City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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