City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 7, 2017

March 6th

Filed under: History, Squirrel, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:59 am

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part IV

2:30 p.m. In the early evening last night, high winds induce tiredness and then a deep, profoundly restful sleep. I reawake at midnight to a white world. Everything is covered in a layer of ice and about three inches of snow. A deep sleep after high wind events is a common occurrence for me. One urban health myth is that high pre-storm winds flood cities with positive atmospheric ions that cause irritability, and a storm brings negative atmospheric ions that promote calm and rest. These negative ions attach to pollution particles at draw them from the air. This is the basis for a substantial trade in negative ion generators. In a 2013 meta-analysis, Perez, Alexander and Bailey of a private research company reviewed thirty-three negative and positive ion studies published between 1957 and 2012. Many of these were controlled studies in which subjects sat in sealed rooms into which negative or positive ion charged air was pumped. In the majority of those controlled conditions, no change in mood was detected, although clinically depressed subjects did show some improvement. Perez and colleagues questioned some studies results due to the short period of exposure to ion-charged air and the differing means by which changes in mood were assessed. For myself, I have no doubt that some atmospheric changes induce a deep, restful sleep. Anecdotally, I have experienced it many times. But if the effect is not caused by the air’s positive or negative ion charge, then perhaps it is something else, for example, the higher concentrations of mold and dust stirred up by such winds?

Today, in the late morning, the overcast skies clear, it warms and the snow-ice melts. While jogging up the canyon, the combination of ice and snow layers causes mini-snow slides on the lower ice surface and down the many gullies on the western canyon wall. In the small bowl at the top of each gullies, a snow slide, perhaps only of a half-inch in depth, starts. The sloughs run down the gullies and turn them a brighter white than the surrounding snow and brush covered hillside. The west canyon wall is covered in picturesque vertical white lines. At Guardhouse Gate, the Rock squirrel reappears and runs across the road.

The Euro-American colonists of 1847 found a valley full of insect and animal life. On their first arrival in the valley, Lorenzo Young reported several million crickets that completely covered the ground (Bancroft, 262; Little, 99-100). Clara Young described how the First Peoples “made a corral twelve or fifteen feet square, fenced about with sage brush and grease wood, and . . . drove [the crickets] into the enclosure. Then they set fire to the brush fence, . . . Afterward they took them [the crickets] up by the thousands . . . ” (Bancroft, 262, ftn. 24.) The cooked crickets were then wrapped in skins and buried for winter food.

The colonists reported their first fort was harassed by “wolves, foxes, and catamounts [a term used for eastern mountain lions]” and Lorenzo Young “spread some strychnine about, and in the morning found fourteen white wolves dead” (Bancroft, 277, ftn. 8; Little, 99). Young also reported jack rabbits (Little, 99). A startled deer, then unfamiliar with idea of a “fort”, jumped over the fort’s high wall and into the enclosure (id., 276). Deer herds traversing the valley and surrounding canyons were sufficiently large to provide both food stuffs and hides for the making of shoes and clothing for 1,500 persons (Bancroft, 277). The stockade was also quickly overrun by swarms of mice, and noise of the mice was loud enough that fifty or sixty had to be killed nightly (Bancroft, 277-278). Buffalo herds were also present as the pioneers reported using in their hand-looms buffalo hair snagged on sage brush from passing herds in order to make cloth in the absence of cotton (id., 276, ftn. 6). They traded with First Peoples already in the valley for buffalo hides (id., p. 277). In the present day, a re-introduced buffalo herd is maintained on a Antelope Island State Park.

While no historical record of fish life in valley or City Creek streams was found, Utah Lake was an annual spring gathering place of several Ute Tribe bands due to an abundant fish runs. Utah pioneer George W. Bean described that fish were so numerous that, “suckers and mullet passing [sic] continuously up stream that often the river would be full from bank to bank as thick as they could swim for hours and sometimes days together, and fish would be taken in all ways and places” (Gottfredson, 21). Utah Lake connects the Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River and hence to all of the Salt Lake valley streams, including City Creek Canyon. In a 2012 article, Utah Audubon Society’s Wayne Martinson described the pre-colonization Jordan River as,

comparable to any international wildlife area in the world . . . It was a riparian area in a desert that connected one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi and the largest saline lake in the Western hemisphere. What we’ve lost on the Jordan is something we don’t even think about anymore. I can appreciate all the restoration that’s going on now, but it’s just a remnant of what was. (Salt Lake Tribune and Baird, Oct. 22, 2012).

In December 1848, a newly created Salt Lake county government organized a committee of extermination for wildlife. Two hunting parties systematically removed all wildlife in the valley. That winter, they reported killing “2 bears, 2 wolverines, 2 mountain lions, 763 wolves, 409 foxes, 31 minks, 9 eagles, 530 magpies, hawks and owls, and 1,626 ravens” (Bancroft, 287, ftn. 2). In January 1849, city administrators made plans for a 17 mile fence to be constructed surrounding the city and 5,153 acres of farmland (Bancroft, 285-6 ftn. 3), presumably in part to keep any remaining wildlife out of crop fields.

While wildlife was excluded from the valley, wildlife retained their refuge in the surrounding canyons. In City Creek, on January 19, 1875, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the account of a member of a rescue party sent to check on the welfare of two missing miners at the Red Bird Mine on Scott’s Hill (probably the Unnamed peak at 8283 feet west of Lower Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon. The rescuer reported that “game of all kinds is abundant. We saw twelve blacktail deer in one band for a starter, ducks in great abundance, many snipes, a brace of California quail, to say nothing of prairie chickens, grouse and white hare. The stream is also a favorite resort for brook trout” (id). As late as September 1916, sheepherders Jerry Ellis and George Neill reported that they killed twenty-eight bears in City Creek Canyon, near Beck’s Hot Springs and in Hardscrabble Canyon since June of that year (Salt Lake Telegram). Seven of the most recently killed bears of 1916 weighed over 500 pounds, and the state paid the hunters a $105 USD predator bounty (id).

(For an excellent narrative on the pre-European state of Utah nature and how it was altered through the 1930s, see Flores 1985.)

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 6th, 1853, he watches two red squirrels. March 6th, 1855, he finds a mouse nest under the snow.

March 4, 2017

March 4th

Filed under: Birds, History, Mammals, Plants — canopus56 @ 8:36 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part II

External Link to Image

Utah Digital Archives and Utah Historical Society. Early Photograph of City Creek Canyon Road by Harold Shipley.

1:30 p.m. Another day of bright sunshine. Winter is held back; pre-spring advances. Looking over my 2015 wildlife log for City Creek, I again see far fewer encounters in February 2017. In February 2015, I recorded 160 encounters, including many of the same characters seen this year: American Crow, Great Horned Owl, Black-billed Magpie, Mountain Chickadees, Black-Capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mule deer, Elk and Rock Squirrels. Others were absent in February 2017: Turkey Wild, Western Scrub Jay, immature Bald eagle, Canyon Wren, Cooper’s Hawk, Dusky Grouse, Moose, and Steller’s Jay.

In 1847, after the arrival of Mormon Euro-American colonists to the valley, they found a lush valley full of trees, grasses and other plant life. The initial party, after Brigham Young’s advance party of 78 wagons, consisted of 1,533 persons in 580 wagons and included 4,333 head of livestock and fowl (Bancroft, 267 at ftn. 38) and they traveled to the valley from July 4th, arriving on September 20th, 1847 (Bancroft, 283). The advance party built a fort in the form of a stockade consisting of 29 log-cabins (Bancroft, 277). It was located at the current Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City. During their first summer and through the following spring, these Mormon pioneers noted considerable plant and wildlife. In 1902, William C.A. Smoot, one of the eight then still living participants in the 1847 advance party recalled that,

“The valley was not covered with sagebrush, as some persons have assumed. It was all grass as tall as wheat and made fine grazing for cattle. Most of this has been trampled down since then, but small patches may still be seen up Parley’s canyon and in some parts of the City cemetery” (Salt Lake Telegram, July 3, 1902).

In the advance party, pioneer William Clayton reported at their last camp in Emigration Canyon that “[t]he soil looks indeed rich, black and a little sandy. The grass is about four feet high and very thick on the ground and well mixed with rushes”, a grass plant (Cottam, 1945, at 173). In the Emigration creek bottom, Clayton stated that, “[t]he grass on the creek grows from six to twelve feet high . . .” (id). At the bottom of Emigration Canyon, he reported a thicket of trees and brushes so dense that he was compelled to crawl through them on his hands and knees. Of the valley he stated that “[t]he grass grows high and thick on the ground and is well mixed with green rushes”(May, at 65). On July 21st, 1847, Pratt recorded that “A great variety of green grasses and very luxuriant covered the bottom for miles . . .” (Cottam 1947 at 11). Others reported walking through “[w]heat grass [growing] 6 or 7 feet high, many different kinds of grass . . . some being 10 or 12 feet high” (Honiker 1994 at 33, quoting Jackson).

In addition to reconnaissance party reports of abundant timber in the canyons, Brigham Young described how prior to channelling the bed of City Creek as it passed through the city, that the creek’s natural bed was thickly covered in willows and wild roses (Bancroft, 262, without citation to source). The Daughters of the Utah Pioneer’s monument to the lone cedar partially corroborates Young’s description of willows along City Creek’s channels. The DUP monument to the lone cedar begins, “Although willows grew along the banks of the streams a lone cedar tree . . .” (DUP). Further south in the valley, present day Draper was named “Willow Creek” by the colonists (Gottfredson, 18). Further south in the valley near present day Murray, another of the 1847 immigrants described the drainage from Big Cottonwood Canyon as, “alive with birds and small animals. There were many blackbirds, cat birds, morning doves . . . skunks, minks, badgers, muskrats, otters, foxes, and along the river a few beaver. A little farther up there were a few wolves” (Sillitoe at 34 quoting Murray Bicentennial History Book Committee).

A series of biological surveys conducted after the colonists’ arrival in 1847 also support that the pre-Euroamerican Salt Lake valley was a place of exceptional diversity, in particular bird diversity. Colonel Stansbury’s expedition of 1850 returned eleven plants to Washington (Welsh) and his report of 1852 included a botany appendix (Stansbury) by John Torrey that describes about 130 species. An early woman collector in the valley was Jane Carrington, who as a teenager collected two new species out of her total collection of 59 Utah plants (Welsh). But neither Stansbury’s narrative or or Carrington’s botanical lists give a good feel of the valley’s overall natural state beyond that Stansbury said he passed a grove of small oaks on entering the valley. Stansbury’s scientific aid, Lt. J. W. Gunnison noted that the valley was “perennial pasturage, but the hillsides furnish bunchgrass . . .” (Cottam 1947 at 11).

In contrast, Stansbury collected and returned thirty-one bird specimens to the Smithsonian Institution for later cataloguing by biologist Spencer F. Baird (Rawley, 53-55). Those birds gave an initial hint of the abundance and high diversity of bird life along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Another early indication of the diversity of Utah’s early bird and mammalian wildlife were given in a July 1855 expedition by Jules Remy, whose 1861 “A Journey to the Great Salt Lake” catalogued 27 mammals and 34 birds, all familiar today (Rawley, 60-62). The 1859 U.S. War Department expedition of Colonel James H. Simpson similarly returned 37 birds to Professor Baird for cataloguing (Rawley, 67-68). But it is was the 1867-1869 survey expedition by U.S.G.S.’s Clarence King that finally revealed the true extent of the diversity of bird life on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake in and near Salt Lake Valley. Ornithologist Robert Ridgeway reported 92 bird species in the Salt Lake Valley and 116 birds species at Parley’s Park at the summit of Parley’s Canyon, about ten miles from City Creek Canyon (Rawley, 69-79).

In Grove Gilbert’s 1890 report on the geology of Lake Bonneville, he concluded with respect to the valleys and canyons surrounding the lake, including Salt Lake Valley and City Creek, that “In the virgin condition most lowland valleys and all upland valleys were covered by grass and other herbaceous vegetation” (Gilbert, Cottam 1947 at 12). This pre-Euro-American state of grasslands was confirmed by subsequent range experiments. In 1932, Pickford of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station located 26 one to two acre plots on northern valley floors that were grazed or burned and compared them to 7 plots that were ungrazed, unburned plots that were taken as representative of virgin grassland (Pickford). He found that 26 percent of the area of virgin plots were covered in perennial grasses with little or no sagebrush or greasewood. Perennial grasses covered 1 percent of burned and grazed plots. In his Fig. 1, he displays a photograph of one of the virgin areas and this is the best representative image of what the Salt Lake Valley bottom looked like on the arrival of the Euro-American colonists. In 1945, University of Utah biologist Cottam located and compared parcels of land Red Butte that had been protected from grazing and compared them to Emigration Canyon that have been extensively overgrazed (Cottam, 1945). He found the density of grasses and shrubs in Red Butte to be twice that of Emigration.

Some hint of how densely the mouths of canyons were covered in thickets of trees can be seen in an early 1900s photograph of the Shipley photograph collection at the University of Utah Marriott Library digital archives. One photograph shows the early road constructed by Young and improved in the late 1890s by City prison labor. The narrow track bisects an impenetrable wall of green (J. Willard Marriott, Id. 459448). City Creek remained a refuge for trees and plants. A 1903 Salt Lake Mining Review article about the Burro Mine on Black Mountain notes that Black Mountain was much more heavily timbered than we see today. In 1918, City Water Commission C. Clarence Nelsen, in recalling his boyhood days in the City Creek, noted that “City Creek canyon and other watersheds of the city were well timbered” (Salt Lake Tribune, January 9th, 1918). Nelsen’s report of his boyhood described the state of the canyon in the 1870s, after it had been logged for almost twenty years.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 4th, 1852, he seeks shelter on the leeward side of a wood pile in order to enjoy the warm rays of the sun. He see lambkill shoots sticking above the snow. On March 4th, 1854, he sees shoots of pitcher plant and golden senecio. The ground is losing its snow cover. On March 4th, 1859, he admires a crow’s call.

March 3rd

Filed under: Buffalo, History, Light, Weather — canopus56 @ 2:48 am

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part I

External Link to Image

Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Lone Tree Monument near 500 East 300 South, Salt Lake City. In Harris, One-Hundred Years of Water Development, 1942 at p. 121. The tree has been cut-down and replaced with a stone monument.

1:00 p.m. Another day of bright sun and warm air. At Pleasant Valley, the strong sun reflects off of the remaining newly fallen snow with such brilliance that it hurts the eyes, and the sun leaves a subtle color change on the surface. Most of the snow is cream white, but where the land forms large depressions, the reflected light is a light-dark gray. I believe these gray patches are where the upper most snow layer is transitioning to water before my eyes, and melting changes the snow’s reflectance properties. At picnic site 2, the road goes makes a steep bend and here, the stream falls off into a pool at the bottom of a four or five foot rock face. Hiding in the pool is a large brown trout that runs behind a rock when I crest the stream’s bank. The drop-off may be too high for trout to pass upstream, and thus, this divides the canyon’s trout populations into two branches. 7:00 p.m. Dark clouds move in from the west and contrast to an otherwise clear night sky as I go for short walk to milepost 0.5. This heralds the end of the current warming trend. A four day old Moon hangs high in the sky and it’s light casts a shadow of my profile on the road in front of my path.

Recently while walking through the canyon, my mind has turned to the question of how close is City Creek Canyon to its pre-Euro-American natural state, or at least the state where First Peoples in the valley were engaged in subsistence hunting and gathering. In order to determine the extent to which the canyon is affected by man, a pre-Euro-American baseline needs to be described. There is almost no information on City Creek Canyon specifically, but many accounts exist from the Mormon pioneer’s first entry into the valley.

Prior to Mormon pioneer colonization, Catholic missionary explorer Escalante reported a large brush fire in Utah valley, indicating abundant grass (Cottam 1947 at 10). From the 1820s through the arrival of the Euroamerican colonists in 1847, early explorers and trappers noted an abundance of wildlife, in particular buffalo, deer, elk, beaver, antelope and Rocky mountain big horn sheep to the north of and near the Great Salt Lake (Rawley, 10-45). On May 5th, 1825, Ogden entered Idaho and northern Utah on a journey of exploration. He reported the Franklin, Idaho and northern Utah areas as being covered in buffalo (Rawley, 15) and by May 13th, he noted his company had completed trapping their 2,000 beaver in Cache Valley, Utah (Rawley, 16). Similarly, during this period, explorer William Ashley reported a conversation with explorer Jedediah Smith in which Smith stated there were plentiful buffalo in northern Utah near the Great Salt Lake (Rawley, 14). On February 3rd, 1841, fur trapper Osborn Russell entered the Salt Lake Valley and hunted sheep and wolverine. Russell encountered a First Peoples Ute chief in the valley, probably Chief Wanship, near the south east corner of the Great Salt Lake, and the Ute chief reported that buffalo were no longer found in the valley although historically herds traveled between the mainland and Antelope Island (Rawley, 30). In 1844, Kit Carson, a member of the Fremont expedition, traveled to Antelope Island, reported “plenty of game” (antelope) there, and this resulted in the naming of the island. Colonel Fremont’s 1845 expedition returned four new plants from the valley (Welsh). On July 30, 1846, explorer Edwin Bryant entered the Salt Lake Valley (Rawley, 36-37), and he noted “an immense number of ducks” along the lake” (id.) Bryant also reported tall green grass near the City with willows and “polars” (Welsh). But Bryant, like earlier explorers and trappers only made passing reference to Salt Lake Valley.

In the spring of 1846, the first explorer who made a more detailed account of lands and wildlife in Salt Lake Valley was a member of Hoppe’s party, Heinrich Lienhard. Lienhard was a member of a California bound immigration wagon train. Heinrich described the Wasatch Front Range between present day Ogden to the Jordan River in Salt Lake County as a rich grassland with clear water:

“On the August 7, 1846], we reached the flat shore of the magnificent Salt Lake, . . . The land extends from the mountains down to the lake in a splendid inclined plane broken only by the fresh water running down from ever-flowing springs above. The soil is a rich, deep black sand composition [loam] doubtless capable of producing good crops. The clear, sky-blue surface of the lake, the warm sunny air, the nearby high mountains, with the beautiful country at their foot, through which we on a fine road were passing, made on my spirits an extraordinarily charming impression. The whole day long I felt like singing and whistling; had there been a single family of white men to be found living here, I believe that I would have remained. Oh, how unfortunate that this beautiful country was uninhabited! . . . .”

“Our road had taken us for the most part along the lakeshore through luxuriantly growing bulrushes. After traveling about 20 miles, I should say, we again pitched camp, having reached a small river, the [Jordan River], the water of which was a little warm, but otherwise of good quality. The grass was poor and fuel scarce. The Wasatch Mountains were high. In several of the ravines we could see a few small conifers, but the country as a whole appeared to be scantily wooded (Korn, 134 quoted in Sillitoe, 21).”

On August 6th, 1846, the Hoppe party reached the northern end of the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of Salt Lake Valley near present day Lake Point Junction. There, they camped on the shores of Great Salt Lake and reported seeing fresh tracks of bears (Rawley, 40).

In 1847, Mormon colonist scouts Pratt, Richards and Smith reported grasses ten feet high in the valley (Cottam 1947 at 11). Orsen Pratt in the reconnaissance party reported that there where “[s]treams from the mountains and streams were very abundant, the water excellent and generally with gravel bottoms. . . . . [There were] some beautiful creeks north of this about three miles, whence we proposed to move in the morning and prepare for planting. A short distance from point, the soil becomes barren; . . . .” (Pratt, quoted in Hooten at 5). In 1847, Brigham Young and his advance party of 78 wagons first saw the valley after several months travel across the prairies (from April to July 22nd, Bancroft at 253, 267), and after traversing the Rocky Mountains. After receiving reconnaissance party reports of abundant timber and water in the valley’s surrounding canyons and upon his sedan carriage first cresting for a view of the Salt Lake Valley, his rose from several days of fever and told the advance party of 78 wagons (Bancroft 267) that, “It is enough. This is the right place” (Bancroft, 262).

Prof. May of the University of Utah notes that early pioneer descriptions of the natural state of the valley depend on the speaker’s position in the Mormon Church. High church officials gave glowing accounts; rank and file members, used to the lush, heavy rainfall lands to the east of the one-hundredth meridian of longitude, gave more somber descriptions. Two women in the initial caravan described by Clara Young that the valley as having “no trees, and to them there was such a sense of desolation and loneliness” (Bancroft, 262, ftn. 23). Lorenzo Young described a barren valley with sunflowers ringed by hills of sagebrush and dwarf thistles (Little, 99-100). Representative of such accounts of desolation is the Mormon historical parable of the lone cedar tree. On arrival, the pioneers reported finding “two or three dwarf cotton-woods”, sage brush and sunflowers (Bancroft, 261-262; Little, 99-100), and a lone dwarf cedar tree (DUP). This cedar was located on the former eastern branch of City Creek stream (Little, 101 ftn. 88). Before channeling of the City Creek by the colonists, City Creek had two branches: the west branch went past present day Pioneer Park and the east branch went near 500 East Street. On July 26th, 1847, Lorenzo Young and his wife choose the lone cedar on the east branch as an initial campsite, in part because the lone cedar tree might relieve his wife’s depression (id). In the greenway median on 500 East between 300 and 400 South Streets, there is a miniature Doric Greek temple. Inside sits a memorial to that lone cedar which was cut down by vandals in the 1950s (DUP). (A photograph of the lone cedar’s trunk, before it was cut down appears as the backplate in Harris.) Historical evidence does not support this view of a barren 1847 Salt Lake Valley.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 3rd, 1857, he observes that maple sap has frozen and large flakes of hoarfrost have grown. March 3rd, 1859, he describes the first subtle signs of spring.

On March 3rd, 1903, the mayor authorized preparation of plans for constructing a reservoir in City Creek Canyon.

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