City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 19th

Filed under: Astronomy, Birds, Geology, Insects, Mammals, Microbes, Mollusks, Plants, Seasons — canopus56 @ 9:18 am

Last Day of Spring and a Walk Through Time

3:00 p.m. It is the last day of astronomical spring, and the canyon has completed its seasonal growth spurt, has become pregnant, and is readying itself for the coming stress of summer’s heat. Today, as I sometimes do, I see a walk through nature as a walk through geologic time and the history of life. The canyon contains living refugees from each major geologic period.

The seep below picnic site 6 contains slimes, molds, bacteria and protozoa from the Hadean Eon to the Precambrian period in the Neoproterozic, 530 million years ago. There are 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes in the 4 kilometers of Earth beneath my feet from that era (December 20th), and another 7.2 x 10^24 microbes in the 4 kilometers of air above my head (id). The orange lichens on the Gambel’s oak trees also come from this time. The mosses also that adorn the oaks and that live on rocks in the stream come represent life’s first steps onto the land in the Ordovician period 485 million years ago. The trout in the stream represent the arrival of fish in the Silurian period 443 million years ago. The horsetails by the side of the road represent the vascular plants that also migrated to the land during the Silurian periods.

Insects first appear during the Devonian about 400 million years ago. The canyon’s conifers represent the Carboniferous period beginning about 350 million years ago. The Permian period beginning about 290 million years ago when mollusks arrived is represented by the Common garden snails seen crossing the road. The Permian is also when insects like the Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies arose.

The Mesozoic era, including the age of the dinosaurs during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, began about 250 million years ago. Presently, the dinosaurs are represented by their descendants, the many birds of the canyon. The many flowering plants and trees in the canyon first appeared during the Cretaceous, 130 million years ago. The late Cretaceous is represented by the canyon’s Western rattlesnakes and Western ground snakes (Sonora semiannulata). Small mammals like the Rocky Mountain deer mice and Rock squirrels also first appeared during that period.

The Cenozoic era, including the Paleogene period that began forty million years ago, is represented by the canyon’s many butterflies. The Neogene period that began about 25 million years ago is represented by the grasses along the road. The early Quaternary period, the Pleistocene, that began about 2.5 million years ago, are represented the canyon’s coyotes, mountain lions and black bears. The late Quaternary, the Holocene, is represented by homo sapiens, myself and the other walkers and runners on the road.

In the last 500 million years, the Earth has rotated around the core of the Milky Way two times. Life remains persistent, infinite, incomprehensible, and irrepressible.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 19th, 1852, he notes that clover, buttercups and geraniums are at their peak. Grapes and mullein are blooming. He hears robins and walks across a summer-dried swamp and collect orchids. On June 19, 1853, blue-eyed grass, a small iris, is blooming. He sees a blue jay, a tanager, and a cucokoo. He hears a night warbler and a bobolink. On June 19th, 1854, he admires a distant thunderstorm. On June 19th, 1859, he observes a squirrel nest and its young, and he sees a partridge. On June 19th, 1860, he follows a fox track back to its burrow.

* * * *

On June 19th, 1993, the 14th annual Wasatch Steeplechase was won by Tom Borschel with a time of 2:02:50 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 1993). On June 19th, 1992, the City and the L.D.S. Church develop a master plan that proposed a five block parkway with City Creek raised to the surface (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune notes an enlarged underground conduit was installed after the 1983 floods along North Temple (id). On November 19th, 2006, a human skill was found by tree-trimming crews working in City Creek Canyon, and a subsequent search failed to find any other remains (Deseret News). On June 19th, 1925, the City condemned land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 19th, 1917, the City reopened City Creek Canyon after initially closing the canyon out of concerns that terrorist saboteurs might harm the City’s water supply (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1913, in support of a national education convention held in the City, Parks Commissioner George D. Kesyer plans to open City Creek Canyon road to automobiles (Salt Lake Tribune). Prison labor will be used to improve the road (id). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L. C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from a cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon:

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before it. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until it, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing is not probable, it is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (id).

On June 19th, 1895, Watermaster Commissioner Heath reminds citizens that no fishing is allowed in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 19, 1894, the Lady Rosalind Stearns bicycle race was held up City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). Three racers went up the canyon at full speed, and the winner was forced by exhaustion to dismount at seven miles up the canyon (id).

June 13, 2017

June 2nd

Evolution of Angiosperms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

* * * *

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

May 22, 2017

May 21st

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

Utah Bird Population Trends

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

May 18, 2017

May 17th

Winter Interlude

3:30 p.m. The jet stream is again broken and chaotic (May 8th). This time the discontinuity stations a huge low pressure system, shaped like some misplaced galaxy with great arms separated by open spaces, over Idaho, and this weather system brings cold arctic air back into the canyon. Temperatures drop over night into the thirties and only reach the high forties during the day. Banished winter makes returns. Throughout the morning, the sky, between the arms, alternates with an hour of sunlight that turn again to dark skies and rain. As I enter the canyon, light snowflakes, miniature versions of winter’s mature form, fall from the sky, and turn to a light rain. The high walls of the canyon are again covered with a light snow and Little Black Mountain is frosted white. But the snow is deceptive. Along the road only a few patches remain on the leaves of the broadest ground plants. On the hillsides, the Arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms reflect white, not yellow, but this will all be gone in another hour. Next to the winding road, the plants are invigorated by cold, and groups of songbirds sing louder, not softer, in defiance of the prior season. Two bonded pairs of mallards swim the flood retention pond. Three groups of songbirds collect at the Gate, near mile 1.0 and again in Pleasant Valley. A single raptor is soaring up-canyon along the salient. Butterflies are vanquished.

At Pleasant Valley, the 50 meter diameter Gambel’s oak grove has now fully leafed out. There members of Utah State University’s Utah Conservation Corps have returned (Oct. 16th) for further work on their starthistle field abatement. Last year’s removal of the starthistle plants has made a lush, green field in lower Pleasant Valley, but it has given the myrtle spurge an opportunity to return. Today, they pull the spurge in the field and on the hillside surrounding the oak copse. It is hard, labor-intensive work, perhaps impractical, and I can see the temptation that biologists in the past had to use either chemicals or biological controls in the form introduced invasive insects. Both techniques end with unanticipated, adverse results. The City has already tried chemical sprays on the starthistles (Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 2008), but that failed at Pleasant Valley.

I revisit the stretch of flat stream near picnic site 11 that I have named Rivendell (Jan. 19). I expect to find the entire area flooded. The stream has doubled in size to about 18 feet across and 18 inches in depth, but its surface runs smoothly downstream. There is a same sandy beach, barely two feet wide, at the water’s edge, and there deep hoof prints tell of mule deer coming for a drink earlier in the day.

Returning down canyon by the Pipeline Trail, the Sun comes out as the next arm of the low pressure system arrives. A Broad-tailed hummingbird flutters in the oaks, and another chorus of about eight songbirds starts up again. On the road, the warmth entices a bright yellow Western tiger swallowtail butterfly out of the bushes.

* * * *

On May 17th, 2006, Sarah Grant is training in City Creek for a 3,000 mile cross-country fund raising ride to benefit Splore, a local disabled outdoor program (Salt Lake Tribune). She plans to raise $30,000. On May 17th, 1926, twenty-four men and women of the Wasatch Mountain Club hiked up City Creek to “Scotts Peak” at the canyon’s headwaters (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 17th, 1919, City Park Commissioner George Y. Wallace argued for the creation of a scenic boulevard up City Creek Canyon and then along 11th Avenue and the bench to attract the new automobile tourism (Salt Lake Telegram).

March 23, 2017

March 23rd

Filed under: earthworm, Leopard slug, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:56 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IV – Timber Harvesting

2:30 p.m. Winter has returned for a day. Temperatures have dropped 35 degrees Fahrenheit in two days, and a combination of rain and snow has fallen continuously since this morning. All is water in the canyon. Trees and soaked and below picnic site 6, lichens on the west side of some trees puff and glow with a light-green and orange radiance. The stream runs high from melting snow runoff Although there is no snow in the lower canyon, checking the automated SNOTEL data from City Creek’s Louis Meadow station in the upper canyon eight miles away (Feb. 1st), there is 10 inches of water equivalent snow on the ground. However, the station’s data also shows that one-half of the snow pack melted in the last two weeks. At its current melting rate, the snowpack will be gone by the beginning of April – almost one month early. This will impact next summer’s wildlife, and they may be facing a severe lack of water in a few months.

The recent warm weather has woken the earthworms from their over-wintering freeze and stimulated their cocoons. Leopard slugs also woke, two are seen on the road, but today’s heavy rain has driven both the earthworms and slugs from the ground. In the first mile of the road, I count in a swath of one-quarter of road, 712 earthworms, and they are evenly distributed across the entire road. This means there about 2,800 earthworms in the first road mile. Almost all will die by the morning. They so numerous that it is impossible for bicycles and runners to avoid them, and the remaining are drowning or will finished off by tonight’s cold. Hopefully, there are more worm cocoons hibernating between the soil who will continue their good work.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 23rd, 1853, he hears a robin and records maples blooming. On March 23rd, 1855, he returns the squirrel to the wild. On March 23, 1856, he lists animals that have been exterminated in the east including cougar, panther, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, and turkey. (Excepting panther, all these animals can be in modern Utah. All but the panther, wolverine, and wolf can be found in modern have been seen in modern City Creek Canyon. Beaver are removed by the City, if found. The wolf, which has returned to western Utah, might return to City Creek in the future.) He records that snow is one foot deep. He notes that on south facing hillsides, mice have eaten sedge; a squirrel is heard; and, partridges are seen. On March 23rd, 1859, he sees two red-tailed hawks. He notes the black and brown color of the land, and he notes how during sunset, ridgelines with red birch twigs contrast with the purple of a sunset sky. He sees two goosanders.

* * * *

Twenty-eight hundred worms along one mile may seem like the entire canyon worm population, but soil researchers have found depending on type of soil, its cover, and the amount of its disturbance, there can be between 10 and 1,300 earthworms per square yard (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2001). Taking some mid-range estimates of 280 and 475 worms and worm cocoons per square yard, there may be between 1,900,000 and 3,300,000 in the 2 yards along both sides of the first mile of road (5,280 divided by 3 x 4 x 280=1.9M). But those densities were based on studies in more fecund climates, and using the lowest study value, 12 worms per square yard and doubling it, still suggests a respectable population between 84,500 and 169,000 worms along the first road mile. Earthworms can consume and turnover between 6 percent to ten percent of the topsoil each year.

* * * *

Young’s control of City Creek and the entrance at its mouth marked the first phase of canyon use and development: timber harvesting. The Deseret Evening News claimed that the first trees felled in Utah by a saw, where cut by the pioneers in City Creek Canyon using a whip saw a few days after they entered the valley on July 24th, 1847 (Deseret News, September 10, 1895). Various water-powered mills were quickly established: an adobe mill, an early wheat mill (Salt Lake Herald, Jan 1908, Bancroft, 275), the Empire Flour Mill owned by Young (Day), a threshing mill (Bancraft, 279), a grist mill for barley (Watson), a cording mill (Watson), a turning mill (Watson), an experimental silk farming and spinning building (Arrington), two Church owned Public Works factories for nail and paper production (Day), a blacksmith shop (Day), and five lumber mills in City Creek including a toll saw mill at the canyon mouth owned by Young (Day; Watson). Young constructed the Lion House and by 1853 had a wall built across from the Lion House to First Avenue that prevented access to the canyon. A photograph from the 1800s shows how Young then constructed a gate in the wall topped by a great arch (J. Willard Marriott Library, ID207887). On the apex of the arch was a large wooden eagle statute frozen in a downward gliding pose. (In the 1960s, the historical Eagle Gate Monument was installed over State Street with an iron replica of the wooden original.) The wall provided Young with monopolistic control access to canyon timber (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5), and in coordination with the Church Public Works Office, he used newly arrived immigrants, such as newly arrived Scotland immigrant James Livingston, to construct a road up the canyon (Watt, 65). Then, as was the custom since major road construction in the nineteenth century was privately financed, Young charged a toll for entering the canyon equal to one-third of all lumber removed (Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1903; Watson).

Through 1855, Young also employed persons to clear the first eight or nine miles of City Creek’s bed of dead trees and other blockages in order to increase stream flow. And on September 21, 1855, the Territorial Legislature appropriated $500 in compensation for that work. (Hooten, 12-13). That amount is worth approximately $14,500 in 2016.

* * * *

On March 23rd, 2006, the Utah Rivers Council plans a stream clean-up in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1907, runners from L.D.S. University practiced in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association urged the City Council to take some trees scheduled for planting in Liberty Park and to use them to reforest City Creek Canyon with hardwoods of all kinds (Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake Herald, March 23 and 25).

November 21, 2016

November 21st

The Oaks put on Green Coats

Noon. It has been raining overnight and this morning, but the air remains warm. Usually, I associate moss on the trees with thick mats that adhere to the north sides of pines in the upper canyon beyond milepost 5.0. During the summer, except for stream side, there is not enough moisture in the air to support either moss or lichens. But the lower canyon today proves my impressions wrong. The sides of the trunks of Gambel’s oaks and horizontal branches have become soaked with snow melt and rain water. Trunks which had previously been a uniform grey, now are covered in the green of mosses and lichens. One some oaks, the lichen has a light green color that is luminescent against the dark tree trunk. Just beyond milepost 1.5, the interior of a copse of Gambel’s oak reveals, now that its leaves are gone, a large horizontal branch that is covered with thick mat of moss. The summer leaves provided a protected moist environment against the harsh mid-year sun. From along Bonneville drive up to mile 2.0, all of the Gambel’s oaks have come alive with green trunks.

At mile 0.4, a three inch long Leopard slug, also known as the Great grey slug, (Limax maximus) is slowly inches its way across the road. The last third of the grey body near the head is covered with large black blotches, hence the “leopard” name. This is another invasive species, originally from Europe. The rain has wetted the road, and this allows the slug to migrate across this summer barrier.

At Guardhouse Gate, today’s single insect, is a miniature unidentified spider hanging from the guardhouse’s community posting board. While picking up trash left from a beer party at Guardhouse Gate picnic area, I notice what appears to be a House wren (Troglodytes aedon) hiding at the base of a dogwood tree next to the stream. This identification must be wrong. The Rock wren is out of season and it is in the wrong habitat. At mile 1.1, a single Black-billed magpie hides in the center of an oak copse.

A bow-hunter walking up the road informs me that mule deer browse inside the Gambel’s oak copses for acorns. They do not eat the dry grass in the meadow, but they will graze on the green shoots at each grass clump’s base.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.