City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 30, 2017

January 30th

Filed under: Birds, Elk, milepost 1.5, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:52 pm

Wing Flutter

4:30 p.m. Because of the inversion layer, the air quality index on this clear day is in the unhealthy range of 150 and about 55 micrograms of PM 2.5 dust for each cubic meter of air. There are no air quality monitoring stations in the canyon, but a private station up Emigration Canyon also reads an AQI of 150. At milepost 1.5 in City Creek, on Black Mountain, the trees are no longer white frosted (Jan. 27th), but are again green. Black Mountain is seen through a dusty haze and as the sun sets is glows pink, not yellow, from the air pollution.

Turning down-canyon, two events quickly happen in the twilight. On the high west ridge the silhouette of a large bull elk appears. He has large antler rack that is visible to the naked eye from almost a mile away. Through my monocular, I count five points on each antler. This bull is safe from hunters (Jan. 27th); only taking antler-less elk is currently legal, and the antler-less hunt ends tomorrow.

Next, a flock of small birds silently flies about fifty feet overhead traveling up-canyon. There are about seventy-five in all, and although there is simple city rumble noise (Jan. 14th), I can hear the delicate sound of their wings fluttering in the thick cold air. In the dimming light I cannot identify them, but I suspect that they are European house sparrows. A owl and three chickadees are heard but not seen. At one of the spring seeps near mile 0.7, another unidentified bird lands a tuft of grass in the seeps and expertly dips down to take a sip of the cold trickle of water. It flits to another tuft and then repeats this twice before flying off.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 30th, 1877, Carl Dahlgreen displayed his painting of Pleasant Valley, City Creek Canyon at the Salt Lake Tribune offices (Salt Lake Tribune). It is one of his series of Utah landscapes. Carl Dahlgreen (a.k.a Charles Dahlgren) immigrated from Denmark to Salt Lake City in 1870 where he opened an art school. In 1878, he moved to California and become a noted California landscape painter (askArt, Family History). The current location of his painting of Pleasant Valley is unknown.

January 27, 2017

January 27th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Elk, milepost 1.5 — canopus56 @ 8:18 pm

Black Mountain, Yellow Mountain

4:30 p.m. It has been the first clear day of blue sky in almost one week, and I have forgotten what Black Mountain looks like. In the lower canyon, the snow-covered high walls are covered in deer or elk tracks, but I do not see either mammal directly. On parts to the south ridge, a three or four feet cornice has formed. Near sunset at milepost 1.5, Black Mountain comes into view. Normally, the Black Mountain is black or dark green due to its heavy coverage of Lodgepole pine and Douglas firs, but today the mountain is completely snow-blasted white. This makes Black Mountain look more fierce and crag-like than it really is, and, as the sun sets, the mountain becomes ablaze in yellow light.

At mile 0.5, I pass two anterless elk hunters coming down-canyon. They drag a sled that contains at most thirty-forty pounds of meat. They have not butchered well and have left two-hundred to three-hundred pounds of meat rotting in the watershed. Later, I discover that this is possibly an illegal take. Near mile 1.3, their sled tracks and footprints trudge up and back down the mountain side, but legal rifle hunting in the canyon does not begin until after mile 4.0. This may also explain why I see no elk or deer. The anterless elk hunt ends on January 31st.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 27th, he sees small nests of wasps made from mud. (These are probably nests of the mud dauber wasp.)

January 21, 2017

January 21st

Filed under: Elk, Mule Deer, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:10 pm

External Link to Image

Left: Shipler’s January 21, 1918 Photograph of City Creek after a Snow Storm. Right: Photograph of City Creek after a Snow Storm taken January 21, 2017. The spring below picnic site 6 discussed Jan. 20th is in the lower left-hand corner.

Snow Storm

4:30 p.m. Another snow storm crossed the valley depositing over one foot of wet, heavy spring-like snow, and it takes most of the weekend day to clear the whiteness away. In the canyon, the branches of trees weigh down supporting four to six inches of this snow whose consistency allows it to pile high on the smallest branch and twig. High on the west ridge, a few elk and deer have returned to paw through the thick blanket. Birds are silent. On January 21st, 1918, the Salt Lake Tribune published a half-page spread of four photographs of snow-covered City Creek Canyon made by Harry Shipler. Comparing photographs taken on January 21st, 1918 with those taken today this evening, I recognize the same weather in both. Shipler typically reached the canyon by horse and buckboard.

On January 21st 1899, Water Superintendent John T. Caine recommended the construction of an excavated reservoir tank at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

On January 21, 1893, the Polytechnic Society discussed a plan proposed the Salt Lake Herald in 1892, for an 18-mile long grand boulevard beginning at the Warms Springs on Beck Street, rising to the Ensign Peak mountain grounds, traveling around City Creek, along 11th Avenue, thence to Fort Douglas, along Wasatch Boulevard, and to Parley’s Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). (The route followed the natural topography of the Provo level bench of ancient Lake Bonneville.) The Herald’s route proposed crossing City Creek Canyon by a viaduct across lower City Creek instead of by the current Bonneville Drive. The proposals were described by retired British Rear Admiral Jason Henry Selwyn, who invented an ore separation process and who owned Utah mining claims. Selwyn noted that the road should be a boulevard and in the 1890s, that meant a wide street with a planted center and lined with trees that was designed for slow travel. Another proponent, a Colonel Stevenson, suggested that “Upon whatever lines it may be built it should as nearly conform to those that nature has given us so that we may forever give to posterity an outlook that may not be seriously interfered with by any artificial constructions in the way of buildings especially” (id). Colonel Stevenson referred to in the article is believed to be Col. Charles L. Stevenson, a prominent local mining engineer who then also served on the Utah Irrigation Commission.

The proposed boulevard can be viewed in the context of Frederick Law Olmsted’s the then popular systems of linear necklace parks including Boston’s 1880 Emerald Necklace Park and Rochester, New York’s 1881 Genesee Valley Park System. In the early 1900s, Cleveland, Ohio also developed an Olmsted inspired emerald necklace park system. Although the City did subsequently grade and develop the scenic road from the Ensign Peak area to the mouth of Parley’s Canyon using City prison labor, it did not acquire the property on either side of the road. Currently, private homes and public trees along 11th Avenue at the City Cemetery block the scenic view along almost all of the route, and in the 1890s, Salt Lake City missed its opportunity to have a grand emerald necklace boulevard that exploited the scenic vistas provided by the ancient Lake Bonneville Provo level terrace. Even so, the route is still popular with bicyclists, walkers, runners, and pleasure drivers. It was not until 1990 that an analogous unobstructed scenic vista drive was begun. In 1990, construction of the foot and bicycle traffic Bonneville Shore Trail began between Dry Fork and Emigration Canyons. By 2017, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail has expanded to 100 miles along the Wasatch Canyon Front Mountain Range out of a proposed system of 280 miles (www.bonnevilleshorelinetrail.org).

The missed opportunity by the City to purchase lands around each side of the scenic drive from Ensign Peak to Parley’s Canyon for an emerald necklace park without obstructions should be viewed in its economic historical context: the City may not have had the funds to make the necessary land purchases. In 1889, the non-Mormon Liberal Party succeeded to the mayorship of and control of the city council of Salt Lake City following demographic changes from mining and provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act that effectively prevented many Mormons from running for public office. As today, in 1983, between fifty and sixty percent of the population of the City were non-Mormon. The new city administration then proceeded on a massive program of public infrastructure modernization including sewers, street paving, sidewalks, public water supply improvements, and a fire alarm system that the Mormon People’s Party administration had previously refused to pursue (Maxwell). In 1890, City residents would also be required to take on another large public expenditure. The Utah Territorial Legislature would not would adopt universal free public education found in the then 42 existing States, until Congress forced its hand in 1890 by moving to amend the Territory’s Organic Act (id). In order to maintain local control of education, the territorial legislature then adopted its own public education law modelled on the federal bill; the new law required the building of many new public schools; and the City quickly issued $850,000 in bonds (or about $21.5M today) to buy land and to begin erecting free public schools (Maxwell). After his election as mayor in November 1891, Salt Lake City’s second non-Mormon Mayor Robert N. Baskin continued those programs, and in July 1892 in counter-point to the completion of the Mormon Temple in April 1892, Baskin laid the cornerstone for a large public construction project: the building of the Salt Lake City-County Building on Washington Square (id). Later in 1893, the United States suffered its largest ever recorded depression (Heilbroner and Singer). The Depression of 1893 was much larger than the Great Depression of the 1930s (id), and City unemployment was estimated at 48 percent (Maxwell). But construction of the City-County Building continued as a public works program in order to alleviate the poverty of its citizens (id, 242). When dedicated in late 1894, the City-County Building contained some architectural elements that were intended to distinguish its secular focus from the Mormon Temple and that were intended to make a statement. The statute at the top of the City-County Building is of Columbia, a popular 18th century personification of the United States. She holds the light of knowledge in one hand and the dove of peace in another. The four towers were designated as “Knowledge”, “Power”, “Peace” and “Justice” (Maxwell, 245). Taken together, through all of these features, the builders made a powerful implied statement on the future direction of the City. The public infrastructure investments of the 1890s formed the foundation of the modern city that we enjoy today. But adding the expense of creating an emerald necklace park on the Lake Bonneville terrace as discussed by Selwyn and Stevenson in January 1893 may at the time have been beyond the City’s fathers’ and the residents’ reach.

January 18, 2017

January 18th

Filed under: Elk, Mountain lion, Mule Deer, People — canopus56 @ 8:41 pm

Mountain Lion

5:00 p.m. The inversion air continues to thicken, and much of the City has been swept through by a virus. I cannot escape the bad air, but by milepost 1.5 and at about 5,100 feet in elevation, I am breathing easier. The temperature feels warmer overall, but between picnic site 7 and 8, where yesterday the stream was covered with a thin pane of water glass, the ice is thickening again and becoming a frosted white. Below picnic site 7, where roots stick out of the bank, rising water vapor collects on them in the form of white rime. Surface air is calm, but three thousand feet above, cirrus clouds with long linear wisps are rapidly moving over the land. Like water vapor of the stream, the wisps are ice crystals forming and evaporating but at a higher altitude.

Yesterday evening, on local neighborhood social media, a woman reported hearing a mountain lion screaming in the bushes of lower City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Boulevard. For the last four days between Guardhouse Gate and mile 0.3, there have been a herd of four mule deer regularly grazing during the day on the south canyon side across the stream, and it does not surprise me that a mountain lion came down to consume a deer. Last summer on June 22nd, 2016, a woman who frequently runs in City Creek reported to the guard at the gate that she had seen a mountain lion just off the road in Pleasant Valley (Personal observation). The next day, City Watershed Patrol posted several “cougar sighted” warning signs along the road; this is their usual practice in such cases. Last night’s social media report is one in a long-list of regular cougar sightings in the canyon.

Mountain lions have been here since before the 1847 arrival of the Euro-American colonists. Those pioneers built a fort in the form of stockade consisting of 29 log-cabins on what is now called Pioneer Park near 300 West and 300 South in Salt Lake City (Bancroft, 277). The pioneers reported the fort also was harassed by “wolves, foxes, and catamounts” (id). “Catamount” is a term used by easterners for eastern mountain lions, and the term “mountain lion” came into use after Euro-Americans came to the West. Other predators dangerous to humans were present. In 1847, pioneer Lorenzo Young noted that he “spread some strychnine about [the fort], and in the morning found fourteen white wolves dead” (Bancroft, 277, ftn. 8). On January 7th, 1903, predator bounty hunter George McNeil reported that “I killed two wildcats up there [in City Creek] a few days ago” (Salt Lake Telegram).

Mountain lions continue to occupy the canyon today, and City residents are fortunate in this regard. One-hundred and fifty years ago in Thoreau’s “Journal,” he lamented that eastern mountain lions, lynx, wolverenes, bear, moose, deer, and wild turkeys had all been exterminated from Concord, Massachusetts (Journal, March 23rd, 1856). Except for lynx and wolverenes, all of the those animals can either be regularly seen in the canyon today, or in the case of the black bear, I saw its track in the snow during February 2016. I count possibility of rarely glimpsing a mountain lion a similar positive expectation. Although no longer in the canyon, in 1978, I saw a lynx in the nearby Oquirrh Mountains and in the mid-1980s, a wolverene below O’Sullivan’s Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon. But this privilege of regularly seeing moose, deer, elk, and wild turkeys in the City Creek canyon does not come without a price.

In the winter, cougars feed principally on mule deer and in the spring, they turn to newly birthed mule deer and elk. From record-keeping beginning in 1970, there have been no known fatalities in Utah, although a few have occurred in California (Wikipedia). Not all encounters are fatal. In over thirty years in the Wasatch, I have been tracked only once by a mountain lion, but that was during a solo hike below Deseret Peak in Tooele County during the midst of summer. A small rock and some shouting turned the lion packing in the other direction. The ratio of non-fatal attacks to deaths is unknown, since attacks or attempted attacks, like the one I experienced, are not reliably reported, and traveling with a dog in the backcountry is said to attract and to increase the risk of encountering a mountain lion.

Beyond the obvious overriding human concern over the risk to children walking in the canyon, another of the City’s practical concerns is liability and risk management; it has a duty to warn of wildlife in the area. Hence, the notice posted in the canyon last summer. In 2007 in Utah County during the summer, a bear tragically took and killed a small child at a Utah State picnic area, and in 2015, the state ended up paying a 2 million dollar judgment for failing to warn picnickers about their knowledge of other recent sightings of bears near the picnic grounds (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 24, 2015). After the 2007 incident, the “danger, watch out for bears, moose, and mountain lions” signs started being posted at Guardhouse Gate in City Creek. Since then, all levels of government, including the City Watershed Patrol, post notices of recent sightings of any predator, and properly so.

The notices allow people to keep a closer eye on their children and pets, until the cat moves back up the canyon. The cat probably will follow the deer back up in a couple of weeks as temperatures rise and deer herds move higher. Anecdotally, there have been many more anterless elk hunters in the canyon this winter (including two yesterday) as compared to the 2015-2016 season. Hunters may have been more successful in the canyon and that may have put more pressure on the one or two mountain lions that hunt between Ensign Peak and Lone Peak, forcing them to come lower towards the city. The anterless elk hunt ends on January 31st, and the hunters leaving will lessening competition for the mountain lion’s up canyon food source.

There also is a good practical reason for mountain lions to be in City Creek, at least above Bonneville Drive, even though there is some risk to people from them continuing to reside in their historical hunting range. Deer inflict relatively more injury to people and cars in the form of automobile accident collisions, and mountain lions are more effective at controlling deer populations than human hunters. Where I live near the City cemetery, I usually see or hear one early morning collision a year between a car and a deer. Last year, speeding young people, who were also drunk, hit a deer, and the deer walked off but died a block away. The university students were unharmed, but the deer did significant damage to the front of their still drive-able car. Younger, inexperienced yearling deer just do not know the right way to run when startled. The ones that make it to an age of 2 years old figure out that they have to run into the dark and not into the light. Conversely, mountain lions do not come down into the Avenues, or so I thought. Today, another neighborhood resident posts that two years ago at Christmas, she saw a mountain lion in the City cemetery. Mountain lions fear people since they, like the mule deer and the elk, are subject to an annual hunt, but they do still roam the canyon.

Recent 2016 research suggests that mountain lions provide a substantial economic and social benefit by reducing deer collisions with human vehicles. Gilbert at the University of Idaho and colleagues studied the impact of re-introducing and re-colonization of mountain lions into North and South Dakota. Mountain lions were extinct in both states prior to 1994, but were then re-introduced, and by 2004, the lions had re-colonized most of their former range. Between 2004 to 2012, deer-vehicle collisions in areas with and without mountain lions decreased 20% in North Dakota (to 0.22 per 100,000 people) and 50% in South Dakota in areas with and without mountain lions (to 8 per 100,000 people). This benefit may outweigh the risk of living on an urban nature interface with their presence. In short, one coyote or one mountain lion in the nearby canyon can mean many less deer grazing on your Avenues or Capitol Hill shrubbery or stepping out in front of your car during a 2 a.m. run to a convenience store.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 18th, 1859, he sees more blue snow shadows. On January 18th, 1859, he records thick frost rime covering trees. On January 18th, 1860, Thoreau describes winter feeding habits of chickadees: they pry up the bark of pines looking for insects underneath.

On January 18th, 1941, the Utah State Road Commission proposed to build an improved road from Fort Douglas along 11th Avenue, then across a newly constructed bridge over City Creek Canyon, and then on to the airport (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 18th, 1927, the University Hiking Club reported that 20 of its members hiked to the top of Black Mountain and then slid down its backslide to [Upper] Rotary Park (Utah Daily Chronicle). On January 18, 1909, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that Ms. Helen Boes became the first Utah women known to have killed a bear. A captured wild bear was released in City Creek Canyon and a party of thirteen hunted the bear assisted by dogs. The bear escaped City Creek but was hunted down on the western slope of the ridgeline above the Beck Street Hot Springs (id). On January 18th, 1895, City Mayor R. N. Baskin proposed that the City build an independent power plant driven by City Creek water, after it was alleged that a private electric company had been providing only one-half the candle power to city lighting as required by its public contract (Salt Lake Tribune). See February 1st, 1895.

January 14, 2017

January 13th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Dogwood, Elk, Gambel's Oak, Meadow Mile 1.3, Mule Deer — canopus56 @ 3:15 am

External Link to Image

Chiral Leaves

5:00 p.m. The rain has abated, it is still overcast, and the inversion layer is building. At mile 1.3, there are on each of elk or mule deer on the high ridges flanking the gate to Pleasant Valley.

Today, I pull out some leaves that I had picked up in early autumn (Oct. 11) and stored between the pages of a book. While walking, I noticed that leaves were chiral, that is they have unique left and right hand versions. The dried maple leaves and Gambel’s oak leaves removed from my book appear to be almost duplicates, but if rested on top of one another such that the top and underside veins match, each leaf is an asymmetric mirror of the other just like human hands. One does find symmetric leaves; they occur when a leaf grows from a terminal bud. Box Elders have a lower ratio of symmetric leaves to chiral leaves due to their structure. Its leaves come in sets of three: a terminal leaf flanked by two chiral leaves. Maple tree leaves are similarly structured. Dog woods have a higher ratio of chiral to symmetric leaves. Their branches are laid out like a symmetric ladder with the bi-lateral opposing leaves each set at an forty-five degree angle to the stem. The result of this layout is that there may be four to eight lateral chiral leaves for each symmetric terminal leaf. The same is true for the leaves of the Water or river birch trees.

It is now in the depths of winter. Looking at photographs taken of how leaves where laid out on branches almost thee months ago, I am reminded of the warmth of October.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 13th, 1854, he hears a buzzing sound coming from a pocket of air escaping from the frozen ground. On January 13th, 1856, he describes the architecture of a vireo’s nest. (In Utah, warbling vireos are also found.)

On January 13th, 1913, Police Chief Grant proposed to alleviate overcrowding the City jail by leasing the vacant county jail (Salt Lake Tribune). Transients (convicted of vagrancy) would be housed in the old county jail and then required to work on public works, including improving City Creek Canyon Road (id). On January 13, 1909, Waterworks Superintendent Thomas Hobday recommended replacing the wooden pipes and reservoir tanks in City Creek Canyon installed in 1890 be replaced with concrete pipes and reservoirs (Salt Lake Tribune). On January 13th, 1898, City Engineer Kelsey recommended that a large concrete reservoir be built at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon, that settling tanks be built lower in the canyon, and that permanent water gauges be installed in City Creek and other watershed canyons (Salt Lake Herald).

January 10, 2017

January 10th

Wooden Noises

3:00 p.m. Last night media was concerned that flooding may occur because of the heavy rain and continuing high temperatures. Most of the snow is gone from south facing slopes and the snow left along the road is saturated with water. It has remained warm, so no crust has formed on the snow’s surface, but everywhere the snow is covered with bits of bark, leaves and dirt from a high wind. There is no sign of the potential flood; the stream has not risen; but, for the remainder of the season the risk of avalanche in the high Wasatch Front Mountains will be high. At higher elevations, this water soaked layer will form a base on which further snow layers will accumulate, and this can form a fracture zone in which back country skiers can be swept to burial. At Guardhouse Gate, a chickadee is sings a bright note. The sky is overcast and gives off a uniform diffuse light. For some stretches of the stream, I see hints of the silver ribbon (Dec. 26th).

Where the snow bank is partially eaten away, the bunch grass is exposed, and the dried tan grass is mixed in with still growing green shoots. Although recently soaked in water, this time the tips of the oaks and maples do not turn red-tinged (Dec. 11th), and the trees make no start at growth in response to the water. Although I had thought that mosses had stopped growing, at the down-canyon end of picnic site 4, I find two trees where on the west side, they are covered in bright orange lichen and on the east side, they are covered in a thick mat of dark-green moss.

From this weather, at picnic site 9, the Bald-Faced hornet nest is reduced to the size of a large grapefruit. At picnic site 1, the hummingbird nest is dissipating. I can partially see through its weaving.

Another storm front is approaching, and at mile 1.3, the wind gusts at 30 miles per hour while six anterless elk graze on a west hillside about three hundred feet away. The Gambel’s oaks creak and groan. Leaves rustle, and a single leaf loudly tumbles across the surface of the snow. There is a fourth sound. Where the wind causes two small branches to collide, they make a subtle dull and hollow thud sound, similar to tone of musical wooden xylophone. In their resting state, it sound as if the branches of trees are empty of water.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 10th, 1957, he records a -8 degree F. temperature with heavy snows that have trapped him at home. He recalls summer. On January 10th, 1858, Thoreau prescribes the snow-covered beauty of catkins as a remedy for winter seasonal affect disorder. He notes that any sight of “catkins, birds’ nests, insect life” is welcomed in winter. He observes a sunset in which pink light is reflected off of snow.

December 31, 2016

December 31st

Filed under: Bonneville Drive, Elk, Gambel's Oak, People, Pleasant Valley, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:45 pm

Rime

3:00 p.m. New Year’s Eve by the Georgian Calendar. In the morning, although Internet cameras in the mountains show that it is a bright sunny day at higher elevations, the city is overcast all day due to the thick inversion layer. This lack of natural daylight is conducive to sleeping in, and if lack of sunlight persists to inducing seasonal affect disorder.

Along Bonneville Drive leading to the canyon, many trees are frosted with rime, and this is where the thick fog was seen yesterday near sunset. Overnight, small two and four millimeter ice crystals have sublimated on some trees, and this turns them along diffuse light into silvery-white apparitions. In the first mile jogging up canyon, I see little of these rime covered trees, but beginning at mile 1.0, more of the trees are frosted. This is probably due to the Bernoulli wind-tunnel effect (Aug. 18th) caused by the high canyon walls opening into Pleasant Valley. At the opening to Pleasant Valley, all of the trees are rime covered, but the Box Elders and their catkins are particularly thickly covered. The catkins provide a high-surface area ratio to which the rime frost can adhere. Going further up canyon, where side gullies have also accelerated the air, trees also are layered this heavier frost.

As I reach picnic site 6, a father, son, and daughter, are walking out and are outfitted with rifle hunting gear. From the lack of weight in their packs, I judge that they were unsuccessful. Rounding the bend to the red bridge at mile 0.9, an anterless elk is standing the middle of the road. She is in the no hunting zone that surrounds the road. She sees me first, freezes, and then slowly walks into the leafless forest. Examining her tracks, I can follow where she entered the road, went to drink at water seep on the west side, and then sauntered away. Water seeps from the cliffs on the west side provide water without wildlife having to trudge through deep snow to reach the stream. A walking couple stops me and tells me that they just say a herd of twenty elk crossing the south ridge line at Pleasant Valley. A few elk are also grazing on the west hills next to the road, they excitedly report. Rounding the bend into Pleasant Valley, there are four elk grazing on the hillside. Like the wild turkeys (Dec. 30th), they are pawing at the snow free ground underneath the Gambel’s oaks looking for acorns. Although unseen, I can hear the flock of wild turkeys in the oaks forest.

Near milepost 1.0, an overhung ledge shelters the partially and thinly ice covered stream. The cavity between the underside of the ice and the surface of the stream create a natural amplifier, and the stream resoundingly gurgles and thuds. Weather forecasters have promised another storm tomorrow afternoon, and this should clear out the inversion layer. If it does not arrive, I will have to go higher above the haze layer in order to enjoy a much needed dose of sunshine.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 31st, 1850, he describes how blue jays warn each of other of approaching threats. On December 31st, 1851, he observes leopard [sic – probably a lynx] tracks. On December 31st, 1853, he again notes how snow reveals the tracks of many animals normally unseen. On December 31st, 1854, he notes how the shadows on snow are not grey or black, but blue.

On December 31st, 1995, the Salt Lake Tribune noted the historical event that the eagle statute on the top of Eagle Gate was modeled on an eagle actually killed in City Creek Canyon. On December 31, 1995, the Audubon Society scheduled a walk up City Creek Canyon for January 11th, 1996 (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 31, 1924, the City Waterworks Department denied a petition by the Utah Athletic Association to build a four mile long tobogganing run down City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). A Salt Lake Telegram editorial supported the proposal on the grounds that it would relieve the winter boredom of local residents (id). On December 31, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune noted that the City Creek road had been improved that year, and the paper endorsed park proposals by a better roads civic improvement group to link and upgrade the Wasatch Boulevard scenic drive with 11th Avenue street and the City Creek road in order to create a scenic drive for the now popular automobile.

December 29, 2016

December 29th

The Great Concentrator

4:00 p.m. Thoreau called the winter snow and cold “The Great Betrayer” because wildlife, normally unseen, can be easily followed by the tracks in the snow. For me, this coldest part of winter is The Great Concentrator. Elk and mule deer collect in larger herds closer to the city. Birds condense into even larger flocks. Yesterday, I saw a flock of fifteen wild turkeys at mile 1.7, near the bend at the end of Pleasant Valley. Turkey flocks are forced closer to the road in the depth of winter. There, they scratched through the thin snow layers at the edges of Gambel’s oak groves, and fed on the acorns hidden beneath the snow. They were wary of humans, but unlike summer, they did not rush into the oak groves at the first sight or sound of people. The oak groves also provide protection from coyotes predation. At night, the turkeys form a circle deep within the oak groves, but sit in the trees one or three feet of the ground. In this defensive stance, they repel attacks by lone coyotes. In late January and February during the early mornings or late evenings, the bark of the coyote and responsive calls of the turkeys can be heard. Several other walkers and I watch the flock for about ten minutes.

As the deep cold of winter continues, European house sparrows will concentrate in a large flock at Guardhouse Gate. Mountain chickadees and Black-hooded chickadees will form even larger groups. These will be joined by flocks of Stellar Jays. But for now, only the magpies have grouped at Pleasant Valley, the Mountain chickadees have formed small groups near picnic site 3 at mile 0.3.

Today, at mile 1.7 where turkeys grazed yesterday, snow tracks reveal a rabbit crossing the road. At mile 2.3, a group of four hunters are transferring freshly killed elk meat from their backpacks to a bicycle towing a cart. The hunters are outnumbered by twenty or so walkers and runners and three bicyclists. As I run out of the canyon, the sky is a clear, cloudless blue, then grey, but below a thick inversion layer hangs over the city. With the sky having no cloud cover, tonight temperatures will fall near zero degrees Fahrenheit in the canyon.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 29th, 1851, he notes and unusually warm winter day. On December 29th, 1853, he notes the worst winter storm day in memory. On December 29th, 1858, he contrasts the speed of an ice skater with that of winter walking.

On December 29th, 2006, Salt Lake City Dept. of Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Niermeyer reported that in the spring, the department would be fixing chuckholes on City Creek Canyon road due to complaints from bicyclists (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 29th, 1934, the City reported the costs of fighting major fires in City Creek, Parley’s and Lambs’ Canyons (Salt Lake Telegram). A total of 234 acres were burned in the three canyons, mostly in City Creek. On December 29th, 1909, an airship company sought to purchase the Ensign Peak area from the City and to build a water reservoir in City Creek for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a dirigible airport on the peak (Salt Lake Telegram, Dec. 29, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 30). On December 29, 1907, the President of the Civic Improvement League suggested that City Creek Canyon is a “A neglected spot of great natural beauty is City Creek canyon [and] some uniform plan should be adopted by which this spot may be gradually improved and its natural advantages protected” (Salt Lake Herald). On December 29th, 1907, Water Superintendent Frank L. Hines reported 18 inches of snow at five miles up City Creek Canyon (at elevation 5030 feet), and this was more snow than had been seen in the previous five years (Salt Lake Herald).

December 26, 2016

December 25th

Filed under: Elk, Ensign Peak, Mule Deer, Weather — canopus56 @ 9:00 pm

Silent Night

4:45 p.m. Last night a large storm that stretched from the Canadian border to New Mexico traveled over the canyon, and the storm left about one foot of snow. All I have time for today is a short, sunset walk in the lower canyon. The storm front has passed, but the air is so charged with cold moisture that light snow flakes continue to fall. The heavy blanket of snow muffles all sounds and except for the stream, the canyon is still. High above the city behind Ensign Peak, tracks of elk and deer can be followed descending down to the canyon below Bonneville Drive and residential areas. Oddly, although there are many tracks, I can see no elk or deer on the canyon walls. Beneath the high ridges, the yellow glow from the setting sun brings out details, including a snow drift field that looks like sand ripples on the bottom of a stream. The road has been plowed, and although the temperature on the road is now in the teens, the snow drifts emanate and even colder cold. The golden sunset playing on the ridge line is a wonderful end to the holiday.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 25th, 1852, he describes a frozen cattail. The sight of the sun reflecting off of the bottom of a stream reminds him of summer. On January 25, 1856, a collected pine cone opens are being warmed in Thoreau’s home. He marvels at the difficulty of and the ability of squirrels to remove seeds from a closed cone. On January 25, 1858, Thoreau notes the many types of buds on trees.

December 21, 2016

December 20th

The Canyon at Rest

12:00 pm and 5:00 p.m. It is the last day of Fall, and tomorrow the tilt of the Earth keeps the canyon furthest from the life giving Sun for the longest part of the day. Nature in the canyon is in a deep sleep. The trees are still; all natural sounds are silent. The air is warmer today, but not enough that snow and ice on the trees melts. Sun warmed ice melded with tree branches expands slightly and then breaks away. Instead of raining droplets as with the last storm, today trees rain tiny chunks of ice. There are two places in the lower shaded canyon where the stream freezes over. The first is the perpetually shaded bend between picnic sites 7 and 8. There the stream is completely frozen over for several hundred feet; the stream is milky white and stone-like. The second is between the up canyon end of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.8 to milepost 2.0. There the stream is eighty percent frozen over. At Bonneville Drive, about twenty percent of the surface of the flood retention ponds is frozen. At mile 1.3, where animal tracks make impressions that are kept partially in shadow, half-inch hoarfrost crystals sublimate, but then evaporate in the warmer late afternoon air. Although the canyon looks dead, the irrepressible force of life continues.

Lichens and mosses respond to the wet cold and grow both on the trees and on rocks in the stream. Digging some leaves up from underneath the snow, some show signs of the beginning of bacterial decay, but mostly the leaf litter and the microbes are dormant, waiting for spring’s explosion. At the surface, data by Whitman, Coleman and Wiebe at the University of Georgia suggests that there are about 3.5 x 10^15 microbes per square meter in woodlands and shrublands and about microbes 5.7 x 10^13 in each square meter of deciduous forests (Whitman 1998, Table 2). In 1995, Richter and Markewitz estimated that there were about 1.1 x 10^12 bacteria and fungal microbes in each gram of soil at the surface (Fig. 3a), and their density decreases to about 4.1 x 10^7 at 8 meters beneath the surface. In 2014, Raynaud and Nunan found an average of 8.9 x 10^9 microbes in the top 0.6 meters of each gram of agricultural field soil (Table 1).

But life does not stop there. Whitman et al also estimated that between 10 meters to 3,000 meters below the surface, there were on the order of 10^6 prokaryotes per cubic centimeter. They made an order of magnitude estimate that in a cubic centimeter column going from the surface down to 4 kilometers, there are a total of about 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes (id., 6579). But life exists even further down in the subsurface column beneath the canyon’s surface. In 2006, Li-Hung Lin, et al. discovered Archean microbes living at 2.8 kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface in a South African gold mile, and those microbes were genetically related to Archean microbes living the Yellowstone Hot Springs a few hundred miles north of the canyon. These subsurface microbes may comprise a substantial fraction of biomass in the canyon. Whitman et al estimated a wide first-order ratio of the mass of subsurface prokaryote carbon to plant surface carbon at 60% to 100% (id., at 6580).

I stand at the surface in the canyon, I and am part of this scene. In 2013, Bianconi et al estimated the number of cells in the human body at 37 trillion. In a 2016, Sender, Fuchs and Milo at the Weiztmann Institute for Science in Israel, revised estimates of the total number of cells in the human body and the number of microbes that inhabit each of us. They found that along with the approximately 3.8 x 10^13 (38 trillion) human cells in a 70 kilogram person, another 3.0 x 10^13 foreign microbes live (cooperatively but sometimes uncooperatively) within us or about 44% of the total (3.0/(3.0+3.8)). Because of the exponential power of these estimates, the 10^13 cells, both human and parasitic cell in me, are a minuscule portion of of 10^30 prokaryotes that are in just one 4 kilometer deep column of soil that is one centimeter square. Subtracting my 10^13 cells, there are still 9.999999…. x 10^29 prokaryotes under each square centimeter of subsurface. I measure the bottom of one of my shoes and find conservatively guess there are about 450 square centimeters in the soles of my feet.

Around and above me, even the air above the road contains some levels of bacteria, fungi, and pollen as part of the daily PM10 daily air particle count. In 2009, Wiedinmyer and colleagues counted on average 3.5 particles of DNA containing material per cubic centimeter of air collected from a mountain summit in the Rocky Mountains (Table 1) or about 3.5 million particles per cubic meter of air. Whitman et al estimated that there were about 1.8 x 10^21 microbes in each cubic meter of air from the surface up to 3 kilometers (id., 6580 reporting 5 x 10^19 per cfu). This continues into the high upper atmosphere. In 2013, DeLeon-Rodriguez and her colleagues at the University of Georgia and NASA found 5,100 cells per cubic meter in samples taken from air 10 kilometers above the surface of the Caribbean ocean.

Microbes also dominate the stream’s bedrock. In that aquatic environment, deep blue-green algae grows in thick mats, and at the stream’s edges, large mats of watercress thrive in the freezing water. Although no trout are seen in the lower canyon stream; they move upstream and a group of about fifteen congregate just below an old water head gate at mile 2.8. At the stream’s edge, horsetails are still green, and this indicates that photosynthesis is still occurring despite the cold.

At the retention ponds, a male-female pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) rest. The female is in the sleep position with her head laying on her back. The males feeds on the algae on the pond’s bottom. At picnic site 2, there is a small unidentified sparrow that is not a European sparrow. Further up the canyon, near picnic site 3, there is a Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)! No avid birder will probably believe this, since this kingfisher is far out of its winter range, and I am unable to take a photograph of it. I first had a fleeting view of this bird on December 7th at the south end of the circle where the Pleasant Valley reservoir once stood. Then it was too far away to see clearly. Today, I am able to watch it for several minutes at the top of a snag about 100 feet away. Then the bird sees me, spooks, and flies down canyon to another snag, and again I am able to catch up and watch it closely for another few minutes. At picnic site 4, I am greeted by a flock of mountain chickadees, and they sit in several trees calling back to each other. Below picnic site 5, a flock of six Black-hooded juncos feed and preen themselves on a red osier dogwood bush. The coldest winter makes some birds more tolerant of humans, and I am able to stand directly next to the bush and about four feet from juncos. They grab a piece of snow-ice from clumps of shriveled white berries that still cling to the tree. They eat part of the ice and then dip the rest into their feathers to clean themselves. Then they try to eat the sour fruit of the dogwood (see Nov. 6th), but most of the fruit seems to drop to the ground and not into their beaks. I again see an unidentified raptor that patrols the lower canyon just before twilight. At mile 1.3, a magpie can be heard in the distance. A series of tracks in the snow tell of two birds that had landed on two adjacent rocks that stick up out of the snow. They then hopped across the snow for about 20 feet.

At mile 1.0, high on the western ridgeline, a single anterless elk digs through the snow to green grass underneath. And, in the early morning hours as I am returning home on other business, two mule deer that are refugees from the canyon are grazing a few hundred feet from my urban front door. As for humans in the canyon, there is myself and about twenty other walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

In short, the canyon is asleep, but life cannot be stopped. Life can be attenuated from its peak productivity (August 31st), and today, like sunlight, life in the canyon is at its nadir.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 20th, 1851, he observes a high-flying hawk that is patrolling for prey. He lists the colors of the winter landscape: red, white, green, and brown. On December 20, 1854, he feels that the winter sun has more relative warmth on his skin than the summer sun.

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