City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 14, 2017

June 13th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Ensign Peak, Grandview Peak, Little Twin Peaks, People, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:55 pm

Artists’ Eyes

2:00 p.m. A cold front races into northern Utah, temperatures drop to the fifties overnight and sixties during the day. Cold rain falls beginning at night and into the afternoon. Today, I have not gone to the canyon, but rather have gone to State Capitol to see an exhibition of maps about Utah and Salt Lake City called “Utah Drawn”. Bird’s eye views of cities were popular forms of city maps during the nineteenth century. In such maps, an artist renders a three-dimensional view of a city map and the surrounding country-side as if the city were seen from an airplane. Today’s exhibition has three. Ever focused on the notion of Mormons as an exceptional people, the curator’s notes focuses on how the Mormon Temple is rendered in each map. I am more interested in what the artist’s rendering of City Creek Canyon and Little Black Mountain in the background of each map says about how City residents’ viewed their closest canyon.

Between this exhibition and those on file with the Library of Congress, there are four such bird’s eye view maps:

A Bird’s Eye View of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, 1870, by Augustus Koch. The Koch 1870 maps renders lower City Creek Canyon in great detail with each mill house shown individually. The south Salt Lake salient with Little Twin Peaks and Little Black Mountain are rendered in realistic proportions. The detail of the lower canyon reflects its significance as water source and location of industry. The mountains and canyons are not shown as distant, inaccessible places.

A Bird’s Eye View of Salt Lake City, Utah, 1875, by Eli Sheldon Glover. Glover’s view of the City looks from Ensign Peak to the south west and does not show City Creek Canyon. An irrigation ditch is drawn that takes water from the canyon down to 400 East and First Avenue, then called Fruit Street. The canyon is unimportant in this image.

• Salt Lake City, Utah, 1887, attributed to Augustus Gast. The 1887 view, probably also done by Augustus Koch and incorrectly attributed to Augustus Gast, is my favorite. City Creek Canyon and Little Black Mountain are done in a style evocative of a Chinese ink painting. Little Black Mountain is shown disproportionately as high mountain peak. The mountains and canyon are mysterious, inaccessible places. This map is on display at State Capitol.

Salt Lake City, Utah, 1891, by Henry Wellge. Wellge’s painting is unique in that it is the only bird’s eye view that also includes the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island in the background. Lower City Creek Canyon is again shown in great detail, reflecting its relative importance. Ensign Peak and Little Twin Peaks on the southern Salt Lake salient at shown in great alpine peaks. Little Black Mountain is wholly missing, and Grandview Peak looks more like the Grand Teton. Here, the mountains are rendered as grand imaginary lands. The State Capitol exhibition curator attributes this map to the Salt Lake Real Estate Association, and notes that its purpose was attract buyers to the City’s then real estate boom.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 13th, 1851, he describes a moonlit walk, sees fireflies, and hears a whippoorwill. On June 13th, 1852, on notes several flowering plants along a river including blue bead lilies, red osier dogwood, and a carrion flower that emits a strong scent that attracts gnats. He hears bluebirds and robins. On June 13th, 1853, he describes two young hawks and their nests. He notes violets have past peak bloom and wild rose is blooming. He sees a rose-breasted grossbeak. On June 13th, 1854, he describes colorful yellow and red blooming plants. He sees minnows in a stream and hears crickets. On June 13th, 1860, he notes sycamore trees are losing their leaves.

* * * *

On June 13th, 2013, the City reported on a new enforcement push to remove homeless tent camps in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 13th, 1914, City Commissioner W. H. Shearman, Water Supply Charles F. Barrett, and City Engineer Sylverster Q. Cannon planned to the headwaters of upper City Creek in order to determine if a reservoir could be built at the site of an existing natural lake, that in 2017 does not exist (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune described the lake in City Creek as:

“The lake in City Creek Canyon is located in a land-locked basin near the head of the canyon. It has no natural outlet, and the water seeps out through the bottom, rising again several miles down canyon in great springs which form the City Creek Creek stream. A glacial moraine blocks the lake from a natural outlet and caused the lake to form. The lake assumes large dimensions at this time of the year, although it shrinks to a mere swamp later in the summer.”

On June 13, 1908, City Water Superintendent J. R. Raleigh described how his crews were raising 18 inch embankments along City Creek for about three-quarters of a block through the city in order to contain flood waters (Salt Lake Herald). Raleigh recommended constructing a 36 inch aqueduct pipe to remedy the problem. On June 13, 1908, Ben Jones drank five pints of whiskey at a saloon on Second South, passed out in the street, and was sentenced to work on the prison road gang working on boulevard in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1899, high waters in City Creek prevented closing of irrigation diversion gates out of fear that the city would be flooded (Salt Lake Herald). On June 13, 1898, the Utah National Guard held practice battles in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 13th, 1883, a petition to support a waterpowered marble polishing plant in City Creek Canyon was presented to the City Council (Salt Lake Herald). On June 13th, 1883, the Salt Lake Herald reviewed the manufacturing of silk at waterpowered looms in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).


December 19, 2016

December 18th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Geology, Grandview Peak, Light, Places — canopus56 @ 2:16 am

Salmon Sunset

5:45 p.m. I am in Taylorsville about ten miles to the west of the canyon, and not in the canyon itself, as the sun sets. From this vantage point, I can watch the salmon colored sunset line rise through clear skies and up City Creek Canyon’s walls. Normally, I only witness the rising line from below and, usually have a more limited view. From the west side of the valley, Grandview Peak at the head waters of City Creek and the open bowl beneath it are fully visible.

Down canyon of Grandview Peak, the trees both on the unnamed peak at 8283 feet and Black Mountain are are frosted with blown snow. The unnamed peak at 8283 feet was probably called Scott’s Hill in historical records (Salt Lake Tribune January 19th, 1875). Scott’s Hill was probably named by miners after General Winfred F. Scott, a popular national figure in 1850 after his successful campaign in the Mexican-American War that resulted in Utah and City Creek being ceded by Spain to the United States. What we now call Black Mountain was historically called “Little Black Mountain” (Utah Daily Chronicle, January 18, 1929), and this would mean that Grandview Peak behind it was “Big Black Mountain”. Grandview Peak is the hidden treasure of City Creek Canyon. It dominates the canyon, but from both downtown Salt Lake City, from within the lower canyon, it is hidden behind “Scott’s Hill”. From the trail through the upper canyon, Grandview Peak is also hidden from the hiker have a cliff and thick trees.

But Grandview Peak’s bowl, which falls for over one-thousand feet beneath the peak, is treeless, and unlike Black Mountain, which is covered on its north side with a dark forest of lodge pole pines, Grandview cannot be described as “black” anything. The absence of trees may be natural or it may be the result of extensive logging in City Creek’s early colonization history. Mormon pioneer Fredrick Kesler built three saw mills in the canyon for Brigham Young in order to provide the lumber to build the first generation of the homes of early Euro-American Salt Lake City (Day 1988), and in the 1870s, miners added their own temporary mills to obtain shoring lumber for their shafts. (According the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, Fredrick Kesler is the Kesler of “Kesler’s Peak” in Big Cottonwood Canyon.) At Grandview’s base is the Treasure Box mine; a mine that was active during the 1910s and 1920s (Salt Lake Herald, January 5, 1918), and further up the canyon from Grandview Peak was the Red Bird Mine which had a 1,300 foot tunnel (Salt Lake Tribune January 23rd, 1901) shored with timber harvested from City Creek Canyon. Although the canyon was partially reforested in the 1918 (Salt Lake Telegram January 9th, 1918, Salt Lake Tribune May 10th, 1918), the extent of this reforestation is unknown. All of the available historical drawings and lithographs post-date this early era of resource exploitation. Thus, Grandview Peak’s open upper bowl may be the result of deforestation, but whether this is so is lost to history.

This view from the western valley of a salmon sunset line rising up the grand front of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, shows Creek Creek Canyon and Grandview Peak in their larger geologic context. With today’s good visibility, I can see the straight line of the Front from Ben Lomond Peak in the north to Mt. Nebo in the south, and the Front’s flat, rising face is only broken by the Traverse Mountain salient. From this vantage point, City Creek Canyon is seen in its geologic place as one of many canyons created by the 200 mile long Wasatch Fault. The Fault creates the Wasatch Front Range, and the mountain range made Salt Lake City possible. Whatever the canyon’s economic history or macro-geology, this view of the reddish winter sunset line rising uniformly up one-hundred or more miles of the Wasatch Front Range, with City Creek at my visual center, is something that I always cherish seeing.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 18th, 1859, after a rain, he notes that the lichens have again turned green.

On December 18th, 1951, the State Health Officer reported that occasionally City Creek water was unsafe to drink, and he urged that the City construct a water filtration plant in the canyon as recommended by city Department of Public Utilities’s consulting engineers (Salt Lake Telegram). On December 18th, 1908, G. Geiger urged Salt Lake City to adopt a new park plan that would create a large park from all of the then city-owned land around Ensign Peak (including the current site of the State Capitol) and continuing up into City Creek Canyon. This park would be connected to a Fort Douglas park via a showcase tourist road now, Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue (Salt Lake Telegram). On December 18th, 1907, the Forest Supervisor of City Creek Canyon denied application to cut hundreds of small evergreens from City Creek in order to provide Christmas trees to poor children on the grounds that it would endanger the watershed. The trees were instead taken from Big Cottonwood Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On December 18th, 1907, Deputy Water Commissioner Matthews impounded seven cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). The City had an impound lot specifically for stray animals. On December 18th, 1900, the City Council, after resolving a jurisdictional dispute between City Engineer Kesley and the city Board of Public Works, opened a bid to replace the high-line pipe from a City Creek head gate to the water distribution tanks in the high Avenues (Salt Lake Herald).

November 2, 2016

November 2nd

Filed under: Grandview Peak, North American porcupine — canopus56 @ 7:21 pm

Where have All the Porcupines Gone?

3:30 p.m. During the 1980s, when I was younger, I would ride a mountain bike to the end of the road, climb Grandview Peak, and then walk and ride out by the light of a rising full Moon. Then, it was common to see five to eight North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) warming themselves on the road. They were a definite hazard. Running into one a bicycle would mean certain injury, but now none are seen. This fall, a trusted acquaintance reports that a single porcupine does live in the upper canyon near mile 5.0. They are solitary and not easy to run into, despite the light-colored quills on their backs and their strong offensive odor. Unlike other herbivores like deer, they have no need to be secretive because of their quills. Where have all the porcupines gone?

Inherent population fluctuations might be one answer. In a classic study from the 1960s, Donald A. Spencer surveyed some 300 trees in Mancos Canyon, Colorado, and he used bores of porcupine injured trees to estimate porcupine populations fluctuations over 80 years. He found an approximate twenty-year periodic cycle, but it was not correlated to the solar cycle. In 2002, then graduate student Ilya Klvana of the McGill University performed a similar study for forests in eastern Quebec covering the past 130 years, and she found a correlation between the phased peaks of porcupine populations and the solar cycle and its related precipitation cycle. Data from other porcupine researchers have found fluctuating peaks, but no periodicity. Another cause for the disappearance of porcupines from City Creek may be long-term drought. The porcupines may have migrated north to find more water and healthier trees.

Man is another possible explanation for their decline. City watershed or U.S. Forest Service personnel might have declared them to be pests, either to people or trees, and then laid strychnine containing salt baits to reduce the porcupines’ numbers.

Whatever the cause of their relative absence, I miss the sanguine porcupines. They live in one place for most of their lives, they are vegetarians, and due to the strong defense that their quills provide and their diet, they do not make many enemies.

September 21, 2016

September 8th

The Mountain Who Lost It’s Backside

4 p.m. Today I decide to drive up to the end of the paved road and trail jog to the end of the canyon. The canyon will be closed to cars at the end of September, and I usually do one of these trail runs at this time. (A second is done in early June.) The paved road ends at mile 5.75 and the trail continues for another 4.25 miles before it descends into Wasatch County. But today I decided to only go to trail mile 3.5 where one can see that part of the backside of Grandview Peak is missing. It is the sheer vertical cliff about 200 feet high.

Through trail mile 1.0, the stream is wider and flat. The trail is about 100 feet off to one side and passes through box elder and maple groves. The trail, actually a dirt road that is fading away, crosses the stream at two iron bridges and passes the Smuggler’s Gap trailhead. Then the trail changes character. The trail becomes a disused single track that sits two or three feet to the north of the small fast-moving creek. The creek flows over a series of algae covered rock jumbles into small pools. Both the stream and the floor of the trail are broken Mississippian and Permian slate. At times the stream and trail wind through boughs of river beech trees. Here, a red Admiral butterfly floats between the stream, bushes and the shade of the trees.

Grandview Peak is to the left and the north, but its view is blocked by the steep v shape of the creek gorge and by stands of aspen. To the right and south is the ridge between City Creek and Red Butte canyons. On the city side the ridge is a near-vertical wall that sits in perpetual shadow. Thus, it is covered in the thick healthy stand of cold tolerant Douglas fir. In contrast, the Sun exposed Red Butte side is a thick drought tolerant Gambel oak forest.

I round a bend near trail mile 1.6 and startle a Cooper’s hawk that is napping in a tree grove. Attempts to fly away but is trapped in the tangle of branches that it is resting in. It waits anxiously for about 30 seconds. Seeing that I am no threat, it picks a route out of its lair, and then like an owl, expertly flies through the forest understory to freedom.

At trail mile 2.1 the canyon opens into the first of four hanging meadows. Each is divided by gradual inclines. This first meadow hosts a SNOTEL weather station, and in the second at trail mile 2.6, the bushes are flattened in a series of circles. Here a moose can usually be found, and today is no exception. As I am exiting the meadow, I hear something crashing through the brush, and turning around, a frightened female moose is careening into the safety of the forest. There is little sign of deer in this part of the canyon because there is little grass forage to support them. In each of these hanging meadows there are bushes of mountain blueberries that provide refreshing forage for me.

The character of these meadows has changed dramatically since I last ran through them in June. Then the brush was so profuse that it reached my neck and overhung and obscured the trail. Jogging was an act of faith and was more like swimming through a sea of green. You hoped that the trail was underfoot and sometimes it was not. Now the meadows are a sea of tan. The trail is plainly visible, but the trail floor is a pallet of dark browns and tans from dried and crushed brush punctuated by accents of fallen bright and muted red-orange aspen and maple leaves. I am jogging over an 18 inch by 300 foot canvas painted by the randomness of nature.

At trail mile 3.6, I am climbing past the last meadow and towards the ridgeline at the end of the canyon. My goal for the day is visible on the north side of canyon. Here a series of spur ridges come down from Grandview Peak and end in rounded noses, but one nose is cut off. It ends in a sheer vertical cliff about the size of two or three football fields. At its base is a 200 foot tall talus field. Here, some geologists believe an ancient earthquake may have shorn the mountainside away. One can see other examples along the Wasatch Front. The shear north face of Mount Olympus has a rubble pile at its base which is now the Mount Olympus subdivision. This reminds us that the West is earthquake country and there work 14 earthquakes in Utah of greater than magnitude 5 during the last century. In 2008, geologists Francis X. Ashland and Gregory N. McDonald investigated the Grandview Peak landslide in order to determine the most cost-effective method of dating the mountainside’s failure. They concluded that the remoteness of the site and the depth of the talus field made it impractical to retrieve rock samples from deep underneath the talus field in order to accurately date when the slide occurred.

September 20, 2016

September 1st


7 p.m. After the canyon opens up at mile 1.3, the first expansive view of the upper canyon occurs at milepost 1.5. On the north side of the upper canyon is unnamed peak at 8283 feet in altitude and on the south side is Black Mountain. Just up canyon of unnamed peak 8283, two fins run down the peak’s flank. In the sunset light, the closest is tan in the farthest is grey. The two fins descend down to a Depression era picnic area, upper Rotary Park, then climb Black Mountain. The grey fin is the main geologic attraction of the Upper Rotary Park picnic area at mile 5.75. There, the fin creates a vertical gully at the end of the paved road where it becomes a horizontal inclined ledge runs along the top of Black Mountain. Runners, who participate in the annual June Wasatch Steeplechase, and more energetic hikers will be familiar with this ledge. It is a jumbled rock scramble that takes considerable time to traverse. A 1987 geologic map by Van Horn and Crittenden (U.S.G.S. I-1762) reveals the scene’s geology.

On the canyon’s north side and at the western base of unnamed peak 8283, Freeze Creek , a north-south running side canyon, begins at Lower Rotary Park at mile 3.75. Freeze Creek marks a major geologic division in the upper canyon. Freeze Creek contains a normal fault. To the down canyon west side of the creek are layers of young Tertiary rock. On the up canyon east side of the creek and running up to unnamed peak 8283, the rocks consist of the some of the oldest layers of stone in the Wasatch. From there and continuing to the 9100 foot Grandview Peak, hidden behind the unnamed Peak 8283, the surface is 500 million year old Cambrian rock. At one point along the Freeze Creek trail up to Rudy’s Flat, recent lake bed sediment sits next to 500 million year older Cambrian rock. The transition occurs because a normal fault along Freeze Creek has raised the up-canyon side faster than the down-canyon side. Erosion has erased the intervening time between them. (Van Horn and Crittenden call the normal fault the Rudy’s Flat Fault.)

On the north side of the upper canyon and descending the flank of unnamed peak 8283, rocks layers are in reverse chronological order: Cambrian, Devoian and Mississippian. Titanic geologic forces have turned the stones upside down from their original deposition. The older Cambrian rocks are higher on the mountain and proceed to younger strata are at the Lower and Upper Rotary picnic areas.

On the south side of the upper canyon, the canyon wall rises to Black Mountain and the geology is even more contorted. Although hidden by a ridge from my viewpoint at mile 1.5, a thrust fault rises south south east from lower Rotary Park to Smuggler’s Gap at the eastern end of Black Mountain. There the thrust fault makes an abrupt 135 degree turn and runs horizontally southwest along the top of Black Mountain. The thrust fault creates the rock scramble ledge along the top of Black Mountain. Here again the thrust fault reverses the order in which rock layers were originally deposited. On the higher canyon side of Black Mountain’s summit is older Mississippian rock while on the cityside, visible from the Avenues neighborhood, the rock is of the younger Permian age.

Faults are also responsible for two miniature rapids in the canyon. The Freeze Creek fault creates on at the overlook in Lower Rotary Park at mile 4.5. A second fault creates another mini-rapid at the Weeping Rock Memorial Grotto campsite at the bridge into the last campsite at Upper Rotary Park near mile 5.5.

A 2009 Salt Lake County geologic hazards report shows that none of these faults have been recently active. However, the thrust faults have also shattered the rock in adjacent Red Butte and Dry Fork Canyons. The University of Utah Seismology Department has recorded about 23 small earthquakes at less than 2.0 magnitude and one earthquake between 2.0 and 4.0 magnitude at a small complex of faults in Red Butte between 1967 and 2003. They recorded two earthquakes between magnitude 2.0 and 4.0 in Dry Fork Canyon at the base of Black Mountain.

August 14th

Pipeline Trail

7 p.m. At this time of day the lower canyon is completely in shade and the evening air in the canyon is growing cooler. It is Sunday and this brings out couples and families with small children. To have more solitude, I jog up the pipeline trail that runs parallel to and 30 meters east of the road. The first mile and a half of the trail can be divided into three sections. The first half mile consists of dense water tolerant scrub oak and brush, but the pipeline trail itself is rocky and exposed to the full sun. The power line runs next to the trail but above the scrub oak. In the spring and early summer, this provides a favorable habitat for small songbirds. They live in the oak groves, but the colorful males perch on the power line to make their display songs. During the spring migration, this is a favorite bird watching spot for many. In the second half mile the canyon narrows and cliffs to the west provide water seeps. The increased shade and availability of water changes the trail to over hung oak and beech trees. After the first mile, the canyon opens up into a wide brush meadow, and from the meadow, the mountains that frame the upper canyon can be seen. These include Black Mountain on the south and an unnamed ridge that blocks the view of Grandview Peak on the north. The entire trail is alive with the evening sounds of crickets. As I exit into the meadow, the sun is setting behind the east and north ridgelines. This bathes Black Mountain and the upper canyon in a yellow-orange alpenglow. Over the south ridgeline, a three quarter moon is rising. It is an idyllic and special moment.

Create a free website or blog at