City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 11, 2017

July 9th

Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve

2:00 p.m. It is the sixth day of summer heat over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Checking the daily daily jet stream forecast graph at the California Regional Weather Service, the jet northern circumpolar stream has dissipated as usually occurs at summer’s peak (April 4th). The western United States is covered by a massive high pressure zone, and its heat is baking the moisture from the land. Today, in order to see what the Salt Lake salient looked like before the arrival of Cheat grass, I am traveling to one of Salt Lake City’s most unusual nature parks: the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve. To get to the preserve, one drives ten miles north to North Salt Lake City, climbs steeply up through an expensive North Salt Lake City subdivision to North Salt Lake City’s Tunnel Springs Park. The Salt Lake City nature preserve is a hanging valley near the end of the salient that overlooks the Great Salt Lake. It is located three hundred feet above the valley floor, and its vista cuts off views of a major freeway and an industrial area at its base. No mechanized sound penetrates the preserve. This hidden valley is about sixty acres in size, and the City only purchased a conservation easement protecting the land in 2006 (Salt Lake City, 2010b). This valley is the southern terminus of the Salt Lake City Bonneville Shoreline Trail. A popular mountain bike ride starts in City Creek Canyon, goes over the northern half of the Salt Lake salient at the Radio Towers, and ends in this field. Riders then return to Salt Lake City by the paved roads below.

The sky overhead is deep blue even under the high summer sun. The Tunnel Springs Park is an old seep that is now filled in with an invasive, the Common reed (Phragmites australis). A large Willow tree is the centerpiece spring feed glade. To the south of the spring is the City nature preserve. It is an expansive grass land field that is primarily covered in Wild bunchgrass with minor contamination by Winter rye grass. Intermixed with grass are many white Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis L.) flowers. It is nesting and it periodically interrupts its song to momentarily dive into the brush. But it quickly reappears to resume singing. I am treated to a ten minute long concert. The field is similar to the grass fields of Antelope Island out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. There, great numbers of Western meadowlarks are evenly spaced every few hundred yards.

Significantly, even though it is early July, the native Wild bunchgrass of the field is still green. The light brown Cheat grass sea crawls down to this oasis of native grassland from the surrounding hills, but after a few minutes I can imagine what the Salt Lake salient must have looked like before the invasive grass arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century and the foothills were covered in a cloak of green Wild bunchgrass.

The grass field overlooks the eastern half of the Great Salt Lake and Farmington Bay. Vistas extend to Pilot Peak one-hundred miles away. In the foreground, the eastern half of the lake is a dry lakebed with the remains of the Jordan River winding through it. The view is breathtaking, but this is not a good indicator for the future of the lake. This year’s precipitation in the northern drainages was 150 percent of normal. At the highest peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the snowpack was 200 percent of normal. It is the kind of year that should refill the lake, but that has not occurred.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 9th, 1852 at 4 a.m. in the morning, he sees another aurora borealis, and he listens to bird and cricket chorus as the twilight recedes. He admires the leaves of a shrub oak. He describes the daytime summer heat as “furnace-like”. He sees a red lily. On July 9, 1854, he examines a thistle. On July 9 , 1857, he discusses how black willows disperse their seeds.

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On July 9th, 1996, Salt Lake City Watershed manager Russ Hone reports conflicts between hikers and mountain bikers in all of the Salt Lake Valley canyon trails, including in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9th, 1996, Chevron Pipeline Co. reports that the proposed Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline through City Creek Canyon is unnecessary because the existing Chevron pipeline along 11th Avenue has sufficient capacity to carry Canadian crude oil projected for the next fifty years (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9th, 1994, Salt Lake City enacted a complete ban on all fires in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9, 1921, the Young People’s Hebrew Association planned an automobile outing up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 9, 1913, the City announced that the improved City Creek automobile boulevard touring road will be opened to the public (Salt Lake Herald). On July 9th, 1904, Joseph R. Dover, who built a marble works in City Creek Canyon and who worked as stonemason on the Mormon Temple, passed away (Salt Lake Telegram).

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