City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 24, 2017

March 24th

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

2:00 p.m. Spring returns with today’s bright warming sunshine and temperatures regain half yesterday’s the thirty degree drop. Last night’s rain has washed away the carcasses of yesterday’s earthworm explosion. The creek still runs high, and between the stream’s loud white noise, the sun’s warmth, and my own feelings of exhaustion, I am compelled to rest. I find a place next to the stream in the Sun, and fall in a meditative mood, and meld into the moment. Yesterday’s two inches of freezing rainfall, although small by eastern standards, sets a new Salt Lake City precipitation record. March has turned out like February’s unusual weather: record setting warm temperatures for the first few weeks, followed by catch-up rain and snow that regresses to a nearly average year. After the freezing rain, again, the return of insects resets. There are one or two tentative White cabbage and Painted Lady butterflies, and a few stoneflies and gnats reappear.

For plants, the snow, which has now melted except on Black Mountain, stunts the grow of the Wood’s roses for a day. But other trees bloom. A red-osier dogwoods higher up the canyon blooms, and below picnic site 6, the first Box Elder tree blooms at its highest top branches. Further down canyon cultivars bloom. A new tree’s buds open with leaves are covered with small hairs, and more searching finds one that has a desiccated apple attached. These are crabapple trees (Nov. 19th). Their distinctive leaves allows me to do a census: including one tree below Guardhouse gate an two at the up-canyon end of Pleasant Valley, there are five apple trees in the first 1.5 canyon miles. Another new blooming tree has a deep purple ovary at the bud’s center. High in the trees near picnic site 6, migrant song birds sing, but frustratingly, I am unable to see them with my monocular.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 24, 1855, he records a rock slide and describes how rivers erode hills. He summarizes the signs of spring: maple sap, willow and alder catkins, grass on south banks, cowslip, and maple buds. On March 24th, 1858, he hears song birds and sees a flock of twenty shore larks.

* * * *

Early immigrant John Miller described lumber harvesting in City Creek, an activity done during the winter, principally for the purpose of selling or using timber as firewood:

In the first place, Brigham Young laid claim to the entire canyon. There were two gates through which all must pass to enter the domain. One was the Eagle Gate and the other was at the mouth of the canyon . . . There was a gate-keeper at the inner gate and he took one-third of every load of wood that came down out of the canyon. This was Brigham Young’s toll. . . . .

Brigham Young had a great wood yard just inside the inner gate, with a circular saw run by the waters of City creek. There the toll wood was cut up into stove lengths and after that it was distributed among the president’s numerous wives . . . .

There [the logs] where taken by teamsters, and hauled to the city after paying Brigham Young toll at the gates. . . . .

After cutting down a tree, we would cut it into lengths of ten or twelve feet. Then we would point one end of it and start it down the hill on the snow. It would go down like a streak of lightening . . . There were forty of us working up in the mountains, and each one would put a private mark on his logs to enable him to settle with the teamsters below. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5).

* * * *

In a March 24th, 2004 letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City resident Jay S. Bachman argues in favor of banning cougar hunting in City Creek Canyon. On March 24, 1900, the City Council directed the Police Department to provide prisoners to work on creating a boulevard up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).


March 8, 2017

March 8th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 7th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2017

March 2nd


2:00 p.m. Temperatures rise into the fifties. The snow and rain of the last few days has lost its hold on the city and in the canyon. A few inches of lingering snow covers the shaded canyon bottoms, but warm pre-spring sunlight dominates the air. At mile 1.1., the road is covered with mule deer scat. As the road warms during the day, deer herds like to congregate on the road at night in order to take advantage of the road’s radiant heat. Insects now respond more vigorously to spring’s new attempt to return. The Black-capped chickadee flock now centers on picnic site six, and a few Black-billed magpies venture higher up canyon. Between Guardhouse Gate and mile 1.1, I count fifty-one small stoneflies, whereas on previous warm days, only one or two could be found. The warmth draws the University’s bicycling team outside, and in close colorful group, they speed by up canyon.

Small trash is pervasive along the lower canyon road. Each day while jogging along the first two miles, I stoop to pick up three or four pieces of discarded paper, energy drink pack tops, hair bands, cigarette butts, sanitary wipes, bottle caps, plastic bottles, gloves, hats, ear rings, and similar ephemera of modern life. I am not a saint. I do this to selfishly preserve the natural aesthetic of my daily excursion, and also as exercise. I have become older and bending over and picking up items is a way to maintain flexibility. I estimate that over three years that I have picked up three or four 40 gallon bags of trash. I am far from the first to do this; keeping the canyon clean is a community effort. In 1997, Tony Cannon, a descendant of Mormon pioneers who logged 22,715 miles running in City Creek, was known for always leaving the canyon with armloads of trash (Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 1997, May 12, 1998). Things have improved. Since the lower canyon is kept clean on a daily basis, the volume of discarded trash has declined noticeably. If occasional users find a more pristine canyon, they seem to be less inclined to deface it. One can only imagine what layers of plastic have been incorporated into the soil and thus the future geologic layers on either side of the road.

The current geologic epoch is called the Holocene, and it began about 11,000 years ago. Some researchers have proposed that a new geologic epoch be declared: the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is informally defined as epoch in which human impact on the environment, in terms of species extinction, modification of the chemistry of the biosphere, and pollution, has become so pronounced that its effects will be seen in stratigraphic layers by future geologists (Waters et al). In August 2016, the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Union of Geological Sciences recommended to the full congress that it officially adopt this epoch name (Carrington), but the congress has yet to vote on the matter.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 2nd, 1855, he notes that when viewed from a distance, young shoots at the tops of maple trees are red tinged. Compare Dec. 11th here. On March 2nd, 1856, he observes that birches have dropped their seeds in a high density. On March 2, 1858, he sees a large flock of buntings. On March 2, 1859 during a winter of heavy snow, he describes the bluebird’s song as the first premature harbinger of spring. On March 2, 1860, he notes the ground is without snow.

On March 2nd, 1910, with a crew of 150, Moran Construction began installation of a 5 foot conduit to carry City Creek underground through the business district (Salt Lake Tribune).

February 16, 2017

February 16th

Filed under: Astronomy, Common stonefly, Rock wren, Seasons — canopus56 @ 4:59 pm


2:00 p.m. A new front approaches from the southwest, and during this pre-spring, this means high winds and warm temperatures. February is unseasonably warm near sixty degrees, and at picnic site 11, where two weeks snow banks drifted to two or three feet deep, the snow is gone. The air smells more like late spring than the end of winter. Wildlife is slow to respond, but plants keep their own time. I hear a robin singing at Guardhouse Gate; the first since winter started. Three miniature stoneflies brave the road. Groups of lunchtime lawyers who run in the canyon usually beginning in late March are on the road. The buds on trees are not responding. They know snow may return again.

Because of the exceptionally warm February, I am feeling the disconnect between the astronomical seasons and natural rhythms. In the modern era, we define the seasons using astronomical waypoints (Sept. 20th), and in writing about the Wasatch Front Range in the 1950s, Barnes in his “The Natural History of the a Mountain Year” used astronomical seasons. But there are other definitions of the seasons. In writing about Concord in the 1850s in his “Journal”, Thoreau used traditional definitions of the seasons common the 1800s: spring began on February 1st and summer on May Day, or May 1st, and “Midsummer”, June 22nd, is our modern astronomical first day of summer. June 22nd was the “midsummer” referenced in Shakespeare’s play. These traditional definitions were more aligned with seasonal ecological changes, and there are six ecological seasons in temperate northern latitudes:

• Prevernal, March 1st to May 1st – in which temperatures have risen sufficiently to allow microorganisms to function and to resume their work of reducing the autumnal leaf litter. During this ecological season, early bulb plants sprout, often still surrounded by snow.

• Vernal, May 1st to June 15th – when the majority of plants regrow. Sometimes with is subdivided into the preestival, or “before summer”.

• Estival, June 15th to August 15th – summer, the time of greatest heat.

• Serotinal, August 15th to September 15th – when seeds are released in response to environmental triggers such as summer warming or summer fire.

• Autumnal, September 15th to November 1st – when leaf death and autumnal colors occur.

• Hibernal, November 1st to March 1st – winter, the time of greatest cold with freezing rain and snow.

These six ecological seasons feel more connected with commonplace perceptions of the seasons.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 16th, 1852, he notes that the air is no longer crisp and clear as in early winter.

On February 16, 1900, an ex-Salt Lake councilperson made the case for increasing the City’s water supply by tunneling into the canyons, including City Creek, would be the lowest-cost method of developing new water supplies for the City. (Salt Lake Tribune).

February 14, 2017

February 14th

Filed under: Blacked-Headed Chickadee, Common stonefly, Gambel's Oak, gnats, Spider — canopus56 @ 6:19 pm

Mega Tree

2:00 p.m. It is another in a series of brisk, sunny late winter days in the mid-forties. The snow in the lower canyon has left the ground except in small patches. Responding to the warmer weather, the flock of Black-capped chickadees near mile 0.3 to 0.6, now plays in more dispersed groups. In the depths of winter, they remain closer to each other. Another songbird is heard, but not seen. At mile 1.1, I look into a stream that is flowing freely, but about one month ago, here the stream was frozen in a solid milky mass. The stream itself is running lower, but is now clear and does not contains the fine particles seen yesterday. In one tree backlit by sunlight, a single strand of gossamer silk indicates that a spider was active. Two gnats and a stonefly are seen, and near mile 0.8, earlier in the day, a small beetle tried, but failed to completely cross the road. As I arrive home, a favorite tree is full of noisy European house sparrows, and the filling of this tree with a large flock is a sign that I usually take as a first precursor of the coming spring.

In southern Utah outside of Cedar City is the world’s largest single living organism: a stand of aspen trees named “Pando” (DeWoody et al). Aspens reproduce by root cloning, and Pando has been expanding for possibly 80,000 years until reaching its current mass of six million kilograms. The stand of trees is one organism connected by a series of underground roots. In northern Utah, neighboring Gambel’s oaks also reproduce asexually by clonal root extension and are connected by system of extensive clones with fused grafting roots (Neilson and Wullstein, 1986 at 298; Neilson and Wullstein, 1983 at 295; Cottam; Tiedemann, Clary and Barbour). As I jog by the Gambel oak stand between Guardhouse Gate and mile 0.3, I am passing hundreds of individual trees or just one large plant? Although biologists refer to these stands as “extensive clones” (Feb. 10th), I am unable to find any genetic investigation that sought to determine if Gambel’s oak stands form massive single organisms like southern Utah’s aspen named Pando.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 14th, 1854, he observes black-capped nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and chickadees all feeding in the same area. He hears tit mice calling. On February 14th, 1857, he observes that during a thaw, many caterpillars are crawling on snow.

February 4, 2017

February 4th

Filed under: Common stonefly, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 5:39 pm

Moss Microhabitat

1:30 p.m. By the evening of yesterday’s cross-quarter day, the temperature increased to almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and this afternoon is almost reaches 50 degrees. The air has cleared, and the effect is immediate. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, there are about thirty strollers and in the lower canyon, another thirty people within the first mile. From January 28th to February 1st, after milepost 1.0, I had the canyon to myself. On the canyon’s sun exposed west wall, snow is gone up the ridgeline, and in the canyon bottom, the snow bank is not melting, it is condensing in place. But the stream is running only two inches higher, and from this I conclude that the melt water is being absorbed by the earth. Three small Early brown stoneflies are on the road, they are the first insects seen since January 8th, and in the relatively cold air, they fly only for short hops of a few feet.

Over the last view days, as the sun first slowly, then rapidly, melted four to six inches of snow laying on angled branches (Jan. 23rd), mosses appear from underneath the whiteness. This emphasizes the distribution of tree mosses that I have suspected for sometime: mosses like the wettest side of the tree, which in the first canyon mile is on the east and north east side of larger trees with crenulated bark. In Utah, the fiercest Sun comes in the afternoon from the southwest. The largest trees provide the most shade on their northeast and west sides. The large trees with angled branches between forty-five and sixty degrees in rise and whose bark has deep crenulatations retain the largest amount of snow. As this snow melts, theses trees create a favorable microhabitat for the moss, and this is where moss grows in profusion. The west and south of those trees favor a bright orange lichen. In cooler, shaded upper canyon beyond mile 4.5, the mosses express no preference; they grow on any side of a tree or rock.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 4th, 1852, he smells the scent of pine needles during a thaw. On February 4th, 1858, he finds some wild rosemary, picks its leaves, and makes of tea from it.

On February 4th, 1996, Truville Development continued construction of a new luxury home subdivision below Ensign Peak (Salt Lake Tribune). On February 4th, 1993, City Engineer Kelsey recommends various improvements to the City Creek channel and to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram).

January 8, 2017

January 8th

Filed under: Common stonefly, Gambel's Oak, Light, Weather — canopus56 @ 9:02 pm


4:30 p.m. It is nineteen days after the winter solstice and the days are noticeably longer. Somehow, this and the cold makes my body feel best about jogging later in the day. The deep cold of the last few days has broken; it rained in the morning; and, snow in the canyon is dotted where raindrops fell. The Gambel’s oaks in the canyon are again a water-stained dark-brown. Sunset is a distant overcast slate gray sky, but in the foregoing, small lone white clouds are illuminated by setting yellow sunlight. The canyon is silent; I have come to late in the day to hear the birds’ end-of-day calls. Traveling down-canyon, the rain on the road turns in patches to ice, and my jogging is interrupted by slips and near falls. As I exit the canyon, faint light reflects in hundreds of speckles off of the road’s surface where water is forming ice crystals. The canyon seems completely at rest with no active life. But when I enter my car and turn on the headlights, a newly hatched Early brown stonefly (Strophopteryx fasciata) is resting on the windshield. The stonefly is a spirit-lifting reminder that spring will return.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 8th, 1842, he notes the earthy smell of newly exposed ground after an early thaw removes the ground’s snow cover. On January 8th, 1851, he describes how trees look larger when covered in sun and illuminated with yellow sunset light. On January 8th, 1854, Thoreau sees a downy woodpecker. On January 8th, 1857, he finds a frozen caterpillar, and on warming it at home, the caterpillar reanimates. On January 8, 1861, he describes how First-Nations peoples taught early Euro-Americans colonists about edible plants and farming practices in the New World (compare Nov. 24th, here).

On January 8th, 1943, the Utah Audubon Society announced an upcoming field trip up City Creek Canyon. On January 8th, 1913, the Board of Pacific Insurance Underwriters delivered a report to the City stating that they would no longer issue fire insurance policies in the city unless, among other things, a 5,000,000 gallon distribution reservoir was built in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram).

November 13, 2016

November 13th

How Nature Goes to Sleep

2:00 p.m. Last Friday was the sixth or seventh in a series of clear fall, warm days. During an afternoon jog, there were many unusual insects on or crossing the road, and at mile 0.6, there was a small golden iridescent beetle. It was a Golden Tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata). At mile 0.4, a yellow lady bug with large black spots on its back, landed on my hand. It was a Squash lady beetle (Epilachna borealis). At mile 0.3, there was what appears to be a Common stonefly (Zapada cinctipes) with its long forked tails, but the colors its abdomen are wrong: the segments are divided by white stripes. A sole European paper wasp flies by.

It is a month since the first day of Fall (Sept. 22nd). In the Fall, nature is going to sleep for the winter. Before visiting the canyon on a daily basis, I used to be wrapped up in the work day and did not notice the subtleties in the change of seasons. I thought the progression from Fall to Winter to be abrupt; it is an overnight affair that comes with the first deep snow. Now, having been in the canyon everyday this season, I see a longer pattern that is driven by the rate of change in the length of the day and astronomy of the Earth’s orbit.

At the equinox, the rate of change of the length of day is at its highest; the length of days decrease by at most four minutes per day. That initial rate of change causes a shock to the atmosphere and results in early Fall storms, and trees in the canyon respond by dropping their leaves. Storms come followed by a period of warm weather, and the insects not killed by initial cold storms respond by migrating to some new location to search for the less available food or to seek a new location in which to hibernate over the winter. The length of these warm periods lengthen as the rate of change in the length of the day decreases, although the absolute length of the day continues to decline. The few remaining insects rebound, but then their numbers are reduced to a lower absolute level by the next storm. This Fall cycle where storms are followed by longer periods of warm weather, continue until some tipping point is reached as the absolute length of the day fails to hold back the first frost and-or the first snowfall. The length of the day continues to decline until the first day of winter near Christmas.

The result of this cycle are days like last Friday, where unusual insect refugees are found on or along the road. In the summer, they are hidden by dense foliage, and although they are more numerous in the summer, they do not have to travel far for food. Now, the survivors chance leaving the protection of the leaves and venture far for food, and they are more easily seen. Some fail and lay flaying on the road. Several unidentified spiders were seen on the road, and they take advantage of this late season bounty.

Nature goes to sleep like an insomniac. It does not go to sleep abruptly. In the Fall, nature tries with the first heavy storms to fall asleep at once, then partially reawakens, and tries again for slumber. It repeats this cycle until true winter overtakes it, and forces it to rest.

Humans, even those of the modern post-industrial world, are part of this astronomical cycle: we celebrate our holidays in response to the change in the length of days at cross-quarter days. Today, it is about a week past the cross-quarter day of the Fall – Halloween or All Saints Day, and the rate of change in the length of days has reduced to about one minute per day. Seasons are about ninety days long and cross-quarter days occur about forty-five days after the start of the season or forty-five days before the end of a season. The other lessor holidays occur that occur near cross-quarter days are Groundhog Day in the winter, May Day in the spring, and Labor Day in summer. Major holidays are near the solstices and equinoxes when the rate of change in the length of the day is at its greatest.

In his “Journal” on November 13, 1851, Thoreau observes that after a snowfall, crickets and mosquitoes can no longer be found.

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