City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 12, 2017

March 11th

Filed under: Birds, Colors, cut-off to trail at mile 0.6, Geology, Lichen, moss, Moth — canopus56 @ 3:23 am

City Creek’s Delta – Part II

External Link to Image

Flood sandbag river down Main Street in 1983 (left, KUTV News) and the 1906 flood where the sandbag river was sent down Third West (right, Utah State Historical Society, Utah Digital Archives, Marriott Library). Ensign Peak and the State Capitol Building are in the far background.

5:00 p.m. Again, a late run up the canyon. Since it is a Saturday night and it temperature rose into the sixties today, the parking lot is overflowing and the road is frequented by couples strolling arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand. Below picnic site 7, I look for the source of the intermittent spring on the west side of the road, and about seventy-five feet from the road, there is a small pool about 15 square feet in size and one foot deep that is the source of the rivulet seen today and yesterday. Air bubbles up the middle of the pool, and I make a note to revisit this site as spring progresses. Three moths, that move to fast to be identified, float by. At mile 1.1, I again hear a warbling twilight bird call in a gully to the west, and I decide to jog down the Pipeline Trail to see if it can be located. The bird is still unseen, but as I am going down the trail near mile 0.8, I come across a rock outcropping that previously had confused me as to whether it was volcanic breccia (January 7th). In better light and without snow, I can see that this is a sedimentary outcrop, but the rock is covered in a dark black lichen that is spotted with a second cream colored lichen with a light blue tint. The rock also has sparse moss and orange lichen colonies. The black lichen makes the rock look igneous. I jog down to the Shark Fin Rock at mile 0.5 and go down the cut-off and back to the road. The track is muddy, and amongst the many dog tracks, there is one unmistakable hoof print of a mule deer.

The first diversion of City Creek waters occurred on August 2, 1847, when fifteen members of Young’s reconnaissance party built a dam to divert the west branch of City Creek to what is now Pioneer Park at 300 South and 300 West (Hooten; Bancroft 261). First, they split the diversion into two streams on either side of their first encampment and later the first stockade (Hooten, 6-7). As previously noted, the east branch of City Creek went to 300 South and 500 East before turning back west and the Jordan River. Later, City Creek was channeled into two branches: one going west to the present Union Pacific Station and one going south to the location of the current City and County Building (Hooten, 3). On August 22nd, 1847, the pioneers named the creek “City Creek” (Hooten, 7).

When settling on a final grid design for their new city, the pioneers made a practical choice to locate their commercial center on the centerline of City Creek’s delta, but that choice left the heart of the city vulnerable to future flooding. The natural parabolic curve of City Creek’s delta lent itself to gravity feeding water to flat lands to the east and west of the delta. This left the north-south line along the delta itself as the obvious choice for the new city’s administrative and commercial center. This was a reasonable decision. Many cities in the east were laid out on either side of waterways that in the east provided both transportation and water power. Through the central district, City Creek was re-channeled down First East Street, now State Street, and the pioneers quickly moved to establish a water-powered adobe mill to build their first homes and grain (grist) mills along the City Creek. They built four water-powered lumber mills in the canyon to supply wood for constructing homes (Day; Watson). However, because of the pioneer’s eastern United States’ bias (Feb. 6th), they did not appreciate how City Creek was subject to highly variable flows and extreme flow events. In the 1850s, initial colonists were of the opinion that the arid Utah valleys were free from flooding (Honker 1994 at 21) and that their resource harvesting activities would not increase flooding (Park). That the pioneers perceived the landscape as arid with little rain or snow is evidence by their choice to build their initial fort with flat roofs, which promptly leaked the following spring (Bancroft, 277).

But their understandable impression of the potential for flooding was incorrect, and new research suggests that much larger flood events in City Creek can occur. In 2014, when Bekker et al reconstructed Utah extreme weather events back to 1492 from tree rings (Feb. 9th), they estimated the number of extreme floods as wells as extreme droughts. Although drought was far more prevalent since 1500 as compared to the modern era after 1850, those droughts also have been punctuated by years of extreme precipitation. Most Utahans will remember the flood of 1983 and the winter of 1993 as peak wet years. Those years did not make the list of Bekker et al’s 5th percentile wettest years since 1492. In the 1900s, 1907 and 1965 were more severe (Bekker et al, Table 3). Since 1500, there have been twenty-two years with more extreme precipitation than 1983. It is these extreme wet events that pose a hazard to City Creek’s delta and the business district.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 11th, 1854, he hears four types of bird songs: bluebirds, song-sparrows, chickadees, and blackbirds. Where snow has melted, he sees the dens of mice. On March 11, 1855, he sees bleached pine needles. On March 11, 1860, he finds a woodchuck burrow. He is approached by two red squirrels. On March 11, 1861, he examines willow seeds. (The willow has a tiny air-dispersed seed suspended below a white cotton tuft.)

On March 11th, 1905, two prisoners in the chain gang working on City Creek road escaped (Salt Lake Tribune).


March 9, 2017

March 9th

Filed under: Eastern Boxelder Bug, mile 1.2, Moon, Moth, Mule deer, Mule Deer, picnic site 7 — canopus56 @ 10:14 pm

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

5:30 p.m. It is again warm today, but I do not get to the canyon until late, and even so, the parking lot is overflowing and their are thirty people in the first mile. It is the warmth of pre-spring that draws people. The canyon looks dreary, but perhaps that is because I am in a poor mood. Everything is waiting for more light. Plants on the side of the road look dirty; the leaf litter is slowly transforming into a paste that will foster this spring’s growth. Although it is dusk, a few Box Elder bugs are out and a moth flutters by. Below picnic site 7 on the west side of the road and across from the overhanging rock (Jan. 3rd), there is an intermittent spring whose small rivulet runs down an earth bank and along the road. I start up the bank to trace the rivulet back to its source, but then hear a branch crack behind me. Turning around, on south-east side of the canyon and across the stream, two mule deer are picking their way through the undergrowth. They see me turn and freeze. One of the deer stands with one foot held above the ground in mid-step. I wait for a minute and rather than stress them further, I decide to continue up the road and leave their forest home to them alone. At mile 1.1, a nearly full Moon hangs over Black Mountain, and this contrasts the earlier earlier afternoon Moon also seen over Black Mountain on March 7th. Coming back down canyon, I remark about the deer to a canyon regular – a man who daily walks an abused dog that he rescued from a shelter. He patiently was been working with the animal for a year, trying to reduce its aggressiveness. He reports that at dusk yesterday, there was a herd of fifty or sixty deer on the western slope above mile 1.2. Although he is known to me to be a reliable reporter, not prone to exaggeration, this is the type of report that needs to be witnessed directly. Fifty or sixty deer in one herd is more than I have ever seen or heard reported in the canyon, but his description does indicate that the deer have begun their spring move.

Occasionally, humanity does aspire to greatness and it tries to fix its missteps and injustices. For example, the Northern Ute Tribe received $272 million under the 1992 Central Utah Project as compensation for the United States’ failure to complete the Unitah portion of the multi-basin water project. In 2010, the State of Utah agreed to pay $33 million to the Navajo Nation related to the mismanagement of trust royalties for the 6,000 Navajos living in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. Conversely, no monies were actually paid to Northern Utes when they succeeded their lands to the United States under an 1868 Treaty with the United States.

In modern economics study, much is made of the economic miracle of the United States since the initial North American colonization and the exceptional peoples who created that miracle. A typical undergraduate first economics course is Heilbroner and Singer’s “The Economic Transformation of the America: 1600 to the Present”. Heilbroner and Singer’s economic narrative parallels the history of Euro-American Utah: hard-working, creative, persistent immigrants following free market principles took a raw valueless land and turned it into an economic powerhouse unparalleled in human history. The subtext message of the authors is that Americans are exceptional, and, similarly, the Mormons by their religious beliefs also feel themselves to be exceptional even among exceptional Americans. A simpler explanation of the Utah and United States economic miracle is that Euro-Americans were better capitalized. In settlement of the 1848 water with Mexico, the United States paid Mexico about $19.65 per square mile, or 3 cents an acre, for western lands including present day Utah. In present day Utah of the 84,899 square miles, or 54,335,360 acres, about 31 percent is held privately or by the State of Utah. After 1851, Utahans could buy homestead land at $1.25 per acre in 1850 currency, and in 1805, United States undeveloped land was valued at about $2.00 per acre. Thus, in 1850, future private and state lands were conservatively worth about 33,687,922 USD in 1850 currency or 740,198,508 USD in 2016 currency. That is about 148,039 USD for each of the 5,000 colonists of 1847. Viewing Utah as a “business venture”, starting a business with about 150,000 USD capitalization per shareholder is likely to be a successful prospect. Unknown to both the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists was the value of Utah’s mineral wealth, which extracted and still extracts billions of dollars per year from the earth. In 2016, the value of minerals extracted from Bingham Canyon and the Great Salt Lake were about $3 billion USD. Had the Euro-Americans of 1847 and western United States settlers kept to their fair market and contract law principles and paid the First Peoples the fair value for their lands, the Utah Euro-American colonists would have started out their business venture with a per capita debt of 150,000 USD in 2016 currency. If the Utah colonists had been true to their professed beliefs, then the economic history of Utah would have been much different. The same economic reasoning applies to much of the Manifest Destiny expansion of the United States westward of Appalachia’s in the 1800s. This reasoning should not and does not mean to denigrate the struggle, hard-work and sweat equity that the Euro-Americans, my ancestors, put into transforming the nation. But context is important to understanding the past and present, and certainty in one’s exceptionalism is the enemy of democracy because it prevents a person from seeing issues from another’s perspective and thus from reaching compromise.

Exceptional abilities implies choice within a given context. By 1847, the Euro-American colonists were well into the era of the Indian Removal Act of 1930, that established the precedent of removing First Peoples from lands west of the Mississippi. Removal of First Peoples was their cultural and political policy of first choice. But there were choices. The 5,000 colonists of 1847-1850 could have chosen to remain confined to Salt Lake Valley; they could have slowed the rate of their migration; they could have chosen to expand first to the north; they could have chosen to engage in a reparations program of providing supplemental cattle to First Peoples during the winter. The options are endless, but at the forefront of the colonists Indian policy was seizing the most fertile land in the region in Utah, not Salt Lake, valley. In this regard, the colonists of 1847 were not exceptional, and their behavior differed little from previous Euro-American contact with First Peoples up to that time.

City Creek Canyon also exists in a larger context. Sometimes that context is climate (Feb. 7th), and sometimes that context is the economic and political needs of the Euro-Americans as they developed the surrounding region (Feb. 24th). It is this relationship between nature and human resource and infrastructure needs that modified the pre-colonization condition of City Creek Canyon into what is seen today. Here, again context and ability implies choices. While the canyon has been modified since 1847, by historical accident and by political design, much of its 1847 pre-colonization state remains.

What choices did the Euro-Americans make, and how has nature in City Creek Canyon been changed from its 1847 condition by those choices as compared to the six other Salt Lake Valley canyons?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 9th, 1852, he notes that bluebirds arrive with the first warm wind (see March 7th here). March 9th, 1853, he opines that the first bark of the red squirrel is a sign of spring. On March 9th, 1854, he see a large flock of ducks and reflections of the landscape in water. On March 9th, 1855, he scares a rabbit from the brush.

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).

September 21, 2016

September 16th

Filed under: Colors, Dragonfly, Insects, Maple tree, Meadow Mile 1.3, Moth, Places, Sunflower, wasps, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:26 am

Shriveled Sunflower

5:30 p.m. It has been two days with overnight temperatures in the forties. At meadow at mile 1.3, the roadside sunflowers have shriveled and fallen over. Only a small patch that contains a few blooms remain. But the crickets and the dragonflies have withstood the low overnight temperatures. During the first two miles, there about 200 dragonflies, but only two or three butterflies and moths. At mile 1.2, I notice for the first time, an eight inch diameter wasp nest that is still active, and it is the home of the jet black wasps seen on September 9th. The nest is only 25 feet from the road, and assuming it was built in back in June, I have been unknowingly running past it for about three months.

The low temperatures and moisture have triggered a few late-turning, small maples. I count only 8 maples in the first 2 miles that have turned a fiery red-orange, and these welcome accents of color brighten this year’s otherwise muted annual leaf display.

September 20, 2016

August 28th

Filed under: Cabbage White Butterly, Colors, Insects, Moth, Red-Rumped Bumblee Bee — canopus56 @ 11:28 pm

Thermoregulating Moths

7:30 p.m. Butterflies are now almost gone. The cabbage white butterflies have vanished. As the temperature drops during the day in the cool of the evening, moths predominate. A tansey aster near mile 0.7 is covered in bumblebees and twenty three-quarter inch moths with orange brown wings that are streaked with black. Moths are more active at night and in cool weather than butterflys because they, like their cousins the bumblebees, thermoregulate their body temperature by warming up through vigorous in-place wing flapping. In contrast, butterflies are ectotherms. They rely on the external temperature of the environment to regulate their body temperature. In the heat of the summer, butterflies can be found gathering at seep pools along the roadside. When the canyon reaches over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, ten to fifteen cabbage white butterflies can be seen standing in the shallow water. This cools them sufficiently for another flight. I reconsider consider this “just so” story. During the April butterfly explosion, there are no moths, but the butterflies have no problem moving in the colder spring weather.

Today the moths at mile 0.7 have large black eyes that are disproportionate to their head. The eyes take up three-quarters of their skull. Buddhism and Hinduism teach that I am looking back at myself – at another fragment of an ultimate reality or God-head. Science instructs that the moth’s vacant black discs are simple visual inputs into the biological equivalent of a programmable calculator.

Create a free website or blog at