City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 10, 2017

May 7th

Iridescent butterflies

4:00 p.m. Red-ozier dogwoods are blooming. Gambel’s oak trees at picnic site 1 have leafed-out to between two and four inches, but some of these oaks higher at mile 1.0 have no leaves. At Pleasant Valley, grasses are twelve inches high and move in waves in response to breezes. The high canyon walls are all covered in these green waves. Along the Pipeline Trail, red maples have leafed out to four inches. Mullein stalks are beginning to rise. Along the Pipeline Trail, 20 or 30 birds can be heard, but only yesterday’s male Black-chinned hummingbird puts in an appearance at its usual post on the powerline. No soaring raptors are seen today.

The thirty or forty butterflies in the first mile are dominated by Orange Sarah tops and Desert Elfin (Incisalia fotis fotis) butterflies. Below picnic site 1, an unidentified red-brown caterpillar hangs from a Box Elder tree by a twenty-foot long silk thread, and as the wind blows it sways back and forth in large five foot arcs. It does not know whether to go further down or up. At picnic site 3, an unidentified beetle lites onto a table, and in a ray of sunlight, a patch on its back radiates a bright lime green. Near mile 0.5, a small black ant drags a dead lime green caterpillar back to its nest. Along the Pipeline Trail, a Common sulphur butterfly moves between and drinks from Arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms, and more than ten Stink bugs are active on the trail. I miss nearly stepping on one that is laid out, legs splayed wide, on the trail. My foot alarms it and it springs up and lands in a defensive posture. Back at the Guardhouse Gate, I notice a Cabbage white butterfly fly into a bush, inexplicably struggle, and then frenetically fly off. Close examination shows the circular web of an orb weaver spider (Araneus sp.). This unidentified spider has wonderful orange, white and black spotting on its abdomen, but I am unable to photograph. My autofocus camera only sees the background and refuses to make a sharp image of the tiny spider in the foreground.

Just before Guardhouse Gate, two mallards, one-male, one-female, are standing right next to the road unafraid of humans. The male is half-asleep and appears contemptuous of people. The female is feeding on roaches under the leave litter. She digs through the leaf litter and rapidly opens and closes her beak. This separates the chaff of the dead leaves from the wheat of the small bugs. In the Guardhouse Gate parking lot, an immature Rock squirrel is browsing in the middle of the road. I pull out the car and chase him back into the brush with flashing lights and a honking horn. I am teaching the squirrel to be afraid of cars. For this squirrel, there will be no repeat of finding it dead on the road, as seen last summer.

* * * *

Butterflies also have ultra-violet vision used in differentiating flowers, but some may use iridescence and the uv spectrum to communicate between themselves (Doucet and Meadows, 2009; Buront and Majerus, 1995). Butterfly wings are covered in miniature scales that like the feathers of birds make colors have diffraction. In 1968, an experiment of Obara and Hidaka at the Tokyo Institute of Agriculture and Technology demonstrated that male Cabbage White butterflies locate their mates primarily by visual clues (Obara and Hidaka, 1968). They sealed females and male dummy butterflies in Petri dishes in order to prevent the males from finding their mates by smell. Since male and female Cabbage whites look nearly identical in the visual spectrum, how could the males tell them apart? Ultra-violet photography revealed that the wings of female Cabbage whites are white or patterned and the males are totally dark. On 2008, Obara and colleagues repeated this experiment, but noted that females have subtle changes in their UV color during the summer, and males preferentially mate only with the summer-colored females (Obara et al 2008). In 2000, Knuttel and Fiedler at the Universitat Bayreuth suggested that this was not a universal principle. They found that many species of butterflies appear different in the visual and uv light, but the variations within species where larger than between species and were not so great as to be a means discriminating between or within species (Knuttel and Fiedler, 2000; Buront and Majerus, 1995, same). Iridescent differences in the visual spectrum is dominant in butterflies when distinguishing between individuals (id). Butterflies also have iridescent colors in order to confuse predators or to warn them that the insect is poisonous (Doucet and Meadows, S124).

* * * *

On May 7th, 1996, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 7th, 1910, the Salt Lake Telegram published a photographic spread on City Creek Canyon and extolled the canyon’s virtues. The Telegram argued for a City Commission proposal to widen the road using prison labor and to make other park improvements (id).

May 5, 2017

April 27th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 12:54 pm

Biophilia – Part VII – Is the Biophilia Hypothesis Necessary?

2:00 p.m. After a night of extraordinarily heavy, cold rain, the sun returns in the afternoon, but temperatures have returned to the high thirties. It is brief reminder of winter, and I have become forgetful and under-dressed for today’s jog. The butterflies and ants have disappeared, but at mile 0.6, a single female mallard flies up the centerline of the road at about 15 feet above its surface. In past years, ducks have raised broods at the flood retention ponds near mile 3.2, and I suspect that the male and female mallards seen along the first mile have taken up residence there. Only five birds, heard by their calls, are detected in the first mile. At mile 1.2, opposite picnic site 9 and at milepost 1.5, two fields of pink Long-leaf Phlox have bloomed. One is about fifty by twenty feet and the second is one-hundred and fifty by fifty feet. Up canyon from milepost 1.5, the western roadside shows more immature phlox, and this proposes further showings over the next week. Scott’s Hill and Little Black Mountain are all frosted with snow, but it is a thin layer. The SNOTEL stations at Louis Meadow and Lookout Peak record only one inch of new snow. I spend today logging all of the flowering cultivar trees, principally crab apples and plums, along the first two miles of the upper canyon road. Tamarisk at the entrance to picnic site 11, has leafed in. Turning down canyon, Pleasant Valley is an idyllic greening sight under the spotting of clouds, bright sunlight and crisp air. The angle of the sun on the eastern sandstone cliffs reveals new movement of water. The heavy rain at the ridgeline has seeped through the soil and at the top line of the sandstone cliffs, sunlight glints off of sheets of water that leak from under the soil and down the vertical sandstone cliffs.

Before picnic site 12, I see for the first time in decades in the canyon, a Rock squirrel disappear into one of the several small burrows that dot the roadside in the first one and a half miles. I have always suspected these were squirrel burrows, but this is the first time that I have actually seen a squirrel disappear into one. The squirrel had paralleled me along the road making a noisy traverse of the underbrush. Then is popped out by the side of road, watched me for a few moments and then retired to it burrow underneath a large Gambel’s oak tree. The burrow looks empty; there are many leaves around its entrance and going down into the four-inch tunnel. This illustrates how the Gambel’s oak forest provides a nurturing habitat for the squirrels beyond the oak’s cornucopia of acorns. If the rock squirrel burrows into the ground alone with an earthen ceiling, its tunnel would run the risk of collapse and flooding. The contorted roots of this species of oak may provide a sturdy wooden roof for the squirrel’s den, and the thick layer of leaves dropped by the oak absorbs snow and rain. Residing under the oak may keep their den dry and warm. But the squirrels also have many tree nests along the road (Dec. 10th), and I have seen several similar nests inhabited by squirrels near my home. When will the squirrels rise from beneath the ground and take to the trees, and will they be hunted there by the Cooper’s hawks?

The cold weather leaves an empty parking lot at two in the afternoon, and I have the road largely to myself. But on returning at five, the steady sunshine has refilled it with cars and people.

* * * *

Wilson and Kellert argue essentially a political position using informal argumentation from signs: genetic drive for biophilia is necessary justification for the preservation of nature given the accelerated extinction rates of species caused by humankind’s activities (Wilson 1984, Kellert 1993). Current levels of specie extinction are nearing to that seen in catastrophic meteor extinctions events, and this extinction is a hallmark of the Anthropocene era (March 2nd). Nature needs to be preserved to preserve humankind. But is a genetic compulsion to seek nature only a sufficient justification for preservation? There is along history of conservation and biophilia that created our national parks, that created the environmental movement, that protected us against environmental toxins, and that raised the alarm of loss of diversity that pre-dates the development of genetics and behavioral psychology. In the nineteenth century John Muir in his journal and writings celebrated nature and at the beginning of the twentieth century Walt Whitman in the “Leaves of Grass” cried, “Give me solitude – give me Nature – give me again, O Nature, your sanities!” Many contributed to developing the importance that our modern culture gives to the natural environment based on their feelings, not their genes: Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, Rachael Carson in the 1960s, David Brower in the 1970s, and Arne Naess’s deep ecology movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Political action to reserve natural lands from human use flows from human emotions and the human will, and genetic biophilia is not a necessary justification for communities to decide to preserve lands. The counterargument is that genetic biophilia is needed to counteract the increasing reliance on informal argumentation based on signs in post-industrial culture; genetic biophilia is a sufficient justification to preserve nature.

But reliance only on signs alone to prove hypotheses removes critical thinking from hard science, since proof is not subject to contradiction. At times, informal argumentation from signs inflates to bureaucratized psuedo-science. Thereby, the power of individuals has been reduced rendered ineffective and reduced to Fromm’s homo consumens by free-market economic theory, by the coarse narcissism of Ayn Rand-based libertarianism, by biological behaviorism, and by the modern need to have all policy subjected to scientific proof, often pseudo-scientific proof. Frequently, the pre-condition of scientific proof before policy change degrades into the abuse of mathematical models and of critical statistical thinking. By pseudo and bureaucratized science, I mean that human and natural reality are too complex to be properly modeled mathematically or to allow for the ethical validation of a model. Models and mathematical models of reality are an essential check that enables people to distinguish between that which is from that which humanity wants to be, but all abstract models have their limits. It is important to distinguish between a beautiful idea and an elegant model from what actually is, and to not become so enamored with our models or ideology that were ignore the world. Lacking the ability to fully model all causes in a complex reality, governance becomes policy based on signs supported by weakly verified scientific evidence and provisional hypotheses. Too frequently, I see policy and expert pronouncements being supported by only small-sized studies that at best give doubtful signs of whether our view of the world is correct. Nonetheless, such scientific opinions are presented as if they are immutable law instead of as doubtful provisional hypotheses.

An example of the risks of informal argumentation from signs is in the field of economics. Although economics is a science, economic theories are often incapable of verification and contradiction. A leading modern economic theory is the Phillips curve – the inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment. A statistical relationship between the unemployment and inflation did exist in the United States for a short-period ending in 1968, but since then, there is no correlation between the two. Despite searching economic data for over forty years, economists were only able to again find an exemplar of that association in the United States mid-west (Nicolini and Fitzgerald 2013). Even so, Federal Reserve policy uses the Phillips curve a core guiding indicator that places millions in unemployment lines and despite the lack of supporting statistic proof.

Over the last few years, science itself has moved to reduce abuse of statistics by informal argumentation from signs. In 2016, the American Statistical Association issued a statement discouraging the use of statistical p-value statements in research (Wasserstein and Lazar 2016), and that move was prompted in response to the increasing problem of non-reproducibililty of experiments in many branches of research (Ioannidis 2005, Nuzzo 2014). Current research practice emphasizes the need for multiple studies that demonstrate a dose-dependent relationship between a causal factor and an effect (see Wasserstein and Lazar 2016). This discourages making inferences from limited associations established by studies supported only by simple frequentist statistics. Research also involves turning data into a model. The science of modeling is also changing by techniques that emphasize statistical selection of factors used in proposed causal models. Whether a researcher proposes to include or exclude a potential causal factor can dramatically change the results of statistical analysis, and thus, analytic techniques, such as mathematical factor analysis, are encouraged to select causal factors and to reduce researcher bias in selecting causal factors.

Given the state of non-reproducibility in science, critical reading of scientific studies that justify policies in the political, environmental or economic spheres is a necessary democratic skill. The American Heart Association has a useful approach for determining what weight should be given to studies and whether scientific theory is supported by reasonable evidence or whether an unproven theory should be considered provisional:

• Level A: Multiple populations evaluated. Data derived from multiple randomized trials or meta-analysis.

• Level B: Limited populations evaluated. Data derived from a single randomized trail or non-randomized studies.

• Level C: Very limited populations studied. Only consensus opinion of experts or case studies evaluated (Stone et al 2013).

The American Heart Association also adds a second vector that consists of three degrees of beneficial effect created by the treatments studied: small, medium and great. Taken with the three types of studies, a conceptual grid is created to guide decisionmaking. Studies of limit populations that contain primarily expert opinions and whose beneficial effect is small suggest no action should be taken until efficacy is proven further. Studies based on multiple randomized blind-trials whose interventions have a large beneficial effect should be looked at closely for implementation. This decision-making schema is usefully for approaching the many scientific and psuedo-scientific claims that bombard every day life. Claims made based on small sized studies that promise only marginal benefits do not require much energy-grabbing attention.

By the foregoing, I do not mean to be anti-science by claiming that experts and the long tradition of journal publication and review should be discounted, as currently occurs among some political elites. Rather, science must be read and understood by ordinary citizens and presented by expert authors with acknowledgment of its limits. This means that many times scientific research can only provide loose guidance despite the enormous expense and effort that good science demands, and citizens should not expect it to always provide the level of certainty and stability that people expect their politicians to provide. Scientific research and science-based policy-making cannot be a full substitute for human value-based decisions and human judgement calls. The ethical use of scientific studies results ultimately rests on the courage to say that in many cases one does not know the answer, but to proceed with the humility of ignorance.

In this current culture that requires proof by informal argumentation from sign, genetic biophilia is a needed, but not necessary, justification that supplements human values for the preservation of natural places. It is needed to combat the prevalence of poor critical thinking that supports anti-environment forces. However, given the weakness of scientific proof supporting the signs of genetic biophilia, it should not be a mainstay of the argument from preservation. Ultimately, people must decide to preserve for the simple reason that they like nature and not because it has some utilitarian value, even the utilitarian value of satisfying a genetic-based human need.

* * * *

On April 27th, 1920, a special water bond election was held to issue $3,300,000 for water supply improvements, including $200,000 for building a reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 27th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune overviewed the city’s reservoirs and lines, including the High Line and partially excavating reservoir at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon.

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).

April 19, 2017

April 17th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 2:45 pm

Squirrel Hole

1:30 p.m. Today’s overcast skies keeps temperatures in the sixties, but overnight temperatures for the last two days have been above freezing overnight. As a result, the stream is again running at its highest, as measured by its water mark on the Zen Rock (January 4th). At Guardhouse Gate, the three mature horsechestnut trees bloom together. To mile 0.2 along the road, the Gambel’s oaks are starting to bloom. They, like the river birch, have a small compound tubular inflorescence of about twenty ovaries. Along the roadway for the first mile, numerous herbaceous plants that have stalks and leaves arranged like corn have grown about one-foot tall. What will they become? At mile 1.2 above picnic site 8, a Red maple tree has blossomed. The radiating blossoms are similar to the green blossoms of the Box Elder tree, but in the maple, they are dusky red in color.

Going down-canyon near mile 0.4, I hear scurrying on the road bank and catch a glimpse of a young Rock squirrel. I have often wondered where their burrows are, and today, above picnic site 5, I find a three or for inch diameter burrow hole on the west side of the road bank. There is fresh dirt around the entrance. I mark this site (40°47.889′ N, 111°52.420′ W) for watching. Perhaps I can confirm its inhabitant is a squirrel.

The parking lot is full, but the today only holds bicyclists.

* * * *

On April 17th, 1991, residents in Memory Grove sought closure of Canyon Road to reduce “cruising” traffic (Deseret News). On April 17th, 1900, city prison labor is used to build the boulevard around City Creek, now Bonneville Drive (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 15, 2017

April 15th

More Blossoming

2:00 p.m. Several cultivar cherry trees blossom. They range in size from small bushes to two specimens with the first quarter-mile that are between twenty and thirty feet tall. In these larger trees, the gray birch-like pattern to their bark in addition to their bright white flowers are the keys to identification. More Box Elder shrubs have bloomed. One of the three horsechestnut trees at the Guardhouse gate parking lot have exploded, and each bud reveals a radial pattern of leaves surrounded by a cone-shaped green compound set of ovaries. Red ozier dogwood bushes that have leafed out have grown small compound blossom heads that look like heads broccoli. Chokeberries have resumed blooming and one near mile 0.2 is festooned with hanging flowerless blooms at the end of multiple heads at the end of long thin stems. Two immature rock squirrels betray themselves as their run over dry crackling leaves above the roadbank. A shadow across the road reveals to small hawks racing over the road. Their flight is so fast that identification is not possible, but front-wing line has a rounded shape. One seeking to increase its diving speed, folds its wing in to transform itself into a bullet shape. In an instant, they are gone around a ridge. Painted Lady butterflies are joined by a another cousin: a small dusky black butterfly that deep black triangular wing-tips with white spots. After yesterday’s warmth, the snow-melt fed stream today flows at it highest level.

The parking lot is overflowing with cars and their are sixty or seventy people along the road. The watercress gleaners have returned (October 16th) and they are carrying out bags of this edible that they removed from the seep below picnic site 6. I have changed my opinion on this practice: watercress is an invasive that chokes the stream, and if it is overharvested to the extinction, the stream may improve for native fish.

As I jog up-canyon, two young men bicycle down-canyon. They are wearing packs with hi-tech two-part snowboards strapped to the back in a triangle formation. They have ridden to the end of road and then hiked up to Grandview Peak for spring skiing. I did a similar 17 mile road trip ski tour and hike in the 1980s, and it is heartening to see the next generation of young men who would test themselves not in the arena of commerce or in sports against other men, but against the power of the nature. I give the trailing rider a big thumbs up, acknowledging what they have done. But he sees not as a kindred spirit, but only an old man on the lower road to which he gives no return glance.

* * * *

On April 15th, 1909, a brush fire broke out at four miles above Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News). On April 15, 1906, boxer Young Corbett trained in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). This was probably Young Corbett II, who later became the world Featherweight boxing champion. On April 15, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association planned to assist in planting trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 15, 1896, negotiations between the City and the Salt Lake and Ogden Gas and Electric Light Company broke down, prompting the City to further consider constructing an electric power station in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 7, 2017

March 6th

Filed under: History, Squirrel, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:59 am

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

2:30 p.m. In the early evening last night, high winds induce tiredness and then a deep, profoundly restful sleep. I reawake at midnight to a white world. Everything is covered in a layer of ice and about three inches of snow. A deep sleep after high wind events is a common occurrence for me. One urban health myth is that high pre-storm winds flood cities with positive atmospheric ions that cause irritability, and a storm brings negative atmospheric ions that promote calm and rest. These negative ions attach to pollution particles at draw them from the air. This is the basis for a substantial trade in negative ion generators. In a 2013 meta-analysis, Perez, Alexander and Bailey of a private research company reviewed thirty-three negative and positive ion studies published between 1957 and 2012. Many of these were controlled studies in which subjects sat in sealed rooms into which negative or positive ion charged air was pumped. In the majority of those controlled conditions, no change in mood was detected, although clinically depressed subjects did show some improvement. Perez and colleagues questioned some studies results due to the short period of exposure to ion-charged air and the differing means by which changes in mood were assessed. For myself, I have no doubt that some atmospheric changes induce a deep, restful sleep. Anecdotally, I have experienced it many times. But if the effect is not caused by the air’s positive or negative ion charge, then perhaps it is something else, for example, the higher concentrations of mold and dust stirred up by such winds?

Today, in the late morning, the overcast skies clear, it warms and the snow-ice melts. While jogging up the canyon, the combination of ice and snow layers causes mini-snow slides on the lower ice surface and down the many gullies on the western canyon wall. In the small bowl at the top of each gullies, a snow slide, perhaps only of a half-inch in depth, starts. The sloughs run down the gullies and turn them a brighter white than the surrounding snow and brush covered hillside. The west canyon wall is covered in picturesque vertical white lines. At Guardhouse Gate, the Rock squirrel reappears and runs across the road.

The Euro-American colonists of 1847 found a valley full of insect and animal life. On their first arrival in the valley, Lorenzo Young reported several million crickets that completely covered the ground (Bancroft, 262; Little, 99-100). Clara Young described how the First Peoples “made a corral twelve or fifteen feet square, fenced about with sage brush and grease wood, and . . . drove [the crickets] into the enclosure. Then they set fire to the brush fence, . . . Afterward they took them [the crickets] up by the thousands . . . ” (Bancroft, 262, ftn. 24.) The cooked crickets were then wrapped in skins and buried for winter food.

The colonists reported their first fort was harassed by “wolves, foxes, and catamounts [a term used for eastern mountain lions]” and Lorenzo Young “spread some strychnine about, and in the morning found fourteen white wolves dead” (Bancroft, 277, ftn. 8; Little, 99). Young also reported jack rabbits (Little, 99). A startled deer, then unfamiliar with idea of a “fort”, jumped over the fort’s high wall and into the enclosure (id., 276). Deer herds traversing the valley and surrounding canyons were sufficiently large to provide both food stuffs and hides for the making of shoes and clothing for 1,500 persons (Bancroft, 277). The stockade was also quickly overrun by swarms of mice, and noise of the mice was loud enough that fifty or sixty had to be killed nightly (Bancroft, 277-278). Buffalo herds were also present as the pioneers reported using in their hand-looms buffalo hair snagged on sage brush from passing herds in order to make cloth in the absence of cotton (id., 276, ftn. 6). They traded with First Peoples already in the valley for buffalo hides (id., p. 277). In the present day, a re-introduced buffalo herd is maintained on a Antelope Island State Park.

While no historical record of fish life in valley or City Creek streams was found, Utah Lake was an annual spring gathering place of several Ute Tribe bands due to an abundant fish runs. Utah pioneer George W. Bean described that fish were so numerous that, “suckers and mullet passing [sic] continuously up stream that often the river would be full from bank to bank as thick as they could swim for hours and sometimes days together, and fish would be taken in all ways and places” (Gottfredson, 21). Utah Lake connects the Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River and hence to all of the Salt Lake valley streams, including City Creek Canyon. In a 2012 article, Utah Audubon Society’s Wayne Martinson described the pre-colonization Jordan River as,

comparable to any international wildlife area in the world . . . It was a riparian area in a desert that connected one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi and the largest saline lake in the Western hemisphere. What we’ve lost on the Jordan is something we don’t even think about anymore. I can appreciate all the restoration that’s going on now, but it’s just a remnant of what was. (Salt Lake Tribune and Baird, Oct. 22, 2012).

In December 1848, a newly created Salt Lake county government organized a committee of extermination for wildlife. Two hunting parties systematically removed all wildlife in the valley. That winter, they reported killing “2 bears, 2 wolverines, 2 mountain lions, 763 wolves, 409 foxes, 31 minks, 9 eagles, 530 magpies, hawks and owls, and 1,626 ravens” (Bancroft, 287, ftn. 2). In January 1849, city administrators made plans for a 17 mile fence to be constructed surrounding the city and 5,153 acres of farmland (Bancroft, 285-6 ftn. 3), presumably in part to keep any remaining wildlife out of crop fields.

While wildlife was excluded from the valley, wildlife retained their refuge in the surrounding canyons. In City Creek, on January 19, 1875, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the account of a member of a rescue party sent to check on the welfare of two missing miners at the Red Bird Mine on Scott’s Hill (probably the Unnamed peak at 8283 feet west of Lower Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon. The rescuer reported that “game of all kinds is abundant. We saw twelve blacktail deer in one band for a starter, ducks in great abundance, many snipes, a brace of California quail, to say nothing of prairie chickens, grouse and white hare. The stream is also a favorite resort for brook trout” (id). As late as September 1916, sheepherders Jerry Ellis and George Neill reported that they killed twenty-eight bears in City Creek Canyon, near Beck’s Hot Springs and in Hardscrabble Canyon since June of that year (Salt Lake Telegram). Seven of the most recently killed bears of 1916 weighed over 500 pounds, and the state paid the hunters a $105 USD predator bounty (id).

(For an excellent narrative on the pre-European state of Utah nature and how it was altered through the 1930s, see Flores 1985.)

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 6th, 1853, he watches two red squirrels. March 6th, 1855, he finds a mouse nest under the snow.

February 22, 2017

February 22nd

Tree Trunks

4:00 p.m. This a year of extremes: on February 21st, the temperature was sixty-six degrees and yesterday and last night and today, after raining for almost ten hours, the temperature has dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. As I enter the canyon, it is snowing, but this is light snow that turns to water when it touches any physical object. The high ridgelines and Pleasant Valley are covered in snow dust, perhaps one-eight of an inch thick, but it will not last. This is the second sign of the coming spring now one month away: The battle between spring overtaking winter (September 22nd) has begun. There are other signs. At Guardhouse Gate, I see my first, fat and healthy Rock squirrel of the season. It runs across the road and is busily inspecting bushes for fresh buds. The constant rain has driven three earthworms on to the road, even though temperatures are freezing. High on the ridgeline near mile 1.1, I see my first mule deer in over a week. Even at this distance, it is skittish; it tentatively comes out of a copse, feeds, and then retreats for cover.

The lichens and mosses are the most responsive to the hours of light rain. Everywhere the orange, yellow and green colors of lichen and mosses have deepened, and a few trees become vibrant flames amongst winter’s brown, grey and white. Black cankers on tree branches that normally turn to dust when touched have become plump, fat and solid with water. It is the time of year for the simplest organisms, for the earliest life.

Tree trunks have so many varieties of forms. Above picnic site 6, some trees are like brothers and sisters. The trunks of two 4 inch diameter immature river birches intertwine in a playful embrace, and they spring from a common root. Next to the River birch, are three immature Box Elder trunks that also rise from the same root. These stand tall and vertical like two brothers. At and down-canyon of picnic site 6, large Mountain cottonwoods have large bulbous galls on their lower trunks, and this is evidence of old attacks by insects, bacteria, and fungi. Other trees in the lower canyon have partially or completely succumbed to age and disease. At picnic site 6, an ancient tree has been broken off to about four feet above the ground and spilt in half. The remnant remaining in the earth is pock marked with with trails and caves of insects that reminds me of the cave houses carved out of volcanic tufa in Cappadocia in Turkey. In the lower canyon, still half-alive cottonwoods have had much of their bark stripped away, and underneath the xylem and heartwood has taken on a sinuous, smooth, yellow texture like human skin. At Pleasant Valley and at picnic sites 9, 7, and 2, dead cottonwood snags are bleached grey-white. Where large trunk stubs are near the road, erosion has exposed their subsurface tap roots, and this reveals a tangle of gnarls that remind of Eastern paintings of nature. An example is below the Red Bridge.

Traveling down-canyon, a familiar pattern appears in the River birches, Box elder and Mountain cottonwood trees that line the stream. Multiple, large, mature trunks sprout from a single root, and at the base, numerous suckers rise. For these trees, the mixture of angled mature trunks and smaller shoots gives the impression of a circular fan opening or a fountain of water rising. In this respect, trees are simply a larger, woody version of the brome grass bunches in Pleasant Valley, further up canyon. I realize that my impression of trees as organisms that are born, grow, have a middle age, and the die is mistaken. Angled older branches grow and fall away, and this gives the young shoots an opportunity to grow and replace them. But both originate from the same tap root, from the same genetic material. In this sense, most of the trees in the lower canyon that surround the stream possess a form of immortality. My misconception of the lives of these trees is the result of my biased exposure to shade trees in the city. Those trees mimic the cultured form of an English oak forest. There, trees are manicured and husbanded as individuals by their human farmers. Those trees do experience an individual birth, a middle age, and a death. But the English form of a forest is only one classical European choice, and here in the canyon, the stream trees pass their lives in a cycle and not along linear time.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 22nd, 1856, he observes the first insects of spring crawling over snow.

On February 22nd, 1910, the City Council debated whether to lease a second gravel pit in lower City Creek (Deseret Evening News). On February 22nd, 1894, an attorney sought permission from the City to hunt a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. Permission was granted and the hunter took a cougar (Salt Lake Herald).

October 22, 2016

October 22nd

Filed under: Squirrel — canopus56 @ 9:34 pm

Sumo Squirrel

11:00 a.m. I have hardly seen any rock squirrels over the last month. After the peak of summer in late August and early September, one can usually see four or five of them on any given walk. They are still there, but are invisible. One can always hear them scurrying unseen through in the undergrowth. Today, a squirrel comes down to the road, and he or she is by human standards morbidly obese. The squirrel looks like a sumo wrestler. It is rotund, but still quick and agile, and it has a healthy coat. It has been bulking up on acorns for the last few weeks and is now ready for winter.

It is the first day of the rifle deer hunt, and the hunt continues through October 30th.

September 21, 2016

September 19th

Filed under: Deer Mouse, Mammals, Squirrel, Unita Chipmunk, Water Treatment Plant — canopus56 @ 3:06 am

Samurai Squirrel

4:00 pm Today, I decide to jog further to mile 4.0.  At mile 3.1, a squirrel runs parallel to the road ahead of me, stops, turns around, and stands on its hind legs. Its arms are outstretched and the wide stance of its legs is suggestive of a samurai warrior. The squirrel stares at me as I jog by, but is relaxed and curious, and does not run away. Like other squirrels of the Wasatch Front canyons, this squirrel is docile and does not make aggressive displays towards people. Their behavior contrasts greatly with their direct relatives and their cousins, the Unita chipmunk, that live in the Unita Mountains about 80 miles east of City Creek Canyon. In the Unitas, both squirrels and chipmunks start barking loudly whenever a hiker approaches within 100 meters of their tree, and they continue to bark until one has passed and is another 100 meters away.  When their tree is close to a trail, I have known squirrels to crawl out to the edge of a branch a couple of feet over a hiker’s head, and they bark frenetically as the branch sways back and forth. They act as if they are about to jump off in an attack. Why there is this difference in behavior is unclear. Perhaps the squirrels in City Creek and the Wasatch Front canyons have, historically, been shot at so many times by humans, that they have internalized to not become aggressive around people. While squirrels and Unita chipmunks have suffered less hunting. But in recent times neither have been actively hunted by humans.

At the water plant at mile 3.4, is the first Rocky mountain deer mouse that I have seen since spring. They are called deer mice because of their relatively large ears. In the winter, the live under the snowpack, safe from the eyes of humans and predators. In the spring after the snow melts and grasses have not yet returned, four or five deer mice can be found leaving or entering their underground burrows along the canyon road. After the grasses regrow, they are again invisible during the summer. The mouse seen today has sunning at the road’s edge where the grasses have thinned, but when startled, he or she disappeared into the undergrowth.

September 20, 2016

August 31st

Peak Production

6:30 p.m. The canyon has passed its peak productivity. In the first two miles of the canyon, all the red fruit of a chokecherry bush (Prunus virginiana L.) has ripened to a dark purple. Box elder trees (Acer negundo L.) hang heavy with their helicopter seed pods. The white fruit of an unidentified berry bush extrudes vanilla smelling juice when squeezed. All thistles have bloomed into hairy grey tufts. Gambel’s oaks are dropping numerous acorns on the road. green crabapple trees, planted by the pioneers every third of a mile, are ripening fruit. Horsechestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) are full of their green spiked seeds. Where is City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive, the mud flat in the stormwater pond is filled with 8 foot tall cattails (Typha latifolia L.) that are beginning to bloom. Along the pipeline trail, only one or two small birds are heard.

At meadows, grasses and weeds are parched varying shades of tan to dark brown. At one seep near mile 1.3, trees at its top are green and healthy while at the bottom all the water has been taken from the ground and the manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos manzanita P.) are shriveled. Even for healthy Gambel’s oaks and cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia James or Mountain Cottonwood), the unrelenting sun has burnt leaves on the top branches a curled brown. To escape the heat, the Box Elder trees on west facing slopes are turning their autumn pale red and light brown. But box elders with an adequate water supply on the canyon bottoms are still green.

Producers having peaked, the reducers now take over. In the scrub oak forest and in the meadows, crickets have multiplied. In the first two miles, I see five adolescent squirrels and hear another five scurrying through the brush. They have begun gathering and storing acorns for the coming winter.


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