City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

December 5, 2016

December 5th

Filed under: Avenues, Mule Deer, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:13 pm

December 5th

Refugees in the City

2:00 a.m. Near my residence in the Avenues south of the City Creek ridgeline, a herd of twelve mule deer is grazing on neglected fruit trees at a nearby home. The deer treat the neighborhood like a smörgåsbord; they travel from house to house sampling the bushes and grasses provided by each owner. But no one minds, and the deer are a welcomed asset in this human community. A front followed by a pocket of freezing arctic air has reached the city, and the deer have been driven off the City Creek ridgelines and out of nearby Red Butte Canyon and into the city cemetery. The cemetery is a block away and this is where they take refuge when the even the low hills that surround the city become too severe for their survival. They do not do this lightly. Outside of the cemetery, the rest of the neighborhood is a densely populated urban city, but this is also the deer’s historical winter feeding grounds. It is where the deer over-wintered for ten-thousand years before Euro-Americans arrived one-hundred and fifty years ago.

A herd of twelve deer at once is unusual. Early morning deer are common around the city cemetery during the coldest days of winter, but they usually travel in groups of three to five. Twelve is the largest herd that I have seen, and I am inspired to pop into the car and to try and take a photograph. But the herd is uncooperative, and all twelve refuse to stand still in my headlights at one time. At best, I get a bad picture of three or four.

1:00 p.m. The predicted severe snow storm only partially grazes the city overnight but brings light freezing rain. By the afternoon, the canyon is lit by clear sunlight, but behind the front is cold arctic wind. Even with the Sun, the air is biting, but all the trees are sharply illuminated by the yellow long angle light. People are moving slower.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 5th, 1856, he expresses his appreciation for the “imprisonment” of winter. Winter’s cold forces one to put away occupations and hobbies of the other seasons, and then to try new things. On December 5th, 1853, Thoreau notes a brief burst of yellow diffuse reflected-light from the Sun after it set below the horizon. On December 5th, 1858, Thoreau observes a salamander.


November 15, 2016

November 15th

Filed under: Avenues, Colors, Guardhouse gate, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:40 pm

Blue Sky and Inverted Air

Noon. As I enter the canyon another regular is bicycling out and exclaims, “The sky is so blue; there is not a cloud in it.” He is right. Because of the lower angle of Fall sunlight and the absence of any pollution, the sky has a brilliant light-blue or turquoise color. As a result, the contrast between the blue sky and tan ridgeline is exceptionally sharp. Descending back into the city after my jog, a layer of brown air trapped by a higher, colder layer above the hotter city air is evident. The city is known for having some of the lowest air quality in the nation. Usually, the top of this inversion layer just touches guardhouse gate, and this is one of the main reasons that I come to the canyon to jog – the air here is clean. The inversion layer moves with the seasons. Back on August 27th, the summer heat first raised the inversion layer from the city below to where air pollution crept into the upper canyon. Instead of coming to jog in the canyon to clean my lungs, I started to cough sputum. In the winter, the inversion and air pollution in the city intensifies. A mile away, the city and county of one million people are unseen under the bank of inversion air that is as thick as a dense fog. Then, residents take to running on snow packed trails along the high ridgeline between City Creek and the Avenues and above the bad air. With the colder Fall air, the inversion layer retreated back to the city a month ago, and today, the canyon air again tastes brisk and clean.

November 10, 2016

November 10th

Filed under: Avenues, Brown Trout, California gull, Fish, People, picinic site 5, Places, Plants, Seasons, Tamarisk — canopus56 @ 5:24 pm

Last Falling Leaf Day

9:30 a.m. On October 21st, I noted that there are various markers of Fall seasonal change, e.g. – the last flying insect, the last crawling insect, the first freeze, the first leaf fall, etc. Today is the day of the last falling leaf below mile 2.0, or nearly so. There are maybe one-quarter of a percent of leaves left to fall and tamarisks at picnic site 10 still need to loose their top leaves, but I will call it as done and over. The trees are now all bare, and it is the day of last leaf fall. Even so, a canyon of grey, brown, red, and tan sticks has its own appeal. This is especially so, because it is just over a week since cars (except for those of a few water treatment plant workers) have been banned from the canyon. If solace could be quantified or was one of the ancient Greek’s four humours, there is more of it in the canyon’s air.

It is a another beautiful warm, fall day, and I have taken to jogging in the frosted mornings to get some cold conditioning. The warm afternoon weather is making me too susceptible to catching a cold. In the lower shaded canyon, my breath is visible with each step. A professional ski team is doing pre-season conditioning in the canyon, along Bonneville Drive and along 11th Avenue. They are “double-poling” up the two to four percent grade of the canyon on roller-ski blades. This makes each skier do several hundred crunches per canyon mile. I am sure that it hurts as much as doing several hundred sit-ups, but the scenery provides some compensation and must take their minds off of the pain.

As is my usual practice, I stop at those locations that might feature notable insect or animal characters in the canyon, to see what is new with them, and today, at picnic site 5, I am rewarded by seeing trout jumping upstream over rocks. We have all seen representations, that is images on television, of salmon fighting their way upstream over natural rapids or man-made fish ladders, only to plucked from the air by a waiting bear. A miniature version of this occurs at picnic site 5, where the pool has been created by a man-made twelve inch line of rocks. Water pours over the rocks on the down-stream end and makes a mini-water fall. I notice a small splash at the rock pour. A small brown trout spelt is swimming furiously just on the upstream side of rocks. Then a nice 6 inch trout leaps over the rocks and lands next to the spelt. The spelt is swept back over the rocks, and a few moments later, tries again and lands in the pool. This time its vigorous swimming pays off, and it breaks free of the fast moving water near the falls into the calm water at the center of the pool. Although this is a trivial experience, I realize that I have never seen this before in person, but only through media, and it is all the more satisfying because it is a personal and not manufactured experience.

Two California gulls soar above the canyon at milepost 1.5. They are either going from their nesting grounds at the Great Salt Lake for a breakfast of scavenging in the dumpsters of restaurants in Salt Lake City, or they have finished breakfast and are going back to the lake.

In “Four Seasons” on this date, Barnes while describing a walk to the end of the road, provides an extensive list of flowers and weeds in City Creek that bloom during the spring through autumn (id. Nov. 10th).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 8th, 1850, he records the increase in stillness during the Fall.

October 18, 2016

October 18th

Hidey Poison Ivy

6:45 p.m. When driving from my home towards the canyon, trees in the domesticated Avenues are now turning and when driving towards Guardhouse gate along Bonneville Drive, all of the Gambel’s oaks have turned. In the far distance on the high west slopes of canyon, groves of Gambel’s oak all look grey and possibly leafless. Towards evening a storm band held back by the heat of the day moves over the canyon and on to the Wasatch Front mountains. The wind comes and goes in pulses, and this strips more leaves off of the trees in an incremental process. As one runs up canyon, if you are lucky, one of these pulses of wind blows twenty or thirty leaves off of a tree, and you then run through a gentle falling “rain” of of leaves. After-work runners and bicyclists, who exercise with purpose and efficiency, have come and gone, and I am alone as I reach Pleasant Valley at mile 1.5. The lower half of the canyon, the part that I am in, is dark and foreboding under the front clouds, while the Black Mountain is in the light of the setting Sun. I am treated to a display of swiftly changing light and darkness as the Sun descends. The upper canyon is in mist, while a single light cloud moves at 30 or 40 miles per hour over the top of Black Mountain. While jogging out in twilight, I surprise two mule deer as they are crossing the road. It is only three days to the start of the main deer rifle hunt.

Western poison ivy along the road has all turned. Poison ivy is a chameleon plant. In the canyon, western poison ivy dominates along the stream bank above the flood line along with scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale), and now almost all the ivy has changed from its earlier bright red to bright yellow and then to a light-brown. Western poison ivy has an oval leaf that stands either singly or in groups of three on the end of a straight three or four foot tall stalk. Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is also present in the canyon. Eastern poison ivy has the star-shaped, jagged-edge tri-leaves, and grows in creeping flats. This is the ivy that most of us associate with the words “poison ivy”. It is also present in the canyon, but more frequently in the spring. Now, in the autumn across from picnic site 6, one spread of Eastern poison ivy at the base of a Boxelder tree blazes red, and only one vine climbs up and wraps around the trunk displaying bright red leaves. At only one tree in the lower canyon, Western poison ivy has climbed up along the tree’s trunk to a height of ten or more feet, and its tri-oval leaves hang mimicking its Eastern cousin, the vine.

September 20, 2016

August 15th

Filed under: Avenues, Cricket, Insects — canopus56 @ 11:02 pm

How Many Crickets?

5 p.m. It has been overcast all day. The darkened sky has fooled the crickets. About one in four have begun their evening song. On a normal evening usually around 7 p.m., the crickets begin their full chorus. In the canyon the sound is loud: 20 or 30 decibels. A half hour later the sun comes out and the crickets fall silent. Today was the opposite scenario from the summer storm on August 7th. Then it was a sunny all day and in afternoon a thunderstorm backed up against the Wasatch. The canyon abruptly darkened at 5 p.m. as the thunderstorm moved in front of the sun. The crickets were deceived and began their nightly song early. At 2 a.m. in the Avenues, crickets continue their loud song. Walking outside I estimate that there are 2 crickets for every 500 square feet of green space. The Avenues consist of about 6 square miles or about 1.7 million square feet. I estimate about 12% of the Avenues use green space. This works out to about 800 crickets living in the Avenues. This is a small number compared to their contribution to the night’s soundscape.

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