City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

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June 23, 2017

June 22nd

Day of the Butterflies

Day of the Butterflies

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, the first mile canyon road is lined with butterflies, and in total there are about thirty in the first mile. A large Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), a black butterfly with contrasting red-orange chevrons, slowly moves up canyon. The Red Admiral is hawk of butterflies. Unlike most butterflies, that frenetically flap and change direction, the Red Admiral moves it wings in great, slow soaring motions. Cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) play in the hot sun as western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) also pass by. Two Common sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice eriphyle) chase each other. Two unidentified butterflies fly by. One is the bright yellow with a trailing black wingbar. The second is a small orange.

Large Common whitetail dragonflies patrol overhead. In the Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) weeds that lines both sides of the road, Western Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula penslvanica) feast.

At Pleasant Valley, city watershed crews are mowing the sides of the Pipeline Trail.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 22nd, 1851, he sees blooms of yellow loose strife and bladderwort. On June 22nd, 1852, he sees a rainbow after a thunderstorm. He observes that fireflies are numerous. On June 22nd, 1853, he notes that even night air is warm. During an evening walk, he notes that blueberries are coming in.

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On June 22nd, 2014, Nathan Peters set a new course record in the 35th annual Wasatch Steeple Chase, an annual running race that goes for 17 miles up City Creek Canyon, that gains 4,000 feet while going over Black Mountain, and end back down at Memory Grove (Deseret News). Two-hundred and forty runners participated. Peters finishes in two hours and eleven minutes (id). On June 22nd, 1996, Mayor Deedee Corradini temporarily ordered suspension of construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail due to complaints from Avenues’ residents (Salt Lake Tribune). Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Becker noted that that a controversial trail alignment near Ensign Peak was a condition of the developer receiving approval for a luxury subdivsion (id). On June 22nd, 1906, an Intermountain Republican editorial accused the Salt Lake Tribune of spreading lurid lies about Mormon culture in eastern newspapers, including that “Utah is steeped In lawlessness; that depravity runs riot; that the waters of City Creek canyon going down our gutters [are] tinted with the ruddy flow from blood atonement; that all Mormons are polygamist; and that a presentable woman is in peril of than her life . . .”

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate beetle (Tenebrionidae eleodes) is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by not heeding caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

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On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

June 20th

Summer

First Day of Summer

External Link to Image

Comparison of City Creek Canyon Road near Mile 1.1 in Winter on November 24th and on the First Day of Summer, June 20th.

6:00 p.m. It is nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit on this first day of summer. Although this is the longest day of the year, and the amount of total light is four times the amount of light that occurs on the winter solstice (March 21st), this is usually not the hottest day of the year. The Earth continues to absorb the sun’s heat by melting at the poles, and thus, the hottest days of the year with 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit are lagged by three or four weeks to the end of July. But the recent heat wave is an unusual preview of the coming summer hottest days. Today, and more typical of late July, the heat boils the water from the land, and in the afternoon, great cumulus clouds rise and re-deposit the day’s water during the cool of the evening. As I approach the canyon, the sky to the west is gray and boiling. The bottom of the cloud layer swirls in confused eddies and circles. Winds rage and the trees wave back and forth as if they are in a current below the surface of the ocean. Only the large Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia) hover in the strong breeze. The whitetail’s are misnamed; their tails are more often black. From the safety of the leaf screened branches, Song sparrows, Chirping sparrows and Black-headed grosbeaks call. First, the air smells of summer, but then it mixes with the rain primed, fresh moisture. Small spatters fall, and then a brief deluge comes. Runners on the road, including myself, jog without their shirts on. The afternoon storm passes, the air clears, and all is renewed.

Along the first mile road, Milkweed plants have grown large, fecund seed heads.

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Although Thoreau declares summer to begin informally on June 1st (see his “Journal” on June 1st, 1853), astronomically summer begins on June 20th. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 20th, 1840, he sees mica particles glittering in sand. On June 20th, 1852, he notes blue-eyed grass flowers are closed in the before sunset, and he hears an American Bittern drumming on wood. He notes that grass fields are red tinged because the grass has gone to seed. On June 20th, 1853, he sees meadow-sweet flower and water lilies. During a full Moon walk, he admires how water reflects black under moonlight. He encounters a skunk. He notes that elm leaves and trunks have the same hue under moonlight.

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On June 20th, 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published a historical article on George Ottinger, founder of Salt Lake’s fire department and later in the early 1900s, Salt Lake City’s Superintendent of Waterworks. He lived in an adobe house on 3rd Avenue and E Street. As a young man, Ottinger was an adventurer. He traveled as a sailor to China, Hawaii, the Indonesian Islands, and Panama, before returning for a late California Gold Rush (id). Omitted from this article is Ottinger’s witnessing of the last 1887 lynching of a man in downtown Salt Lake City. On June 20th, 1999, Utah Jazz assistant coach Mark McKown was injured while speeding down City Creek Canyon a bicycle (Salt Lake Tribune). He was accompanied by Utah Jazz star basketball player Karl Malone. On June 20th, 1998, City Creek Canyon was closed for three days after torrential rains caused a mudslide (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 20th, 1908, City Engineer L.C. Kesley budgeted 9,000 USD to extend an iron pipeline from State Street to City Creek Canyon Road and 50,000 USD for a distributing reservoir in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). On June 20th, 1896, ore samples taken from the Willard Weihe claim in the Washington mine group, 1.5 miles north of Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon, assayed at 94 and 84 USD per ton (Salt Lake Herald).

June 22, 2017

June 15th

First Day of the Estival Season

4:30 p.m. It is the first day of the Estival ecological season, the time of greatest heat (Feb. 16th). Astronomical summer begins on June 20th. The late spring heat wave continues and temperatures in the low nineties. I drive to the canyon for short jog, and as I exit the car, my senses are assaulted. The top of a large Douglas fir is heavy with new cones. A Rock squirrel scampers across the parking lot. Curly dock is turning its summer brown. Several Western tiger swallowtails chase each other. Cabbage white butterflies wind between tree branches. A Song sparrow sings loudly. For the first time this year, the air smells of summer and of greenery under hot a sun. All of this occurs within the first quarter of a minute.

The stream’s flow is dropping, but its depth is medium. At the base of the fir, its pine cones also show the Fibonacci whirl pattern seen in bull thistle blossoms (June 10th). The blossoms of Solomon seal plants along the first mile are fading, and some of the plants are beginning to brown.

With the addition of the last summer quality, heat, the canyon is transformed by insects. Previously, light has been increasing throughout spring, and melting snow and violent storms have added water. Heat is last elemental that completes the canyon’s return to prolific life after last winter’s sleep. The first mile has become a boulevard of butterflies. There is a mini-explosion of Cabbage white butterflies in the first quarter mile, and about twenty line both sides of the road. They are joined by Painted lady and Spring azure butterflies. An unidentified yellow butterfly with a black band on its trailing wing line flutter. In the Yellow sweet clover and Red clover weed (Trifolium pratense), which is a purple-blue invasive in Utah, are laced with Yellow-jacket wasps and domestic Honey bees. Above my butterfly escorts, a new large, brown dragonfly with black-spotted wings has matured. These are massive for a flying insect – about three inches across. These are female Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia). A large four inch mosquito, the common Floodwater mosquito (Aedes vexans), has perished on the road, and since it is unmoving, I can examine its otherworldly structure. This nationally-distributed Floodwater mosquito is a secondary vector for dog heartworm, and more recently in states other than Utah, it has been implicated as transmitting West Nile virus. In Utah, the common House mosquito (Culex pipiens) is the primary vector of West Nile. I am walking through a garland of butterflies.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 15th, 1840, he admires the reflections of trees in water. On June 15th, 1851, he sees the first wild rose of the season, blue-eyed grass, yarrow, blooming lambkill, and Solomon’s seal. He lists a series of spring flowering plants. On June 15th, 1852, he hears crickets and sees dandelions, fleabane, sorrel and purple orchids blooming. He hears a seringo and a hawk. At night, he sees fire flies and the reflection of a bright star in water. On June 15th, 1853, he notes that clover is at its peak and sees many wild roses in bloom. On June 15th, 1854, he notes that birds are singing less. On June 15th, 1858, he notes wool grass growing in a meadow.

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On June 15th, 1909, a teamster, William Luther, had his legs crushed in an truck accident while hauling gravel along City Creek Canyon Road. On June 15th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune argues in favor of residents using filters to better purify domestic water, in part coming from City Creek Canyon.

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