City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 12, 2017

July 11th

Filed under: Geology, Light — canopus56 @ 12:39 am

Glowing Red Soils

9:00 p.m. The heat wave breaks and the temperature does not break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This evening I have driven to a spot along Warm Springs Road at the north end of the city. To the east is the west end of the Salt Lake salient, and behind me is the sun setting over Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. The west end of the Salt Lake salient is gone, because that is the location of the Staker Construction gravel pit. For two-hundred feet and about three-quarters of a mile, the entire mountain side has been removed. Above this wall is the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve (July 9th). Over the ridgeline is City Creek Canyon. The gravel operation has cut a near vertical wall that reveals the deposition of Quaternary soils over the last million years. At its base are veins of dark coal, followed by reddish sand-soils, that alternative with grey ancient mud. Roadcuts are always instructive for learning Utah geology, but the Staker gravel operation wall looks like it is an elaborate illustration torn for a nineteenth century textbook on geology. In the light at noon, it is a drab industrial site, but in the late summer light of the setting sun, for a few moments, as it does tonight, the wall glows a luminescent red. The only other location in northern Utah and near City Creek Canyon where rock glows a brilliant red is the butte from which Red Butte Canyon takes it name. The Red Butte is made of the same Triassic sandstone as the canyonland national parks of southern Utah, and in the setting sunlight at the equinoxes, the Red Butte also glows bright red.

To add to the geologic theme of this location, in the foreground next to the road, steam rises from a spring choked with reeds, and this explains the road’s name of Warm Springs Road. This is only active visible reminder of great Wasatch Front Fault that stretches for one hundred miles north and south of this point. This still active earthquake fault is responsible for raising the canyon and the mountains that surround Salt Lake City.

* * * *

In the Blake Edition of Thoreau’s “Journal”, there are no transcribed entries for July 11th to September 21st concerning Thoreau’s Concord observations. See the University of California at Santa Barbara edition that contain images of Thoreau’s original journals including this period. Through July 19th, Thoreau is on a camping trip in New Hampshire.

* * * *

On July 11th, 2008, a young man who crashed into a maintenance vehicle while bicycle riding down City Creek Canyon filed suit against the City (Deseret News). On July 11th, 1919, Commissioner Neslen recommended extended the hours for which City Creek Canyon is open to automobiles from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 11th, 1912, small fires broke out in City Creek and Dry Fork Canyons (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 11th, 1908, Iowa Botany Professor L. H. Pammel toured City Creek Canyon and admired its drought resistant wheat grass (Deseret Farmer).


June 13, 2017

June 2nd

Evolution of Angiosperms

8:00 a.m. Some days are beyond beauty. This is the first official day of the five months in which cars are allowed in the canyon on alternating days, and I have decided to drive up to the end of the road to jog the uppermost canyon. It rained last night, the undergrowth and trees are all covered with thick layer of drops. As I drive up the road, the morning birds are active. With the windows open, I mentally tabulate a count as I slowly travel up the winding road. It comes to about 20 birds within earshot for every quarter mile. This suggests a population of some 800 smaller song birds along the five and three-quarters of paved road and the subsequent 2 miles of trail in a band for 50 yards on either side of the road.

Continuing the drive up canyon, Wild roses are open to Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1, and Wild geraniums are open to mile 5.0. Along the first mile, a new flowering plant, another weed, has sprung up to two feet tall seemingly overnight. It is Western salisfy (Asteraceae tragopogon dupon). Although a noxious invader, it is an admirable plant. To avoid the heat of the day, it folds closed into a pen-like tip, but now in the light morning sun, it shows sixteen thin yellow petals surrounded by hair-thin sepals. The center has a sharply contrasting black band. It lines the roadside and at Pleasant Valley, Utah Conservation Corps treated field, that removed yellow starthistle, is now covered with another invasive – salsify. A purple variant of this plant is also found along the first mile road.

At the water treatment plant at mile 3.4, the canyon narrows, and flashes of blue and black flittering into the Gambel’s oaks reveals a flock of Stellar’s jays. Stellar’s jays prefer the coolness of a montane habitat, and in contrast, their cousins, the Scrub jay, prefers the hotter lower canyon. But the Stellar’s jay is more territorial, and thus, more entertaining. When a hiker enters their territory, one will immediately swoop down to the trail and call with its repetitive “caw” in both curiosity and in complaint. The action of one will others of its tribe, and this provides the walker with an avian presidio under which one must pass inspection. Later in the afternoon, further up the trail at the end of the road, as I walk under a large moss covered log, a Stellar’s jay lands above me, its mouth full of moss intended for use as nesting material. It glances back for a quick inquisitive look and then proceeds on its business.

Resuming the drive up the road and as the walls of the canyon close in, the canyon transitions from Gambel oak forest to deciduous maple and Box elder tree forest. The road becomes a single track. The heavy moisture on the leaves is heated by the first penetrating morning sun, and as a result, the air is thick with mist and dew. Shafts of light peak make it through the dense overgrowth and illuminate the mist into yellow tubes. Here, the canyon feels most like an eastern forest. Although the dense greenery only extends for a few hundred yards on either side of the road, the narrow canyon walls cut off any vistas, and this is what I remember of my boyhood eastern forests. The green goes on forever and the all sense of direction is lost. Here, stream bed widens and the stream slows. But then, near mile 4.5, there is an abrupt transition to a Rocky Mountain forest (Peet 2000) dominated by Douglas fir and Norway spruce. The stream narrows and the stream bed becomes boulders that are angular and freshly honed from bedrock. This change is also announced by great vertically upended limestone fins on the western wall of the canyon that have been turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The Wild geraniums thin out, and the first Mountain bluebells, a cool weather plant, appear and become more frequent. The air thickens more and forest becomes medieval.

Along this stretch of road between Lower and Upper Rotary Park, the bird communities, mostly of American robins, Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, and Black-headed grosbeaks are spread out into distinct communities, unlike in the warmer first mile canyon. The distinct trill call of a community of Chirping sparrows is heard. I also hear a lone Mountain chickadee calling. This is where they have come, since the lower canyon is too hot for them. This segregation of birds into unique groups along the road gives me the opportunity to stop and study the distinct songs and calls of a group of Warbling vireos.

The sun rises further and the mist burns off as I reach the end of the road at mile 5.75, and the old mining road and trail that leads to the Treasure Box mine begins. I have not been here since the end of last summer (Sept. 8th), and it feels restorative to be in the most natural of the canyon’s regions. Leaving the car and proceeding up the trail, where the direct sun penetrates, a green canopy of maples and box elders closes in, while on shaded eastern slope, Douglas firs reach to trails edge. The air is heavy with the smell of wet leaves and chlorophyll. Crossing the first and second red metal bridges affords views up the stream, and it is a torrent of white, with only hints of blue water. The stream has become a silver ribbon. After the third metal bridge, the trail rises, the canopy deepens and the undergrowth becomes impenetrable. This stretch is as the lower canyon appeared around 1900. Shipler’s photograph of the lower canyon road taken around 1903, appears nearly identical to this morning’s rise in the trail (J. Willard Marriott, Id. 459448, see also Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903). The chirping call of a Green-tailed towhee is heard.

For the next half-mile, the trail is about 150 feet east of stream, and the trail consists of sharp rocks that a month ago were another snow-feed branch of the stream. Geraniums and blue bells thicken along with young stinging nettle plants. All are so covered with last night’s rain water that my shoes quickly become soaked, but I do not care. A Mourning cloak butterfly with an odd color variant flies down canyon. Instead of the yellow-white trailing band, its trailing wing band is a dusky orange. Other now common butterflies appear uniformly distributed along the trail: Western tiger swallowtails and newly-hatched smaller Spring azure butterfly butterflies. The Spring azures flock in groups of three to six, and the harsh high-altitude light brings out a new property to their colors. Depending on the sun angle, their wings flash a deep medium blue, their streaked light blue, or flat light blue. The deep blue is new variation to their iridescence. There is a new unidentified one and one-half inch butterfly. It has forewings of patterned medium dark grey and rear-wings that are a grayish black. The colder air at this high altitude, along with their lack of exposure to humans, make insects sluggish. In the lower canyon, the Red-rumped central worker bumble bees are skittish. But here, the bees remain still when approached, and I am able to take a clear pictures of several.

Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, a Spotted towhee, Yellow warblers, and Lazuli buntings, another refugee from the lower canyons, are heard in profusion. But again, they rest in distinct communities in the spacious upper reaches of the canyon instead of being distributed uniformly along the trail. Jogging uphill feels good for the legs, but my progress is slow. I cannot resist the urge to stop and listen to each community of bird and to playback stock recordings of their calls, in part to assure to identification, and in part for the simple enjoyment of somehow communicating with them. At one point, the land between trail and stream widens, but is particularly lush with a low canopy. There I hear a single American dipper, the first of the season.

For the next half mile, the trail begins to narrow travels next to the stream, and the trail crosses a series of rock outcrops. There the trail becomes broken rock interspersed with patches of stream feed marsh, and the stream water itself is so pure that individual rocks can be seen distinctly on the stream’s bottom. A few Spearleaf scorpionweeds (Phacelia hastata) that have delicate light purple, fuzzy blossoms, hide in sun sheltered spaces. Along the broken rocks, I notice the small, 5 millimeter, dried-out shells of snails covering the trail. Over a 100 feet of trail, I count about the same number of shells. On picking one up and to my astonishment, there is a miniature live snail in each shell. I am unable to identify them.

Next, the trail starts to rise towards the first of four hanging meadows, and in the first of which stills with Louis Meadows SNOTEL weather station. Aspen trees first appear, a sure sign of a Rocky Mountain meadow ahead. Mountain bluebells surround the trail on both sides, and a few Western blue elderberry trees (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) rise from the surrounding bluebells. Each elderberry is heavily festooned with white, lacey panicles. In the autumn, as their dark fruit ripens, these are a favored trail snack.

As I crest the lip of Louis Meadows hanging valley, the SNOTEL station comes into view. It sits in the middle of field of Mountain bluebells the size of two football fields, and the field is surrounded by a grove of waving aspen trees to the west and Douglas firs to the east. It is an idyllic sight; one that I feel privileged to experience. I begin to feel giddy and overwhelmed by biophilia.

While my heart feels love, my intellect says my expansive feelings are not the effect of altitude at just 6,700 feet (2,042 meters), but of ultra-violet radiation. The 10 a.m. summer Sun is high in the sky, and its warmth penetrates all clothing. The exercise of hiking in Western summer mountains is a relaxing experience. The cool air makes hard, fast hiking enjoyable, but at the same time ultra-violet relaxes the muscles and the mind. Pictures taken here today all are blue tinged from the uv light. With every 1000 meters in altitude, uv light increases in intensity by 10 percent. An internet uv intensity calculator suggests this morning’s ultra-violet index is 12.

As I nearly reach the trailhead and the car, the only other hiker in the canyon today, a young man in his twenties, overtakes me, and he can only mutter, “That is so unbelievably beautiful!” as he passes by. Words escape us both. We have been closer to creation and the other world of the upper canyons of the Wasatch Mountain Range.

Driving out the lower canyon and back to that other reality of my human social and economic existence, the Mosquito Abatement District surveyors are examining their blue painted tree holes (November 7th). They are taking a census in order to estimate the canyon’s mosquito population.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 2nd, 1853, he travels through a thick fog and notes that birds are still making song. He sees cherry birds and yellow bluebead lily, an eastern plant, and red sorrel. On June 2nd, 1855, he describes a moth cocoon opening. On June 2nd, 1858, on a camping trip to a mountain top, he examines a snow bird nest, and hears a chewink, a wood-thrush, and night-hawks. On June 2nd, 1859, he finds a grossbeak nest in a blueberry bush. On June 2nd, 1860, he sees bats and a king-bird.

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Fully preserved angiosperms first appear in the fossil record about 130 million years ago and by 90 million years ago, flowering trees had dominated the forest canopy. Pamela and Douglas Soltis at the University of Washington with Mark Chase at the Royal Botanical Gardens used modern gene mapping to reconstruct the evolutionary phylogenetic clades of flowering plants (Soltis, Soltis and Chase 1999). Soltis and Soltis review state-of-the-art flowering plant clades as of 2004 (Soltis and Soltis 2004).

Magallon and Sanderson at the University of California at Davis used the rate of diversification of woody plants in the fossil record to estimate the age of the major families (Magallon and Sanderson 2001, Fig. 4). Members of the Sapindales family, which includes maples seen in the canyon, appeared about 60 million years ago. The Rosaceae family members in the canyon, which include Western serviceberry, apple trees, chokeberry, ash trees, and Woods rose, evolved relatively recently, about 45 million years ago (id). Modern oaks appear about 35 million years ago. In Utah around 35 million years ago, the Farallon Plate had passed through Utah, crustal spreading behind the plate cracked Utah’s surface, and the spreading generated Utah’s volcanic era (January 7th). The volcanic breccia at milepost 1.0 of the canyon was forming (id).

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On June 2nd, 2002, teenager Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Federal Heights home and was hidden on the south slope city side slope of the Black Mountain-City Creek ridge for two months (Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, 2003). The hiding place was not found by a 2,000 person search organized by the Laura Recovery Center (id). On June 2nd, 1915, the City Commission approved plans to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On Decoration Day (May 30), a picnic was held in City Creek as reported on the social page of the Deseret Evening News.

June 1, 2017

May 31st

Filed under: Birds, Butterfly, Light — canopus56 @ 5:17 pm

Evolution of Butterflies

7:00 p.m. I only spend a few minutes in the canyon today, listening to the sounds of birds as they respond to the long sunsets. Light fades now near 8:30 p.m.

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Butterflies, as compared to birds, evolved relatively recently. They are believed to have evolved about 40 to 50 million years ago at the same time that the flowering plants that they feed on had a major radiation. About 35 million years ago as the first butterflies evolved, the melting of the Farallon Plate as it passed under Utah resulted in a volcanic era, and volcanoes formed in west central Utah around present day Tintic, Utah (January 7th). City Creek Canyon’s volcanic breccia layer between picnic sites 6 and 9 formed at this time. In 2010, Roe and colleagues reviewed the state of phylogenetic studies that reconstruct the evolution of butterflies, but unlike Pacheco and the first birds, no clear timeline for each divergence of orders could be created (Roe et al 2010).

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A May 31st, 1994 Salt Lake Tribune article on increased Salt Lake valley canyon recreation crowding, republished a 1986 quote from Gale Dick, a long-time canyon activist and co-founder of Save Our Canyons, regarding the nature of the Salt Lake valley canyons, including City Creek,

“It is time to recognize the public lands in the Wasatch Mountains as Salt Lake Valley’s magnificent de facto public park. The mountains and canyons provide year-round recreation and the simple pleasures of forest, streams and mountains to visitors on a scale exceeding that of Yellowstone Park. After watershed protection, what should be the over-riding goal of the Salt Lake County Canyons Master Plan? Simply this: To keep the canyons available year-round for predominantly local citizens’ recreational use without excessive cost, crowds, urbanization or machinery.”

On May 31st, 1907, the Salt Lake Telegram noted heavy recreation use in City Creek, at Saltair, and at Lagoon.

May 22, 2017

May 21st

Filed under: Birds, Leopard slug, Light, Sounds, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:40 am

Utah Bird Population Trends

8:30 p.m. I am on a short, quick jog near twilight, and towering broken clouds float from the west to east over the lower canyon. As the sun nearly sets, dimmed green and brown ridgeline contrasts with slate gray cloud bottoms below the descending sunset line, but the cloud tops are enveloped in a bright pink and white hues against the deepening blue sky. Two Leopard slugs take advantage of the cool evening to cross the road. Twilight turns to night. Unlike my snowbound fall night run (December 12th) which focused on the sound of silence, tonight the crashing white noise of the stream drowns out any thoughts as I return to the gate through the darkness.

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Bird populations are almost impossible to estimate with any accuracy. The best that can usually be done is to measure changes in the density of birds and from those changes a change in the overall population level can be inferred. Numerical population estimates exist for Utah game waterfowl birds and endangered species that travel along the eastern branch of the Pacific Flyway that passes through the Great Salt Lake. The Pacific Flyway is one of the three great North American migratory bird flyways that stretch from Canada to central Mexico. Thus, the populations of many birds see in the canyon that winter to the south is dependent on the availability of habitat two thousand miles to the south. Similarly, bird populations seen to the north and south of Utah are dependent on the marshes of the Great Salt Lake. There is no alternative route for birds to cross Utah and Nevada’s arid lands.

Olson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports a 13 percent increase in waterfowl birds between 2009 and 2016 (55,868 divided by 49,464 birds) (Olsen 2017). (The Utah study methodology changed in 2009 and this prevents examining longer term trends back to 1992). With respect to non-game birds such as those smaller song birds in the canyon, Parrish, Norvell and Howe with the Utah Division of Natural Resources 1992 to 2005 study of 37 Utah bird sites found that (Parrish et al. 2007; Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Their study created the longest running dataset of high quality bird density estimates for the western United States (Parrish et al. 2007, 77). About half of Utah’s 440 bird species are residents; they other half are annual neotropical migrants; and, more than 70 percent of those birds use riparian habitats, like the Jordan River, as habitat during part of their life cycle (Parrish et al. 2007, 12). Based on estimated the density of 202 species of Utah birds from 1996 to 2005 from observations and recaptures, Parrish and his colleagues found that overall Utah bird populations have declined 5 percent over the thirteen years from 1992 to 2005 (id, 4, 67, Fig. 8). The Utah bird decline should be viewed within the context of the fifteen year drought cycle. The Great Salt Lake water level has been declining, its marshes have less water, and other bird refuges are drier. Population declines would be expected from such changes in habitat. Parrish, Norvell and Howe did not have a study site in City Creek Canyon.

The decline in Utah neotropical migratory birds is not uniform for birds found in City Creek Canyon. Between 1995 and 2001, the density of American Goldfinches, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Broad-tailed hummingbirds declined, but the density of Yellow Warbler’s increased (Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005, 561-562, Figs. 2-3). Gross waterfowl populations along the Great Salt Lake are increasing, despite the drought. Available copies of their 2007 report do not provide density information disaggregated by individual species. In summary, Utah state neotropical bird studies indicate that the population of birds in the canyon relatively stable, but populations may decline further based on changes in local climate.

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Given that a high proportion of Utah birds that use riparian habitats, Parrish, Norvell and Howe recommended adoption of various management activities to improve habitat along Utah’s waterways without necessarily waiting for further study demonstrating the efficiency of remediation efforts in improving bird populations (Parrish et al. 2007, 76-77). Cause and effect are well known and obvious in these circumstances. In 2011, the Utah State Legislature authorized the expenditure of 37 million USD to support the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative for joint private-public riparian rehabilitation ventures (Clark, A., and Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2013; (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017b). Through 2016, the Utah Division of Wild Resources reports that it has completed 1,607 projects covering 1.3 million acres of Utah Wetlands.

The Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative has funded Yellow starthistle abatement in City Creek Canyon during 2010 through the present (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2010, 2016, 2017a, 2017b). Those projects included chemical spraying of 8 acres in Pleasant Valley to control the weed in 2017 (Project Id. 3693), 2016 (Project Id. 3404), 2013 (Project Id. 221), spraying 70 acres in 2011 in Pleasant Valley (Project Id. 1642), and spraying 150 acres five miles up the canyon in 2010 (Project Id. 1464). Another spraying in the canyon is proposed in 2018 (Project Id. 4040). The Initiative funds the Utah Conservation Corps currently working in City Creek (May 17th, October 16th) (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017a).

On May 21st, 2003, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Richard Pieros observes how new FAA landing flight paths for the Salt Lake International Airport over Emigration Canyon, City Creek Canyon and the Avenues has resulted in loss of solitude. (Later, the FAA revised the flight paths and airliners no longer take off or landing over City Creek Canyon or the Avenues, except in rare unusual instances. This transfers the airport noise burden to West Valley City residents and to wildlife along the shores of the Great Salt Lake.) In May 20th, 1994, Bryant Elementary School Children participated in a neighborhood cleanup of Memory Grove and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 21st, 1916, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon planned to measure the volume of lakes in City Creek Canyon in order to see if they were suitable to act as reservoirs (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 26, 2017

April 22nd

Biophilia – Part IV – Twin Studies

2:00 p.m. It is the day of the annual running of the Salt Lake City Marathon. Nine-hundred and fifty of the world’s elite runners travel a course that comes down 11th Avenue, around the lower canyon’s rim on Bonneville Drive, and then down the lower canyon to Memory Grove. While historically since the 1920s, running races have gone up and down City Creek Creek above Bonneville Drive, this race does not. But the race course was removed by noon and the canyon has returned to its usual calm. A bright sun is out and the parking lot and road on this weekend day is full. Pairs of Painted Lady butterflies do acrobatic maneuvers. I count 10 white cabbage butterflies, 5 Painted Lady butterflies, 2 Mourning cloak butterflies and one possible Yellow swallowtail butterfly.

Near mile 0.7, a single male mallard flies up canyon along the road at head level and below the overhanging tree canopy. I laugh loudly with surprise and the mallard turns its head backward while expertly not missing a forward propelling wing beat. A rock squirrel scurries across the road, runs up a mature Box Elder tree, and without passing crosses fifteen feet over the stream by going down an overhanging River birch branch. It disappears underneath a cottonwood snag log near the base of the birch. Both are at home and know their neighborhood well.

The glade on the opposite side of the stream that contains purple phlox contrasting with yellow poison ivy blooms (March 29th and April 20th) looks just green today. The brighter sunlight washes out the color contrasts, and the true colors of the glade can only be seen in overcast skies.

It is also Earth Day, and as I drive home out of the canyon along Bonneville Drive, people are gathering to hear speakers on the steps of the State Capitol Building. The speakers, who include Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi, will decry how the current wave of conservatism that dominates United States political and popular culture ignores the science of nature in favor of invented facts grown from dogmatism and ideology.

* * * *

Genetic heritability based on twin studies also provides indirect support for the biophobia negative hypothesis. One study of phobias in approximately 2,100 female twins indicated that the fear of threatening animals, such as spiders snakes and bugs, has a heritability range between 30 and 40 percent (Ulrich 1993 at 84). But twin studies have their limitations, as discussed by Guo at North Chapel University (Guo 2005). Guo notes such studies assume that like parents who provide a similar parenting environment are not more likely to marry (44), and maternal twins are dressed and raised more similarly than fraternal twins (id). These effects may overstate the presumed genetic effect. Second, under modern standards not present in 1993, twin study results should be considered provision until confirmed by molecular genetic studies (id). Many twin studies identify high proportional contributions from environmental factors. Guo notes that the real usefulness of twin studies is that they provide a pseudo-controlled experiment holding the effects of genetics constant and thus, such studies provide a more effective exploration of environmental factors. Guo points to his own twin study of the propensity for adolescent drinking. Although teen drinking has a genetic component, his and Elizabeth Stearns’ study revealed that having teen friends who also drink is a strong environmental factor.

In other words, genetic biophilia causation is not a binary choice. Genetics may be factor, but the stress of modern life may be a more significant factor.

* * * *

On April 22nd, 2017, Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi gave at the Capitol Building and overlooking City Creek Canyon in which he noted how often he experiences dismay, “by how little science has penetrated our thinking” (Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 2017). On April 22nd, 1932, S. S. Barrett asked the City commissioners for a license to prospect for minerals in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 22nd, 1927, more prisoners were sentenced to work as prison laborers on City Creek Road (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 22, 1896, the Salt Lake Tribune urged the city to build a city-owned electric power plant in City Creek in order to break the monopoly of the existing utility (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 22, 2017

March 22nd

Filed under: Cottonwood tree, Dogwood, Light, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 6:43 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part III – City Land Acquisition

3:00 p.m. A spring storm brings rain to the canyon while I jog, and it stains the River birch trunks half soaked dark, half dry light. In the spring afternoons through May, low lying clouds back up against the Wasatch Front Mountain range, and slowly a thick bank of clouds builds over the valley and City Creek Canyon. As occurred today, then there is about twenty minutes of loud thunder and a cool, heavy rain. The clouds reduce their weight, this allows them to rise, and then they cross the high peaks. This is followed today by a special light. The remaining thin clouds and moisture filled air, backed by the sun, makes a diffuse light that is augmented by the Sun’s direct rays, and in this light details in the surrounding rocks and trees come alive. A single chickadee calls hidden in a thicket. At mile 0.4, I find first red-osier dogwood buds blooming and opening. Since I have found this tree as it is first opening, the buds are in various stages of development. One or two are in their closed winter state. Two small inner casing leaves surround a small circular mass, and two large outer casing leaves enclose the inner mass. The bud swells from within, and the outer casing starts to transform into green leaves. The inner leaves unfurl as miniature formed leaves. Many are fully opened, a light green central mass sits surrounded four points. The Wood’s rose open buds have developed further. Extending from the end of a twig, they are bilateral and each half has expanded into a five miniature leaves. Another bush uses and elevator technique to grow. The initial leafed bud rises on a stalk, and at its base, another set of leaves develop.

The first trees respond to the light. At Guardhouse Gate, a lavender blossomed plum tree stills on a hillside, out of place in the midst of grove of cottonwoods. A the low branches of a willow tree below picnic site 6 have turned a light green, and this indicates that sap is being pumped into the ends. The buds along the twigs at the ends of the branches have begun to open. Above picnic site 6, the first mountain cottonwood leaves appear. The older trees have not opened their buds, but the young suckers at their base have. The buds on one maple tree have opened. On the ground, parsley-like stalks rise everywhere, and on test tasting the smallest tip of one aromatic leaf, the plant is bitter and clearly toxic.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 22nd, 1853, he hears a woodpecker. On March 22nd, 1855, he captures a flying squirrel in its snag-tree nest, closely examines it, and then takes it home. On March 22nd 1860, he notes that in March, temperatures rise, snow melts, and frost appears on the ground. On March 22nd, 1861, he records a driving snow storm.

* * * *

After the creation of the Territory, the Territorial Legislature sought to clear title granted by the State of Deseret by requiring land claims to be submitted by 1854. Otherwise lands would revert to being open public domain (Hooten, 19). On June 12, 1872, Congress cleared title to land within Salt Lake City limits by Land Patent 710, and that patent included a grant of all “accrued” water rights. The City interpreted this as giving title to water flowing from the canyon to the City and not Young. Title to the land above Brigham Young’s Lion House farm remained unclear, and the matter was further complicated by railroad land grants. Section 3 of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and subsequent expansions to the Act granted 10 square miles of land around each mile of track laid except in existing towns or cities. Thus, when the railroad came to Salt Lake City, City Creek was nominally open public land and title to much of the City Creek in the upper canyon vested in the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1883, the City negotiated the purchase of two square miles of City Creek from the railroad (Hooten, 29; Salt Lake Herald Dec. 12, 1883). On January 23rd, 1901, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the City had received a proposal to purchase 240 acres of land in City Creek owned by an eastern bank. After a series of land purchases between 1907 through 1947 (Hooten, 29), the City presently holds title to 56% of the land in City Creek; the U.S. Forest Service owns 29%; and remainder is private lands principally down-canyon of approximately 0.7 miles above Bonneville Drive (Salt Lake City, 1999a at 51). On 2006, the City acquired 57 acres at the base of the west slope of the City Creek ridgeline, in part, to create a winter wildlife refuge that is contiguous with the canyon (Salt Lake City, 2010b). In 2016, the City acquired another 305 acres in and near City Creek, including 144 acres above Ensign Peak and another 160 acres on the ridgeline (Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 2016). There are small unused mining inholdings at and around the abandoned Treasure Box Mine below Grandview Peak. (id).

* * * *

On March 22nd, 1898, the City Council refused to confirm John T. Caine as Waterworks Superintendent on the grounds that as the City’s former recorder, he is a political appointee of the Mayor with no expertise in engineering (Salt Lake Herald).

March 16, 2017

March 16th

The Character of Light

1:30 p.m. It is another warm clear workday, but again the pre-spring canyon is full. There is palpable change in the character of the warming light: it is overwhelmingly bright. I feel as if I am moving through a substance and not that I am viewing the reflected particles. This is another sign of the coming of spring. In the first one and one-half miles of the canyon, the west side contains a sprinkling of a compressed white-chalk rock. They are the remnants of polished boulders from the streams of an ancient now vanished mountain range to the west. On the west hillsides above milepost 1.5, this white rocks now shine brilliantly against the wall’s green grass. The last three days have been what valley residents would call prefect spring days. The air is warm, clear and pollution free, and the high peaks of the Wasatch Mountains are frosted with snow. In the canyon, so too are Scott’s Hill and Black Mountain covered with snow that intensely reflects the new light. Today, Black Mountain’s snow pack has begun to dissipate, the mountain’s flank is beginning show a patchwork of white and brown.

As I jog, two Mourning Cloak butterflies do a mating dance a few feet away. They do tight aerobatic turns and loops, and then together they fly high up into the trees. On the road, there is small rust-brown caterpillar with a black rectangle on the side of segment that is surrounded by a white bar. The first large beetle appears, and it has a body plan similar to a Consperse Stink Bug, but this beetle has a brownish back and a gold strip at the end of its wings.

It occurs to me why earlier in the month the City decimated the cattail field at flood retention pond (March 5th). The pond is now a mathematically pure bowl, but devoid of life. There will be no summer hummingbirds there and a kingfisher who annual visits will not be returning. February and March have had record warmth, and the City probably feared that the canyon might flood. But there was never any risk. The water level at the exit pipe of the flood retention ponds has risen only a foot or so, and is indicates that stream flow is still below 30 cubic feet per second. There is four more feet of exit pipe to fill. The City has also forgotten lessons from the past. In the 1890s and 1900s, City Creek maintenance meant removing the many dead and overhanging trees from stream (Salt Lake Tribune, January 4, 1908; Salt Lake Herald, January 31st, 1894). In the 1983 flood, snags and overhanging limbs were swept down City Creek and where log jams formed, the road was washed out. The flood down State Street started when logs jammed the underground City Creek conduit (Personal recollection). The first two-miles from the gate to above Pleasant Valley contains many fallen limbs, and the stream bed has not been cleared of trees since the 1990s.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 16th, 1840, he sees a flock of ducks. On March 16th, 1854, he notes that trees are filled with singing robins, blackbirds and song sparrows. he observes shelddrakes. On March 16th, 1855, he finds a woodchuck burrow and follows several woodchuck tracks. March 16th, 1859, he notes that the ground is a bare brown and winter snow is gone. This is a marker of spring. On March 16th, 1860, he sees a flock of shelddrakes and two gulls.

March 4, 2017

March 3rd

Filed under: Buffalo, History, Light, Weather — canopus56 @ 2:48 am

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part I

External Link to Image

Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Lone Tree Monument near 500 East 300 South, Salt Lake City. In Harris, One-Hundred Years of Water Development, 1942 at p. 121. The tree has been cut-down and replaced with a stone monument.

1:00 p.m. Another day of bright sun and warm air. At Pleasant Valley, the strong sun reflects off of the remaining newly fallen snow with such brilliance that it hurts the eyes, and the sun leaves a subtle color change on the surface. Most of the snow is cream white, but where the land forms large depressions, the reflected light is a light-dark gray. I believe these gray patches are where the upper most snow layer is transitioning to water before my eyes, and melting changes the snow’s reflectance properties. At picnic site 2, the road goes makes a steep bend and here, the stream falls off into a pool at the bottom of a four or five foot rock face. Hiding in the pool is a large brown trout that runs behind a rock when I crest the stream’s bank. The drop-off may be too high for trout to pass upstream, and thus, this divides the canyon’s trout populations into two branches. 7:00 p.m. Dark clouds move in from the west and contrast to an otherwise clear night sky as I go for short walk to milepost 0.5. This heralds the end of the current warming trend. A four day old Moon hangs high in the sky and it’s light casts a shadow of my profile on the road in front of my path.

Recently while walking through the canyon, my mind has turned to the question of how close is City Creek Canyon to its pre-Euro-American natural state, or at least the state where First Peoples in the valley were engaged in subsistence hunting and gathering. In order to determine the extent to which the canyon is affected by man, a pre-Euro-American baseline needs to be described. There is almost no information on City Creek Canyon specifically, but many accounts exist from the Mormon pioneer’s first entry into the valley.

Prior to Mormon pioneer colonization, Catholic missionary explorer Escalante reported a large brush fire in Utah valley, indicating abundant grass (Cottam 1947 at 10). From the 1820s through the arrival of the Euroamerican colonists in 1847, early explorers and trappers noted an abundance of wildlife, in particular buffalo, deer, elk, beaver, antelope and Rocky mountain big horn sheep to the north of and near the Great Salt Lake (Rawley, 10-45). On May 5th, 1825, Ogden entered Idaho and northern Utah on a journey of exploration. He reported the Franklin, Idaho and northern Utah areas as being covered in buffalo (Rawley, 15) and by May 13th, he noted his company had completed trapping their 2,000 beaver in Cache Valley, Utah (Rawley, 16). Similarly, during this period, explorer William Ashley reported a conversation with explorer Jedediah Smith in which Smith stated there were plentiful buffalo in northern Utah near the Great Salt Lake (Rawley, 14). On February 3rd, 1841, fur trapper Osborn Russell entered the Salt Lake Valley and hunted sheep and wolverine. Russell encountered a First Peoples Ute chief in the valley, probably Chief Wanship, near the south east corner of the Great Salt Lake, and the Ute chief reported that buffalo were no longer found in the valley although historically herds traveled between the mainland and Antelope Island (Rawley, 30). In 1844, Kit Carson, a member of the Fremont expedition, traveled to Antelope Island, reported “plenty of game” (antelope) there, and this resulted in the naming of the island. Colonel Fremont’s 1845 expedition returned four new plants from the valley (Welsh). On July 30, 1846, explorer Edwin Bryant entered the Salt Lake Valley (Rawley, 36-37), and he noted “an immense number of ducks” along the lake” (id.) Bryant also reported tall green grass near the City with willows and “polars” (Welsh). But Bryant, like earlier explorers and trappers only made passing reference to Salt Lake Valley.

In the spring of 1846, the first explorer who made a more detailed account of lands and wildlife in Salt Lake Valley was a member of Hoppe’s party, Heinrich Lienhard. Lienhard was a member of a California bound immigration wagon train. Heinrich described the Wasatch Front Range between present day Ogden to the Jordan River in Salt Lake County as a rich grassland with clear water:

“On the August 7, 1846], we reached the flat shore of the magnificent Salt Lake, . . . The land extends from the mountains down to the lake in a splendid inclined plane broken only by the fresh water running down from ever-flowing springs above. The soil is a rich, deep black sand composition [loam] doubtless capable of producing good crops. The clear, sky-blue surface of the lake, the warm sunny air, the nearby high mountains, with the beautiful country at their foot, through which we on a fine road were passing, made on my spirits an extraordinarily charming impression. The whole day long I felt like singing and whistling; had there been a single family of white men to be found living here, I believe that I would have remained. Oh, how unfortunate that this beautiful country was uninhabited! . . . .”

“Our road had taken us for the most part along the lakeshore through luxuriantly growing bulrushes. After traveling about 20 miles, I should say, we again pitched camp, having reached a small river, the [Jordan River], the water of which was a little warm, but otherwise of good quality. The grass was poor and fuel scarce. The Wasatch Mountains were high. In several of the ravines we could see a few small conifers, but the country as a whole appeared to be scantily wooded (Korn, 134 quoted in Sillitoe, 21).”

On August 6th, 1846, the Hoppe party reached the northern end of the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of Salt Lake Valley near present day Lake Point Junction. There, they camped on the shores of Great Salt Lake and reported seeing fresh tracks of bears (Rawley, 40).

In 1847, Mormon colonist scouts Pratt, Richards and Smith reported grasses ten feet high in the valley (Cottam 1947 at 11). Orsen Pratt in the reconnaissance party reported that there where “[s]treams from the mountains and streams were very abundant, the water excellent and generally with gravel bottoms. . . . . [There were] some beautiful creeks north of this about three miles, whence we proposed to move in the morning and prepare for planting. A short distance from point, the soil becomes barren; . . . .” (Pratt, quoted in Hooten at 5). In 1847, Brigham Young and his advance party of 78 wagons first saw the valley after several months travel across the prairies (from April to July 22nd, Bancroft at 253, 267), and after traversing the Rocky Mountains. After receiving reconnaissance party reports of abundant timber and water in the valley’s surrounding canyons and upon his sedan carriage first cresting for a view of the Salt Lake Valley, his rose from several days of fever and told the advance party of 78 wagons (Bancroft 267) that, “It is enough. This is the right place” (Bancroft, 262).

Prof. May of the University of Utah notes that early pioneer descriptions of the natural state of the valley depend on the speaker’s position in the Mormon Church. High church officials gave glowing accounts; rank and file members, used to the lush, heavy rainfall lands to the east of the one-hundredth meridian of longitude, gave more somber descriptions. Two women in the initial caravan described by Clara Young that the valley as having “no trees, and to them there was such a sense of desolation and loneliness” (Bancroft, 262, ftn. 23). Lorenzo Young described a barren valley with sunflowers ringed by hills of sagebrush and dwarf thistles (Little, 99-100). Representative of such accounts of desolation is the Mormon historical parable of the lone cedar tree. On arrival, the pioneers reported finding “two or three dwarf cotton-woods”, sage brush and sunflowers (Bancroft, 261-262; Little, 99-100), and a lone dwarf cedar tree (DUP). This cedar was located on the former eastern branch of City Creek stream (Little, 101 ftn. 88). Before channeling of the City Creek by the colonists, City Creek had two branches: the west branch went past present day Pioneer Park and the east branch went near 500 East Street. On July 26th, 1847, Lorenzo Young and his wife choose the lone cedar on the east branch as an initial campsite, in part because the lone cedar tree might relieve his wife’s depression (id). In the greenway median on 500 East between 300 and 400 South Streets, there is a miniature Doric Greek temple. Inside sits a memorial to that lone cedar which was cut down by vandals in the 1950s (DUP). (A photograph of the lone cedar’s trunk, before it was cut down appears as the backplate in Harris.) Historical evidence does not support this view of a barren 1847 Salt Lake Valley.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 3rd, 1857, he observes that maple sap has frozen and large flakes of hoarfrost have grown. March 3rd, 1859, he describes the first subtle signs of spring.

On March 3rd, 1903, the mayor authorized preparation of plans for constructing a reservoir in City Creek Canyon.

February 18, 2017

February 18th

Filed under: Colors, Light — canopus56 @ 6:56 pm

Orange Light

3:00 p.m. Last night, it rained continuously, and today is overcast. On February 6th, I noted a beautiful orange diffuse glow that flooded the canyon for about fifteen seconds near sunset. On the evening of February 16th, while I am driving around the valley floor near sunset, the orange glow reappears, and I see its cause. A low cloud bank hung over the valley with clear skies to the far west. The clouds were banded, that is they was long north-south running parallel bands generated by gravity waves. From each band, streamers of vapor hung in vertical curtains. The curtains were not falling rain; they were held in a temporary state between being cloud vapor and falling rain. The sun set under the cloud layer and streamed through the series of hanging curtains, and this generated the diffuse magical orange glow that lasted for about thirty seconds.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 18th, 1854, he observes that leaves that have spent the winter under snow are brown on the topside but white on the underside.

On February 18th, 1910, the City public grounds committee considered a request to expand a gravel pit in City Creek Canyon by adding an asphalt plant (Deseret Evening News). On February 18th, 1894, City Waterworks Superintendent Daniel S. Griffin recommended the abandonment of 1.5 miles of wooden channel in City Creek between the High Line station and Capitol Hill and the replacement of the wooden channel with iron pipe (Salt Lake Herald). No water is supplied north of Ninth Avenue. City Creek Canyon supplies about 7.9 million gallons of water each day to the city.

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).

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