City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 30, 2017

July 21st, 2016 – End of Cyclical Year, Revised and Reposted

Microorganisms, Moss, Lichens, Glaciers, and Climate Trends

(Revised and expanded after lichen identification completed.)

3:30 p.m. It is another day intense summer heat, and as I pull into the parking lot, I take notice of a large Limber pine (Pinus flexilis at the lot’s end, south of the row of cultivar Horsechestnut trees. The Limber pine, Narrowleaf cottonwoods and the Horsechestnuts are among the largest plant organisms in the canyon, excepting some of the 50 foot diameter copses of Gambel’s oaks that may be one large, genetically identical sister plant. A bizarrely twisted, immature Limber pine hides behind to the east of side of the Guardhouse Gate building, and just past the gate, another conifer, a mature 70 foot tall native Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). Key taxonomic differences between the two is that round pine needles occur in groups of two and flat fir and spruce needles are single. At mile 1.7 at picnic site no. 12. There a forty foot tall Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is flanked by two taller Engelmann spruce trees. Although native to northern Utah, these three trees have been artificially planted to provide shade for picnic area.

Jogging up canyon about 100 yards up from the gate, I pass a deadly Bittersweet nightshade plant with small 1.5 inch green fruit. Splitting one of the fruit open, it is full of 1 mm bright orange larvae, and testing a few more, they are all infected. Given the number of young children that pass this spot, this is probably not a good place for a poisonous plant.

In the heat, I jog alone through an empty road, except for bicyclists. Near mile 0.3, sounds in the Gambel’s oak forest undergrowth betrays an yearling Mule deer stares back through the leaves. It is waiting for me to pass, so it can reach the stream and water. A bicyclist streaks unaware of its presence. A slight anabatic up-canyon wind provides a brief relief.

Beginning at mile 0.5 and the pond at picnic site 5, I collect the sponges placed in the stream and seeps on July 15th. The sponges have been collecting microorganisms for several days. I have looked at water samples from the stream under a microscope several times since May, but have never seen any microorganisms. That is a testament to how pure City Creek Canyon water is. My microorganism observing guide suggests using the sponges to trap organisms over time. The sponges also provide a protected framework that might appeal to microorganisms by providing shelter. The first sponge was located below the pond at picnic site 5, and it was placed under a cover of rocks such that stream water would continuously flow through the sponge. The first from the stream is a dark brown – a good sign. The second collected from the seep below picnic site 6 and the third is retrieved from the watercress seep also below picnic site 6. All three are a dark brown-grey color; the sponges have worked.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the Horsemint is in full bloom, and I count 32 Cabbage white butterflies feeding on them. A single Central bumble bee (Bombus centralis) collects among the butterflies. These are joined by an orange Mexican queen butterfly. I stand mesmerized by the glade for a few minutes. Nightshade is now also blooms in this glade.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) reappear after their first spring flight. Uniquely, they fly in a circular pattern closely around me twice, and having rejected me as potential food, they fly off with purposeful intent.

Proceeding again up canyon through the heat, only a few birds are heard at some distance from the stream. I cannot distinguish their calls, except for the nasal cawing of a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

At mile 1.1, I stop where a large rock ledge overhangs the stream and admire a tremendous cottonwood cross, a Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats. This 100 foot tree with a twenty-four inch trunk betrays it hybrid nature through two suckers, each 8 inches in diameter at the base. The parent tree has ovate leaves typical of the cross. Those leaf forms continue on one of the suckers, but at its very tip is one perfectly formed triangular Fremont popular leaf. Mid-way up the second sucker, that is also covered in hybrid leaves, is a bracket of perfectly formed thin Narrowleaf cottonwood leaves. This tree must be at least 100 years old, and perhaps it is older and witnessed the arrival of the Euro-American colonists in 1847. At a few minutes of enjoying this tree, I notice that it is looking back at me. More precisely, another Mule deer is on the rock ledge on the far side of the stream, and it is intently following me. I continue up canyon so it can reach water unmolested.

At mile 1.2, I turn down-canyon on the Pipeline Trial in order to photograph some of the lichens on rocks that line the trail down to where it is perpendicular to the Red Bridge and Chimney Rock. The Gambel’s oaks that border each side of the trail are covered in a ubiquitous dusky orange lichen that is found throughout the canyon. Here the rocks are principally volcanic breccia or limestone conglomerates. The first rock has lichens that are three inch diameter turquoise dollops with raised fruiting centers. The second rock has a large turquoise dollop on one corner and fire yellow bright lichen on one face. This rock also has small dark black lichen circles. The third rock has bright orange circles with darkened brown centers. The fourth has similar bright orange two inch dollops with fruiting orange centers. This same orange rock lichen is common in the canyon. For example, it covers parts of the rock bridge at Weeping Falls near mile 5.2. This bright orange lichen only appears on rocks, and its dusky orange brother keeps to the trees. Near the end of this segment, a gully provides more shade an water. Here, the rocks are covered in complex moss complexes, and unidentified green-black small-onion like moss with fine white hairs.

Continuing up canyon to a western gully near mile 2.3, there is another slope with favored lichen rocks. Here the rocks are sandstone based. In the gully, the first rock is a kaleidoscope of circular lichens colored bright orange, turquoise, and black. The next rock is covered with a bulbous green-black moss with fine white hairs. This is followed by a rock covered in turquoise-green lichen that has a darker brown center. Finally, two foot square areas of an unidentified green-black bulbous lichen attach to a rock ledge’s horizontal surface. Looking over some of my other lichen photographs above milepost 5.0, two prominent upturned limestone ledges stick out next to the road. On these a montane grey-milk lichen that look like delicate leaf petals cling to the stone.

This is all a riot of color mixed with abstract design. Lichen are oldest and, for me, they embody the most alien of terrestrial life. I also hold them in the highest respect because they are all a form of extremophile. They thrive on canyon rocks that both bake to temperatures over 150 degrees during the summer, and they continue to reproduce during the subzero cold of deepest winter. They live on the surface of barren rocks and take all that they need from the passing air and rain. And, what else the need in terms of minerals, they obtain by dissolving the solid rocks to which they attach. Moss are less of an extremophile, but tree moss are one of the few plants that continue photosynthesis through the depths of winter (January 10th).

Returning down-canyon near mile 1.3, ahead, I again here the screeching of a Peregrine falcon. Two falcons are chasing two unidentified hawks away from the sandstone cliffs on the east wall of the canyon near mile 1.0. One falcon easily chases a hawk up canyon and over the ridge. The second hawk begins to climb in lazy, large circles, and the remaining peregrine follows. The peregrine raises higher and then stoops the hawk, all the while screeching loudly. This continues for about 15 minutes. At times I loose sight of the pair as they circle overhead with the Sun behind them. The spring sky is a deep blue, but today, the summer sun makes the atmosphere a white turquoise.

Continuing down-canyon, at picnic site 5 where I collected one sponge, an innovative young couple using long lengths of climbing webbing, have suspended two bright Central American woven hammocks over the stream. They lay side-by-side enjoying the stream-cooled air.

At Guardhouse Gate, there are the cut fireplace-sized remains of a large tree. A quick count of its rings indicates the tree is over one-hundred years old. As the the city cuts down infirm trees in the canyon, they leave the carcasses here as free firewood. The cause of this tree’s demise can be seen in one segment of log – it is riddled to the inner pith with boring beetle tunnels. To supplement my gathering of water borne small life, I also collect from the logs’ surfaces, samples of Green tree moss (probably Orthotrichum sp.) and of orange, black and turquoise lichens.

The lower flood retention pond is full of algae mats. A family of mallards graze on the greenery. The chicks, who a few weeks ago where only four inches long, are now twice that size.

At home, I examine water from the three sponges in under a microscope at 60 power of magnification in order to see some of the smallest plants and animals of the canyon. All of the samples consist mostly of bits of algae, some of which are strung on the ends of mold filament, pulverized bits of plant, and specks of silica. No moving protists are seen. A few rectangular-celled with diatoms with well-defined glass-like walls of the genus Fragellaria are found. Two circular diatoms of the genus Stephanodiscus are seen. Finally, a single, transparent perfectly formed leg of an insect exactly fills the eyepiece and then floats away. This is clean City Creek water.

At home and through the hand-lens, the leaves of the moss, which are present both on trees and on rocks in the stream, reveal their earlier evolution as compared to the leaves of the surrounding trees. They are thin and transparent sheets of green cells, and they lack any vascular features found in true leaves.

Under the hand-lens, where the black lichens interface with the tree’s bark, a separate white hyphae through which digestion occurs. Lichens are composite organisms of algae or green bacteria living symbiotically with fungi. Through the hand-lens, one can see two colors, representing the two organisms in the turquoise and orange lichens. The turquoise portion of the turquoise lichen is also surrounded by white hyphae. The second color is green, and through the lens, these resolve as small bits of algae. That lichens exist on almost all of the trees in the first two miles of road is a good sign. Lichen are sensitive to air pollution and will disappear if Salt Lake’s air quality severely deteriorates over a long period.

The length of the day have changed noticeable from June 20th’s summer solstice. Sunset comes an hour earlier around 9 p.m.

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St. Clair, Newberry and Nebeker (1991 and 1995) provide a comprehensive list of Utah lichens. They and Flowers (1954) describe which species of lichen are common in various northern Utah habitats, including for the scrub oak forest of Gambel’s oaks, the higher subalpine habitat of Quaking aspens, and the montane habitat of conifers. Brodo of the Canadian Nature Museum and Sharnoff and Sharnoff of the Missouri Botanical Gardens published the definite photographic identification guide for lichens: their massive 2001 “Lichens of North America”. They note common lichen species for the Gambel’s oak forest include Lecanora hageni, Phaeoplzyscia orbicu/aris, Physcia adscendens, Physcia dubia, Physcia stellaris, Plzysconia grisea, Xanthoria fallax, and Xanthoria polycarpa. Using these sources, my descriptions and photographs match with the following scientific names:

List of Lichens

• Hooded sunburst lichen (Xanthoria fallax): This is the dusky-orange lichen that covers most of the Gambel’s oak trees in the canyon (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 744).

• Pin-cushion sunburst lichen (Xanthoria polycarpa): This is the bright orange lichen that covers many rocks in the canyon, including the stone bridge at mile 5.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 746).

• Stonewall rim-lichen (Lecanora muralis): This lichen was the even-toned yellow-green (turquoise) circles on rocks along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 383)

• Sagebrush rim-lichen (Lecanora garovaglii). This is the yellow-green (turquoise) lichen with a darker green center on a rock along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 380).

• New Mexico rim-lichen ( Lecanora novomexicana): This darker yellow-greenish lichen with yellow fringes was found in the gully near mile 2.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 384).

• Gold cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum): This is the bright yellow lichen on one rock along the Pipeline Trail. (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 578).

• Powder-tipped rosette lichen (Physcia dubia): This is the delicate leaf-shaped lichen on the limestone vertical fins near mile 5.0 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 554).

Like today’s Great Salt Lake (May 26th), ancient Lake Bonneville’s water levels and glaciation of the Salt Lake’s canyons at the end of the last ice age gives clues as to the climate of the Salt Lake valley and the canyon. That record is hidden within the valley’s rocks and trees. In 2015 and updating a prior study from 1997, Oviatt at the University of Kansas reconstructed date ranges in which ancient lake rose and fell by radiocarbon dating organic material in tufa deposits along the lake’s former shorelines. He concluded that Lake Bonneville began its rise about 30,000 years ago (id., Table 1). Between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville reached its maximum height at about 5,100 feet, or near the northern end of Pleasant Valley in the canyon near mile 1.7. Following the failure of the Red Rock ice dam in Idaho, the Lake drained to the Provo Shoreline, which is Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue in the City. Other the next 15,000 years, the lake gradually declined to the current level of the Great Salt Lake (id).

In 2011, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe and colleagues used residual Beryllium 10 isotopes in rocks, taken from the glacial moraines in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake valley and American Fork Canyon in Utah valley, in order to date when glaciers retreated up from the ancient lake’s shores. An ongoing question existed amongst geologists, based on conflicting earlier studies, concerning whether the Salt Lake glaciers receded before, coincident with or after the end of the last Ice Age and-or before, coincident with or after the end of the peak level of Lake Bonneville. Figure 1 of their study shows the area of glaciation stretching from American Fork to the south and Farmington, Utah in the north, thus, including City Creek Canyon. They concluded that glaciers covering the Salt Lake valley canyons started to retreat 15,700 plus or minus 1,300 years before the present, either during or shortly after the maximum 5,100 foot shoreline height of ancient Lake Bonneville. Their confidence interval overlaps the 15,000 to 18,000 years before the present found by Oviatt for the maximum height of Lake Bonneville. Deglaciation started about 4,000 years after the end of the continental Ice Age at 18,000 years ago. Because the lake reached its maximum and retreat of the local glaciers started after the end of the Ice Age, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe et al concluded that the local climate between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago was wetter than thought by prior geologists.

That there were glaciers in City Creek Canyon below Grandview Peak and at the canyon’s final hanging valley (September 8th) seems evident from an examination of any terrain map and hiking the canyon. But to my knowledge, there are no studies dating the glacial deposits in City Creek Canyon. Van Horn and Crittenden’s geologic map shows no surficial glacier features (Van Horn and Crittenden, 1987, U.S.G.S. I-1762). Perhaps there was a lighter ice sheet over the canyon 15,000 years ago, but it was insufficient to crave the bedrock.

The Engelmann spruces and other pine trees that live in association with the spruces, tell the history of Salt Lake valley’s and the canyon’s climate for the last 13,000 years before the present. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Engelmann spruce share the glacial scoured hillsides with Limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Engelmann spruce is more tolerant of wet earth and colder soil temperatures, and Limber pine is more tolerant of dry earth and warmer soil temperatures. Thus, as climate changes occur over thousands of years, the relative amount of pollen left in soil layers beneath their canopy gives a general indication of weather in the distant past. In 1979, Madsen and Currey at the University of Utah used a bog in Gad Valley near Snowbird Ski Resort to reconstruct Utah’s late Holocene climate (Madsen and Currey 1979). Based on moraine deposits, the maximum extent of glaciation that extruded glaciers into the Salt Lake valley floor occurred about 25,000 years ago. After a period of warming, a second smaller glacial period ensued and Madsen and Currey, using the bog at Gad Valley places that around 12,500 years ago. Then glaciers within Little Cottonwood Canyon retreated and disappeared. A similar bog in Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood is dated at 9,500 years (id, 258). Using the ratio of Engelmann spruce and Limber pine in the Gad Valley bog, Madsen and Currey were able to reconstruct the relative climate of the canyon, and by extension the Salt Lake Valley and City Creek Canyon, for the past 12,500 years. Between 13,000 and 8,000 years before the present, the valley’s climate was cooler and wetter than today. Between 8,000 and 5,000 before the present, advancing Limber pines indicate a warmer and drier climate than today. Then there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (id, at Fig. 6 and 265). In contrast, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (id). These are consistent with Grayson’s climate divisions for the Great Basin Holocene generally: 10,000 to 7,500 years before the present (early), 7,500 to 4,500 years before the present (middle), and 4,500 years before the present until today (late) (Grayson, Chap. 8).

Over the last 4,500 years, a picture of trends in Salt Lake City’s local climate can be developed from tree ring, Gad Valley bog pollen, and other climate research. Since 4,500 years before the present, there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey, Fig. 6 and 265). It is now colder than average than over the last 13,000 years. The Little Ice lasted from about 1300 C.E. to 1850 B.C. There were highly variable swings in temperature during this time, but those changes were not global, but regional (Solomon et al 2007; Houghton et al 2001). In Utah, the Little Ice Age ended in 1850 and was followed by the most severe winter in Utah history, the winter of 1855-1856.

Since 4,500 years before the present, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey). From 1492 to the present, the tree rings show that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah (Bekker et al 2014). Variability in Salt Lake City precipitation since the 1960s, including severe drought in the 1960s and peak flooding in the 1980s, is tied to the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, an 11 year cycle of drought and heavy precipitation tied to ocean temperatures off the coast of California and Japan. The level of the Great Salt Lake acts as a recorder of climate, and the Lake’s level has been recorded continuously since 1875 (USGS, 2017a, USGS, 2017b). In the summer of 2016, it dropped to a new historical low of 4,190.1 feet (id).

In 2010, Wang and colleagues at the Utah State University associated the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (PQDO) with a northern Utah three-year leading precipitation and a six year leading level of the Great Salt Lake (Wang, Fig. 4 at 2166). In the association with the level of the Great Salt Lake, PQDO warm phase peaks are associated with the lowest lake levels and PQDO cool phase troughs are associated with the highest lake levels. In 2013, DeRose, Wang and colleagues used tree rings to reconstruct the level of the Great Salt Lake back to 1429, and they associated the lake’s level to the pacific oscillation back to 1700 (DeRose 2013). In recent years, the PQDO has been good for Utah. While California has suffered severe drought, the PQDO has kept annual precipitation relatively higher in Utah (IWWA Project).

The PQDO has not had a phase change since 1997 and the change to a heavy precipitation pattern is overdue. Despite heavy winter snowfall in the high mountains during the winter of 2016-2107, Utah remains in an extended drought with unseasonably warm summers.

Future uncertainty is added by the effect of global warming. Has global warming disrupted the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation? What will its future impact be? However, even excluding global warming, Salt Lake City and Utah are on a path towards relatively hotter weather and declining water supplies as compared to the past.

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On July 21st, 1942, the City banned the entire north bench of Salt Lake City to entry due to fire hazard, but access to City Creek Canyon would remain open (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1906, the Deseret Evening News published a picture of a 10 foot snow bridge across City Creek Canyon about nine miles up the canyon. On July 21st, prize fighter Tommy Reilly trained by taking a long run up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1903, about 100 Ute Tribe members gathered for an annual celebration at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). (In the present, the Ute Tribe holds an annual meet at Liberty Park.)

July 28, 2017

July 16th Revised, Reposted

Bird dialects; Grasshoppers and Locusts

2:30 p.m. With the continuing heat, an inverted layer of polluted air continues to building in valley, but the pollution has not yet entered the canyon. Today, the canyon air is clear, but later in the summer, the inversion layer will rise in altitude. A small black and white “bee” hover next to the road, but on closer inspection, it is a fly – Sacken’s bee hunter (Laphria sackeni). I find a small stink-bug like insect on several plants. It is a 3mm dark grey diamond with a orange-yellow border. It is probably a member of the Bordered plant bug (Largidae family), but I can find no specific specie example in my guides. Another dead Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) is on the road, and the continuing seasonal heat removes other characters from late spring’s cast. Yellow sweet clover has lost its leaves and become dried green sticks. Pinacate beetles have not been seen for a week.

Fruits betray infrequent lower canyon plants. On the trail spur leading from the road up to the Pipeline Trail, there is a single lower-canyon example of a dwarf Mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) with bright red-fruit. Near mile 0.2, one Western blue elderberry bush (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) sports deep blue fruit.

I have continued self-study on learning to read the bird soundscape of the canyon (May 6th), but I have become disillusioned with my reference recordings of bird songs. It is evident that the canyon’s birds use calls that not among my reference recordings, and I suspect between some unrelated species that the birds are imitating each other’s calls. I have followed another of the many Lazuli buntings in the lower canyon today, and they use a trill call that is not in my sample recordings. Like birds, the several species of grasshoppers that frequent Utah are difficult for amateurs to distinguish, because they are mostly are seen only during flight before they disappear into thick grass.

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Birds form regional dialects (Podos and Warren 2007, Luther and Baptista 2010). A consequence of this is that without amateurs building a large centralized body of recordings, no one reference audio will sufficient for a local area. Only long experience, in which visual observations can be paired with local dialectal calls, can make one a “wizard” of the local bird soundscape.

Grasshoppers are often confused by North American lay people, including myself, for a variety of insects, including katydids and locusts. The Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex H.) of that religion’s 1848 “Miracle of the Gulls” (Nov. 30th) were katydids and not crickets. In addition to katydids and grasshopper outbreaks that continue to the present day, historically, Salt Lake City was also visited by many locust plagues. There are several species of grasshoppers in Utah. The principal kinds are Melanoplus confusus Scudder, Melanoplus packardii Scudder, Melanoplus sanguinipes Fabricius, Camnula pellucida Scudder, and Aulocara elliotti Thomas (Watson 2016).

Salt Lake City and Utah were one of many regions that were devastated by the Rocky Mountain Locust outbreaks of the nineteenth century. Between the 1855 and 1900, the Plains states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, and the Intermountain States (Colorado, Wyoming, southeastern Idaho and Utah) were inundated with periodic plagues of this mega-pest locust. In one June 1875 stream seen crossing the Nebraska plains, a swarm of 3.5 trillion locusts were seen (Lockwood, 19-21), and on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, drifts six feet high and two miles long, or 1.5 million bushels, were reported by Orson Pratt (Lockwood, 10; Deseret News May 25, 1875). The volume of the Salt Lake 1855 locusts were sufficient to cover four and one-third of Salt Lake City’s ten acre blocks with a one foot layer, or about 507 Salt Lake City ten acre blocks, or 0.8 square miles, one-inch deep (id). While the exact population of Rocky Mountain Locusts at their peak is unknown, one carrying capacity estimate for the western and plains lands puts the maximum 1875 Rocky Mountain Locust population at 15 trillion insects (Lockwood, 163-164). In terms of biomass, the Rocky Mountain Locusts of 1875 weighed in at an estimated of 8.5 million tons, and this compared favorably to the estimated 11.5 million tons of the 45 million North American bison of that same time. Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri were particularly hard hit by the 1875 locust outbreak, and those states and the federal government had to reluctantly implement large scale relief programs to aid bankrupted and starving farmers who had moved to those states and taken up undeveloped farm lands under the Homestead Act (Lockwood, Chap. 5).

The crisis lead to a governors’ commission, the creation of the United States Entomological Commission headed by prominent entomologists Charles V. Riley, Cyrus Thomas, and Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr. to study the insects, and the Entomological Commission issuing several classic nineteenth century scientific reports (Riley 1877, Packard 1877, United States Entomological Commission 1878 and 1880). Figure 1 of the Commission’s 1878 First Report elegantly shows the migration patterns of the Rocky Mountain locusts from their permanent nesting zones somewhere in the foothills leading to Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming and their circular migrations west and south to Utah and north and east through the Great Plains. Key among the Commission’s findings were that the Rocky Mountain locusts had a permanent nesting zone and within that zone, they preferred a particular type of sandy soil in which to reproduce.

The impact of Rocky Mountain Locust invasions were also substantial in Salt Lake City and Utah. In May 26, 1875, Wilford Woodruff, church apostle and then president of the Deseret Agriculture and Manufacturing Society noted that significant locust “grasshopper” infestations occurred in Utah in 1855 and during each year from 1866 to 1872. The 1855 invasion was the worst. Packard reported that in 1855, about 75 percent of all food stuffs were devoured, and this required the Utah settlers to live on thistles, milkweed and roots (Packard, 603-604). Heber C. Kimball estimated that there was less than fifty acres of standing grain left in the Salt Lake Valley and that the desolation stretched from Box Elder county to Cedar City (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 342-343). The 1855 outbreak was part of a larger outbreak that covered present day Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, parts of Texas, and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains (Packard, 34). The 1855 outbreak was followed by one of the worst winters in Utah history, the winter of 1850. 1850 marked the end of the 1300-1850 Little Ice Age. In the 1850s, one Salt Lake child described dunes of dead locusts along the Great Salt Lake shoreline as high as houses (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1986). In June 1868, Alfred Cordon reported crossing a locust stream while traveling north of Salt Lake City for four miles, and in Tooele, an 1870 resident described the destruction of all of his crops (Bitton, Davis and Wilcox, 338).

As the Rocky Mountain Locust hordes passed, they would lay eggs in favorable sandy soils, such as those found in the foothills above Salt Lake City. In August 1879, Taylor Heninger and John Ivie of Sanpete County estimated that Rocky Mountain Locusts had laid 743,424,000 eggs on each acre (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 344). On August 28th and 29th, 1878, the Entomological Commission’s Packard witnessed a few locusts hatching from the benches above Salt Lake City (e.g. including the present day Avenues foothills) for a radius of ten miles (Packard 1880 at Second Report, 1880, 69-70).

Through 1896, further outbreaks occurred, but the locust population continually diminished in size through the Plains and the Intermountain states (Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, Table; United States Entomological Commission 1880). Without explanation, by the early 1900s, the Rocky Mountain Locusts disappeared, and by 1931, it was considered extinct (Lockwood, 128-136). That made the North American continent the only continent, excluding cold Antarctica, that is free of locusts. In 2012, a locust outbreak destroyed part of Russia’s wheat crop, resulting in that country halting wheat exports, and another Russian outbreak occurred in 2015. Curiously, since there were some many of the locusts, adequate specimens were not preserved in the United States’ academic insect collections.

Various theories arose between the early 1900s and the 1950s concerning why the Rocky Mountain Locusts became extinct (Lockwood, Chap. 10). Lockwood reviews why each was discarded in turn: The end of the Little Ice Age in 1890 and the decimation of the bison populations occurred after, not before the locust outbreaks. The decline of the rate of fires associated with the decline of Native American populations was rejected because Native Americans did not burn a sufficiently large part of the Great Plains. In another theory, the Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus) in response to the planting of alfalfa by farmers phase transformed into another grasshopper that still exists today – the Migratory grasshopper (Melanopus sanguinipes). This was rejected because the number of alfalfa fields planted in the Great Plains was insufficient to deny the Rocky Mountain Locusts of their preferred food sources (id).

In order to obtain further evidence regarding this last theory, in the 1980s, Lockwood and colleagues searched glaciers in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana for Rocky Mountain Locusts that had been preserved. Eventually, frozen locusts were located in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and at Knife Point Glacier in Wyoming. Subsequent taxonomic comparision confirmed that the Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus) and Migratory grasshopper (Melanopus sanguinipes) are two distinct species (Lockwood, Chap.s 10 and 11). Genetic testing in part confirms that conclusion (Chapco and Litzenberger 2004).

Then what caused the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust – the mega-pest of the nineteenth century? Lockwood suggests that the permanent breeding zones of the Rocky Mountain Locust were similar to the Monarch butterfly (Lockwood, Chap. 13). The Monarch butterfly overwinters in a few small forest groves in California and Mexico. The Monarchs (of which I saw two of in City Creek Canyon on July 24th) could easily be made extinct by a few loggers armed with chain saws. The Rocky Mountain Locusts concentrate their favored breeding zones on sandy soils in foothills raised above stream banks. Lockwood suggests that a triumvirate of three human activities brought the end to the locusts. First, farmers in Wyoming or Montana flooded, as suggested by the Entomological Commission in 1880 (Second Report, 311-313, Utah irrigation practices), or farmed the relatively small permanent breeding refuges of the Rocky Mountain Locust. Farmers also planted alfalfa for cattle feed, a plant disfavored by the locusts. Second, ranchers released millions of cattle that quickly denuded sandy grasslands next to streams and canyon headwaters. Third, this led to cloud-burst flooding that washed out the breeding areas and-or covered breeding zones with layers of thick mud. Combined, these factors destroyed the Rocky Mountain Locusts permanent breeding refuges and led to their extinction.

These factors were also seen locally in the Salt Lake Valley. On their arrival, Euro-American colonists found a valley inundated with Rocky Mountain Locusts and kaytdids (March 6th). Their first tasks included forming a committee of extermination to kill much of the bird life in the valley that might eat agricultural crops and that incidentally eat locusts (March 6th). They then released some of the 4,500 cattle brought with the first 1848 settlers on both the valley floor and the foothills, and planted large tracks of grains on the valley floor. Next they began lumbering operations that denuded the upper canyons (March 13th and March 14th), and removal of the time resulted in cloudburst flooding (March 11th and 12th, July 7th) (id).

In modern Utah, outbreaks of less robust katydids and other grasshoppers still occur. On May 7, 2002, former Governor Micheal Leavitt declared a state of emergency in Utah due to an outbreak of Mormon crickets and other grasshoppers in which 3.3 million acres in Utah were infested (Ut. Exec. Order May, 7, 2002, Karrass 2001). Grasshoppers periodically infest up to 6 square miles in the Salt Lake valley, but their cousins, the Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex H.), had their last 2 square mile outbreak in 2009 (id). Statewide, grasshoppers peaked in 2001 (1.4 million infested acres) and 2010 (approx. 800,000 acres) (Watson 2016, Karrass 2001). Acres infested by Mormon crickets crashed from 3 million in 2004 to only 10,000 in 2016 (Watson).In Salt Lake County, the last Mormon cricket infestation was about 1,300 acres in 2009 (Watson 2016). Given the rapid urbanization of the west half of the Salt Lake valley beginning in 2008, the katydids’ breeding ground on the valley floor has been further reduced, and thus, it is unlikely that they will return here. On July 16th and after their hatching, I saw four Mormon crickets in the trees around mile 0.5 in City Creek Canyon.

This does not mean that the ecological niche occupied by the Rocky Mountain Locust and the Mormon crickets remains empty. On July 6th, I estimated that in the foothills surrounding the north end of Salt Lake City – these are the same hills that Packard saw Rocky Mountain Locusts rise from in 1879 – there were 310,000,000 million House crickets (Acheta domestica) with a mass of 85 tons on the city’s northern foothills. Unlike the larger Utah grasshoppers and katydids, the House crickets do not invade the valley floor, and they are not perceived as a pest despite their numbers.

Mormons have a cultural tradition of storing one year’s worth of food against hard times. This practice has a thin doctrinal basis. There is an ambiguous reference in their texts directing members to “organize yourself; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house . . . ” (Smith, Doctrine and Covenants, 109:8), but a more direct religious source is Levicitus, Chapter 25:1-13, of the Christian Bible. In Levicitus, followers are enjoined to observe a fallow seventh sabbath year after six years of harvests. The fifty year after seventh sabbath years is to be a jubilee year in which debts are forgiven.

In present day Mormon country from Idaho to Arizona, selling and buying a year’s worth of dried disaster supplies is big business. Probably, this cultural practice is an echo of western colonists’ encounters with the now extinct Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanopus spretus). Numerous plague scale invasions of this locust visited Salt Lake City between 1855 and 1877.

The outbreak of 1855 was seven years after the 1848 “Miracle of the Gulls” katydid incident. On July 13, 1855, church apostle Heber C. Kimball drew the parallel between biblical injunctions in Leviticus to allow land to lay fallow every seven years and the need to store food stuffs to tide a believer over the seventh Sabbath year:

“How many times have you been told to store up your wheat against the hard times that are coming upon the nations of the earth? When we first came to the valley our President [Brigham Young] told us to lay up stores of all kinds of grain, that the earth might rest . . . This is the seventh year, did you ever think of it?” (quoted in Lockwood, 44-45).

After touring the devastation of the 1868 locust outbreak in the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young in a sermon to the Mill Creek congregation returned to the need to keep a seventh sabbath year of provisions on hand as a hedge against calamity:

“We have had our fields laden with grain for years; and if we had been so disposed, our bins might have been filled to overflowing, and with seven years’ provisions on hand we might have disregarded the ravages of these insects, . . .” (quoted Bitton, Davis, and Wilcox, 354).

Thus, the Mormon practice of storing a year’s worth of food supplies is in part inspired by their encounter with the extinct Rocky Mountain Locust.

* * * *

On July 16th, 1946, the Salt Lake Telegram reported on the costs of recovery from an August 1945 cloudburst flood. The airport was wrecked and a flash flood down Perry’s Hollow ripped through the city cemetery and tombstones were swept onto N Street. The downtown flooded:

Two hours later [after the cloudburst] State St. was still blocked by the overflow from flooding City Creek. Boulders weighing 300 and 500 pounds were left along the way. Parked automobiles were carried for blocks. Tree branches and trash cans were left in four and five-foot drifts.

On July 16th, 1940, a young bicyclist lost control of his machine and was injured on crashing into a tree (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1922, hundreds of young girls hiked up City Creek Canyon as part of a city parks recreation program (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1916, the YMCA planned a hike up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 16th, 1891, District Court Judge Zane in Duncan v. E. R. Clute declared the City’s water main improvement district that developed the City Creek water system infrastructure to be unlawful and he suggested that the City Council should be impeached for implementing their plan (Deseret Evening News). On July 16th, 1882, Salt Lake City passed an ordinance establishing the Salt Lake City Waterworks for the development of water system infrastructure in the city and in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). The ordinance set a schedule of connection fees to City water mains (id).

July 16, 2017

July 15th

The Homeless and the Canyon

External Link to Image

Bluets on Bulrush in City Creek Canyon at Seep (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328). Author taken July 2017.

3:30 p.m. True summer heat near 100 degrees Fahrenheit returns and the canyon air takes on oven-like qualities of later in the season. While I was born in the cold of the northeast, part of my adolescence was spent under the blazing sun of southern California deserts. My now heated adapted summer body takes the high temperatures easily. The pulse slows; veins and arteries expand; blood flows and cools in hands and legs. Limbs become flexible; muscles relax; and toxins escape through open pores. The mind becomes lethargic and meditative, but with exercise in heat, thinking remains clear.

The heat has emptied the first mile of road, and only a few joggers are present. The road becomes as empty as in the opposite side of the temperature scale, that is in the depth of winter (December 27th). As in winter, I no longer recognize in myself the person who ran through five degree temperatures.

The heat also affects mammals and insects. Counter-intuitively, it makes Rock squirrels active, and I count three in the first mile. Insects begin to succumb. On the road’s surface, Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) lays dead, baking on the road, and that carcass is followed by a Giant western crane fly. Next, I find a spent Cabbage white butterfly. This allows me to examine one this usually hyperactive insect with my hand lens. As their name implies, the Cabbage whites are white in color, but close-up their abdomens are jet black. Numerous white hairs cover that segment and make the butterfly appear all-white.

The earth has dried out, and turns the rare cases of stationary surface water in the canyon into oases. The oasis at the seep about 100 yards below picnic site no. 6 (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328) has reached an idyllic peak of diversity. In an ellipsis of sixty by twenty feet, Circumpolar bluets rest on Bulrushes surrounded by Indian ricegrass and fronted by Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses surrounds a water rivulet in which Western Yellowjacket wasps and White Admiral butterflies stop and rest for a drink. Giant cattails are flanked on one side by six foot tall Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint, covered in Cabbage white butterflies. On the other stands five foot tall blue Chicory. Stands of Starry solomon’s seal are backed by a large grove of Western poison ivy and are intermixed and are intermixed with Common California aster. A cultivar Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) shades the up-canyon end of the glade.

A short-distance downcanyon, three rare butterfly visitors are seen with orange wings, a black circumferential band and white wing spots. These are Mexican queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus strigosus), and they are usually restricted to New Mexico.

Up-canyon, this season’s teasels (Dipsacus sylvestris) have risen to four feet in height below the Red Bridge. For some weeks, the great two foot triangular leaves of the Burdock (Arctium minus Berhn) invasive weeds that line the canyon road have been raising two and three foot vertical stalks, but their purple flower heads have yet to open.

Today, I place three sponges in the lower canyon. The first is in the stream below the pond at picnic site 5. The second is in the seep 100 yards below picnic site 6, described above, and the third in at the watercress stand at the tunnel seep 50 yards below picnic site 6. I will retrieve these in a few days to see what mirco-life has become trapped or grown in the sponge’s cavities.

The intense Sun has boiled huge summer cumulus clouds from the reservoirs that line the eastern side of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and the clouds frame the north and eastern ridgelines of the canyon as I reach the Gate. Those reservoirs provide the valley with most of its drinking water. In the parking lot, an elderly gentleman, who each day leaves a homeless concentration zone at 500 West and 200 South in the City to seek the canyon’s cool breezes, sits on a bench eating a sandwich.

* * * *

The homeless have long had a relationship with City Creek Canyon. In addition to the homeless person who spends the day at a picnic parking lot, another homeless individual frequents the canyon during the winter, but spends cold nights in a local supermarket. Sometimes in the depths of winter, I have taken the homeless who come to the canyon with the intention of camping overnight back to the city and advise them that they have underestimated the sub-zero temperatures of canyon winter nights. Some are obviously mentally ill. They talk to themselves and their mental illness is either the result of the stress of becoming homeless or an effect of their pre-existing mental illness. For many years, there was a small homeless tent city near the parking lot gate off the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but in recent years, the County and the City cleared the camp out. Now the watershed patrol vigorously patrols the canyon and takes any homeless citizens back to the concentration zone on the valley floor citing the fear that persons in a homeless camp might set the canyon’s grasslands on fire. While that is a legitimate concern, I suspect the City also quickly acts to remove any homeless from the canyon in part because middle-income citizens simply do not want the homeless there. They fear the homeless as potentially violent and secretly they fear becoming homeless themselves in an uncertain economy.

Salt Lake citizens struggle with the moral ambiguities created by their city’s homeless concentration zone. City residents have long resisted building sufficient facilities to house the homeless on the unsupported theory that building more beds will attract more homeless, and residents, like most other major United States cities, have long avoided building enough affordable housing. The City also struggles with the practice of surrounding communities and hospitals shipping their destitute and ill residents to into the City’s concentration zone. In the 1980s, Salt Lake City took the lead on homelessness by opening Utah’s first homeless shelters. Rather than expending monies addressing their own homeless problem by building their own shelters, for years, neighboring cities have shipped their destitute to the concentration zone citing that Salt Lake City was the only municipality with facilities to house them. Although the concentration zone has become a state and national embarrassment, city residents prefer to keep the homeless out-of-sight and away from other areas of the city, including out of the canyon.

The homeless’ relationship with the canyon goes back farther than this: the homeless built the canyon’s infrastructure. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the City dealt with its homelessness problem by shipping the destitute to the canyon. An early Utah statute permitted cities to impress the destitute and mentally ill convicted of the crime of vagrancy into road work gangs (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85). In the early 1900s, when the City wanted to build a wider, graded road up City Creek Canyon to promote the new automobile tourism, it began systematic sweeps of the city, arresting the homeless for vagrancy as needed to supply laborer for building the canyon’s road (e.g., Salt Lake Herald, Sept. 26, 1910; Salt Lake Telegram, Nov. 11th, 1913). The city police were sophisticated in their sweeps. For example, in 1908, the road gang needed an experienced “dynamite man” to handle explosives used to break up rock ledges along the canyon road’s path. The Police Department did a sweep of vagrants seeking to arrest one with necessary skill (Deseret Evening News, April 24th, 1908). Unemployed miners got wind of the scheme and fled the city. A particularly racist cartoon, by modern standards, in the August 14th, 1904 Salt Lake Tribune shows who was working on road gangs and what residents’ attitudes were towards the poor. The gangs consisted of elderly unemployed men, persons with alcohol addiction, and minorities. On April 28th, 1908, Mark Aaron, a prisoner serving a 90 day sentence for vagrancy, was shot to death in the canyon will attempting to escape the road gang (Deseret Evening News). The officer claimed that he was aiming for Aaron’s legs, but missed and instead the bullet entered Aaron’s head. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared vagrancy laws unconstitutional.

This darker era in Salt Lake’s past provides some instruction for the City’s modern homeless problem. What the destitute need to restore their dignity is a roof over their heads and paying employment, even if that means government provided make work. If at night there are any ghosts wandering the canyon, they are probably of homeless men rattling their work gang chains.

* * * *

On July 15th, 2015, Mayor Ralph Becker proposes a “Connecting to Nature” plan in which $125 million USD bond would fund park renovations and new land acquisition (Deseret News). On July 15th, 1938, hard oil surfacing of the scenic drive along Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue was nearly complete (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 17th, 1915, the U.S. Weather Bureau installed an advanced stream flow measuring gauge at the High Line Water Tanks in Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On July 15th, 1891, the Red Bird Mine reports opening a four foot wide vein that may contain 1,000 ounces of silver (Salt Lake Times). Fifteen men are working at various prospects in City Creek Canyon (id).

July 13, 2017

July 13th – Revised

The Thoreauian Experience

4:00 p.m. In the near 100 Fahrenheit degree afternoon heat, at a seep along Bonneville Drive leading to the canyon, there is a thick stand of Common goldenrod. Its inflorescences have up to 30 small yellow flowers that each extrude 10 to 15 stamens. It is distinguished from roadside Missouri goldenrod by its serrated leaves (Pratt, Banner, and Bowns 2013). On one flower, a small 2 mm pink unidentified nymph solider beetle is grazing, and as I rotate the angle of the sunlight, its iridescence changes to lavender. Like yesterday, I again go for a short jog to milepost 1.0 and then back down the Pipeline Trail.

With summer’s heat and the proliferation of leaves, disease and opportunistic parasites arrive. In the first one-third mile, there are numerous Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwood saplings. One the saplings, something is attacking the leaves. At first glance, their leaves look like locust bean pods that have opened, but on closer inspection, some disease is forcing the leaves to fold back and grow four to five small bean-like pockets on each leaf. The newly grown pockets are open at the bottom. I pry several open, but find only one that has a small 1 mm fully-formed gnat inside. It is not clear whether this is some hatched larvae that forced the leaf to form the pockets or whether the gnat has simply crawled inside for protection. On the Pipeline Trail, a single Gambel’s oak leaf that has about ten small red-orange insect larvae attached to its underside. I mark this for a future check to see what develops.

There are only a few butterflies along the road, but at the seep Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint with lavender inflorescences has matured. The small stand is covered with about 12 Cabbage white butterflies. In the heat, only a few people are on the quiet road and none are on the trail. I am restored.

As I jog through today’s canyon, I try to clear my mind of all thoughts and just experience the canyon’s nature. Although the benefits are commensurate, the amount of time that each day’s excursion takes is great, and this reduces my engagement with friends and a social life. Some see it as self-absorption, although I view it as centering. At a minimum, the practice of daily nature observation provides a restoration of mental attention and executive functions (April 24th and April 25th). From that renewed and centered emotional strength, a better understanding of the day’s political, social and economic events can be had, and only from a position of understanding can actions be formulated that will not make things worse for oneself or ones friends. But is a Thoreauian daily nature experience of nature just another form of modern narcissism?

Based on my experience visiting the canyon each day for almost a year, it is not. Close observation of nature is about sensitivity to and recognition of subtle biological relationships between plants, animals, geology and weather. That study is undertaken in the spirit of husbandry, since humans are the only beings on the planet with sufficient sentience to willfully modify the environment. There are few better metaphors for preparing oneself for a life moral well-being. It is a form of practice for being sensitive to and understanding human relationships. But its practice is only a sufficient condition to becoming a good person, and it is possible to study nature and biology for a lifetime while ignoring the lessons of interconnectedness that it provides.

* * * *

In dueling articles 2015, Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz argued in The New Yorker Magazine that Thoreau did not deserve his literary fame: he was simply a self-absorbed narcissist (Schulz 2015). Essayist Jedediah Purdy responded the following day in The Altantic: Thoreau was engaged in the issue of his day – the abolition of slavery – and however awkward he was socially, he wrangling with moral issues remains an instructive today. Thoreau developed the stream in American thought that community injustice committed against some of its members is an injustice against all members of the community. Purdy notes that like Thoreau in the nineteenth century, life today involves moving in the alienating gray area “between feeling the justice and wrongs of our communities as our own and becoming insensate to them” (id). Thoreau’s method of thoughtful engagement, which grew out of his daily, careful observation of nature, is a good approach for daily life in our complex modern world.

That sense of alienation in a gray area of indecisiveness is magnified in modern culture by our cultural insistence that policy decisions should not be based on human values alone, and that experts should quantify and model issues to guide our selections (April 27th). Our ability to quantify and model reality has increased exponentially still the beginning of the digital industrial age in the 1980s, but this has the effect disempowering ordinary citizens (id). Many of the mathematical models that guide modern society, in particular in economics and commerce, are simply rough guides with little statistical validity, and although such modeling does provide a useful check on often-wrong intuition, they are not replacements for the human-valued centered decision-making of Theoreau’s century (id).

Our increased technological ability to collect enormous amounts of information and to model reality continues the dualism between Plato and Aristotle that set the structure of Western civilization two-thousand years ago. Plato was the ultimate deductionist: he felt that the characteristics of an underlying transcendent reality could be deduced and from inferior models of the everyday world. Artistole was the penultimate observationalist and inductive thinker: he felt that things in the everyday world were ends in and of themselves, and thus, observing and enumerating the infinite variations of natural objects was an end in and of itself. Our modern technological society are simply augmented versions of that duality and of Thoreau’s era. I can view mountains of information about the small 3 by 12 square mile canyon collected from sensors and quickly scan millions of research journals and academic books about its weather, wildlife and plants, but in the end, modern scientific research (and my amateur enjoyment of it) is Aristotelian observation followed by Platonic deduction and modeling. Again (see April 27th), the uncertainty generated by knowing the limits of one’s knowledge and careful decision-making supplemented by consideration of expert scientific opinion are important values, but at times, a Thoreauian sense of community alienation and indecisiveness must be set aside and directions chosen from human-centered values.

This tension between our increasing technological prowess and stifling emotional alienation were known to Thoreau. Norte Dame English professor Walls in the preface to her biography released on Thoreau’s 200th birthday (July 12th) argues that since Thoreau lived at the beginning of the Anthropocene era (April 27th), he was struggling with prospects of future environmental destruction, given the American character and that humanity had begun to modify the nature environment on a continental scale (Walls). Menard notes that early American divided their identity into two parts: a “British” identity that was associated with European industrialization and an “American” identity that was forged from their encounter in the new continent (Menard 2012, 600-602). In Thoreau’s famous essay Walking, he concluded that the American character had been shaped by the nature’s wildnesss. Thoreau argued in his famous statement that “Wildness is the preservation of the world”, that nature is a source of continuing replenishment. As America developed across the Mississippi and into the western United States, it needed to preserve undeveloped wilderness in order to maintain its vigor as a society:

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. . . . The founders of every State which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source” (Thoreau 1862, 665).

And societies that over-develop and destroy their wild places lose the ability to replenish their vigor and creativity. He attributes that loss to the end of the Roman Empire:

“It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the wolf [their destroyed wildlands] that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the Northern forests who were” (Thoreau 1862, 665).

In Walking, Thoreau predicts that if Americans do not preserve wilderness as they expanded into its western territory, e.g. – the Salt Lake valley in which City Creek Canyon is located, then the American character will degrade and decline into a mere “English” society (Menard, 605, 607-608):

“[Y]et we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man, – a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilization destined to have a speedy limit” (Thoreau 1862, 670).

One-hundred years later and after considerable development of the West, Wallace Stegner in his Wilderness Letter echoed Thoreau’s reasoning. The American character was uniquely shaped by wilderness and to maintain that character, the residual of wild places left by 1960 must be preserved:

“I want to speak for the wilderness idea as something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a people. . . . Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; . . . We need wilderness preserved – as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds – because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed (Stegner 1960, and “wilderness was working on us”).

Thoreau also argued that daily exposure to natural places was necessary for the maintenance of mental health: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (Thoreau 1862, 658). Regular exposure to nature was a condition to well-being: “Will not man grow to greater perfection intellectually as well as physically under these influences?” (id at 664).

Foreshadowing the development since the 1980s of biophilia and attention restoration therapy (April 19th to April 27th), 100 years later after Thoreau, Stegner also concludes that wild places are necessary for our emotional health in light of continuing hyper-development of Western lands:

“One means of sanity is to retain a hold on the natural world, to remain, insofar as we can, good animals. . . . . We simply need that wild country available to us, . . . . For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope” (Stegner 1960).

The history of the early resource exploitation of City Creek’s Canyon and its subsequent preservation as a natural area parallels these tensions and contradictions (March 20th to April 3rd).

* * * *

On July 13th, 2007, a man was robbed by two women who drove him to City Creek. A second man, working with the women, came out of the bushes and robbed the man using a BB gun (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, July 14, 2007). On July 13th, 1930, forty school girls hiked up City Creek to Rotary Park (Salt Lake Telegram ). On July 13th, 1912, a large fire was reported to have burned between City Creek and Dry Fork Canyons, and E. H. Clark, Wasatch Supervisor organized a canyon fire patrol (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 13, 1908, thousands of residents escaped high summer heat by going to resorts and to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 13th, 1906, efforts to remove the last industrial facility in lower City Creek Canyon, a rock crusher owned by P.J. Moran, continue (Deseret Evening News).

July 12, 2017

July 10th

Field on a Slope

7:30 p.m. To see other areas where the Cheat grass sea has not yet penetrated, I am jogging up canyon to milepost 2.0. I am also seeking one of the few canyon locations that has a field of cacti. Along the way at the Gambel’s oak forest near mile 0.4, a female American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) drops out from behind the leaves, perches on a large oak branch. It cocks its head, listening to the branch, and then starts tapping it, looking it for insects.

Barney’s Hollow below picnic site 13 begins with fields that climb up to mile 2.3. The fields at milepost 2.0 like the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve are covered with still green native Wild bunchgrass. There are four types of grass in this field, and I am only able to identify the one. The field is interspersed with white-topped weed Hoary cress and Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). At one end of the field, I find the first purple Fireweed (Charmerion angustifolium L.) of the season in the lower canyon. In the high Wasatch, fireweed is usually red.

Above mile 2.3, there is a hanging field of about 15 acres and an inclined nose of about 20 acres on the west side of the canyon. In the spring, the hanging field is covered in thick Kentucky bluegrass and the inclined field above it is covered in native Wild bunchgrass. It is a special place in the canyon below mile 3.4. In the deep winter, Elk using these fields as a transit point to cross the canyon road from Little Black Mountain to the western salient ridgelines. During winter, Wild turkeys also congregate in the oaks below these fields, sometimes in flocks of up to thirty birds, and there winter coyotes attack. They pause in these fields, and there hunters wait during the October and November seasons. Mule deer use this same crossing in the spring. Reaching the hanging field is moderately difficult. The hanging field is hidden behind a step two hundred foot embankment cut by the stream over the last few thousand years. The slope is covered with Cheat grass.

Moving up to mile 2.3, I decide to try a new route up from one of many side gullies along the Pipeline Trail. In a gully heavily shaded by large overhanging oaks, the grass is thick. About every fifteen feet are funnel webs of another non-native – Hobo spiders (Eratigena agrestis). At the bottom of each funnel, there is tunnel, but I have to inspect about 20 nests before I actually see one of the spiders at the mouth of its burrow. It is unclear from the webs what the Hobo spiders are eating, and I suspect their numbers are supported by large House crickets population seen on July 6th. But there are no crickets in the grasses in this small gully.

Eventually, I come to a small seep-pond about four feet in diameter and two feet deep. Western Yellowjacket wasps rest on the surface drinking, and in the wet mud at the side of the pond is the clear massive foot print of a Shira’s moose (Alces alcs shirasi). In the late spring to early summer, single moose are sometimes seen on making their way through the oak forest near the ridgelines or in open fields on the top of Salt Lake salient’s west and east ridges. Shortly after the pond, I am stopped from going forward by thickets of Gambel’s oaks, and am forced to retreat back to the trail and try again by my usual route.

Returning to the trail and going down-canyon for a two-tenths of mile, I work my way up to the hanging valley by the usual route. The field is still thick with green native grasses, but the its soil reveals its source as the ancient mud bed of ancient Lake Bonneville. This slope faces to the south and west, and despite being covered in still growing green grasses, the mud is baked to a cracked solid. Everywhere the tracks of spring mule deer have been hardened into a grey mudstone. The large leaves of spring’s Arrowleaf balsamroot are baked to a golden and dark brown. Like the gully, these fields are also covered in numerous Hobo spider funnel webs. Although covered in native grasses, these fields just beginning to be invaded. I count fourteen Starthistle plants spread widely across both areas. Above the hanging and inclined fields of native grass is a field of Plains prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). It is too late in the season for them; their bright red blossoms have past; and the green is draining from their spiked leaves.

As the Sun gets low in the sky, the light turns golden as the grasses wave in a newly risen breeze. A flock of five American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) float over the ridge to the west, slowly circle and descend into woods at Barney’s Hollow on the opposite, south side of the stream. They are settling down for the night. Crows are distinguished from Common ravens (Corvus corax) by their smaller size and square tails. Ravens have diamond-shaped tails and soar on thermals to cross the canyon, but crows flap their wings to power their crossing. Before landing, one crow comes over to inspect me, and finding nothing interesting catches up with its mates.

Coming back downhill, there are several odd three foot diameter distorted purple rocks. They are covered in green and black lichens. The rocks and lichens make their own abstract sculptures.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 10th, 1851, he admires a sunset after a rainstorm. On July 10th, 1852, he notes again the peak of summer heat, and notes that soil has become dry. He sees white lelilot, a clover, in bloom, and he hears huckleberry bird, oven bird and red-eye. St. John’s worts are peaking. On July 10th 1854, he lists song birds active in summer including robin, warbling vireo, song sparrow, flicker, crows, and many others. On July 10, 1856, he finds an owl’s burrow and comes within six feet of a screech owl with its two young. On July 10th, 1860, he sees yellow Pennsylvania sedge grass.

* * * *

On July 10th, 2010, a 59 year old man, who enjoyed bicycling in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Deseret News). On July 10th, 2003, during the celebration of the Boy Scouts 90th anniversary in Utah, the Scouts reported that Irwin Clawson, at the age of 18, started one of the first Boy Scout Troops in Utah in 1911, and his first activity back in 1911 was to take his troop on overnight camping trips up City Creek Canyon (Deseret News).

July 11, 2017

July 6th

Dry Fork Canyon

3:45 p.m. It is the third day of 100 degree Fahrenheit heat as I return to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the University of Utah Hospital. I plan to jog up Dry Fork Canyon at the southeast end of the Salt Lake salient and then west along the Shoreline Trail above the Avenues. The Trails goes up Dry Fork for about one mile, crosses a pass, and then traverses a series of gullies that come down from the ridgeline to the Avenues and city below. The Trail begins in a invasive Cheat grass sea that is typical of the city’s foothills. Here, small light brown House crickets (Acheta domestica), another non-native, infest the Cheat grass. There are twenty or thirty per square yard. I round a corner into Dry Fork Canyon, and quickly its narrow walls close in and shade the canyon. The Fork’s walls are covered in dense Gambel’s oak forest, and this forest broken higher up by fields of the brown sun-dried husks of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In an example of color adaptation, at the base of the oaks, larger, unidentified grasshoppers live, but unlike the sun-exposed crickets, these are colored green in order to better blend in with their surroundings.

At a seep one-third of a mile up canyon, there is a mini-oasis. In ten feet with Wood’s rose bushes on either side, Common sulphur butterflies, Western tiger swallowtail butterflies, small bluet dragonflies, Common whitetail dragonflies, Western Yellowjacket wasps, and Circumpolar bluets, all compete for space and landing rights around a small ditch of shallow water.

Further up canyon, the oak forest comes alive with sounds of birds: Black-headed grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings and Song sparrows call from the oaks spaced perhaps 100 feet apart on both canyon walls. Their songs are clear and strong, and I estimate there are about 250 birds between the canyon mouth and the upper pass. Unexpectedly, this density exceeds that of the stream areas in City Creek Canyon. The birds here, unlike in the City Creek Canyon, are fearless. I am able to stand only five feet from a Lazuli bunting as it tilts its head back to make a song. I am able to make a good recording and spectral graph. I flush two California quails (Callipepla californica) from the brush.

House crickets may explain the high density of birds in Dry Fork Canyon, where as the name implies, there is no water. Assuming a cricket weighs about one-quarter gram (0.000551 lbs), then there are about 85 tons of cricket mass on the city facing foothills between Dry Fork Canyon and the peak at the top of North Terrace Hills Drive in Valley View Canyon (see June 10th) (3,097,600 square yards per square mile x 4 miles x 1.25 miles x 20 cricket per square yard x 0.000551 lbs. per cricket divided by 2,000 lbs. per ton). The crickets exist at a similar density for another ten square miles between Memory Grove in lower City Creek Canyon and milepost 3.5 above Bonneville Drive. This suggests that there may be about 300 tons of these non-native crickets, and this is more than enough to support the summer bird populations seen in Dry Fork and City Creek Canyon.

As the canyon dries out, purple Bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) covered with small black ants, a blue-white thin-petaled Eaton’s aster (Aster eatonii a.k.a. Symphyotrichum eatonii), and invasive blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) grow. The roots of Chicory are roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. The white-topped weed Hoary cress (Cardaria draba) is also found.

As I near the upper Trail pass out of Dry Fork, I count two Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and just before the pass, I am treated to a rare display by a pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri). The male has trapped a female hummingbird at the base of Gambel’s oak sapling. For several minutes the male does its pendulum mating dance. It rapidly flies back and forth in a figure-eight pattern about six feet across, its wings buzzing loudly. Then the male gives up, and he does two high speed runs over the female while making a zinging noise. At the pass out of Dry Fork, I am greeted by expansive views of the city and of the Great Salt Lake, fifteen miles in the distance. The Sun is pounding, but my spirit soars from both the views and the hummingbird’s display.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 6th, 1851, he walks by moonlight and again sees it reflected in water. He notes crickets sing with a different frequency at night. On July 6th, 1852, he hears a pewee and a red-eye. He sees tufted vetch, a fern, a tansey, and a parsnip. He watches a pickerel in a stream. He hears a duck on a pond. On July 6th, 1856, he stumbles on a peet-weet with its nest and young. On July 6th, 1858, he hears and sees loons. On July 6th, 1859, he describes heart-leaf.

* * * *

On July 6th, 1905, the City passed Councilperson’s Woods proposed ordinance banned automobiles from City Creek Canyon. On the same day, the Salt Lake Tribune urged that the road should be sprinkled with oil to keep dust down. Also on July 6th, 1905, the City Council held a heated debate on whether a bridge should be constructed over City Creek Road in support of the Commercial Club’s proposed scenic boulevard (Salt Lake Tribune).

July 4th

Hybrid Gambel’s Oak – Part II

4:00 p.m. Determined to find a sample of the oak cross in the wild, I go behind the University Hospital, where in 1958 Professor’s Cottam’s graduate student, Rudy Drobnick, located a grove of F1 hybrid oak crosses (Drobnick 1958). It is located on a steep slope above the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Climbing the slope in the 100 degree heat and under the afternoon sun, after two attempts and twenty minutes of climbing, I finally find a copse of the cross. It was worth the climb. This F1 cross developed at the end of the last ice age about 7,500 years ago when in a wetter and warmer climate, both true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak existed at its northern limits around the Salt Lake Valley. (Ehleringer and Phillips suggest that the F1 cross may have occurred as little 750 years ago (Frates 2008).) As the post-glacial valley dried out, the true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak were forced further south. Now only four patches of the F1 hybrid remain.

I also want to verify if this F1 hybrid grove is the same dimensions as found by Drobnick in 1958. This requires climbing up a steeper slope and around of wall of oaks to the grove’s backside. This whole mis-adventure has been one comedic event after another. Today, I am under-geared. I am also jogging, so I am wearing sneakers and not my usual bushwhacking hiking gear. For bushwhacking in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, I usually have walking poles and my favorite now well-worn thirty-year old pair of calf high leather boots with industrial grade soles. You can walk up-hill and over any grade and any condition with those boots. The slope is forty-five degrees and covered in a combination of dry cheatgrass and Winter rye grass (Secale cereale L.). The stems of both invasives are biased pointing downhill. About fifty feet up, I lose my footing and begin a quick fifteen mile-per-hour slide downhill. But I am smiling. This is the summer version of a fall and back-side slide on dense spring snow while back-country skiing in the mountains. My feet go out in front and I am able to self-arrest as I reach the edge of the oak grove. Another try, and I am around to the back of the grove.

In 1958, Drobnick recorded is size at 25 x 15 x 8 feet, and this is similar to what I find today. At the back of the hybrid copse, is a small sapling, three feet high. The hybrid copse is continuing to reproduce.

Later in the evening after a nap to recover from the heat, I return to City Creek Canyon and the stream. Cool canyon and stream breezes make of a pleasing walk to milepost 1.0. Since it is a holiday weekend, the canyon is nearly empty except for a few hand-in-hand strolling couples and families. Tracks reveal a mule deer has come down a steep slope and rested on a clump of crushed horsetails. I count four Broad-tailed hummingbirds in the first mile. Why have they come now, since all of the nectar producing flowers have gone? They also eat insects, and evening air is now thick with Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum). For sugar, they drink the sap that the summer heat will shortly begin to boil from the Big tooth maple trees.

I have touched the canyon’s living past; I have touched the canyon’s living future; and this evening, I stroll in its present.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 4th, 1852, he describes a summer sunrise. He hears a blackbird and sees a kingfisher. As the Sun reaches him, flies and mosquitoes rise. A humming bird passes by. He notes water lilies are damaged by insects. On July 4th, 1858 at night, he hears a loon, a screech-owl, and cuckoo.

* * * *

In 1954, University of Utah graduate botany student Rudy Drobnick noticed the existence of hybrid oaks along the Wasatch Front due to differences in the late fall foliage between the hybrid oaks and other Gambel’s oaks along the mountain range (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 1). University of Utah botany professor Cottam dispatched Drobnick to locate all the patches of these hybrids in Utah (Drubnick 1958). There had been a long-standing debate in amongst botanists about what exactly Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) was. At the turn of the century, P. A. Rydberg had classified eleven types of Gambel’s oaks, including Quercus utahensis, Quercus submollis, Quercus gunnisonii, Quercus vereelandii, Quercus novo-mexicana, etc., but by 1942, it was generally recognized that Quercus gambelii Nutt. had an amazing variety of leaf shapes (Christensen 1949, Christensen was another of Cottam’s graduate students). Thus, all of Rydberg’s previous species were collapsed back into one species – Quercus gambelii Nutt. (id., Tucker 1961), and Rydberg’s former names were abandoned.

Cottam and Drobnick and University of California at Davis botany professor John Tucker sought some explanation of the bewildering array of leaf shapes of the Gambel’s oak throughout the west. Their provisional hypothesis was that in the post-glacial era about 7,500 years ago, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak co-existed in northern Utah (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Drobnick 1959, Tucker 1961, Tucker 1963, Tucker, Cottam and Drobnick 1961, Tucker 1963). As Utah’s climate became drier and in order to better adapt new conditions, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak hybridized into the F1 form, the hybrid copse that I viewed today. But the F1 hybridized form, with its spiked ends and shallow lobes did not explain multitude of forms of Gambel’s oak leaves seen today. Another of Cottam’s University of Utah botany graduate students, Robert R. Ream, could find no north-south pattern in the variation of Gambel’s oak leaves (Ream 1960).

Doctor Cottam retired from the University of Utah, but in his retirement he continued to work as an emeritus professor on a cross-breeding hybridization experiment of western “white” oaks in part to demonstrate that the current Gambel’s oak forest in northern Utah was a hybrid of other species (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). Using his grandchildren to nurture hundreds of seedlings, he undertook a massive block experiment to examine first (F1) and second (F2) generation of cross-breeds of western white oaks including Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.), Arizona shrub oak (Quercus turbinnell Greene), Quercus douglasii, Quercus lobata, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus robur, Quercus virginia, and six other lesser oak species. Two-hundred and forty-one cross-breeding experiments (id. at 61) and ten years later, Cottam, Drobnick and Tucker had their answer: only one F2 generation cross between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene was stable (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). This result supported, by brute force experimentation, the post-glacial hypothesis that the three investigators formulated in 1958.

Cottam’s F1 hybrid generation shows some remarkable adaptations that place it squarely between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene. Quercus gambelii has deep penetrating roots adapted to northern Utah’s snowmelt high-water season that is followed by drying summers. Quercus turbinnell is shallow rooted and adapted to the summer monsoons of northern Arizona. Quercus gambelii x Quercus turbinnell have roots of intermediate depth (Ehleringer and Phillips 1996). Electron microscopy of the leaves of the hybrid and of its parent plants confirm how the F1 hybrid has taken on the waxy upper surface and hairless underside of Quercus gambelii (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 62, 70 and 71), but the gross shape of the F1 hybrid follows Quercus turbinnell (id. at 72). Similarly, measurements of the F1 hybrid’s lobe ratio (the ratio of a lobe’s vein length to its lobe length), puts the hybrid statistically between Nuttal and turnbinnell (Tucker, Cottam, and Drobnick 1961).

* * * *

On July 4th, 2007, the City announces that City Creek Canyon will be closed for four days during July in order to host various road races (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 2006, legendary local endurance runner Heikki Ingstrom, who trained daily in City Creek Canyon, was reported to have passed away (Deseret News) On July 4th, 1999, City managers describe plans to update the City’s Watershed Management Plan, including for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1993, the City proposes a 100 mile bikeway system that will connect regional parks, including a bikelane from the University of Utah to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1908, Fisher Harris of the Commercial Club and Lon J. Haddock of the Manufacturers and Merchants’ Association urged that the Ensign Peak area should be turned in a large park (Salt Lake Herald). The Commercial Club provided $10,000 towards the expense of improving City Creek Road and along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas (id). On July 4th, 1883, City Surveyor Jesse Fox and City Waterworks Superintendent G. M. Ottinger surveyed City Creek Canyon in order to determine possible locations of the construction of new higher water reservoir tanks (Salt Lake Herald).

July 7, 2017

June 30th

Filed under: Black swallowtail butterflly, Cheat grass, Gambel's Oak, Starthistle — canopus56 @ 8:41 pm

Inedible insects and plants – a war

External Link to Image

Caterpillar of the Black swallowtail butterfly. (Author taken June, 2017, mouth end is down).

4:00 p.m. It is natural for people when enjoying a late afternoon walk up the stream cooled canyon road to give more attention to mammals and birds than to the dominate plant community. Birds sing for beautiful songs us, and thus, we imbue them with more anthropomorphic sentience than they possess. Peregrine falcons and Red-tailed hawks soar and hunt like us with purposeful intent. Mule deer stare back with quizzical large-black eyes through which we feel we can see their souls. Coyotes watch us with the familiar intelligence of our domesticated dogs. Mountain lions in the canyon follow our motions, and we can see behind their cat eyes, a decision process to ignore us like our house cats or to begin hunting us as prey. People do not generally extend the respect given to these more conscious animals to the machine-like insects. We appreciate butterflies and bees and fear wasps and spiders, but otherwise our fascination with insects goes to the grotesque or brightly colored. Plants do not engage us like birds or coyotes, so in our perception they fall into the category of uninteresting background. But plants are the dominate form of life on land and in the canyon.

I need a boost before leaving on my daily jog, and today, I brew and drink a cup of coffee before leaving home like more than 100 million other Americans. Drinking coffee is recommended before exercise to enhance endurance (Hodgsen, Randell and Jeukendrup 2013). I am unconscious of the fact that the cup of coffee, a drink enjoyed by billions every day, is a brew of some 800 plant-created chemicals that are insecticides (Hartley 2009). Organic gardeners also recommend brews made from other common food plants that humans enjoy, like onions, garlic, and red peppers, because they also contain insecticides that kill certain insects on contact. Organic gardeners also recommend tea as a fungicide, but it is also consumed by another 100 million Americans each day without ill effect.

A caterpillar of the Black swallowtail butterfly (Papilo polysenes) lays on the road, severely dehydrated, and I help it to the cool of the roadside grass and then dose it with water. In its caterpillar phase, it is bright green with black strips and bright orange spots. Like other swallowtail caterpillars, it has a gland that emits a foul smelling odor that deters predatory birds. Thus, its clown-like outfit is to warn birds that no meal can be had. Conversely, the hungry caterpillar, like the others that have fallen on the road during the spring (April 13th, May 7th, and May 13th), landed here due to a defense of the surrounding trees, including the Gambel’s oak trees. Many canyon’s stream associated trees, including the oaks, the Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees, and the River birch trees, are covered in wax on their upper sides. This aids in conserving water under today’s hot sun, but it is also defends the trees against insects. Insects, like the swallowtail caterpillar, slide off even though they have evolved specialized feet to aid them in grasping the leaves (Hartley 2009). Other plants in the canyon have obvious defenses. The few Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) that exist in the lower canyon, viewed microscopically, are covered in small, barbed, poison-tipped silica spears, and this accounts of the strong skin rash that develops when they are brushed against (Hartley 2009). In the canyon, both Cheat grass and Yellow star-thistle set bristled seeds that makes them unpalatable to mule deer.

But in the Darwinian competition for survival, land plants are winning over animals.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 30th, 1840, he describes the wind by its effects on plants and his mood. On June 30th, 1851, he sees blue flag (Iris versicolor) and a small aster. He describes the smell of fresh shoots of fir-balsams. On June 30th, 1852, he cites as a marker of summer is when wild roses, morning glories, orchids, blue-flags, fireweed, mountain laurel and white lilies all bloom at once. On June 30th, 1860, he takes the temperatures of the air (83 degrees), spring water (45 degrees), river water (77 degrees), and the ground three inches beneath the surface. He notes that river meadows where light penetrates are at the height of their beauty.

* * * *

Most plants in City Creek Canyon taste bitter and are inedible. Typical advice given for foraging for wild foods is to taste a small bit of the plant and then wait to see if you become violently ill or if your tongue breaks out in a rash. In 2009 a speculative but provocative lecture series, British ecologist Sue Hartley describes how in the oceans, about half the plant biomass is consumed by animals (Hartley 2010; see Hartley 2009). On land, animals consume only about 20 percent of plant biomass, and this is because of the extensive chemical defenses that plants have co-evolved to deter animals from consuming them. Hartley explains that where animals can eat a particular plant specie, they usually have evolved a genetic resistance to that plant’s chemical defenses. For example, cabbage contains chemicals that make it partially toxic to domestic livestock and rabbits, but the human gut has evolved to tolerate its poison. Similarly, caffeine and tannin in tea and coffee plants are those plants’ biological insecticides and fungicides, and their poisons only incidentally and accidentally provide billions of drinkers with a desired pharmacological boost. In contrast in the canyon, Scrub jays, Rock squirrels and mule deer eat the acorns of Gambel’s oak trees. To humans, the oak’s acorns are bitter and inedible, but after leeching out its toxic gallotannins for several days and much labor, the acorns can be processed into a gruel or flour. Hartley notes land plants and animals co-evolve. Plants become toxic to prevent being eaten, animals gain resistance and eat more, plants increase the dose or develop and entirely new toxins to ward off animals. Hartley opines that since land animals can consume only small portion of the total terrestrial biomass, plants are winning to co-evolution race (Hartley 2010). In the canyon, plants do not sing, fly, or leap to our delight, but they and not us are in control.

* * * *

On June 30th, 2002, Great Salt Lake Audubon plans a bird watching hike up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, 1996, coliform levels in City Creek Canyon stream have quadrupled in the last few years, and the City is considering replacing outdated restrooms in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, 1919, Water Commissioner Clarence C. Nelsen opined that recent water shortages were caused by city residents wasting water (Salt Lake Telegram). Salt Lake City delivers 42,000,000 gallons of water, or 350 gallons per resident each day. Nelson notes that Los Angeles, a city five times the size of Salt Lake City, uses only 20,000,000 gallons of water each day (id). On June 30th, 1910, City Councilperson L. J. Wood gave his views on the proposed repeal of the prohibition of automobiles in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune):

“Another phase of the affair is that the people who cannot afford to hire conveyances and go to more distant places can easily take their lunches and other accompaniments for a day’s outing, and go up City Creek canyon, where they can be free from molestation by buggies, motorcycles and automobiles. It is now the poor people’s pleasure spot and should be kept free from any privileges that will change the present enjoyable features of the canyon as nature arranged it” (id).

In response, on July 1, 1910, a Salt Lake Tribune editorial argued that the road should be improved by adding paved pedestrian walkways and then opened to motorists. (In 2014, United States President Barrack Obama designated the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles in the Ashley National Forest as the San Gabriel National Mountain. He did so in response to complaints by low-income minorities that they had inadequate park lands on the Los Angeles Valley floor for recreation.) On June 30th, 1904, the water rights claim of Douglas A. Swan in City Creek Canyon was denied by the City Waterworks Committee (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, the City Board of Public works approved specifications to lay a new iron pipeline up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

June 27th

Seasonal Camouflage

3:00 p.m. Stink bugs along the road are changing colors to match the change to the browns of the summer season. A few weeks ago, Green Stink Bug (Chlorochroa sayi), also known as Say’s Stink Bug, were their characteristic light green color. Now, they turn brown to match the foliage. Even the canyon’s land shrimp, the common pill bug (Armadillidium vulgare), are turning from their usual spring dark grey color to a lighter tone.

Near mile 0.4, another insect well-colored to hide in the browning understory rests on the road. A golden-brown Giant western crane fly (Holorusia rubiginosa) is overwhelmed by the heat, and it does not flee on my approach. Its abdomen is a patchwork of golden brown, light-brown and sun yellow plates. From its abdomen, three two-inch long whip-like ovipositors extend.

Near mile 0.7, an immature Western rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus lutosus). It simultaneously coils and crawls backward as I walk forward to take a closer look at its delicate diamond pattern. Generally, rattlesnakes are peaceable. They give early warning and retire in the presence of humans, and their usual border of human conflict in the canyon comes with domestic dogs. Pet dogs have no experience with venomous snakes, and the must be initially restrained on a leash and trained that snakes are dangerous and are not playmates. Few owners take the time to do such training.

Although wild Wood rose has peaked, below the Red bridge at mile 0.8, a single late season blossom remains on a bush growing over the far stream bank. There, a second, fifteen foot long white blossoming bush clings to the stream bank – a Black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.). At the cattail seep below picnic site 6, Wild bunchgrass grows to two feet in height, and its large heads burst with seed.

At the peak of the day’s heat, the birds quiet and rest. I count only 10 bird calls hidden in the green ocean of the first road mile.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 27th, 1852, he sees fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium). This is a common autumn plant in Utah’s Wasatch Front canyons. He notes that meadows are turning yellow-green in color. He describes a tree that has been hit by lightning. Large patches of bark had been stripped from the tree and it was split to its pith. He encounters a partridge with its brood, and sees a chestnut tree with buds. On June 27th, 1859, he examines a Luna moth (Attacus Luna).

* * * *

On June 27th, 1915, University Prof. J.H. Paul planned to present a lecture on bird calls at the Eighteenth Ward Chapel (2nd Avenue and A Street) and and to lead a group up City Creek Canyon in celebration of Bird Day (Salt Lake Herald).

June 27, 2017

June 26th

Wasp Explosion and Return of the Water Striders

4:30 p.m. It reaches 100 degrees in the valley; the estival heat has returned. The stream level continues to decline, and the pond at picnic site 5 is beginning to reform under the higher spring run-off. At its banks, a wetted sand and silt line has developed. Here, about fifteen Western Yellowjacket wasps land and take sips of water. In a small pocket of calm water, the season’s first water strider (Aquarius remigis) appears (Sept 12th). A similar scene is found at the water seeps below picnic site 6. Checking the stream and its opposite banks at several times along the first mile, I find areas with thirty or forty Yellowjackets. One one bank,a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly lands also seeking to take a drink. Individual Yellowjackets start dive bombing the swallowtail, and after the fourth, the butterfly move down canon. What the yellow jackets are eating is unclear. I find one crawling over a roadside weed that no longer has flowers. It crawls to the juncture between a leaf and the plant’s main stalk where a white liquid oozes out. The wasp spends a minute drinking before flying off. I estimate that there are about 400 wasps along the first mile of road: enough for two colonies. At picnic site 1, a Prairie rose (Rosa setigera), a cultivar, with delicate pink blossoms that surround fifty stamens, blossoms.

Another insect explosion begins. On Utah milkweed plants, a black, yellow-stripped flower loving borer beetle (Calloides nobilis var mormonus Schaeffer) is found. Several are along the road, either feeding on pollen or hovering in flight.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 26th, 1853, he notes that air is warmer after a thunderstorm. He describes a summer sunset and a faint afterglow three minutes after the sun falls below the horizon it lights up low clouds in the sky. He notes how in summer light, the outlines of mountain ridges are more distinct. On June 26, 1856, he describes the last remaining Native American, a seventy-year old woman, who lives alone in his neighborhood.

* * * *

On June 26th, R. J. Robinson, a consulting engineer who obtain water rights in City Creek Canyon, offered to sell his rights to the City (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 26th, 1908, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Chin Wo, who had been sentenced to the City Creek chain gang road crew for vagrancy and who was believed to have mental health issues, attacked police guard Kast with a shovel.

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