City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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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).

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