast (Baker 1967). Peregrines who breed further north overwinter on the warmer English coast. Every two or three days he made a detailed diary entry on their behavior, motivated in part on the then perception that peregrines would go extinct in the next decade. He described the peregrines as ranchers of the sky, who like their earth-bound human counterparts, herd and manage the populations of the many birds including pigeons and ducks.

Peregrines of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range stretching for two hundred miles from Tremonton in the north to Nephi in the south have organized themselves into approximately 10 mile long territories (Monson 2017, Porter and White 1973) as suggested by Baker’s English observation. This year, one of their nests is either in the canyon or on the western slope of with western ridgeline facing the Great Salt Lake marshlands near Farmington.

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On May 15th, 2010, the Salt Lake Tribune recommends the hike to the Radio Towers on the west ridgeline of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

May 13, 2017

May 10th


Midnight. In the valley, temperatures are in the low sixties, and this means overnight temperature in the canyon is in the fifties. Everything is in place – water, soil, nutrients, leaf, flower, and life – and the great vernal explosion of growth has begun. My pen and typewriter feel inadequate to the task. With the vernal explosion, everything in the canyon is changing so rapidly, and it is possible only to record a fraction of and a general impression of what is occurring.

4:00 p.m. As I exit the car at the parking lot, a Peregrine falcon zips overhead traveling west to due east. As I start up the road, a Red-tailed hawk is soaring overhead, hovering effortlessly and then moving to the west at a few miles an hour. A down canyon wind just balances it needs for lift and forward propulsion. There about thirty bird calling and singing in the first mile. I can hear the songs of the Dark-eyed Junco, a Western tanager, and the Lazuli Bunting. The bunting also makes separate chirping call. All the song birds are unseen and hidden in the forest.

Woody shrubs are the most prominent flowering plants, and along the first road mile simultaneously, Red-ozier dogwood, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) bushes are blossoming. When heated by sunlight, chokecherry blossoms give off an enticing vanilla odor, but it is not produced when the bush is in shade. On a dogwood complex funnel-like inflorescence, a Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) feeds. At Guardhouse Gate and at the Red Bridge, below Horsechestnut inflorescences, waxy seed pods form. River birch leaves have grown to two or three inches and with hot sun, now are covered in a shiny, wax layer. This may be an adaptation to retain water. At picnic site 1, a pretty flowering invasive, the Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum L.), has about ten blossoms close to the ground. This bulb perennial has small white star-shaped petals that surround a green rim and a set of second interior white petals.

There are about twenty recently common butterflies in the first mile: White cabbage; Painted lady; Zerene fritillary (doubtful); Desert Elfin; and, Western tiger swallowtails; and, Spring Azure. Three examples of new unidentified moth appear. Moths are distinguished from butterflies as they rest. Butterflies fold their wings vertically after landing; moths spread their wings horizontally flat. This small one to two inch moth is light brown, but has a rectangular medium dark brown bar above the trailing edge of its wings.

Ants are active on the road: a tiny black species and larger Carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.). One of the tiny black ants crosses the road carrying a transparent fly wing in its mandibles.

Over the last week and again today, I see a small furry brown bee hovering over the road. To my eyes, it is suspiciously off somehow; the “bee” only has two and not four wings. This is the Black-tailed bee fly (Bombylius major). This fly also has a distinctive long-straight proboscis for sipping nectar, and it lays eggs on bee larvae. I am feeling ill and diarrhetic, and today, for the first time in over two decades, I am compelled to run into the bushes to defecate. Bags that I use to pick up dog droppings from the road are used to remove the mess from the watershed. While this in the category of too much personal information, there is a lesson to be learned. Within less than a minute, the waste mound is covered in over seventy-five flies of three different types, but I make no attempt to identify them. Normally, bees are unseen along the canyon roads and trails, except near waste containers or deer dung piles, but today’s accident reveals that there are hundreds of flies hiding in the bushes and leaf litter. They are both pollinators and nature’s important garbage collectors. Although they favor mule deer and my human droppings, they are less quick to visit canine waste piles left along the road. The flies in turn become food for birds. About ten miles to the west at the Great Salt Lake flats, brine flies fuel the Utah portion of the Pacific Flyway of migratory birds. In a month at the Lake, beaches and lake bed flats will covered in brine flies such that the surface appears to move. Birds wade through the living mass, gorging themselves. In the canyon, the flies restrict themselves to the cool forest understory, and hopefully they feed the Lazuli buntings, warblers and other song birds.

While the flies in the marshes and beaches of the Great Salt Lake support millions of birds, the density of flies in the canyon may be too low, and canyon flies can only supplement canyon the birds’ diets. Assuming based on my accidental experience that there is about one fly per square foot to a depth of fifty feet on either side of the stream and that each fly weighs 12 micrograms, then the first mile holds about 6.3 kilograms of flies (0.12 x 2 x 5,280 x 50). If there are about 50 small birds living in the first canyon mile and each weigh about 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), then the bird’s mass is about 5 kilograms. Flies alone are insufficient to support the small birds’ higher trophic level.

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A 2010 Tibetan study of the ecological role of flies and beetles quantifies their effectiveness in removing animal waste from prairies. Wu and Sun placed 248 gram patties of yak dung under screens that allowed either flies alone, beetles alone, or flies with beetles in Tibetan alpine meadows for thirty-two days. Over one month, the beetles removed sixty-seven percent (168 grams) of dung and the flies removed fifty-one percent (127 grams) of the waste. Using Black solider flies, similar results have been obtained by farm management scientists who have used the flies to reduce the volume of livestock waste by 42 percent (Diener, Zurbrugg and Tockner 2009). In the canyon, I have anecdotally noticed similar rates of removal of Mule deer scat by flies and beetles.

What ornithologists know about what birds eat comes in part from a remarkable series of studies by F. E. I. Beal of the United States Department of Agriculture from the first half of the twentieth century in which birds were actively killed and then the contents of their stomachs were examined (Beal 1900, 1911, 1915, 1918). For example, ten robins were taken alfalfa fields in Utah, presumably in the valley and in the region of the canyon, and twelve percent of their stomach contents were beetles (Beal 1915, 6). Thoreau also recorded bird stomach contents. Although he would not kill himself, when his neighbors shot local birds, he sometimes examined the contents of their stomachs (e.g. Thoreau, Journal, January 11, 1861). In a more humane era, non-destructive direct observation of feeding habits and bird feces are studied (e.g. White and Stiles 1990).

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On May 10th, 1910, the City Commission argued over Chief Engineer’s expenditures to study how to increase the city water supply, and the Commission order all work to stop on waterworks improvements in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

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.

* * * *

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?

* * * *

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).

May 6, 2017

May 3rd

Lazuli Bunting

2:30 p.m. The first day of hot weather and the rest of the week is forecasted with increasing temperatures. For change, I go up the Pipeline Trail. Although it is only three days since the peak of Arrowleaf balsamroot, in the sun drenched fields along the trail, the balsamroot flowers are beginning to wilt. This change in season also brings the first migratory song birds. A small patch of Purple milkvetch flowers, which are usually light purple, are a dark rich purple. A set of powerlines parallels the trail, and small migrating birds like to perch on the lines for the first half-mile. The Gambel oak forest provides excellent cover, it is a favorable locations for building nests, and as the heat of summer approaches, the nearby stream provides relief and food. A male Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches on a wooden line tower; a second forages from the tallest tree; and both exchange calls with two other unseen pairs. This is sign that true spring has arrived. Two large raptors, probably Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) float above using the cliff updrafts for power. White cabbage, Mourning cloak and Painted lady butterflies feed on dandelions that line the trial. A new bright yellow butterfly, the Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice eriphyle), appears. A small unidentified bee also feeds on the dandelions, and then a large black and white bumble bee circles around me. I have a difficult time making an identification, but my guides suggests the Cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus insularis).

Gambel’s oaks have leafed-out with growing two-inch leaves to about mile 0.5 along the Pipeline Trail, but then there is a curious pause. None leaf for the next 100 yards, before oak leaf-out resumes.

Today, I walk with a friend and two dogs, and in the multitude of spring scents the dogs are in constant motion on, off and around the Pipeline Trail. We are a pack of four, and in their mind, they are the leaders. The two dogs look back and aside at us lagging humans with an expression that says we surely are the most stupid of dogs. But their amicable dog nature shines through, and they each occasionally bound up to us, and their infectious enthusiasm encourages us to follow faster.

* * * *

On May 3rd, 2007, the Utah Rivers Council plans to hold a clean-up of City Creek Canyon’s stream bed (Deseret News). On May 3rd, 1994, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1919, the road into City Creek was closed for several weeks to allow for repairing the water main (Salt Lake Herald). On May 3rd, 1916, the City commission passed an ordinance for water protection in City Creek Canyon, including prohibiting dogs from running loose, discharging firearms, and speeding in automobiles (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 3rd, 1909, residents were reported enjoying City Creek and other parks during good weather (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1890, the Salt Lake Times, in a travel article, describes City Creek in glowing terms and poetry. On May Day, 1881, University of Deseret students went for an outing to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, May 3rd, 1881).

April 3, 2017

April 1st

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XIII – Present Era

2:00 p.m. Last night high winds reaching sixty miles per hour scraped the city and the canyon, but there are no additional felled branches along the road. High winds from February have already tested all the trees. At Guardhouse Gate, several broadleaf plants with green ovoid leaves have grown to almost a foot tall within the last five days. Already, a small 2 millimeter black iridescent beetle has come to take advantage of the bounty, and the leaves are pock-marked by small holes. The light green understory plants with deltoid leaves, Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) have grown small one and one-half inch bowl shaped heads that are filled with white hair and many black stamens. They will develop into the bright yellow sunflower heads of the mature plant. Fair weather and warmth brings out a few tentative butterflies. A Mourning cloak and a Painted Lady butterfly chase one another in an upward spiral circle. A single White cabbage and a small lavender butterfly fleet along the Pipeline trail. Back on the road at mile 0.2, a four-inch butterfly with an intricate black framework that is laced with brilliant yellow panels suns itself. At the base of its wings, there are luminous small purple camouflage circles that mimic predator eyes. It is an Anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), and viewed upside down, this swallowtail is reminiscent of the delicate window panes of a Gothic cathedral.

Along the high cliffs of the canyon’s first-mile west wall, two raptors soar through a clear blue sky. They rest on the east wall and return to soaring along the west escarpment as I jog down the Pipeline trail. This better, but still distant view, suggests that they are Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). As in February in March, I have seen few birds, but my spring 2015 observing lists records immature Bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Black-billed magpies, Mallards, Mountain chickadees, Stellar’s jays, Western scrub jays, and Wild turkeys. The first day of spring also marks the return of professional and serious amateurs who make weekly visits to the canyon. Their observations are recorded at Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory’s “E-bird” list (Cornell 2016). On March 26th, local observer Brian Olsen saw or heard a extensive list of native and spring migratory visitors including Chukar, Northern flicker, Scrub jay, Black-billed magpie, Robin, Spotted towhee, Western meadowlark, House finch, House sparrow, Fox sparrow, Song sparrow, Black-capped chickadee, Turkey vulture, Golden eagle, Northern goshawk, Red-tailed hawk, and Peregrine falcon.

Along sections of the stream, mid-afternoon sunlight reflects off the boiling stream water and creates a white ribbon.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 1st, 1852, he hears chickadees, robins, and song sparrows. On April 1st, 1852, he sees dropped leaves from mullein plants. On April 1st, 1854, he hears tree-sparrows, bluebirds, song-sparrows, and blackbirds. White maple stamens appear and alders are about to bloom. On April 1st, 1855, grasses become greener. On April 1st, 1858, he finds a squirrel’s nest in a tree and climbs the tree to examine it.

* * * *

The fifth era of canyon utilization is present day recreation use. The floods of 1983 significantly damaged City Creek Canyon road. After making repairs, the City adopted a new master plan for the canyon that emphasized multiple recreation use and declared that:

“City Creek Canyon should serve as a valuable watershed and recreation/open space amenity of city-wide significance. These uses should take precedence over other land use alternates. . . . .”

“Preserve City Creek Canyon above Memory Grove for watershed, and limited public recreation;”

“Promote the “City Creek Park” concept for the entire canyon. Areas extending into the canyon from the formally maintained park [Memory Grove] should be maintained in their natural state, much as they are today, with only minimal improvements to enhance recreation opportunities . . .” (Salt Lake City Corp. 1986; Hooten, 31).

Although walkers, runners, and bicyclists are the present majority of users, they are separated in time from automobile use during the summers by a system of alternating use days. Hunting is permitted separated by space; rifle hunters are restricted to the upper canyon beyond picnic site 21. In 1989, the City adopted a watershed management plan that included a recommendation to add a small tax to all city water bills to fund canyon water protection (Salt Lake City Corp. 1999a). During the 2000’s, the reservoir at Pleasant Valley was decommissioned. With a steady revenue base, a system of septic tank toilets was installed and regular canyon watershed patrols were re-instituted (Personal recollection).

* * * *

On April 1st, 2009, Salt Lake City announced that over the summer it would be cutting a firebreak along the north and west ridges of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 2009). On April 1st, 2008, local National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney and Nobel Prize Peace co-winner Roger Pulwarty, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, exchanged views on the impact of climate change on Utah, after several inches fell on Wasatch Front Mountains, including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). Pulwarty described Utah as an “epicenter of global warming in the United States” (id). Pulwarty noted that the IPCC Report left out predictions on changes in annual water supply runoff due to climate change (id). On April 1st, 1994, twin sisters Susan Daynes and Linda Mulkey, two marathon runners, describe their daily runs in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 1st, 1994, the Deseret News profiles three long-distance runners who regularly run in City Creek Canyon. April Fool’s Day fake news can sometimes get out of the author’s control and take on a life of its own. On April 1st, 1907 in a three column headline story, the Salt Lake Telegram published an incredulous story of the discovery of a lost gold mine in City Creek Canyon. Mr. George M. Gutch, an attorney, and E. V. Smith, a lumber dealer, described how while hiking near Little Twin Peaks on the City Creek-Avenues ridge that Gutch allegedly disappeared from view. He fell through an overgrown opening in the surface and into an abandoned mine. Lighting candles, he and Smith found tools left by miners from the 1800s, and after breaking into a hidden chamber, they found a rich vein of nearly pure gold ore valued at $20,000 per ton, or about $510,000 USD per ton in 2016 money. The deadpan news story ends with the line: “This is the first of April.” On April 5, 1907, the Millard County Progress reported an abbreviated version of the story as factual, and omitted the last sentence. On April 1st, 1907, daughter of prominent businessmen A. W. McCune and her chauffeur were arrested illegally driving a car in canyon water patrolmen Matthews (Salt Lake Telegram).

March 8, 2017

March 8th

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

1:30 p.m. True pre-spring has set in, and temperatures rise to the sixties. On the remaining snow around the stream and road, I count about thirty stoneflies, one early butterfly or moth, a spider, and one red-orange ladybug. Curiously, several snags along the road have orange paint marks on their trees. From milepost 1.5, looking down canyon, I hear the screech and see a raptor circling over mile 1.0. It is probably the Red-tailed hawk seen yesterday. Returning down canyon at the Red Bridge and mile 0.9, an out-of-place silhouette on a tree high on the ridgeline catches my eye, and pulling out the monocular, I see the raptor pruning itself in the warming sun. Further down-canyon, the orange paint is explained. A crew from the City is cutting down any snags adjacent to and that lean towards the road. Last year in the March or April of 2016, there was a great windstorm that caused the watershed patrol to close and hurriedly evacuate everyone from the canyon as several trees came down across the road. I ran through the storm and was bemused by the evacuation order. The probability of a runner or walker being struck by a falling tree was astronomical, but out of politeness and respect to the officer, I left the canyon. Last year’s storm was probably the impetus for today’s felling of the snags.

First contact did not go well for the First Peoples. As previously noted, on the evening of Young’s first day in the valley, July 24th, 1847, a group of 12 to 15 members of Ute Chief Wanship’s band from Salt Lake valley and his brother Little Wolf’s group from Utah valley greeted the new immigrants (Little, 100). Although bread was exchanged and attempts at communication were made (Little), a member of the Utah valley band jumped a colonist horse and sped off. Chief Wanship dispatched a posse, a chase ensued, and the result of which the two band members were killed about three or four miles south of present day Pioneer Park (Little, 100). A familiar pattern of Euro-American colonization followed. First Peoples taught the colonists how to dig for roots and tubers that sustained the colonists through their first winter (Nov. 30th), and the colonists provided or traded blankets to the First Peoples and at times First Peoples captured colonists and vice versa. Having no immunity to western diseases, the First Peoples in the valley succumbed to measles during the fall of 1847 (Bancroft; Gottfredson, 24; Conetah, 37). As previously noted (March 1st), in December 1848, the colonists, being agriculturalists, systematically killed all predator wildlife in the valley (Bancroft, 287 ftn. 287), and presumably, they also quickly consumed all the deer and buffalo. First Peoples then sought recompense in the form of payments in cattle, and as Utah’s Euro-American population continue to explode, Ute members in the face of hunger from dwindling wildlife, resorted to cattle theft (Duncan, 188; Conetah, 38; Covington, 56).

War ensued. Both a 1978 article, historian Howard A. Christy of Brigham Young University Press and a 2008 a book by Standford historian Jared Farmer extensively researched this slide into hostilities (Christy; Farmer). In March 1849 when Ute foodstuffs would have been at their lowest, a forty-five man posse was sent to Utah Lake to retrieve stolen cattle. On March 3, 1849, thirty-five Utah militia men were again sent to Utah Lake with orders to put a “final end to their (the Ute group’s) depredations in future” (Christy, 220). Four braves were killed and the remaining Ute women and children were returned to Salt Lake City. In early January 1850, again when the First Peoples would be at their lowest in available food, settlers in Utah Valley killed a Ute for alleged cattle stealing (Christy, 223). The band, seeking justice, threatened to attack settlements. In January, fifty or sixty head of cattle had been stolen around Utah Lake (Covington, 51-52; Christy, 222-223). On January 31, 1850, in Salt Lake, according to an account by a pioneer in attendance at a meeting to address the issue on file in Brigham Young University Archives, Brigham Young was quoted as stating,

“I say go [and] kill them. . . . Tell . . . to go and kill them . . . let the women and children live if they behave themselves. . . . We have no peace until the men [are] killed off—never treat the Indian as your equal.” (Christy, 224, ftn. 30).

On January 31st, Utah Militia General Daniel H. Wells, also in attendance at the meeting, issued “Special Order No. 2” to Capt. George D. Grant, dispatching a company of the militia to Utah Valley:

“You are hereby ordered . . . to cooperate with the inhabitants of said [Utah] Valley in quelling and staying the operations of all hostile Indians and otherwise act, as the circumstances may require, exterminating such, as do not separate themselves from their hostile clans, and sue for peace” (Christy, 224).

At another meeting on February 10th, 1850, Young explained that, “[W]e were cold [told] three years ago, if we don’t kill those Lake Utes, they will kill us . . .” (Christy, 225)

The effect of the January 31st meeting was that Brigham Young had caused to be issued an “extermination order” against the Tumpanawach band (Conetah, 38). “Extermination order” is a phrase that in the 1840s and 1850s had a various meanings. The Mormons themselves had been the subject of an “extermination order” by Missouri’s Governor in the 1840s, that led to the Mormon’s decision to seek a refuge in the unoccupied lands of the United States (Sillitoe, 44-45). In the United States Indian removal era of the 1820s to the 1840s, an “extermination order” also referred to the removal or driving out of peoples from a region (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), and it did not have the same overtones of genocide and ethnic cleansing that the phrase has come to mean after the Wanersee Conference of World War II and the Bosnian crisis of the 1990s. However, Young’s directive to kill places the order of 1850 in the latter category.

General Wells, later Mayor of Salt Lake City, led the militia troops, accompanied by surgeon James Blake and Lieutenant Gunnison of Captain Stansbury’s survey expedition (Farmer). The Stansbury expedition happened to be in Salt Lake City at the time. In ensuing running battles on February 4th (Covington, 51), and February 8th through the 13th, 1850 between the Provo River and sixty miles west to Table Mountain, Utah, General Wells reported killing between 43 and 48 male warriors (Christy, 225; Farmer). Farmer, who has compiled the best account of this conflict, estimates Ute deaths at approximately 100 (id). At Table Mountain, the remaining Utes, including women and children, were massacred on a frozen lake (Farmer, 71-78). First, some women and children were captured, and then using them as hostages, the militia induced the braves to surrender. The militia then executed the men in front of their wives and children, and as the mothers and children fled, they were shot down in the back (id). After the massacre, army surgeon Blake decapitated some of the warrior’s bodies, possibly for medical research purposes (Christy, 226; Farmer). Fifteen to twenty women and children were returned to Fort Utah for distribution into settler families (Christy, 225; Covington, 51 quoting Gunnison, 147). Later in 1850, the State of Deseret legislature made plans to petition the U.S. Congress to remove all members of the Ute Nation from Utah to California, Wyoming or Idaho (Christy).

In 1853, “Walker’s War”, that is Wakara’s War, broke out in which many Ute warriors were killed, and Ute opposition to colonization was decisively defeated militarily by the colonist’s Nauvoo Legion (Conetah, 38-39; Sillitoe, 45; Duncan, 188; Simmons, 91-94). Although this history is barbaric by modern human rights standards, this pattern is no different from what occurred throughout the West during the Manifest Destiny era (see Brown).

Due to urbanization, there is little archaeological record of the Ute’s habitation of Utah (Jennings 1978), the Salt Lake Valley or City Creek Canyon. By 2010, the tribal census of the Northern Ute Nation, which only includes Utes with fifty-percent or more of native blood, enumerated about 3,100 persons out of a total First Peoples’ population from all tribes of 11,870 (Office of the Secretary) and compared to 20,000 for all Utah First Peoples in 1847 (McPherson, 20).

The Northern Ute Tribe still holds its annual gathering of about 100 members, reminiscent of their historical Utah Valley summer harvest festival. In the early 1900s, they met in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, July 21, 1903), but they now hold their annual harvest festival in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park at a summer “Living Traditions” festival. While the City has never issued a reconciliation apology to the Northern Utes for the Table Mountain Massacre, the colorful dance costumes of the Utes are used to promote the City as a place of diversity (Salt Lake City 2016b, 24).

The level of the Ute hunter-gathering population in 1847 also supports the view of the Salt Lake valley as being abundant in grasses and wildlife. In conclusion, historical evidence indicates that prior to the Euro-American colonization of 1847, the Salt Lake Valley was an ecologically productive, lush environment by western United States standards. Hints of that pre-colonization condition can still be seen in the canyon today. In City Creek Canyon, the open fields between milepost 2.0 and mile 2.3, are the best representative habitat of what the valley looked like prior to 1847.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 8th, 1853, he notes melting snow has created rivulets of running water. On March 8th, 1854, he finds that the red leaves of mountain cranberry are in bloom. On March 8th, 1855, he finds skunk-cabbage in bloom. On March 8th, 1857, he sees his first hawk of the season. On March 8th, 1860, he sees a flock of grackles. Thoreau notes that mosses and lichens grow in all seasons including winter. Grasses and other plants also continue to grow during winter.

On March 8th, 1904, a new Republican administration takes office at City Hall and vetoes the salaries of several city employees, including Joseph Pugsley, City Creek patrolman (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 7th

Filed under: Common stonefly, gnats, Red-tailed hawk, Seasons, Western bluebird — canopus56 @ 1:21 am

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

2:00 p.m. Hawks! Near picnic site 6, a couple is standing looking intently towards the east-south ridge wall. This is always a good sign to stop, chat, and see what others see. Half-way up the south wall, a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in its immature phase with red leading-edge wing bars floats suspended in mid-air. A light wind blows up canyon, and the hawk flies perfectly balancing the forces of lift and drag by only making small changes in its black wing tip feathers. The couple says it is part of a pair; a larger mate fly up canyon before I arrived. The hawk floats for about a minute, lands on nearby trees or an outcrop, rests, and then resume stationary soaring. I suspect the hawk is here hunting for one of the flock of about ten chickadees seen here since February 17th. Continuing up canyon, the Moon that is just one day past first-quarter hangs low on the horizon above Little Black Mountain. Since it is during the day, the black seas on the Moon’s surface are flooded with blue light. The blue color is repeated at mile 1.1. I find a flock of seven Western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) resting in a tree next to the road. I am quiet and watch them for several minutes, but then make the mistake of coughing loudly. The flock is startled and disperses.

The wind storm and snow of March 5th and 6th denoted the coming change in seasons. The storm was a marker that spring now has the upper hand and tilts the balance towards warmth. Astronomical spring will begin on 14 days – March 20th – and I find myself unconsciously counting the days. Yesterday’s snow has melted except around the stream banks and, the canyon begins to quickly reset itself back to the last warm days. Four or five stoneflies struggle on the road, and two gnats flit in the air. The green mosses, where they were covered with yesterday’s snow, plump up again and turn dark green. But yellow-orange lichens on the dry side of trees remain their dull color. The buds on trees have not yet started to respond to the new warmth, with one exception. Today and after Sunday’s windstorm, there are a broken twigs with three swollen buds on the ends. Touching the buds breaks them off, revealing a miniature curled green leaf within. This seems out of step from the rest of the trees in the canyon, whose buds still hibernate. After some searching, I pair with an immature Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides).

The Euro-American colonists also found First Peoples in the valley on their arrival, and their population further evidence that the valley was a lush environment prior to the 1847 arrival of the Euro-American colonists. The presence of the First Peoples in the valley stretches back 12,000 years to the Pleistocene (Feb. 15th). The Ute tribe evolved from the the proto-Uto-Aztecan culture in southern Nevada and California (Simmons, 14). After the Anasazi and Fremont cultures left the area in response to prolonged severe drought around 1,200 C.E., the Ute Nation expanded into the northern Nevada, Utah and Colorado regions between 1,000-1,200 C.E. (id).

Before the arrival of the 1847 Euro-American colonists, the dominant First People’s community in the valley were migratory hunter gathers, the Tumpanawach, or fish-eaters, band of the Ute Nation, also called the Timpanogots band (Conetah, 25; Simmons, 18). Their territory stretched from the south-end of the Great Salt Lake, east to the Unita River and south to Nephi (Simmons, 18). There were two Tumpanawach groups present in the valley in July 1847: one led by Chief Wanship in Salt Lake Valley and a second led by Gosip who resided around Utah Lake (Simmons, 32). The overall leader of the Tumpanawach band was Wakara, after which Wakara Way in present day Research Park of Salt Lake City is named (Conetah, 39; Simmons, 89-92 (“Wacarra” or “Walkara”)). The Mormons mispronouced Wakara or Walkara as “Walker”. They called themselves the Nu’u-ci or “Nuche”, and the terms “Ute” and “Utah” are corrupted versions of earlier Arizonian Jemez Native American terms that the Spanish shortened to “Yuta” (Simmons, 15). A romanticized version of the first encounter and Wanship can be found on a 1990s multi-tych plaque at the entrance to the Ensign Peak trail park west of the City Creek Canyon (Feb. 15th). One of the plaque’s panes shows a mid-1970s nuclear family hiking up Ensign Peak against the back drop of urbanized Salt Lake City. A second pane illustrates Wanship’s camp at the base of Ensign Peak. Pioneer May Ellen Kimball records that the group was camped near Warm Springs about at present day 1600 North Beck Street (Gottfredson, 15). The illustrations on the plaque feature Ute style brush wickiups, a tee-pee style conical brush lean-to used for temporary summer camps. The true appearance of Wanship’s camp is unknown and the images on the plaque are probably drawn from a photograph taken by John K. Hillers during Wesley Powell’s 1872-1873 expedition. The photograph is attributed as either a Paiute encampment in St. George or a Unitah encampment of Utes, depending on the author (Jennings, 297 (Piautes); Duncan, 166 (Utes)).

The valley was also occasionally visited by the Goshute tribe of Utah’s western mountain ranges and Nevada rangelands. The Goshutes, masters of northern Utah edible desert plants, built deer run traps in Millcreek Canyon (Chamberlin 1911, 335), and their name for the canyon means Precipice Rock, or Tîn-go-ûp in their native tongue. In upper Millcreek canyon, they drove herds of antelope and deer over a natural precipice (id). The Goshutes were able to survive in the west Utah deserts that would kill an unsupported modern in as little as two days. Much of the subsequent encounter between the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists of 1847 can be understood in terms of population dynamics, Manifest Destiny inspired racist paternalism, European disease, the religious beliefs of the Latter Day Saints embodied in their Book of Mormon, and Mormon Indian affairs policies (McPherson, 19-21). Much of the subsequent encounter between the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists of 1847 can be understood in terms of population dynamics, Manifest Destiny inspired racist paternalism, European disease, the religious beliefs of the Latter Day Saints embodied in their Book of Mormon, and Mormon Indian affairs policies (McPherson, 19-21).

The size of the two Ute groups in the Salt Lake and Utah valleys during 1847 is unclear, but is estimated at 75 persons. On the evening of Young’s first day in the valley, July 24th, 1847, a group of 12 to 15 members of Ute Chief Wanship’s band from Salt Lake valley and Utah valley greeted the new immigrants (Little, 100). If 12 to 15 men between the ages of 17 and 40 represent about 20 percent of the population, as occurs today, this implies a local First Peoples population of around 60 to 75 persons. The advance party of Mormon colonists that arrived of July 24th, 1847 contained about 150 persons. One estimate of the total First Peoples population in Utah in 1847 is 20,000 persons (McPherson, 20), but it includes all the major tribes of Utah: the Gosutes, the Utes, the (southern) White Mesa Utes, the Paiutes, the Western Shoshone, and the Navajos. Another speculative estimate was that in the 1840s, 10,000 Utes were spread across Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas (Covington, 2). By the end of 1847, the Salt Lake Euro-American colonist population rose to 1,500, by the 1850 census there were 4,658 colonists in Salt Lake City and 11,330 in Utah as a whole, and by 1860, 8,191 in Salt Lake City and 40,125 throughout Utah (Perlich, 8; Draper, 15). But the early Mormon Euro-American colonists of 5,000 were only about 1 percent of the 400,000 Euro-American immigrants who used the Oregon Trail between 1846 and 1850. Most colonists, like Heinrich Lienhard (March 3rd), were passing through Utah on their way to Oregon, Washington and California.

As the relative abundance between Euro-American and First Peoples populations reversed in favor of the pioneers between 1847 and the 1850’s, conflict was inevitable. In particular, the Euro-American colonists arrived with substantial livestock populations that quickly depleted native grasses. Wildlife populations, on which the hunter-gatherer First Peoples depended, dwindled in competition with cattle grazing. Fish were used up from the streams and the Utah Lake fish-laden river was fenced off (Covington, 51, 60, 62-63).

The second major cultural factor that affected the first encounter between the Utah Euro-American colonists and First Peoples was Manifest Destiny inspired racism, and that racism is best illustrated by the Euro-Americans’ view of First Peoples “depredations”. James Amasa Little’s 1946 biography of Lorenzo Dow Young is illustrative of pioneer attitudes towards First Peoples as immoral “thieves”,

“The following circumstance, illustrating the thieving propensities of these aboriginal Americans shows that the Saints did not much improve their Indian associations in changing their location from the vicinity of the thieving Pawnees and Omahas to the midst of the cricket eaters of the desert” (Little 99-100).

What the Euro-American colonists viewed as “thieving” may have been perceived by the First Peoples as payment of “rent” due. In denying claims of the pioneers, based on Christian biblical doctrines, that the valley and the canyon were owned by all persons, including the Euro-American colonists, the First Peoples view was that they owned the land as their territory. They claimed “a share of the grain [planted by the colonists] for their [the colonists] use of the land” (Christy, 219, citing “Journal History of the Church,” August 15, 1846, Archives Division, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City).

Similarly, Gottfredson’s 1919 “History of Indian Depredations in Utah” by its title reveals colonists’ views of First Peoples. “Depredations” is normally a term reserved for animal depredation of livestock. The use of the term “depredation” indicates a view of First Peoples as sub-humans prone to immoral thieving. Gottfredson stated that,

“It was the inherent nature of the Indian to steal, and this brings to my mind an incident told of an Indian who brought a worn out axe to a black smith to be fixed, the blacksmith said, I can’t fix it, it hasn’t any steel in it. ‘Oh yes, said the Indian, it is all steel, me steal it last night.’ Indians could not be depended upon as to their lasting friendship, mostly on account of their thieving propensity, so it was necessary for the settlers to build forts for protection” (Gottfredson, 6).

Local Native Americans were referred to by the colonists with the denigrating names of “diggers” and “cricket-eaters” (Gottfredson, Little). The use of these terms persisted even though the 1847 colonists’ crops failed and the pioneers survived the 1847-1849 winters by learning from the First Peoples to dig and eat local roots (Nov. 30th).

The third major factor that affected 1847 colonist interactions with First Peoples was disease. After initial trading of blankets with and exchanging prisoners with the Utes, in the winter of 1847, the European disease of measles struck Wanship’s group, and the colonists buried thirty-six Utes in a mass grave (Conetah, 37; Covington, 60; see Gunnison, 146). This was typical of the disease transmission during the Euro-American colonization of North America (Diamond).

The fourth major cultural factor that affected the first encounter between the Utah Euro-American colonists and First Peoples was Mormon religious views. Written or translated by Joseph Smith during the religious revival period of the 1820s in up-state New York and during a period of eastern Indian removal, the Book of Mormon recites the story of a supreme North American white tribe, the Nephites, that split from a tribe of immoral non-whites, the Lamanites (Book of Mormon). The supreme being later becomes displeased with the Nephites for their failure to follow religious tenants, and around the time of crucifixion of Jesus, the being destroys both the Nephite and the Lamanite cultures. Mormon culture identifies Native Americans as Lamanite remnants to which the Mormons have a historical and religious duty (Covington, 52-53). For example, when Utah was admitted as a territory in 1850 as part of the Missouri Compromise, Utah was admitted as a slave territory; however, the territorial legislature allowed only the taking Black Americans and not First Peoples, as slaves.

The fifth major factor was Mormon Indian affairs policies. On August 1st, 1847, the colonists told the First Peoples that the Native Americans did not own the Salt Lake Valley (Christy, 219). Brigham Young directed the colonists to remain confined to the Great Salt Lake Valley, given that the “Utes may feel a little tenacious about their choice of lands on the Utah [Lake], we had better keep further north . . . which is more neutral ground . . .” (Sillitoe, 32, quoted). After having established themselves, Young concluded that the pioneers would then “select a site for our location at our leisure” (id). The Salt Lake Valley was the northwestern corner of the Ute territory. The valley was bounded by and overlapped the Western Shoshone Nation to the north and Gosutes lands to the west (McPherson, 2). But eventually, Ute taking of cattle, Ute threats to attack settlers due to lack of wild game foodstuffs and anger over expropriation of their traditional lands led Young to view the Ute Bands as an existential threat to the new colony, “They must either quit the ground or we must — we are to maintain that ground or vacate this . . . if we yield in this instance — we have to yield this land” (Young, Feb. 10, 1850, quoted Christy, 226).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 7th, 1853, he lists the early natural signs of spring. On March 7th, 1854, he hears the first bluebird of the season and sees flying gnats. On March 7th, 1859, he hears a woodpecker and then a shrike.

On March 7th, 1915, the Salt Lake Telegram extolled the beauty of the drive along the new 11th Avenue and City Creek Roads. The road is to be completed shortly using prison labor. The Telegram notes that “thousands” of Salt Lake residents go to the canyon on summer weekends to escape the city’s heat (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 7, 1895 on the west side of town, Rio Grande while boring an artesian well to 1,073 feet, brought from pieces of a preserved tree with stream rounded rocks similar to those found at City Creek from depths of 438, 667, and 730 feet (Salt Lake Tribune).

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