City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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 . . .”

March 14, 2017

March 14th

Flooding of City Creek’s Delta – Part V

1:30 p.m. An early spring arrives; the temperature is in the seventies. The canyon continues to be flooded with walkers, runners and bicyclists during the middle of a workday, and this may be driven in part by the fact that the local university is on spring break. Near mile 0.4, I watch a large raptor soaring next to the high cliff walls on the canyon’s west-side for several minutes, and then it dives into a nesting site in cliff wall. Raptors are known to nest there through mid-June. Although trees continue in their somnolence, insects respond instantly overnight. I estimate 500 Box Elder bugs are active in the first mile. Their abdominal segments are a bright red-orange, and this aids them in locating each other for their many mating orgies that I pass on the road. Gnats are in abundance, the first houseflies appear, and I see the first wasp of the season. I count five butterflies of four different types. The first is a large black butterfly with a white trailing edge, probably a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and the second mid-size butterfly with black wings and a trailing red-orange band is probably an early Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta). A White Cabbage butterfly is seen on the Pipeline Trail. The fourth is the inverse of the Red Admiral: orange-winged with a black trailing edge. These are early hatchlings. The annual butterfly explosion, in which up to one-thousand butterflies can be seen on the road, is several weeks away. One regret that I have from the winter is that despite my searches, I was unable to locate any butterfly or moth cocoons hanging from trees. That is where the butterflies hibernate through the winter.

Near mile 0.4 where the Gambel’s oak forest spreads up the western canyon slope, the oak thicket hides small birds, but I can hear about five distinct calls. Only a robin’s call can be definitely identified. Along the stream, a startled thrush runs under the tangle of a bush’s roots. I jog down the Pipeline Trail. In April and May and after the oaks renew their leafs, smaller migrating song birds can be seen perching on the electrical power lines that parallel the trail, but today, I see none. Below Shark Fin Rock near trail mile 0.5, a mid-sized bird, screened by the trees, calls with a loud “chirp-cheep”. I cannot see it, but from the changes of its calls’ levels, I can tell that the bird is standing in place and rotating around, probably advertising for a mate.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 14th, 1854, he hears a large flock of song-sparrows in the trees. On March 14th, 1855, he sees sparrow tracks in the snow leading to blue curls, a plant that contains dried seeds.

The weather and increased ability to forecast flooding works against City residents’ tendency to forget extreme events. The National Weather Service, the National Soil Conservation Service and the U.S. Geological Survey maintain an extensive system of flood gauge monitors and a sophisticated national flood prediction system, the Advanced Hydrographic Prediction Service, the data from which is publicly available (U.S.G.S. 2017, NSCS 2017, NWS 2017b, 2017c). The NWS regularly publishes probability predictions of annual flooding whenever the snowpack is high (Salt Lake Tribune, April 29, 2011). For example, although 2017 has not resulted in flooding in City Creek, flooding in northern Utah towns like Tremonton fill the news.

When City Creek returns to flood its delta, the waters will find a much changed city. In the 2000s, when the North Temple shopping district was rebuilt at the cost of over $1 billion USD. Since 1983, the business district has seen construction of numerous large buildings on both sides or Main and State Streets, and pursuant with City policy, each has constructed many large underground parking lots. For example, between South Temple and 100 South and State and Main, the entire 10 acre block now contains a multi-level underground parking structure. The same is true between 200 South and 300 South between State and Main. The doors that close off entry to these underground cavities are simple thin roll-down affairs that will not keep flood water out. Although during the 1983 flood, sandbagging kept water out of the then only underground garage, when City Creek again floods the downtown, these underground lots will be susceptible to filling with water, and the economic cost of the next extreme flood – which still can overwhelm the post-1983 increased capacity of the storm water system – will be much higher.

September 21, 2016

September 8th

The Mountain Who Lost It’s Backside

4 p.m. Today I decide to drive up to the end of the paved road and trail jog to the end of the canyon. The canyon will be closed to cars at the end of September, and I usually do one of these trail runs at this time. (A second is done in early June.) The paved road ends at mile 5.75 and the trail continues for another 4.25 miles before it descends into Wasatch County. But today I decided to only go to trail mile 3.5 where one can see that part of the backside of Grandview Peak is missing. It is the sheer vertical cliff about 200 feet high.

Through trail mile 1.0, the stream is wider and flat. The trail is about 100 feet off to one side and passes through box elder and maple groves. The trail, actually a dirt road that is fading away, crosses the stream at two iron bridges and passes the Smuggler’s Gap trailhead. Then the trail changes character. The trail becomes a disused single track that sits two or three feet to the north of the small fast-moving creek. The creek flows over a series of algae covered rock jumbles into small pools. Both the stream and the floor of the trail are broken Mississippian and Permian slate. At times the stream and trail wind through boughs of river beech trees. Here, a red Admiral butterfly floats between the stream, bushes and the shade of the trees.

Grandview Peak is to the left and the north, but its view is blocked by the steep v shape of the creek gorge and by stands of aspen. To the right and south is the ridge between City Creek and Red Butte canyons. On the city side the ridge is a near-vertical wall that sits in perpetual shadow. Thus, it is covered in the thick healthy stand of cold tolerant Douglas fir. In contrast, the Sun exposed Red Butte side is a thick drought tolerant Gambel oak forest.

I round a bend near trail mile 1.6 and startle a Cooper’s hawk that is napping in a tree grove. Attempts to fly away but is trapped in the tangle of branches that it is resting in. It waits anxiously for about 30 seconds. Seeing that I am no threat, it picks a route out of its lair, and then like an owl, expertly flies through the forest understory to freedom.

At trail mile 2.1 the canyon opens into the first of four hanging meadows. Each is divided by gradual inclines. This first meadow hosts a SNOTEL weather station, and in the second at trail mile 2.6, the bushes are flattened in a series of circles. Here a moose can usually be found, and today is no exception. As I am exiting the meadow, I hear something crashing through the brush, and turning around, a frightened female moose is careening into the safety of the forest. There is little sign of deer in this part of the canyon because there is little grass forage to support them. In each of these hanging meadows there are bushes of mountain blueberries that provide refreshing forage for me.

The character of these meadows has changed dramatically since I last ran through them in June. Then the brush was so profuse that it reached my neck and overhung and obscured the trail. Jogging was an act of faith and was more like swimming through a sea of green. You hoped that the trail was underfoot and sometimes it was not. Now the meadows are a sea of tan. The trail is plainly visible, but the trail floor is a pallet of dark browns and tans from dried and crushed brush punctuated by accents of fallen bright and muted red-orange aspen and maple leaves. I am jogging over an 18 inch by 300 foot canvas painted by the randomness of nature.

At trail mile 3.6, I am climbing past the last meadow and towards the ridgeline at the end of the canyon. My goal for the day is visible on the north side of canyon. Here a series of spur ridges come down from Grandview Peak and end in rounded noses, but one nose is cut off. It ends in a sheer vertical cliff about the size of two or three football fields. At its base is a 200 foot tall talus field. Here, some geologists believe an ancient earthquake may have shorn the mountainside away. One can see other examples along the Wasatch Front. The shear north face of Mount Olympus has a rubble pile at its base which is now the Mount Olympus subdivision. This reminds us that the West is earthquake country and there work 14 earthquakes in Utah of greater than magnitude 5 during the last century. In 2008, geologists Francis X. Ashland and Gregory N. McDonald investigated the Grandview Peak landslide in order to determine the most cost-effective method of dating the mountainside’s failure. They concluded that the remoteness of the site and the depth of the talus field made it impractical to retrieve rock samples from deep underneath the talus field in order to accurately date when the slide occurred.

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