City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 23, 2017

July 20th

Smuggler’s Gap

11:00 a.m. To escape the estival heat wave, today I decide to jog and hike up the switchback trail to Smuggler’s Gap on Little Black Mountain. At the end of paved canyon road and after a short three-quarter mile jog, the trail to Smuggler’s Gap begins to wind up a a fifty degree slope on the western side of the Salt Lake salient. This also marks the beginning of the ridgeline that divides the City’s Avenues neighborhood from the canyon. Because of its step angle and orientation to the Sun, this slope is in perpetual shade, and that makes for both the cool hikes on a hot days and a micro-climate that supports the giant Lodgepole pines on either side of the trail. The Smuggler’s Gap trailhead is partially washed away, and the hike begins with ill-footing and unplanned slips and slides before the Civilian Conservation Corps era resumes. The trail is firm and well-packed, despite being unmaintained for several decades. This is also the result of the climate and Lodgepoles whose chemical containing needles prevent other plants from sprouting. Hiking in the Wasatch Mountain Range always involves steep vertical gains, and the quick rises always provide a physical metaphors for rising spirits traveling to an emotional release from daily life. Here, going “higher” means more than simply walking uphill. This slope is also the domain of the canyon’s population of Stellar jays (Cyanocitta stelleri). Over the 1,000 foot elevation gain to the ridge, I count about 30 jays in various groups. All are loud, raucous, and characteristically complain about by my intrusion into their home. The clean air clears the mind.

One of the last switchbacks turns at a “U” shaped gully about 30 feet across that descends precipitously back to the end of the road. In late spring of 1985, this gully was still choked with a 100 year snowpack event, and as I then starred down its tube, approaching storm clouds obscured the view after the first one-hundred feet. Wearing late winter shell clothing, I pulled out my ice axe and jumped. About ten minutes later of high-speed sliding and ice-axe arrests, I arrived at the parking lot and a long walk out the canyon.

Today, there is no ice and snow, and after another 100 feet altitude, I reach the pass at Black Mountain. After a fifty foot rock scramble, I reach the 200 million year old limestone fin that defines the first one-half mile of the ridgeline of Little Black Mountain.

The Utah State Department of Health announced yesterday that a another invasive has reached Utah – the microorganism West Nite virus (Flavivirus family). Health department sampling has found five mosquitoes in Salt Lake valley. Although the department has not stated where the samples were located, tree holes in the canyon mark sites from which samples are collected (Nov. 7th). Like its predecessor, the dry, brown Cheat grass on the hills above the canyon and on the City’s northern foothills, this new invasive species has the potential to dramatically change the landscape, if it is not checked early.

* * * *

On July 20th, 2004, a female runner allegedly disappeared while jogging in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On July 20th, 2004, three-hundred volunteers search City Creek Canyon for a jogger, Lori Hacking, who was reported missing by her husband (Salt Lake Tribune, July 20, 21 and 24, 2004, Deseret News, 1,200 searched). Eventually, 4,000 people will participate in the search (Salt Lake Tribune, August 1, 2004). The husband later pled guilty to killing her and of disposing of her body elsewhere (Salt Lake Tribune, April 15, 2005).

July 12, 2017

July 11th

Filed under: Geology, Light — canopus56 @ 12:39 am

Glowing Red Soils

9:00 p.m. The heat wave breaks and the temperature does not break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This evening I have driven to a spot along Warm Springs Road at the north end of the city. To the east is the west end of the Salt Lake salient, and behind me is the sun setting over Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. The west end of the Salt Lake salient is gone, because that is the location of the Staker Construction gravel pit. For two-hundred feet and about three-quarters of a mile, the entire mountain side has been removed. Above this wall is the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve (July 9th). Over the ridgeline is City Creek Canyon. The gravel operation has cut a near vertical wall that reveals the deposition of Quaternary soils over the last million years. At its base are veins of dark coal, followed by reddish sand-soils, that alternative with grey ancient mud. Roadcuts are always instructive for learning Utah geology, but the Staker gravel operation wall looks like it is an elaborate illustration torn for a nineteenth century textbook on geology. In the light at noon, it is a drab industrial site, but in the late summer light of the setting sun, for a few moments, as it does tonight, the wall glows a luminescent red. The only other location in northern Utah and near City Creek Canyon where rock glows a brilliant red is the butte from which Red Butte Canyon takes it name. The Red Butte is made of the same Triassic sandstone as the canyonland national parks of southern Utah, and in the setting sunlight at the equinoxes, the Red Butte also glows bright red.

To add to the geologic theme of this location, in the foreground next to the road, steam rises from a spring choked with reeds, and this explains the road’s name of Warm Springs Road. This is only active visible reminder of great Wasatch Front Fault that stretches for one hundred miles north and south of this point. This still active earthquake fault is responsible for raising the canyon and the mountains that surround Salt Lake City.

* * * *

In the Blake Edition of Thoreau’s “Journal”, there are no transcribed entries for July 11th to September 21st concerning Thoreau’s Concord observations. See the University of California at Santa Barbara edition that contain images of Thoreau’s original journals including this period. Through July 19th, Thoreau is on a camping trip in New Hampshire.

* * * *

On July 11th, 2008, a young man who crashed into a maintenance vehicle while bicycle riding down City Creek Canyon filed suit against the City (Deseret News). On July 11th, 1919, Commissioner Neslen recommended extended the hours for which City Creek Canyon is open to automobiles from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 11th, 1912, small fires broke out in City Creek and Dry Fork Canyons (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 11th, 1908, Iowa Botany Professor L. H. Pammel toured City Creek Canyon and admired its drought resistant wheat grass (Deseret Farmer).

June 23, 2017

June 19th

Filed under: Astronomy, Birds, Geology, Insects, Mammals, Microbes, Mollusks, Plants, Seasons — canopus56 @ 9:18 am

Last Day of Spring and a Walk Through Time

3:00 p.m. It is the last day of astronomical spring, and the canyon has completed its seasonal growth spurt, has become pregnant, and is readying itself for the coming stress of summer’s heat. Today, as I sometimes do, I see a walk through nature as a walk through geologic time and the history of life. The canyon contains living refugees from each major geologic period.

The seep below picnic site 6 contains slimes, molds, bacteria and protozoa from the Hadean Eon to the Precambrian period in the Neoproterozic, 530 million years ago. There are 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes in the 4 kilometers of Earth beneath my feet from that era (December 20th), and another 7.2 x 10^24 microbes in the 4 kilometers of air above my head (id). The orange lichens on the Gambel’s oak trees also come from this time. The mosses also that adorn the oaks and that live on rocks in the stream come represent life’s first steps onto the land in the Ordovician period 485 million years ago. The trout in the stream represent the arrival of fish in the Silurian period 443 million years ago. The horsetails by the side of the road represent the vascular plants that also migrated to the land during the Silurian periods.

Insects first appear during the Devonian about 400 million years ago. The canyon’s conifers represent the Carboniferous period beginning about 350 million years ago. The Permian period beginning about 290 million years ago when mollusks arrived is represented by the Common garden snails seen crossing the road. The Permian is also when insects like the Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies arose.

The Mesozoic era, including the age of the dinosaurs during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, began about 250 million years ago. Presently, the dinosaurs are represented by their descendants, the many birds of the canyon. The many flowering plants and trees in the canyon first appeared during the Cretaceous, 130 million years ago. The late Cretaceous is represented by the canyon’s Western rattlesnakes and Western ground snakes (Sonora semiannulata). Small mammals like the Rocky Mountain deer mice and Rock squirrels also first appeared during that period.

The Cenozoic era, including the Paleogene period that began forty million years ago, is represented by the canyon’s many butterflies. The Neogene period that began about 25 million years ago is represented by the grasses along the road. The early Quaternary period, the Pleistocene, that began about 2.5 million years ago, are represented the canyon’s coyotes, mountain lions and black bears. The late Quaternary, the Holocene, is represented by homo sapiens, myself and the other walkers and runners on the road.

In the last 500 million years, the Earth has rotated around the core of the Milky Way two times. Life remains persistent, infinite, incomprehensible, and irrepressible.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 19th, 1852, he notes that clover, buttercups and geraniums are at their peak. Grapes and mullein are blooming. He hears robins and walks across a summer-dried swamp and collect orchids. On June 19, 1853, blue-eyed grass, a small iris, is blooming. He sees a blue jay, a tanager, and a cucokoo. He hears a night warbler and a bobolink. On June 19th, 1854, he admires a distant thunderstorm. On June 19th, 1859, he observes a squirrel nest and its young, and he sees a partridge. On June 19th, 1860, he follows a fox track back to its burrow.

* * * *

On June 19th, 1993, the 14th annual Wasatch Steeplechase was won by Tom Borschel with a time of 2:02:50 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 1993). On June 19th, 1992, the City and the L.D.S. Church develop a master plan that proposed a five block parkway with City Creek raised to the surface (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune notes an enlarged underground conduit was installed after the 1983 floods along North Temple (id). On November 19th, 2006, a human skill was found by tree-trimming crews working in City Creek Canyon, and a subsequent search failed to find any other remains (Deseret News). On June 19th, 1925, the City condemned land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 19th, 1917, the City reopened City Creek Canyon after initially closing the canyon out of concerns that terrorist saboteurs might harm the City’s water supply (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1913, in support of a national education convention held in the City, Parks Commissioner George D. Kesyer plans to open City Creek Canyon road to automobiles (Salt Lake Tribune). Prison labor will be used to improve the road (id). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L. C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from a cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon:

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before it. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until it, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing is not probable, it is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (id).

On June 19th, 1895, Watermaster Commissioner Heath reminds citizens that no fishing is allowed in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 19, 1894, the Lady Rosalind Stearns bicycle race was held up City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). Three racers went up the canyon at full speed, and the winner was forced by exhaustion to dismount at seven miles up the canyon (id).

June 14, 2017

June 10th

Sego Lilies and Cheat Grass

6:30 p.m. The jet stream has reconnected over the Intermountain west to its usual spring route, and this has brought back strong, cooling breezes. This evening, I drive to the end of the road at North Terrace Hills Drive to walk up the trail from the Avenues to the south ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient that looks down into City Creek Canyon. I am looking for the Sego lily which blooms this time of year. One-quarter mile below where the trail intersects the road, I find patches of this Utah state flower (November 30th) among the parched Cheat grass. It is a bulb flower that rises from the hard ground sometimes without any leaves, and its four inch blossoms have delicate cream petals that are yellow at the base surrounded by splashes of dark red-purple. Against this central yellow backdrop, contrasting thick, white-colored stamens rise. I estimate about 80 lilies along are within a 100 feet along the trail for one-half mile below the ridgeline. Like most native desert wildflowers, it is a metaphor for beauty under adversity.

Also along the road are blossoming Canadian thistles (Cirsium arvense). Although a weed, its three inch light purple blossoms are a visually pleasing example of complexity in nature. Hundreds of small, spike like petals surround a central circular whirl of about 150 short, cylindrical, vertical stamens. The whirl pattern in its stamens betrays two counter-spirals of stamens that are arranged in left and right spiraling Fibonacci series.

Near the Sego lilies, there is a 10-inch diameter coyote burrow in the road bank to the west of the trail. That it sits along a heavily traveled mountain biking trail – perhaps between 50 to 100 people traverse this route each day – is unusual. It is not clear whether the burrow is currently occupied. The mouth of the burrow shows no recent signs of entry or exit, but there is contrasting excavated soil radiating below the entrance.

Below the ridgeline back over a mile to the trailhead, Gambel’s oak forest covers most of the land to the west of the trail, but the oaks only cover patches of ground to the east. Birds sing from their hiding places. I see Black-billed magpies at the trailhead and a Green-tailed towhee within the first quarter-mile. Near the ridge, Song sparrows, Black-headed grosbeaks, a hummingbird, and chukars are heard. From their calls within one-third of a mile of the ridgeline, I estimate 150 birds are present. None appear to be flying.

I reach the east-west running ridgeline and begin to climb another 150 feet to a small peak to the east of the intersection of trail and ridge. As with my last visit to this peak (January 5th), wind is blowing strongly from the north. The reason for the song bird’s grounding becomes apparent: in the steady wind, an avian farmer, a Cooper’s Hawk, hovers motionless about 20 feet above the ridge. The low Sun is filtered through clouds to the north, and its light sets the yellow molted breast feathers blazing. The hawk continues for hover for another minute, turns and glides off to the east just below the ridgeline.

From the peak, which bears a concrete and metal Salt Lake City survey corner marker indicating an altitude of 4,905 feet, or about 900 feet above the valley floor, there is a clear view down 20 miles of Wasatch Front Mountain Range from Grandview Peak and Little Black Mountain on the north, to Lone Peak on the south. In the evening light, the two sandstone geologic “U”‘s synclines that define Red Butte Canyon, Emigration Canyon, and part of Parleys Canyon are easily seen (January 9th). These sit on top of a larger deeper “U” shaped syncline of limestone that stretches from City Creek Canyon on the north and emerges again in Millcreek Canyon on the south. Perhaps this geology also explains why the streams in Red Butte and Emigration canyons reduce to trickle. Unlike City Creek and Millcreek with their limestone upper canyons, the surface bedrock of Red Butte and Emigration are porous sandstone. (Parleys Canyon contains two dams that hold back the stream.) Underground water may not be trapped along limestone layers. This is speculation, and another possibility is that Red Butte and Emigration canyons, unlike City Creek, were never reforested after the foresting and mining eras of the last half of the 19th century. Summer surface water may simply evaporate. To the west, the jet stream is marked by a fast moving line of clouds that extends from the southwest to the northeast.

Looking at the lands around the peak, they are one-third green oak forest, one-third dried brown Cheat grass, and one-third still green native brome. It must have been an impressive spring sight of green meadows before the invasive grasses arrived. The peak itself is covered in Cheat grass about six inches deep, and because of this year’s heavy winter snow, an acquaintance reports stands several feet in height along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail below this peak. The cheat grass is read to burn, and within the last week across the state, six large cheat grass wild fires of over 1,000 acres have burned. Several smaller cheat grass fires of a few acres in size also occurred in Salt Lake Valley over the last week, but those were quickly suppressed. Although overgrazing immediately after the Euro-american colonization of the valley in 1847 quickly converted fire resistant native bromes and bunch grasses to non-native adventive grasses spotted with sagebrush (March 13th), cheat grass was not present in the valley or on the Avenues ridgeline. This weed grass was introduced in California in 1870 (id), and the grass followed along the railroads lines east (Monson and Kitchen, 1992, p. 24), but may have also traveled as a contaminant in feed grain (id at 33). Cheat grass was first collected in Utah in 1894 by M. E. Jones on Provo, Utah (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). How fast it overtook native grasses statewide is unclear, but in 1932, Pickford of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station noted that while Cheat grass, which he called Downy brome, was found in all areas of the north half of the state, it was only dominate in the Great Salt Lake area (Pickford, 1932; Monson and Kitchen, 24). Pickford found that Cheat grass was most dense (11 percent coverage) on plots that had been both grazed and then subjected to a grass fire, but it was absent from plots that had never been grazed or subjected to a burn. What makes Cheat grass different is the higher frequency of its burn cycle and the higher temperatures at which it burns (Monson and Kitchen, 24). There is a direct relationship between the level of the prior winter’s precipitation and cheat grass fires in the following summer (Monson and Kitchen, 24). One-hundred and twenty-three years later, this hot burning grass covers the Avenues ridgeline, more than half of the City Creek canyon walls of the Salt Lake salient, and much of the State. The state and federal agencies spend about 83 million USD per year fighting wildfires in Utah (Stambro et al, 2014, Chap. 9), and much of that total is related to cheat grass fires.

The peak is also covered in unidentified, one-half inch nymph crickets. When walking forward, every step raises five or six nymphs that jump forward to avoid being crushed. They are marvels of camouflage, and their dark brown, light brown, dusky yellow and dirty white colors perfectly match the surrounding dried grass. They move at the slightest provocation and it takes several attempts to locate one for a photograph. Even knowing where it is, I have to stare at the brown grass for fifteen seconds before I can make out the cricket’s outline.

Despite the invasives, the expansive view of the surrounding hills and mountains is inspiring, and I return home a happy and contented person.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 10th, 1853, he notes honey locust, black willows and blackberries are in bloom. He hears a robin. On June 10th, 1856, he watches a huckleberry bird and finds a pigeon woodpecker nest with young. On June 10, 1857, he sees a snake. On June 10, 1860, he examines a bat suspended in the daytime forest.

* * * *

The Fibonacci series seen in the whirls of the center of a bull thistle plant reappears in many plant contexts, including how seeds are distributed around a pine cone (Klar, 2002) and how branches are radially distributed around on tree (Nelson 2004). The study of the arrangement of leaves on a plant is called phyllotaxis. There are several competing hypotheses for how leaves self-assemble themselves themselves in a Fibonacci series, and the prevailing theory is that these spatial patterns are the result of most-efficient packing solutions (Klar). Hormonal diffusion is also theorized but the actual mechanisms are unknown (id). Limited progress has been made in defining the theoretical mathematics of how a circle of undiffentiated meristem plant stem-cell tissue can transform into a spiral pattern and on identifying candidate biochemicals that control the process (Flemming, 2002).

Restoring areas contaminated with cheat grass has proven difficult and expensive in terms of both capital and labor (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have spent over 150,000 USD since 2008 trying to rehabilitate about 180 acres (0.3 square miles) in City Creek and Parleys Canyons that are contaminated with both Yellow starthistle and Cheat grass (see May 21st). The best strategy for restoration is reseeding following a cheat grass fire, but its effectiveness is limited to level areas (Barbour and Billings, 264-265) and not the steep slopes of City Creek Canyon and the Salt Lake salient. Although the city considered a controlled burn program in City Creek in 2010 (Gray and Harrison, 1999; Salt Lake Dept. of Public Utilities 2010, Salt Lake City Corporation 2010a), it was not pursued, and currently the Utah Conservation Corps is using the labor intensive method of manually denuding and spraying fields in lower Pleasant Valley, including along a steep slope (May 17th and May 21st).

* * * *

On June 10th, 2006, students at the Design Workshop recommend daylighting City Creek Canyon stream from the mouth of City Creek, along North Temple, all the way to the Jordan River (Salt Lake Tribune). Daylighting means raising the creek which now traverses the city’s center in underground pipes back to the surface. (Prior U.S. Corps of Engineer and City proposals recommended daylighting City Creek beginning at 700 West.) On June 10th, 1898, the National Guard plan exercises in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News).

June 13, 2017

June 4th

End of the Snowmelt

7:00 p.m. Temperatures reach 97 degrees today; one degree short of a record. As a consequence, the SNOTEL station at Louis Meadows records that all of the snowpack at near mile 7.0 of the canyon is gone. This is a seasonal milestone, and from now to next October 1st, the stream will flow only from rainfall and water stored underground. This afternoon, clouds stream in from the west, but it is too hot for the rain, which falls in curtains from a thousand feet overhead, to reach the ground.

Birds are quiet in this later evening, but still a single Blacked-head grosbeak is seen and heard near mile 0.2. A single House sparrow and a Chirping sparrow are also heard along the first mile road. Later, returning down canyon, I am for the first time able to see and hear the grosbeak performing a call with three low notes followed by a trill. This is a common call heard in the first canyon mile, but it does not appear in my reference recordings for this grosbeak. Other songs and calls for this grosbeak are in the reference recording. Butterflies are also subdued in the evening. There are single instances of a Mourning cloak, a Cabbage white and a Western tiger swallowtail. Gnats are rising in the heat.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 4th, 1852, he hears birds singing at dawn and he sees that dandelions have gone to seed. On June 4th, 1853, crickets are singing at noon. He examines oak and chokeberry leaves. On June 4th, 1855, white and red clover are blossoming, and mosquitoes are rising. On June 4th, 1857, he notes “earth-song,” or the combination of the sounds of insects and birds as a sign of summer. On June 4th, 1860, he notes elm trees are in full foliage, and that warblers have left for the season. Buttercups are in bloom. He sees a cat bird.

* * * *

How much water is stored in the east and west halves of the Salt Lake salient (may 14th) that drain into the stream? Using the difference between stream flow data taken at the canyon’s water treatment plant from 1950 to the present and precipitation records from the Louis Meadow SNOTEL station for 2000 to the present, I am able to make a rough estimate of the lower bound of stream flow that comes solely from underground reservoirs. For two months each year – June and July, average stream flow exceeds average precipitation. In June, the average stream flow exceeds rainfall by about 318 acre feet, and in July, the stream flow exceeds rain by about 242 acre feet, for a mean underground flow into the stream of 280 acre feet per month. This 280 acre feet per month is the lower bound. Summer rainfall will evaporate and never reach the stream or recharge underground aquifers. Depending on underground geologic structures, all of the water that falls within the 19.2 square miles of the canyon may not flow towards the stream. The oak and fir forests and grasses consume considerable quantities of rain water, and those withdrawals are not included in the sum of the difference between inflows and outflows. Thus, the true amount flowing into the stream from underground aquifers could be two or three times the lower bound of 280 acre feet per month. The 280 acre feet of water each month is enough to flood 28 of the city’s 10 acres blocks with a foot of water. The volume of that water is about 12.2 million cubic feet of water (0.000083 cubic miles), or a cube about 230 feet on a side. In contrast, the Mormon Temple that sits at the heart of City Creek Canyon’s delta (March 10th and March 12th) is 288 feet tall.

The lower bound of 280 acre feet of underground storage is a reasonable estimate. Treating the 12 miles of the Salt Lake Salient as two inward facing right-triangles that are 1.25 miles from the stream to ridgeline, the volume of the salient that drains towards the stream is about 32.5 cubic miles. The 0.000083 cubic miles of underground water flow is only 9 of 10,000,000ths of the salient’s volume. That water can easily fit in the pores space between the salient’s rocks.

* * * *

On June 4th, 1934, University of Utah Engineering Professor F. W. Muir reported that tree rings taken from City Creek Canyon and near Brighton show that in the last 300 years, there have been many drought cycles (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 4th, 1914, the City acquired 80 acres of private land in City Creek (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 4th, 1910, Land and Water Commissioner Frank Mathews reported that green caterpillars, possibly one million, are moving down City Creek Canyon defoliating (“stripping bare”) the trees (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 4th, 1906, streets in Salt Lake City principally from 300 West to 800 West, were severely flooded (Salt Lake Telegram).

April 11, 2017

April 11th

Queen Bee

4:00 p.m. Below picnic site 6, an aging tree has toppled, but this was not from high winds. The amount of rain from the last storm was so large that the soil around the tree, which sat on the inclined road bank, failed, and the entire tree slide down the slope. This has occurred before for several large cottonwood trees. Either they fall across the road, are removed, and leaves a scalloped mark on the road bank or their bleaches trunks fall against their neighbor. They rest there for many decades until wind and insects take them away. Near mile 0.2, a two foot by four foot by three foot segment of the side-bed of the road has broken away and fallen into the stream, and the stream bank is reduced to two feet from the road. This is geologic erosion in real time. To erode the both sides of the stream bank of the first mile two feet back and ten feet down to the stream bed would take about 35,000 such events.

Jogging up canyon, a kingfisher that flies by also traveling higher, and he alights on the power lines strung across the canyon at Guardhouse Gate about two hundred feet above the ground. There, he sits and watches my progress. The opposite of the down-canyon flight behavior seen on April 6th occurs. As I reach underneath him, the kingfisher noisily flies off going up canyon. He lands one hundred feet away, and when I reach him a second time, he again flies up canyon for another one or two hundred feet. This repeats four times as we reach below the picnic site 4. Then the kingfisher loops back and starts flying close above the stream in one hundred foot stretches. As on April 6th, he is looking for dinner. A few moments later, an unidentified raptor with a five foot wing span glides down canyon below the western canyon wall. He or she is too far and too quick to make an identification.

Under the snow’s effect, the flowers of the glacier lily fields along the road have shriveled, and in one field, I can find perhaps seven intact blossoms. Their passing was too quick, and I have seen no pollinator working their flowers. Will they try for a second bloom?

On this overcast day, I choose to jog back down the Pipeline trail to Shark Fin Rock, and I come across loud single chirps from the Gamble oak forest and an unseen bird. Its single chirp is loud and piercing, and the calls registers 70 decibels on my sound meter. A few minutes of patient waiting reveals a pair of Black-capped chickadees. Several hundred feet up canyon, another chickadee responds to my new neighbor’s call. Then for some unknown reason, the kingfisher from the stream below joins in with its loud rapid fire call, and the three take turns calling.

Along this trail, I see the first large bumblebee of the season, and it has a black rump, dark brown wings, and a single orange abdominal band. It is almost one and one-half inches long, and the bee is grazing on the many open poison ivy blooms along this section of the trail. It is a Hunt bumble bee (Bombus huntii), and given its size and the month that it is active, this may be a queen (Koch 66-68). Koch’s annual timeline for this specie’s annual activity suggests that the queen will be active for one month. During this period, she is building her underground nest and laying the eggs of her future sister workers. In May, these workers will slowly become active as their queen retires underground. Returning to the road, the land dwelling shrimp, the common pill bug (July 31st), has returned and it plods along the road apparently oblivious to temperature.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 11th, 1852, he describes the close inspection of a stream bottom including micro-air bubbles in the water and yellow mica on the stream bottom. In the Riverside Edition of Thoreau’s “Journal”, new entries begin again on June 1st.

* * * *

On April 11th, 1904, the Utah Audubon Society noted a drop in the City Creek bird population (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 11th, 1904, George W. Root announces that he had located a gold ore vein in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

March 30, 2017

March 28th

Filed under: Geology, Glacier lily, Raptor — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IX – Water infrastructure

Noon. Yesterday’s storm passes and today the sun returns. Between mile 0.4 and 0.8, there are three Glacier lily (Eythronium grandiflorum) fields on the west side of the road. Two are on ledges above the road, but the third is on the road embankment above picnic site 6. These are delicate yellow lilies with drooping stamens, called Adder’s Tongue by Thoreau (Thoreau’s Journal, June 21st 1852 and June 22nd, 1855). Next to these is a small hollow with that ends in a pile of boulders, and a small spring seep falls over one of the rocks that is made of Van Horn’s “Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2” (December 24th). Over geologic time, two one foot cave-like cavities have been worn into one of the boulders by this small intermittent drip. This pattern is repeated on progressively larger scales in other nearby rock formations. Above the Red Bridge at mile 0.9, Chimney Rock, which is made of the same material, weeps water from the yesterday’s rain, and the formation itself is covered with small pockmarks of one to three feet in diameter. Turning around and looking at the high west wall of the canyon, the thick horizontal cliffs of Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2 are also broken by many small cave-like depressions. Water seeping from inside the wall freezes during the winter, and then in the spring large flakes cleave off that generate shallow caves over eons. High over these walls, two large, unidentified raptors soar. The parking lot and road are full again with people.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 28th, 1852, he hears a flock of geese. On March 28, 1853, he sees tree sparrows, eleven ducks, and a Hen Harrier. On March 28, 1857, he sees twelve butterflies. On March 28, 1858, he sees hazel tree blooming. He notes the differences between men who are in the outdoors and those that stay indoors. On March 28, 1859, he notes that greens of lichen and mosses contrast with brown earth.

* * * *

Water infrastructure is not always hard construction projects; it also can mean patrols of a watershed, like those adopted in City Creek in the nineteenth century, to exclude polluters. The impetus for the water system improvements beginning in the 1870s was public health concerns over water borne disease. From the 1870 through 1917 and even with the availability of pure water in the canyon, the City’s residents suffered repeated epidemics of water borne diseases like typhoid fever (Cater). In a 1918 study, it was estimated that 14,000 cases of typhoid fever occurred in Salt Lake City prior to 1904, and between 1904 and 1917, the City’s water borne communicable disease rate was among the worst in the country (Cater, 94 ftn 5). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin, apparently to reduce water borne disease, that in City Creek about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald). As previously noted (Feb. 6th), on February 6th, 1895, Mayor Robert Baskin outlined various improvements to the City Creek water system, in part, to alleviate unsanitary water during spring runoff:

“Ever since the erection of the present waterworks system, for a few weeks each spring freshet [sic], and as often as there occurs a heavy rain or cloudburst, the inhabitants have been compelled to drink and use for culinary purposes very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water. This ought to not be allowed to continue. (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 6, 1895).”

He also reported on a seventy-five percent reduction of water borne illness, in part from prior water system improvements, including in City Creek:

“In 1893, the number of deaths from cholera infantum was 71; in 1894, 43; in 1893 from diphtheria, 24; in 1894, 7, in 1893, from scarlet fever, 25; in 1894, 6. (id).”

The pressure of water borne diseases enforced a social consensus that City Creek Canyon needed to be free of grazing or dead livestock and to be patrolled regularly to assure violations of water protection laws were remedied. Evidence of that consensus can be seen in a Dec. 2nd, 1883 editorial comment by the Salt Lake Herald:

“THE HERALD is of the opinion that City Creek canyon should be held sacred by the city for the benefit of its inhabitants, first as reservoir which furnishes their water supply, and second as a resort for their recreation and health. Any movement of the City Fathers in this direction is sure to receive the unqualified approbation of all good citizens. (id, emphasis in original).”

The earliest documented implementation of that consensus occurred one-hundred and twenty-five years ago. On December 28th, 1892, Salt Lake City Water Department Patrolman J.B. O’Reilly, who was “stationed in up City Creek canyon . . . [to] keep the stream clear of obstructions and to prevent the killing of game in the canyon” noted that “The canyon has become a regular haven for game since the ordinance went into effect . . .” The ordinance appears to refer to a ban against hunting in the canyon. (Salt Lake Herald). On January 19th, 1905, City Land and Water Commissioner Ben D. Luce reported that City Creek was regularly patrolled to prevent livestock from grazing in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). “City Creek is patrolled daily and no sheep or livestock of any kind allowed in the same.” On December 18th, 1907, Deputy Water Commissioner Matthews impounded seven cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). Eventually, a permanent watershed patrol was established. On January 14, 1913, Superintendent of Waterworks C. F. Barrett proposed the formation of a canyon watershed patrol to police all watershed canyons, including City Creek, for water polluters (Salt Lake Tribune).

* * * *

On March 28th, 1915, weather bureau officer A. A. Justice and the City’s Canyon Patrolman Carl Hammond reported that City Creek due to a low snowpack will not provide much water during the runoff season. They took two-hundred and ninety-six snow depth measurements using a plunger-like snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram on March 31). Later, on April 4th, 1915, they reported the details of their March 22nd to March 25th snow-camping survey (Salt Lake Herald). On March 28, 1900, the Princeton Mine in City Creek Canyon reported the discovery of good grade ore (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 28, 1898, Dr. M. H. Faust of the forestry association made the following recommendations: turn pioneer square into a park; to reforest City Creek Canyon and turn it into a park using trees from Liberty Park; and that City residents on Arbor Day gather in City Creek and plant trees (Salt Lake Herald).

March 25, 2017

March 25th

Filed under: Geology, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 3:34 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part VI – Timber Harvesting

Noon. Another great Coriolis effect band of clouds and rain that stretches from central Canada to New Mexico sweeps in from the north west and across the canyon. The canyon in plunged into a freezing but refreshing rain that runs through the surrounding rocks and delivers nutrients to the soil. The water feels soft on the skin, and it cleanses the canyon. At picnic site 5, a new broadleaf plant unfolds close to the ground. It has an arrowhead or deltoid shape, is light green, and is covered in small hairs.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 25th, 1858, he records many sparrows.

* * * *

In 2004, Root and colleagues at Carleton College, Minnesota, analyzed 51 rainwater samples for 48 sites across the United States, including Sandy, Utah (Root 2005). They found that rainwater in the central United States (east of Nevada and west of Pennsylvania) contains less chloride because they consist of less salt water evaporated from the oceans (id), but amounts are miniscule: 0.5 milligrams per liter of rainwater. An average range for the pH of rainwater is 5.7 to 5.9, an acidic level created by water forming carbonic acid with carbon in the air. This may explain why rainwater in the canyon feels soft. But once the water runs across and filters through the limestones in upper City Creek Canyon, the nature of water in the stream changes. Water quality data from 1963 to 1968 averages a basic pH of 7.9 and chloride content of 22.4 milligram per liter of stream water (U.S.G.S. 2017c).

* * * *

The amount of lumber taken from the canyon is not known, but is must have been substantial. Miller noted that he engaged in lumber harvesting in part for gathering personal firewood. Although coal was available, firewood cost a fraction of coal. Another significant demand above homebuilding may have been fencing. In 1853, the Territorial Legislature passed a law requiring all allotments given by Young or the State of Deseret to be fenced as a precondition to asserting a claim of land ownership (Hooten, 19; Larson, 313). Enclosure was intended to prevent claim jumping on property between landowners, given that much of the land was not surveyed. An 1861 Utah Territorial statute provided for obtaining title by enclosure of property. The statute may have also been anticipation of the Federal surveyors and a land office giving title to the colonists of the original Church allotments, and who had made beneficial improvements to the land. With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868, the Federal Land Office started to settle land claims (Larson). Miller fenced his lot, and this subsequently allowed him to obtain title to his property at no additional cost (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5). Miller reported that those who did not enclose their land ended up have to pay Young $200 for title. Two-hundred dollars in 1868 is worth about $3,200 today. Again, the need for fencing may have created more lumber demand that was satisfied from City Creek trees. Another demand for timber came from the City’s initial water infrastructure. One and one-half miles of the city’s original aqueduct the Brick Tank reservoir in City Creek to the downtown was made of wood (Salt Lake Herald, Dec. 13, 1893; Salt Lake Tribune, February 20th, 1909; not mentioned in Hooten). Construction of the homes and the 1863 commencement of construction of the wooden truss Mormon Tabernacle placed further demands on all of the canyons for lumber.

An 1869 newspaper article regarding Brigham Young’s assets estimated his annual income from City Creek,

“First – City Creek Canyon, a grant by the Legislative Assembly of Utah, a heavily wooded district, from which the Saints obtain their wood exclusively, every third load going to Brigham Young’s pile; fine water power, running four miles; income from this source $20,000 per annum.” (Record of the Times).

This would imply that about $60,000 in wood products were taken from City Creek from approximately the mid-1850s to the mid-1870s, or about $24,000,000 in wood products over twenty years in 2016 currency. Prices for wood products in Salt Lake City in the 1860s or 1870 were not found, and 10 cords of wood from each acre of old growth forest is a reasonable estimate. Assuming $20 in 1869 currency could be obtained from each cord, then harvesting 300 acres per year would generate $60,000 in 1869 gross revenues. Over 20 years and harvesting 300 acres per year, 6,000 acres would have been harvested, or about one-third the approximately 19,000 acres in the canyon. At 500 acres per year, about half the canyon’s lumber would have been harvested over 20 years. The true percentage is unknown.

Thus, the degree to which our current view of the canyon consists of a second growth forest is not clear. In 1918, City Water Commissioner Nelsen reported that City Creek was “well timbered” in his boyhood (Jan. 9th), but fewer trees existed in 1918.

* * * *

On March 25th, 1927, university students scheduled a hike over Big Black Mountain in City Creek and over to Bountiful (Utah Daily Chronicle). On March 25, 1920, a public meeting considered opening a new entrance to the mouth of City Creek from North Temple (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 25th, 1909, the geology class of University Prof. Fred J. Pack discovered new fossils in City Creek in what had been previously supposed to be igneous rock (Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune on March 26th, Intermountain Republican on March 27th). On March 25th, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald reported on new mining claims in the Hot Springs District, including in City Creek Canyon – three new claims including the Washington Mine, in Dry Canyon (now behind the University of Utah) – the Blue Bird, Molly McGuire, Anarchist, and Agnes mines, below Ensign Peak – the Gold Leaf mine (by Parley P. Pratt), the Dunedin and First Chance mines, and in the Popperton district – the Express and Billy mines.

March 19, 2017

March 19th

Filed under: Chuckar, Flood retention pond, Geology, Kingfisher, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

Erosion across Geologic Time

5:00 p.m. Kingfisher! Above Guardhouse Gate, a Belted kingfisher has made its annual migratory appearance. The bird is agitated. As it flies in a circular path a hundred yards in diameter, it makes two-second rapid-fire calls. Usually, the kingfisher is seen at the flood retention pond at Bonneville Drive and Canyon Road. There it perches on a tree next to the upper pond and peers down into the waters looking for its next meal of Brown trout. But the pond was been cleared out by the City that fears an earlier spring flood (March 5th and 16), and for the last week about twenty anglers have been cleaned out both the upper and lower ponds of fish. There is nothing left for the kingfisher to eat. On the drive back home, another early bird sign of spring appears. Three chukars scurry across the road. It is the last day of winter, and the canyon is again busy with an overflowing parking lot. There are about eighty strollers, couples with substitute child-dogs, and bicyclists. Two Rock squirrels scamper across the road. At the pond at picnic site 5, someone has partially pulled out the tree branch that grows horizontally across and below the surface of the pond. The limb has been growing there for about ten years, judging from its size. Fall, trout used this branch as a hiding place. They feed on the water skaters along the outside edge of the pool, but when disturbed by people, the trout bolted underneath the branch (October 21st). Now their hiding place is gone. I am looking forward to the next cycle of annual life and to watching the canyon come fully alive.

The milky high-runoff stream continues its loud roar.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 19th, 1842, he records a strong west wind that generates haze. On March 19th, 1856, he records a 16 inch deep snow. On March 19th, 1858, he sees numerous gnats. He sees redwings. On March 19th, 1859, he notes a strong wind and notes how wind reflects off of blowing trees. On March 19th, 1860, he admires pitch pine trees in the spring light.

The milkiness of the stream reveals that it contains sediments, but is this small stream enough to have carved out the gorge of lower City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive over the last 11,000 years? Crudely abstracted, the lower gorge is 2 miles long by 0.1 miles wide and by 200 feet deep, or about 0.008 cubic miles, and it formerly contained about 1.2 billion cubic feet of earth. A rough estimate of sediment transport from City water quality data suggests that the stream could have made the lower gorge over the last 11,000 years.

Most data about water quality in City Creek Canyon is from measurements by the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, but it is easily obtained. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains an archive of water quality and volume measurements of City Creek, including the City’s data, as part of its National Water Information System (U.S.G.S. 2017c), and a set of water quality measurements from 1964 to 1966 includes the dry weight of dissolved solids in City Creek stream water. The stream transports a surprisingly wide range of daily weight of solids down the canyon, but in terms of unitized acre-feet of stream flow, the stream transports a steady proportion of about 0.4 tonnes of dry solids in each acre-foot of water. City Creek stream flow data from the National Resources Conservation Service gives a mean annual flow for the stream of about 11,700 acre-feet per year (NRCS 2017), soils in Utah typically contain about 35 percent water, and a cubic foot of soil weights about 100 pounds. Putting all of this together gives a rough first-order estimate that little City Creek stream has transported about 1.5 billion tonnes of sediment to the delta over the last 11,000 years*. Over geologic time, City Creek’s little stream could have carved out the lower canyon gorge, and this estimate excludes extreme flooding events, like the flood of 1983, where the canyon’s flood waters run as a thick, dark red mass of mud, silt, and boulders.

* – 11,700 acre-feet per year x 0.4 tonnes dry weight per acre-foot divided by 0.65 percent dry weight x 11,000 years x 2,000 pounds per ton divided by 100 pounds per cubic foot of soil = 1.489 billion cubic feet.

On March 19th, 1892, Mayor Baskin and the City Council met at the old Silk Mill to decide if it should be torn down (Deseret Weekly).

March 16, 2017

March 16th

The Character of Light

1:30 p.m. It is another warm clear workday, but again the pre-spring canyon is full. There is palpable change in the character of the warming light: it is overwhelmingly bright. I feel as if I am moving through a substance and not that I am viewing the reflected particles. This is another sign of the coming of spring. In the first one and one-half miles of the canyon, the west side contains a sprinkling of a compressed white-chalk rock. They are the remnants of polished boulders from the streams of an ancient now vanished mountain range to the west. On the west hillsides above milepost 1.5, this white rocks now shine brilliantly against the wall’s green grass. The last three days have been what valley residents would call prefect spring days. The air is warm, clear and pollution free, and the high peaks of the Wasatch Mountains are frosted with snow. In the canyon, so too are Scott’s Hill and Black Mountain covered with snow that intensely reflects the new light. Today, Black Mountain’s snow pack has begun to dissipate, the mountain’s flank is beginning show a patchwork of white and brown.

As I jog, two Mourning Cloak butterflies do a mating dance a few feet away. They do tight aerobatic turns and loops, and then together they fly high up into the trees. On the road, there is small rust-brown caterpillar with a black rectangle on the side of segment that is surrounded by a white bar. The first large beetle appears, and it has a body plan similar to a Consperse Stink Bug, but this beetle has a brownish back and a gold strip at the end of its wings.

It occurs to me why earlier in the month the City decimated the cattail field at flood retention pond (March 5th). The pond is now a mathematically pure bowl, but devoid of life. There will be no summer hummingbirds there and a kingfisher who annual visits will not be returning. February and March have had record warmth, and the City probably feared that the canyon might flood. But there was never any risk. The water level at the exit pipe of the flood retention ponds has risen only a foot or so, and is indicates that stream flow is still below 30 cubic feet per second. There is four more feet of exit pipe to fill. The City has also forgotten lessons from the past. In the 1890s and 1900s, City Creek maintenance meant removing the many dead and overhanging trees from stream (Salt Lake Tribune, January 4, 1908; Salt Lake Herald, January 31st, 1894). In the 1983 flood, snags and overhanging limbs were swept down City Creek and where log jams formed, the road was washed out. The flood down State Street started when logs jammed the underground City Creek conduit (Personal recollection). The first two-miles from the gate to above Pleasant Valley contains many fallen limbs, and the stream bed has not been cleared of trees since the 1990s.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 16th, 1840, he sees a flock of ducks. On March 16th, 1854, he notes that trees are filled with singing robins, blackbirds and song sparrows. he observes shelddrakes. On March 16th, 1855, he finds a woodchuck burrow and follows several woodchuck tracks. March 16th, 1859, he notes that the ground is a bare brown and winter snow is gone. This is a marker of spring. On March 16th, 1860, he sees a flock of shelddrakes and two gulls.

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