City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 30, 2017

July 21st, 2016 – End of Cyclical Year, Revised and Reposted

Microorganisms, Moss, Lichens, Glaciers, and Climate Trends

(Revised and expanded after lichen identification completed.)

3:30 p.m. It is another day intense summer heat, and as I pull into the parking lot, I take notice of a large Limber pine (Pinus flexilis at the lot’s end, south of the row of cultivar Horsechestnut trees. The Limber pine, Narrowleaf cottonwoods and the Horsechestnuts are among the largest plant organisms in the canyon, excepting some of the 50 foot diameter copses of Gambel’s oaks that may be one large, genetically identical sister plant. A bizarrely twisted, immature Limber pine hides behind to the east of side of the Guardhouse Gate building, and just past the gate, another conifer, a mature 70 foot tall native Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). Key taxonomic differences between the two is that round pine needles occur in groups of two and flat fir and spruce needles are single. At mile 1.7 at picnic site no. 12. There a forty foot tall Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is flanked by two taller Engelmann spruce trees. Although native to northern Utah, these three trees have been artificially planted to provide shade for picnic area.

Jogging up canyon about 100 yards up from the gate, I pass a deadly Bittersweet nightshade plant with small 1.5 inch green fruit. Splitting one of the fruit open, it is full of 1 mm bright orange larvae, and testing a few more, they are all infected. Given the number of young children that pass this spot, this is probably not a good place for a poisonous plant.

In the heat, I jog alone through an empty road, except for bicyclists. Near mile 0.3, sounds in the Gambel’s oak forest undergrowth betrays an yearling Mule deer stares back through the leaves. It is waiting for me to pass, so it can reach the stream and water. A bicyclist streaks unaware of its presence. A slight anabatic up-canyon wind provides a brief relief.

Beginning at mile 0.5 and the pond at picnic site 5, I collect the sponges placed in the stream and seeps on July 15th. The sponges have been collecting microorganisms for several days. I have looked at water samples from the stream under a microscope several times since May, but have never seen any microorganisms. That is a testament to how pure City Creek Canyon water is. My microorganism observing guide suggests using the sponges to trap organisms over time. The sponges also provide a protected framework that might appeal to microorganisms by providing shelter. The first sponge was located below the pond at picnic site 5, and it was placed under a cover of rocks such that stream water would continuously flow through the sponge. The first from the stream is a dark brown – a good sign. The second collected from the seep below picnic site 6 and the third is retrieved from the watercress seep also below picnic site 6. All three are a dark brown-grey color; the sponges have worked.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the Horsemint is in full bloom, and I count 32 Cabbage white butterflies feeding on them. A single Central bumble bee (Bombus centralis) collects among the butterflies. These are joined by an orange Mexican queen butterfly. I stand mesmerized by the glade for a few minutes. Nightshade is now also blooms in this glade.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) reappear after their first spring flight. Uniquely, they fly in a circular pattern closely around me twice, and having rejected me as potential food, they fly off with purposeful intent.

Proceeding again up canyon through the heat, only a few birds are heard at some distance from the stream. I cannot distinguish their calls, except for the nasal cawing of a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

At mile 1.1, I stop where a large rock ledge overhangs the stream and admire a tremendous cottonwood cross, a Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats. This 100 foot tree with a twenty-four inch trunk betrays it hybrid nature through two suckers, each 8 inches in diameter at the base. The parent tree has ovate leaves typical of the cross. Those leaf forms continue on one of the suckers, but at its very tip is one perfectly formed triangular Fremont popular leaf. Mid-way up the second sucker, that is also covered in hybrid leaves, is a bracket of perfectly formed thin Narrowleaf cottonwood leaves. This tree must be at least 100 years old, and perhaps it is older and witnessed the arrival of the Euro-American colonists in 1847. At a few minutes of enjoying this tree, I notice that it is looking back at me. More precisely, another Mule deer is on the rock ledge on the far side of the stream, and it is intently following me. I continue up canyon so it can reach water unmolested.

At mile 1.2, I turn down-canyon on the Pipeline Trial in order to photograph some of the lichens on rocks that line the trail down to where it is perpendicular to the Red Bridge and Chimney Rock. The Gambel’s oaks that border each side of the trail are covered in a ubiquitous dusky orange lichen that is found throughout the canyon. Here the rocks are principally volcanic breccia or limestone conglomerates. The first rock has lichens that are three inch diameter turquoise dollops with raised fruiting centers. The second rock has a large turquoise dollop on one corner and fire yellow bright lichen on one face. This rock also has small dark black lichen circles. The third rock has bright orange circles with darkened brown centers. The fourth has similar bright orange two inch dollops with fruiting orange centers. This same orange rock lichen is common in the canyon. For example, it covers parts of the rock bridge at Weeping Falls near mile 5.2. This bright orange lichen only appears on rocks, and its dusky orange brother keeps to the trees. Near the end of this segment, a gully provides more shade an water. Here, the rocks are covered in complex moss complexes, and unidentified green-black small-onion like moss with fine white hairs.

Continuing up canyon to a western gully near mile 2.3, there is another slope with favored lichen rocks. Here the rocks are sandstone based. In the gully, the first rock is a kaleidoscope of circular lichens colored bright orange, turquoise, and black. The next rock is covered with a bulbous green-black moss with fine white hairs. This is followed by a rock covered in turquoise-green lichen that has a darker brown center. Finally, two foot square areas of an unidentified green-black bulbous lichen attach to a rock ledge’s horizontal surface. Looking over some of my other lichen photographs above milepost 5.0, two prominent upturned limestone ledges stick out next to the road. On these a montane grey-milk lichen that look like delicate leaf petals cling to the stone.

This is all a riot of color mixed with abstract design. Lichen are oldest and, for me, they embody the most alien of terrestrial life. I also hold them in the highest respect because they are all a form of extremophile. They thrive on canyon rocks that both bake to temperatures over 150 degrees during the summer, and they continue to reproduce during the subzero cold of deepest winter. They live on the surface of barren rocks and take all that they need from the passing air and rain. And, what else the need in terms of minerals, they obtain by dissolving the solid rocks to which they attach. Moss are less of an extremophile, but tree moss are one of the few plants that continue photosynthesis through the depths of winter (January 10th).

Returning down-canyon near mile 1.3, ahead, I again here the screeching of a Peregrine falcon. Two falcons are chasing two unidentified hawks away from the sandstone cliffs on the east wall of the canyon near mile 1.0. One falcon easily chases a hawk up canyon and over the ridge. The second hawk begins to climb in lazy, large circles, and the remaining peregrine follows. The peregrine raises higher and then stoops the hawk, all the while screeching loudly. This continues for about 15 minutes. At times I loose sight of the pair as they circle overhead with the Sun behind them. The spring sky is a deep blue, but today, the summer sun makes the atmosphere a white turquoise.

Continuing down-canyon, at picnic site 5 where I collected one sponge, an innovative young couple using long lengths of climbing webbing, have suspended two bright Central American woven hammocks over the stream. They lay side-by-side enjoying the stream-cooled air.

At Guardhouse Gate, there are the cut fireplace-sized remains of a large tree. A quick count of its rings indicates the tree is over one-hundred years old. As the the city cuts down infirm trees in the canyon, they leave the carcasses here as free firewood. The cause of this tree’s demise can be seen in one segment of log – it is riddled to the inner pith with boring beetle tunnels. To supplement my gathering of water borne small life, I also collect from the logs’ surfaces, samples of Green tree moss (probably Orthotrichum sp.) and of orange, black and turquoise lichens.

The lower flood retention pond is full of algae mats. A family of mallards graze on the greenery. The chicks, who a few weeks ago where only four inches long, are now twice that size.

At home, I examine water from the three sponges in under a microscope at 60 power of magnification in order to see some of the smallest plants and animals of the canyon. All of the samples consist mostly of bits of algae, some of which are strung on the ends of mold filament, pulverized bits of plant, and specks of silica. No moving protists are seen. A few rectangular-celled with diatoms with well-defined glass-like walls of the genus Fragellaria are found. Two circular diatoms of the genus Stephanodiscus are seen. Finally, a single, transparent perfectly formed leg of an insect exactly fills the eyepiece and then floats away. This is clean City Creek water.

At home and through the hand-lens, the leaves of the moss, which are present both on trees and on rocks in the stream, reveal their earlier evolution as compared to the leaves of the surrounding trees. They are thin and transparent sheets of green cells, and they lack any vascular features found in true leaves.

Under the hand-lens, where the black lichens interface with the tree’s bark, a separate white hyphae through which digestion occurs. Lichens are composite organisms of algae or green bacteria living symbiotically with fungi. Through the hand-lens, one can see two colors, representing the two organisms in the turquoise and orange lichens. The turquoise portion of the turquoise lichen is also surrounded by white hyphae. The second color is green, and through the lens, these resolve as small bits of algae. That lichens exist on almost all of the trees in the first two miles of road is a good sign. Lichen are sensitive to air pollution and will disappear if Salt Lake’s air quality severely deteriorates over a long period.

The length of the day have changed noticeable from June 20th’s summer solstice. Sunset comes an hour earlier around 9 p.m.

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St. Clair, Newberry and Nebeker (1991 and 1995) provide a comprehensive list of Utah lichens. They and Flowers (1954) describe which species of lichen are common in various northern Utah habitats, including for the scrub oak forest of Gambel’s oaks, the higher subalpine habitat of Quaking aspens, and the montane habitat of conifers. Brodo of the Canadian Nature Museum and Sharnoff and Sharnoff of the Missouri Botanical Gardens published the definite photographic identification guide for lichens: their massive 2001 “Lichens of North America”. They note common lichen species for the Gambel’s oak forest include Lecanora hageni, Phaeoplzyscia orbicu/aris, Physcia adscendens, Physcia dubia, Physcia stellaris, Plzysconia grisea, Xanthoria fallax, and Xanthoria polycarpa. Using these sources, my descriptions and photographs match with the following scientific names:

List of Lichens

• Hooded sunburst lichen (Xanthoria fallax): This is the dusky-orange lichen that covers most of the Gambel’s oak trees in the canyon (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 744).

• Pin-cushion sunburst lichen (Xanthoria polycarpa): This is the bright orange lichen that covers many rocks in the canyon, including the stone bridge at mile 5.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 746).

• Stonewall rim-lichen (Lecanora muralis): This lichen was the even-toned yellow-green (turquoise) circles on rocks along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 383)

• Sagebrush rim-lichen (Lecanora garovaglii). This is the yellow-green (turquoise) lichen with a darker green center on a rock along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 380).

• New Mexico rim-lichen ( Lecanora novomexicana): This darker yellow-greenish lichen with yellow fringes was found in the gully near mile 2.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 384).

• Gold cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum): This is the bright yellow lichen on one rock along the Pipeline Trail. (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 578).

• Powder-tipped rosette lichen (Physcia dubia): This is the delicate leaf-shaped lichen on the limestone vertical fins near mile 5.0 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 554).

Like today’s Great Salt Lake (May 26th), ancient Lake Bonneville’s water levels and glaciation of the Salt Lake’s canyons at the end of the last ice age gives clues as to the climate of the Salt Lake valley and the canyon. That record is hidden within the valley’s rocks and trees. In 2015 and updating a prior study from 1997, Oviatt at the University of Kansas reconstructed date ranges in which ancient lake rose and fell by radiocarbon dating organic material in tufa deposits along the lake’s former shorelines. He concluded that Lake Bonneville began its rise about 30,000 years ago (id., Table 1). Between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville reached its maximum height at about 5,100 feet, or near the northern end of Pleasant Valley in the canyon near mile 1.7. Following the failure of the Red Rock ice dam in Idaho, the Lake drained to the Provo Shoreline, which is Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue in the City. Other the next 15,000 years, the lake gradually declined to the current level of the Great Salt Lake (id).

In 2011, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe and colleagues used residual Beryllium 10 isotopes in rocks, taken from the glacial moraines in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake valley and American Fork Canyon in Utah valley, in order to date when glaciers retreated up from the ancient lake’s shores. An ongoing question existed amongst geologists, based on conflicting earlier studies, concerning whether the Salt Lake glaciers receded before, coincident with or after the end of the last Ice Age and-or before, coincident with or after the end of the peak level of Lake Bonneville. Figure 1 of their study shows the area of glaciation stretching from American Fork to the south and Farmington, Utah in the north, thus, including City Creek Canyon. They concluded that glaciers covering the Salt Lake valley canyons started to retreat 15,700 plus or minus 1,300 years before the present, either during or shortly after the maximum 5,100 foot shoreline height of ancient Lake Bonneville. Their confidence interval overlaps the 15,000 to 18,000 years before the present found by Oviatt for the maximum height of Lake Bonneville. Deglaciation started about 4,000 years after the end of the continental Ice Age at 18,000 years ago. Because the lake reached its maximum and retreat of the local glaciers started after the end of the Ice Age, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe et al concluded that the local climate between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago was wetter than thought by prior geologists.

That there were glaciers in City Creek Canyon below Grandview Peak and at the canyon’s final hanging valley (September 8th) seems evident from an examination of any terrain map and hiking the canyon. But to my knowledge, there are no studies dating the glacial deposits in City Creek Canyon. Van Horn and Crittenden’s geologic map shows no surficial glacier features (Van Horn and Crittenden, 1987, U.S.G.S. I-1762). Perhaps there was a lighter ice sheet over the canyon 15,000 years ago, but it was insufficient to crave the bedrock.

The Engelmann spruces and other pine trees that live in association with the spruces, tell the history of Salt Lake valley’s and the canyon’s climate for the last 13,000 years before the present. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Engelmann spruce share the glacial scoured hillsides with Limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Engelmann spruce is more tolerant of wet earth and colder soil temperatures, and Limber pine is more tolerant of dry earth and warmer soil temperatures. Thus, as climate changes occur over thousands of years, the relative amount of pollen left in soil layers beneath their canopy gives a general indication of weather in the distant past. In 1979, Madsen and Currey at the University of Utah used a bog in Gad Valley near Snowbird Ski Resort to reconstruct Utah’s late Holocene climate (Madsen and Currey 1979). Based on moraine deposits, the maximum extent of glaciation that extruded glaciers into the Salt Lake valley floor occurred about 25,000 years ago. After a period of warming, a second smaller glacial period ensued and Madsen and Currey, using the bog at Gad Valley places that around 12,500 years ago. Then glaciers within Little Cottonwood Canyon retreated and disappeared. A similar bog in Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood is dated at 9,500 years (id, 258). Using the ratio of Engelmann spruce and Limber pine in the Gad Valley bog, Madsen and Currey were able to reconstruct the relative climate of the canyon, and by extension the Salt Lake Valley and City Creek Canyon, for the past 12,500 years. Between 13,000 and 8,000 years before the present, the valley’s climate was cooler and wetter than today. Between 8,000 and 5,000 before the present, advancing Limber pines indicate a warmer and drier climate than today. Then there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (id, at Fig. 6 and 265). In contrast, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (id). These are consistent with Grayson’s climate divisions for the Great Basin Holocene generally: 10,000 to 7,500 years before the present (early), 7,500 to 4,500 years before the present (middle), and 4,500 years before the present until today (late) (Grayson, Chap. 8).

Over the last 4,500 years, a picture of trends in Salt Lake City’s local climate can be developed from tree ring, Gad Valley bog pollen, and other climate research. Since 4,500 years before the present, there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey, Fig. 6 and 265). It is now colder than average than over the last 13,000 years. The Little Ice lasted from about 1300 C.E. to 1850 B.C. There were highly variable swings in temperature during this time, but those changes were not global, but regional (Solomon et al 2007; Houghton et al 2001). In Utah, the Little Ice Age ended in 1850 and was followed by the most severe winter in Utah history, the winter of 1855-1856.

Since 4,500 years before the present, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey). From 1492 to the present, the tree rings show that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah (Bekker et al 2014). Variability in Salt Lake City precipitation since the 1960s, including severe drought in the 1960s and peak flooding in the 1980s, is tied to the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, an 11 year cycle of drought and heavy precipitation tied to ocean temperatures off the coast of California and Japan. The level of the Great Salt Lake acts as a recorder of climate, and the Lake’s level has been recorded continuously since 1875 (USGS, 2017a, USGS, 2017b). In the summer of 2016, it dropped to a new historical low of 4,190.1 feet (id).

In 2010, Wang and colleagues at the Utah State University associated the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (PQDO) with a northern Utah three-year leading precipitation and a six year leading level of the Great Salt Lake (Wang, Fig. 4 at 2166). In the association with the level of the Great Salt Lake, PQDO warm phase peaks are associated with the lowest lake levels and PQDO cool phase troughs are associated with the highest lake levels. In 2013, DeRose, Wang and colleagues used tree rings to reconstruct the level of the Great Salt Lake back to 1429, and they associated the lake’s level to the pacific oscillation back to 1700 (DeRose 2013). In recent years, the PQDO has been good for Utah. While California has suffered severe drought, the PQDO has kept annual precipitation relatively higher in Utah (IWWA Project).

The PQDO has not had a phase change since 1997 and the change to a heavy precipitation pattern is overdue. Despite heavy winter snowfall in the high mountains during the winter of 2016-2107, Utah remains in an extended drought with unseasonably warm summers.

Future uncertainty is added by the effect of global warming. Has global warming disrupted the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation? What will its future impact be? However, even excluding global warming, Salt Lake City and Utah are on a path towards relatively hotter weather and declining water supplies as compared to the past.

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On July 21st, 1942, the City banned the entire north bench of Salt Lake City to entry due to fire hazard, but access to City Creek Canyon would remain open (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1906, the Deseret Evening News published a picture of a 10 foot snow bridge across City Creek Canyon about nine miles up the canyon. On July 21st, prize fighter Tommy Reilly trained by taking a long run up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1903, about 100 Ute Tribe members gathered for an annual celebration at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). (In the present, the Ute Tribe holds an annual meet at Liberty Park.)

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July 19, 2017

July 18th

Radio Tower Run and Anti-wind

8:30 a.m. In the morning air, I begin one of my more favorite canyon jogs: the Radio Tower run. This track begins at lower Pleasant Valley at mile 1.3, ascends straight up the natural gas pipeline road to the western ridge of the Salt Lake salient, down to a set of large microwave radio towers on the ridge, and then returns via the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to Guardhouse Gate. The total physical distance is about five miles, but in spirit is longer. The trip begins with a half-mile hike up a forty degree slope through Gambel’s oak and Cheat grass, but one is rewarded by increasingly improving views of the urban city below. At the ridgeline, there are several acres of Kentucky bluegrass and in prior years it was not unusual to find a morning or evening moose grazing in the field. This year, there is no moose, but as in prior years, I again flush a pair of Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) from the undergrowth. Commanding views of Wasatch Mountain Front Range, Salt Lake City, the Oquirrh Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake coupled with cooling, strong ridgeline breezes release the mind. Descending along a fire road to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, I next follow the Trail horizontally through two dense valleys of Gambel’s oaks that are hidden behind Ensign Peak. These are the breeding grounds of the local population of Black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia), and consistent with their curious personality, one or two break from their continuous challenging cawing to give me a brief inspection. By now the combination of increasing heat and exercise begins to take effect as I descend the last leg of the trail as it crosses a pass and descends back down into City Creek Canyon. The trail passes under ledges of brown sandstone created from the erosion of a vast, but now disappeared mountain range in Nevada (January 7th). In past springs, cliffs have hosted Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) nests. Before noon, I am tired but happy to reach the water fountain at Guardhouse Gate. An afternoon down canyon breeze provides more cooling.

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Because of its unique geography and proximity the Great Salt Lake, the first 1.2 miles of City Creek Canyon Road is subject to unusual anti-winds (Steenburgh 2016). The direction of winds through mountain canyons are normally thermally driven by the relative temperature of the surrounding mountains and the valleys below. As with high and low pressure weather systems, wind moves away from the center of a region of hot, high pressure air. In the afternoon when flat valley floors are hotter than the surrounding cool mountain ridges, up-canyon anabatic wind blows. Down-slope katabatic wind blows at night and during the mornings away from the mountains when the mountain air is relatively hotter than valley floor air (Whiteman 2000). Any long-distance weekend bicyclist in northern Utah are aware of these winds. When pleasure riding up-canyon in the mornings, the katabatic winds produce fierce headwinds, and then in the late afternoon, when returning home down the canyon, a rider is met by strong anabatic headwinds. The afternoon winds can be near hurricane force. I remember a few unique experiences in the 1980s and 1990s of be unable to pedal downhill against anabatic winds even though I stood up on the pedals and pressed downward as hard as possible.

Meteorologist Steenburgh of the University of Utah notes that the geography of City Creek Canyon generates antiwinds that blow down-canyon during the heat of the day (Steenburgh 2016). The western ridge of the Salt Lake salient is higher than the eastern Avenues ridgeline. Afternoon cool breezes flow off of the Great Salt Lake from the west to the east across the lower canyon. This induces wind in the canyon to overwhelm the usual afternoon up-canyon anabatic wind, and antiwind, or wind that is flowing downcanyon against the normal direction of anabatic wind, results.

The Great Salt Lake breezes that cross over the western and eastern Salt Lake salients may explain why so may soaring birds are seen transiting the canyon. The west-to-east cross breeze allows them to tack up wind and up canyon like sailboats. They can either again climb the south-eastern salient as the breeze turns upward off the ridge, or they can shoot down canyon along its middle and riding the anti-wind.

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On July 18th, 1934, 74 citizens, as part of military training at Fort Douglas, hiked up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 18th, Waterworks Superintendent F.L. Hines boasted at a national convention that Salt Lake had some of the purest water in the nation (Salt Lake Telegram).Salt Lake had some of the purest water in the nation (Salt Lake Telegram).

June 24, 2017

June 23rd

Filed under: Cheat grass, Fire, Guardhouse gate, Jupiter, Stream, Western tent caterpillar moth — canopus56 @ 6:06 am

Canyon Habitat Overview

9:45 p.m. The heat wave has temporarily broken and temperatures fall in the eighties degrees Fahrenheit. I take only a short walk in the canyon’s summer late-evening twilight, and enjoy the coolness of night. The stream has gone down by two-thirds since the end of snowpack melt on June 4th. It must half again before the minimum flows of summer, at about 12 cubic feet per second, are reached. Now the stream runs only from underground water seeping from underneath both halves of Salt Lake salient. True darkness does not come until 10:15 p.m., and when it finally does arrive, bright Jupiter hangs over the road to the south like a guiding star. During the winter, Venus played that role (January 30th).

As I return to Guardhouse Gate, a large 4 inch moth is resting near the guardhouse lights. Its coloration is spectacular gradation of gray and ruddy brown, and it has large green frilled antennae the size of a woman’s pinky finger. It is a Western tent caterpillar moth (Malacosoma californicum). I have seen none of its characteristic tent colonies on trees in the canyon, but looking back through my photographs, I saw the caterpillar form of this moth on May 24th.

Reaching my car, city parking enforcement has left me a warning citation for parking at Guardhouse Gate after 10 p.m. Even five years ago, this would have been laughable, and throughout the winter this parking regulation was never a problem. But now the ridgelines are covered in early two feet tall dry cheat grass. A small spark could cause a brushfire that in the past have burned between 20 to 200 acres, or about one-third of a square mile. The city wants to deter summer nighttime revelers from entering the canyon in order to prevent them from starting campfires or lighting sparklers or other fireworks. Today, there are over 1,500 acres burning in Utah, about half of which I estimate are Cheat grass brush fires, and on arriving home tonight, the news reports a 100 acre grass fire in the Gambel oak chaparral above Farmington, Utah, about 20 miles north of the canyon.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 23rd, 1840, he hears a young golden robin. On June 23rd, 1860, he notes that night hawks fly in a path similar to butterflies. He describes three types of cinquefoil. On June 23, 1852, he hears a bobolink and an owl. He sees mountain laurel and partridge berry (Mitchella repens) in bloom. He smells wild rose, sweet briar, blue geranium, and swamp pink. He notes that the undersides of leaves, particularly of the aspen, are lighter than the top side. On June 23rd, 1853, he sees leaf-heart and loose strife. On June 23rd, 1854, he sees three broods of partridges. On June 23rd, 1856, he sees baywings.

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City Creek Canyon is an undeveloped east-west trending canyon that extends 12 miles from Salt Lake City’s downtown business district. The canyon clefts the Salt Lake salient, an east-west trending spur of the north-south running Wasatch Front Mountain Range. The salient was created by an earthquake faults, principally the Pleasant Valley fault, deep below the canyon that is also perpendicular to the main north-south running Wasatch Fault. The canyon defines the northern end of the Salt Lake valley. A similar fault at the south end of the valley created the Traverse Mountains, another east-west salient that defines the boundary between Salt Lake County on the north and Utah County on the south. The difference between the Traverse salient and the Salt Lake salient is that limestone formations that are the bedrock of Salt Lake salient allowed water to flow down the middle of the ridge, and over geologic time, water flows carved out a canyon that clefts the salient in two. The canyon bottom begins at the city near 4,300 feet in elevation and rises to about 6,000 feet in elevation another 8 miles up canyon.

There are four principal habitats in the canyon. At the lowest elevations are grasslands mixed with sagebrush that covered the valley floor before pre-European colonization (Christensen 1963). These grasslands spread up both sides of the canyon walls and ridgelines through canyon mile 6.0 where water is insufficient to support the drought tolerant Gambel’s oak forest. It includes Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata a.k.a. Agropyron spicatum), Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), invasive Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), and Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) (Christensen 1963, Rogers 1984).

The second habitat by elevation is Wasatch chaparral that is dominated by pure stands of Gambel’s oak trees (Quercus gambelii) (Hayward 1945; Christensen 1949). Such stands can be found around the base of and to the north of Ensign Peak. They continue below the western ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient to milepost 2.0.

The third habitat is Wasatch lower montane (Hayward 1945, p. 10; Hayward 1948; Rogers 1984). This habitat is a mid-elevation association between 4,500 feet and 8,000 feet above sea level that consists primarily of dwarf Gambel’s oak trees mixed with Norway maple trees (Acer platanoides), and Big Tooth maple trees (Acer grandidentatum) (Hayward 1948; Ream 1960). In City Creek Canyon, this habitat begins at the Guardhouse Gate and continues up to approximately milepost 4.0. On the shaded north facing slopes of the canyon, water-loving maple trees dominate. On the sun-exposed south facing slopes, Gambel’s oak trees that have deep water-seeking tap roots dominate. Between the two slopes and surrounding the canyon’s stream is a mixed community of oaks, maples, Box Elder trees (Acer negundo), Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia), and Western water or River birch trees (Betula occidentalis). Bohs at the University of Utah has prepared an extensive list of plant species in City Creek Canyon near the Guardhouse Gate (Bohs 201).

The fourth habitat begins about 6 miles up canyon, or four miles above the Guardhouse Gate above Bonneville Drive, where the Wasatch oak community gives way to Wasatch upper montane habitat (Hayward, 1945). This habitat is includes Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesli) and Quaking aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) (Hayward 1945, Hayward 1948). On shaded north-facing slopes conifers dominate, and on sunny south-facing slopes Aspens dominate with some Utah juniper trees (Juniperus osteosperma.

The Gambel’s oak trees in the vicinity of City Creek Canyon are all dwarfs. Gambel’s oaks can grow to be mature trees thirty or forty feet in height, but where they are limited by water or other environmental stresses, then they reach only about ten feet in height (Christensen 1949). Christensen also noted that the seeds of these oaks while not germinate if they fall under the shade of an existing tree, but that does not limit the rate of their expansion. He observed many species distributing Gambel oak acorns, such as Western scrub jays, rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus), and Lewis woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) (Christensen 1949). In the canyon during the winter, I have also seen mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) browsing for acorns. Thus, the oak’s acorns are widely distributed, and other constraints like lack of water must constraint its growth. Because the Gambel’s oak’s acorns are randomly distributed around the perimeter of copse, copses of these oaks have a characteristic inverted bowl shape. The oaks are found either in these bowl shaped groups on chaparrals or in uniformly covered broad sections of hillsides. The Gambel’s oaks around Salt Lake City are at the northern limit of that specie, and so, their development is under constant limiting pressure from northern Utah’s climate.

This journal primarily concerns the Wasatch lower montane habitat in the first two canyon miles above Guardhouse Gate within 500 feet on either side of the stream. Over the course of a year, all of the four habitats are visited.

* * * *

On June 23rd, 2012, Smith’s Food King, a dominant supermarket chain in the valley, decides to no longer sell fireworks because of the risk they pose to starting fires on valley benches and in valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 2010, the 31st Wasatch Steeplechase run over Black Mountain was run (Salt Lake Tribune). The Steeplechase was begun in 1979 by McKay Edwards as a summer solstice celebration (id). On June 23rd, 1918, the Salt Lake Tribune featured a photographic story-advertisement extolling the pleasures of automobile driving up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 1899, a City Committee will investigate the lack of water on the east side due to problems in the distribution system for City Creek water (Salt Lake Tribune).

May 20, 2017

May 20th

Spring Bird List

3:30 p.m. In the morning I am woken by the cawing of an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) standing outside my window, but then I drift back off to sleep. Around noon, neighbors are buzzing over their photographs of a common Red fox (Vuplus vulpes) hunting mice in the city cemetery about one-third of a mile from my home and on the south-City side of the east-south canyon ridgeline.

In the afternoon, the cold snap of the last few days has ended and the canyon is again warming into the sixties under blue, ideal spring skies. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, the grasses have reached up to three feet high, but in the canyon they remain between one foot to eighteen inches in height. Along Bonneville Drive, young Curly dock plants rise, but there are none in the fields at mile 1.5. Arrowleaf balsamroot has noticeably disappeared from the surrounding hillsides through mile 1.5, and its yellow color has been replaced by the duller yellow of fields of Dyer’s woad. Along the first mile, where a few days ago there was a single Sticky Wild Geranium, there are now ten, and four blue penstemons are blooming. The other major blossom are the white inflorescences of chokecherry bushes or trees. Blue is the color of canyon near the stream, but at the Pleasant Valley lower field, I scan the surrounding hillsides for a hint of Arrowleaf balsamroot. There is none, only the green of the balsamroot’s wide bases surrounded by wide swaths of Dyer’s woad. A pattern repeats in the many sun-exposed small gullies that lead to the western salient’s ridgeline and below the eastern salient’s cliffs: Groves of green Gambel’s oak or Red Maple fill the damp soil or seeps along side canyon gullies, but where the side canyons begin to flare out, the dryer soils, formerly covered with balsamroot, are now covered in Dyer’s woad. At lower elevations along the western slope above the Pipeline Trail and above Bonneville Drive, some balsamroots remain in bloom, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling from their shriveling flowers.

Butterflies are recovering in the rising heat. Yesterday’s Western tiger swallowtail and Desert Elfin butterflies are joined by a few Spring Azure and White cabbage butterflies. About eight new, small and black unidentified butterflies appear. They move too fast to see any detail. Two examples of a new unidentified small black spider are on the road, and a small black ant is carrying a whole insect pupae, about eight times it size, back to its underground ant lair. Common houseflies are active on the road, and a larger Blue-eyed darner dragonfly patrols up and down the road. Along the Pipeline Trail, I flush out two Mormon crickets. Instead of red underwings (May 8th), they now flash muted orange underwings.

Where the chokecherry bushes are warmed by the sunlight, they are the buffet for the insects. The best of these is along the Pipeline Trail near mile 0.9, and the chokecherry bush is covered in about seventy bees, flies and a American Lady butterfly. The bush sits near a seep in a bend in the trail. It is in a large-tree shaded area, but a single shaft of light penetrates and warms the bush and its nearby air to fifteen degrees more than its surroundings. Another shaded chokecherry bush about fifteen feet away is ignored by these flighted insects. On the chokecherry inflorescences there are also two types of flies, one large and one small, and three types of bees, including a red-rumped worker bumble bee, wild common honey bee (Apis var.) and one of two Utah varieties of the Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) (Hodgson and Trina 2008). Near this seep, a tiny unidentified slug, about 1 centimeters by 3 millimeters in diameter crawls up the trail, and I help to the mud next to the seep. Three other chokecherry bushes fifty yards up from Guardhouse Gate and a full chokecherry tree at picnic site 4 are similarly covered, but to a lesser degree. These are also sunbathed.

A flock of four distant raptors circle and glide up canyon. Birds along the first 1.5 miles of road can be divided roughly into seven neighborhoods or groups: at Guardhouse Gate, at road mile 0.4, at road mile 1.0, the lower half of Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1 to 0.9 of the Pipeline Trail, the Trail between mile 0.9 and 0.5, and the Trail between mile 0.5 back to the Gate. There are more calls than yesterday, with between 5 to 10 birds in each neighborhood. By sound alone, I can pick up a few of the easiest out of a chorus of ten different songs: the Lazuli Bunting at the Gate; a Song sparrow and an American Robin near mile 0.5; a near road mile 1.0,; and a Black-chinned hummingbird flying near Trail mile 1.0. I have gathered recordings of about 40 spring birds on my smart telephone, and have begun to replay them constantly in the hopes of building a beginner’s skill for distinguishing their songs. The avian soundscape is being to make more sense to my untrained ear.

As I reach Guardhouse Gate, there is a young woman standing 50 feet from the road, half obscured by blinds made leafed branches of Gambel’s oak, and she is singing gospel and folk songs in a loud but beautiful voice. She has long-black hair, is wearing a short, summer dress of yellow printed ethnic cotton, and is illuminated by that special warm light before dusk. Several strolling couples and myself discreetly walk up to the side of the road for an impromptu concert. For a moment, my mind is momentarily transported back to my adolescence and a similar scene from 1971. After a few minutes, everyone wanders away, leaving her to practice her singing without disturbance, but grateful for a unique moment.

* * * *

The slate of spring canyon birds for this year has sufficiently filled out that a list is timely. The 54 species represented shows the diversity of bird life that is finding living niches in the canyon and making connections between its plants and insects.

List of Spring Birds in City Creek Canyon March through May, 2017 by Order and-or Family (N=54)

Orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes – Hawks, Eagles and Falcons – Birds that Hunt Other Birds

• Bald Eagle (immature) (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).*

• Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

• Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

• Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

• Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

• Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

• Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).

Order Anatidae – Ducks

• Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).

Order Apodiformes – Swifts and Hummingbirds

• Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilocus alexandri).

Order Galliformes – Pheasants and Guineafowl

• California Quail (Callipepla californica).

• Chukar (Alectoris chukar).

• Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

Orders Piciformes and Coraciiformes – Woodpeckers and Kingfishers

• Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).

• Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

• Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Order Strigiformes – Owls

• Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii).*

Order Passeriformes – Larger Perching Birds

Family Corvidae – Crows, Jays and Magpies

• American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

• Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica)

• Common Raven (Corvus corax).

• Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).*

• Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

Order Passeriformes – Mid-sized and Smaller Perching Birds

Family Cardinalidae – Cardinals and Grosbeaks

• Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus).

• Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena).

• Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

Family Columbidae – Pigeons and Doves

• Eurasian-collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (invasive).

• Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Family Emberizidae – Sparrows and Buntings

• Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina).

• Dark-eyed Junco, Slate type (Junco hyemalis).*

• Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus).

• House Sparrow aka European Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (invasive).

• Rufous-sided Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

• Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

• Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

Family Fringillidae – Finches

• House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

• Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria).

Family Hirundinidae – Swallows

• Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia).

• Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota).

• Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis).

• Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina).

Family Paridae – Chickadees

• Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

• Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).

Family Parulidae – Wood-Warblers

• Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothylpis celata).

• Virginia’s Warbler (Oreothylpis virginiae).

• Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia).

Family Turdidae – Thrushes

• American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

• Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi).

Family Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers

• Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri).

• Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).

Family Vireonidae – Vireos

• Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus).

• Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus).

Family – Other with Family Name

• Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptilidae Polioptila caerulea).

• European Starling (Sturnidae Sturnus vulgaris) (invasive).

• Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sittidae Sitta canadensis).

• Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulidae Regulus calendula).

Sources: Cornell Lab. 2017 Ebird Observation Lists by Bryant Olsen with Joshua Hunt; Author’s Observations. * – Author only sighting claimed.

* * * *

The Wasatch Front Mountain Range has not seen a decline in the number of avian species since the Euroamerican arrival, but no opinion is expressed on any decline in the population of these birds. As noted before (March 4th), ornithologist Robert Ridgeway conducted a survey of birds in Parley’s Park at the summit of Parley’s canyon about ten miles from City Creek Canyon between June 23rd and August 16th, 1869 (Rawley, 69-79). He found 116 bird species. Comparing Ridgeway’s list with Cornell Ornithology Laboratory’s Ebird List for City Creek Canyon for 1900 through 2017 shows 149 species (Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2016, Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2017). For the years 2000 to 2017, 147 species are listed, and for 2012 to 2017, Cornell totals 143 species (id). There are some minor non-duplicates between the historical and modern lists. The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is not currently found in City Creek, and the range of other birds has changed. Birds such as sandpipers and Sandhill Cranes do not presently frequent City Creek but can still be found at the Great Salt Lake’s beaches and marshes. But essentially, the avian diversity of Ridgeway’s 1869 mountain birds is still intact at City Creek Canyon after 148 years.

That the diversity of Utah’s many migrant birds is stable is also shown by Parrish, Norvell, and Howe of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in a multi-year study from 1992 to 2005 (Parrish et al. 2007; Norvell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Examining 202 statewide bird species over 12 years at 37 Utah sites, Parrish and colleagues found no significant trend in mean annual species richness (id, p. 27, Fig. 4).

* * * *

On May 20th, 2014, Salt Lake Fire Captain Scott Winkler reports that the City has spent $650,000 on six new firetrucks specialized from fighting fires in grass brush areas around luxury homes near Ensign Peak and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On May 20th, 1903, the City Council and Mayor considered issue bonds to construct reservoirs including a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 20th, 1901, an estimated three-hundred people went up City Creek Canyon, one-thousand to Liberty Park, and three-hundred for recreation (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 20, 1896, the City council considered moving the responsibility for maintaining City Creek watershed protection to the health department and the duties of the City Creek Canyon patrolman were described (Salt Lake Tribune). There were five full-time patrolmen. Three men are employed at the lower Brick Tanks keeping the screens clear of debris. Two men are employed for 12 hours per day to service the upper high-line tank screens and to patrol the upper canyon to prevent sheep grazing. Two other men service the Twentieth ward tank and the Capitol Hill Reservoir (id). City Creek has been rip-rapped for two miles above the lower Brick Tanks. On May 20th, 1896, high spring run-off has turned City Creek into muddy water and the water is clearing (Salt Lake Herald).

April 11, 2017

April 10th

Time Limit

1:30 p.m. The canyon’s ridgeline retains a slight covering of snow, but it is heavier on Black Mountain and Scott’s Hill. The highest mountains on the Wasatch Front Range received two feet of new snow, but the gauge station at Louis Meadows has only a small uptick of one-inch in equivalent water precipitation, and this suggests at most two or three inches fell in upper City Creek Canyon. Some trees respond by covering the road with small broken twigs with leaves. Freezing overnight temperatures retain this snow, but the cool day is overwhelmed by the new bright sunlight of spring. Sunrise begins at six a.m. and sunset arrives at eight p.m., but it is the new height of the noon sun that gives spring its force. It is still unsuccessful at pushing back on winter’s control, but the tide turns in its favor. The noon-time light is simply so much more brighter than on vernal equinox almost three weeks ago. It almost hurts the eyes, and the intense light reminds that summer will eventually arrive. Under this light, what I had supposed was the over-wintering yellow fruit of the canyon’s ubiquitous poison ivy patches burst in small flowers. A single cultivar of purple grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), which is common in the city, blossoms along the first mile road.

Yesterday, there was a large predator scat pile on the road. Predator wildlife scat is easily distinguished from the feces of domestic dogs that also frequent the road because predator scat is full of the fur of its mouse and squirrel prey. Predator scat also ends in a narrow tip, unlike the rounded ends of domestic dog scat. Given the size of the pile, it may have been deposited by a mountain lion. But today, as I leave the car at Guardhouse Gate parking lot, on the heavily traveled canyon road between Bonneville Drive and the lot, a coyote expertly bonds down a steep slope, crosses the stream, and bolts into the thicket on the far east side of the stream. Come to think of it, I have not seen two rock squirrels, first viewed in the parking lot about a week ago, for some days. From thickets on the side of the road, Black-billed magpies and other song birds are heard.

The coyote, rock squirrels, mice, and I share a common bond of all mammals as a result of our common genetic heritage. Our time in the canyon and on the Earth is limited by a pre-programmed number of heart beats: about one billion for most mammals and uniquely about 3 billion for humans. Like the canyon’s coyote, my time in the canyon a mortal limit. I only have at most 700,000,000 heart beats left to live and to see the canyon.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 10th, 1841, he remarks “How much virtue is there in simply seeing?” On April 10th, 1853, he notes that saxifrage is blooming.

* * * *

The hearts of mammals regardless of size beat between 1.29 and 0.17 billion times (mean: 0.73 +- 0.56) over their life (Levine 1997, Cook 2006). For humans, lifetime heart beats average about 3 billion (Cook). But adjusting for heart rate, body mass, and longevity, over a lifetime, the heart of a 2 gram mouse delivers the same amount of total oxygen per unit of mass as that of 100,000,000 gram blue whale (id). As the mass of mammals increase, their heart rate decreases and their longevity increases. The 2 gram mouse’s heart beats 500 times per minute, but the mouse only lives one year. A loin’s heart beats at about 50 times per minute, but it can live for sixty years. This well-defined log-linear relationship between resting heart rate and longevity varies systematically from the small (mouse, hamster, and rat) to the large mammals (horse, lion, and elephant), except for humans (id). Plotting the log of resting heart rate or metabolic energy per kilogram of mass against longevity for various mammals gives a nearly straight line (Atanasov 2007, Cook 2006), but the 3 billion beats of the human heart for 80 years of life sits as a distant outlier from the other mammals (Cook 2007). The 2 billion extra beats allotted humans, like our brains, sets us apart from other mammals. But for both humans and other mammals, the above suggests that at cellular level, there is a genetically pre-programmed length to all mammalian life.

It would wrong to conclude that human life can be extended by not exercising because the hearts of people who do not exercise will beat less. The relationship between a lower resting heart rate, general good health, and increasing longevity is well-known (Cook). For a person who does not exercise and has a resting heart rate of 90 beats per minute, their heart will beat about 3.8 billion times over eighty years. For a person who exercises for two hours per day at 110 beats per minute and who has a resting heart rate of 70, their heart will beat 3.1 billion times over eighty years, or about 80 percent of the effort of the non-exercising person. For high functioning athletes with resting heart rates of 50 beats per minute, their hearts will beat about 2.3 billion times in eighty years, or about 60 percent of the effort of the non-exercising person. For unknown reasons, ultra-fit humans, who have the lowest amount of body fat and the lowest body mass indices (BMI), have higher mortality rates similar to the obese and higher than the ordinarily fit of persons of normal weight (Lorenzini 2014). Lorenzini’s review should be read cautiously. Higher mortality of abnormally low-weight persons may be a cofounding artifact of terminally-ill patients losing weight as they expire. But the implications of exercise for not developing debilitating health problems after age 50 are self-evident, since the health of other organs depend on a healthy blood circulation provided by the heart. Among older men, exercise has a protective effect against developing cardio-vascular disease and thus, reduced general circulation and increased mortality (Kodama). This cardiac protective effect is known to be dose dependent amongst men with Type 2 diabetes (Church). More exercise provides more protection. This is only one physical benefit of several types of benefits from being actively connected to nature and the canyon.

* * * *

On April 10th, 2007, the AAA as part of its Great Battery Roundup program, pledges a $2 donation for City Creek Canyon Rehabilitation for every automobile battery delivered to the club (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 10th, 1927, Frank Robinson, a student from Coalville, won the annual marathon up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 10th, 1916, L.D.S. Church members held a running race up City Creek Canyon. Non-Mormons, called “gentiles” by the Mormons, held a separate race along the East Bench (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 10, 1911, Water Commissioner Frank Matthews announced that dogs will not longer be allowed in City Creek Canyon unless they are kept on a leash because dogs have been swimming in the water supply (Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake Tribune, April 11, 1911). On April 6th, 1906, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that “streams of people” went up City Creek for recreation by horse carriage, on foot, and by bicycle (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 10th, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association and the City made plans for the experimental planting 300 ash trees in moist areas of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 9, 2017

April 7th

Filed under: Guardhouse gate, Horsechestnut, River birch — canopus56 @ 5:02 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part IV – A New Preservation Force

2:00 p.m. A new approaching front has created overcast skies with the threat of snow tonight, but the air is flowing up canyon with warmth. The river birches below picnic site 3 are fruiting. What I had supposed were two or three inches long seeds bloom into a complex inflorescence of about thirty tiny flowers, each with ovary and stamens. At Guardhouse Gate and at picnic site 1, the horsechestnut tree buds have swelled, and several have exploded into five radially distributed ovaries. These mimic the circular pattern of the leaves that will fill these trees as they leaf in.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 7th, 1854, he notes hazel trees blooming and finds the first sedge grass shoots. On April 7th, 1855, he see a large flock of goldfinches and sparrows. On April 7th, 1860, he sees a purple finch, and he sees many pickerel swimming in shallow water.

* * * *

The city has been changing its character in the last two years. After the 2007 arrival of new 240,000 acre feet of trans-basin Central Utah Project water, construction in the county has filled in most of the valley such that is now a familiar mimic of California. The older city center resisted with change. I was there in 1978 when a new form of government, a city council, took control from long standing commissioners. The new council was elected by a new generation of city residents from the 1960s who were concerned that development was destroy their tree-lined streets with apartment buildings. Over the years, those good intentions along with increasing economic inequality have transformed the city’s soul into a dark spirit of exclusionary zoning. The older Salt Lake City proper is a city of trees; its streets and boulevards lined with great seventy-year to one-hundred year old publicly-owned cottonwoods. This characteristic of the city along with the nearby City Creek canyon attracts biophiliacs, that is persons who love nature and the force of life, and it distinguishes the old city with surrounding modern suburbs that have fewer, smaller privately owned trees planted close to the walls of homes. But the darker side of Salt Lake resident’s spirits was revealed by community face-contorted hatred and opposition to re-constructing the capacity of an 1,200 existing homeless shelter for the poor. The result is that the city will reduce the capacity of existing shelters to around 800 persons. They opted for exclusionary zoning practices despite have received over $35 million in federal funding since 1978 to construct low income housing for both low-income renters and homeowners. Most of the benefits of the funds were streamed into homeowner only programs.

Commensurate with this cultural development and the aridity of region, two other forces are reshaping the city into a treeless city of gentrification, as has occurred in so many other western cities. First, in order to conserve the limited 240,000 acre feet of new water, the residents have allowed construction of many box-like apartment buildings and condominiums along its major roads and in its former industrial areas. A single family home requires about 1 acre foot of water per year, but apartments only need about one-tenth that amount. In order to accommodate developers, the buildings are constructed right up to the lot line and provide no space for the broad shade trees that so define the old city. The rents in these new apartments are beyond the wages of existing local residents. The second force is the arrival of internet-based short-term rental units that compete with hotels. A new bill was passed in the legislature that will take effect on May 2nd that will void an existing city ordinance that prohibits apartment and homeowners from participating in short-term rental sales. This statute was promoted by a conservative Utah legislator from the suburbs, again citing Mormon historical values of hyper-free-enterprise and Tenth Amended (March 20th) freedoms from governmental control. In other cities in the west and around the world, conversion of apartments to speculative individual internet-hotel rentals has doubled both a city’s rents and the number of its homeless persons. Yesterday, I met my first speculator, a woman who flew in from San Francisco, who has bought two condominium-rentals and was spending two days in Utah to outfit them as internet-based hotel rooms. She was returning to the west coast today to run her business remotely.

The result of these present decisions will transform the future city into into one in which a substantial portion of residents will be deprived of nature in their daily lives. In 1984, Nobel laureate Edward O. Wilson proposed a socio-biological theory – the biophilia hypothesis – that humans have an inherent genetic drive to seek out natural areas (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993, Kellert 1993). Modern residential and commercial architecture with its planned unit developments and eco-certified construction have incorporated the theory by including natural areas and vistas in their design. But the new box-apartments of Salt Lake City do not, and this design feature of the multi-family buildings of future residents’ dwellings will foster a new increased utilization of close-by natural areas like City Creek Canyon and will result in increased political forces to assure the canyon’s future preservation.

* * * *

On April 7th, 1997, Tony Cannon, who logged 22,175 miles running in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Salt Lake Tribune). Cannon was a descendant of the Mormon advance party of 1847. The Tony Cannon Memorial Trails Foundation was formed (id). On April 7th, 1909, a movie company was scouting locations to shoot a film in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune April 8th, 1909). On April 7, 1919, University of Utah geology Prof. Fred J. Pack gives a lecture on the geology of Utah and describes how City Creek was carved out by the recession of Lake Bonneville (Salt Lake Herald).

February 22, 2017

February 22nd

Tree Trunks

4:00 p.m. This a year of extremes: on February 21st, the temperature was sixty-six degrees and yesterday and last night and today, after raining for almost ten hours, the temperature has dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. As I enter the canyon, it is snowing, but this is light snow that turns to water when it touches any physical object. The high ridgelines and Pleasant Valley are covered in snow dust, perhaps one-eight of an inch thick, but it will not last. This is the second sign of the coming spring now one month away: The battle between spring overtaking winter (September 22nd) has begun. There are other signs. At Guardhouse Gate, I see my first, fat and healthy Rock squirrel of the season. It runs across the road and is busily inspecting bushes for fresh buds. The constant rain has driven three earthworms on to the road, even though temperatures are freezing. High on the ridgeline near mile 1.1, I see my first mule deer in over a week. Even at this distance, it is skittish; it tentatively comes out of a copse, feeds, and then retreats for cover.

The lichens and mosses are the most responsive to the hours of light rain. Everywhere the orange, yellow and green colors of lichen and mosses have deepened, and a few trees become vibrant flames amongst winter’s brown, grey and white. Black cankers on tree branches that normally turn to dust when touched have become plump, fat and solid with water. It is the time of year for the simplest organisms, for the earliest life.

Tree trunks have so many varieties of forms. Above picnic site 6, some trees are like brothers and sisters. The trunks of two 4 inch diameter immature river birches intertwine in a playful embrace, and they spring from a common root. Next to the River birch, are three immature Box Elder trunks that also rise from the same root. These stand tall and vertical like two brothers. At and down-canyon of picnic site 6, large Mountain cottonwoods have large bulbous galls on their lower trunks, and this is evidence of old attacks by insects, bacteria, and fungi. Other trees in the lower canyon have partially or completely succumbed to age and disease. At picnic site 6, an ancient tree has been broken off to about four feet above the ground and spilt in half. The remnant remaining in the earth is pock marked with with trails and caves of insects that reminds me of the cave houses carved out of volcanic tufa in Cappadocia in Turkey. In the lower canyon, still half-alive cottonwoods have had much of their bark stripped away, and underneath the xylem and heartwood has taken on a sinuous, smooth, yellow texture like human skin. At Pleasant Valley and at picnic sites 9, 7, and 2, dead cottonwood snags are bleached grey-white. Where large trunk stubs are near the road, erosion has exposed their subsurface tap roots, and this reveals a tangle of gnarls that remind of Eastern paintings of nature. An example is below the Red Bridge.

Traveling down-canyon, a familiar pattern appears in the River birches, Box elder and Mountain cottonwood trees that line the stream. Multiple, large, mature trunks sprout from a single root, and at the base, numerous suckers rise. For these trees, the mixture of angled mature trunks and smaller shoots gives the impression of a circular fan opening or a fountain of water rising. In this respect, trees are simply a larger, woody version of the brome grass bunches in Pleasant Valley, further up canyon. I realize that my impression of trees as organisms that are born, grow, have a middle age, and the die is mistaken. Angled older branches grow and fall away, and this gives the young shoots an opportunity to grow and replace them. But both originate from the same tap root, from the same genetic material. In this sense, most of the trees in the lower canyon that surround the stream possess a form of immortality. My misconception of the lives of these trees is the result of my biased exposure to shade trees in the city. Those trees mimic the cultured form of an English oak forest. There, trees are manicured and husbanded as individuals by their human farmers. Those trees do experience an individual birth, a middle age, and a death. But the English form of a forest is only one classical European choice, and here in the canyon, the stream trees pass their lives in a cycle and not along linear time.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 22nd, 1856, he observes the first insects of spring crawling over snow.

On February 22nd, 1910, the City Council debated whether to lease a second gravel pit in lower City Creek (Deseret Evening News). On February 22nd, 1894, an attorney sought permission from the City to hunt a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. Permission was granted and the hunter took a cougar (Salt Lake Herald).

January 7, 2017

January 7th

Filed under: Geology, Guardhouse gate, picnic site 6, picnic site 7 — canopus56 @ 10:02 pm

Volcanic Past

5:00 p.m. Temperatures in the canyon are in single digits and overnight the City fell to -2 degrees Fahrenheit. Three walkers and runners pass by mile 0.3, but then I have the entire canyon to myself. I am in the canyon looking for an example of Van Horn and Crittenden’s “Tv – Volcanic breccia (Tertiary)” described as “Primarily andesitic breccia consisting of angular clasts of purplish porphyrtic andesite in a fine-grained matrix. Locally, clasts are rounded and have undergone some fluvial transport.” In short, this means the layer is an intermediate form of not quite lava that includes embedded crystals. A Utah Geological Survey publication provides a photographic exemplar and is a guide to locating a sample, but I am unsure if I have found this type of rock. The Utah Geological Survey publication shows the layer between picnic sites 1 and 6 and then again from just below picnic site 7 up canyon to picnic site 9. None is visible below picnic site 6, but across from picnic site 7, I find a small that may be of the right material. About two-hundred feet below picnic site 7 and on the south bank of the stream, there is a large boulder that also may be made of a volcanic conglomerate. Van Horn and Crittenden date the age of this volcanic breccia layer between 35 and 37 million years old. Their 1987 geologic map shows extensive layers of this material going down to the red bridge. Another small outcrop of this breccia is shown on Van Horn’s map just north of the Little Twin Peaks. These deposits are geologically related to the tallest peak at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, the 11,253 foot granite Lone Peak, and to the formation of Utah’s current geology.

Hintze and Kowallis of Brigham Young University, Willis of the Utah Geological Survey, and Stokes of the University of Utah describe how the Sevier Orogeny shaped the state’s modern landscape and the canyon, as originally proposed in 1991 by Richard Livaccari of the University of New Mexico. An orogeny is a mountain uplifting event that can last millions of years. The cause of the Sevier Orogeny was the Farallon continental plate. Currently, there are about fifteen principal continental plates, but there used to be a sixteenth, the Farallon Plate, between the well-known North American and Pacific Plates and their border, the San Andreas fault off of the United States west coast. According to Hintze and Kowallis, about 105 million years ago the Farallon plate began subducting under the west coast of the United States (Hintze and Kowallis, 67-77; Stokes, 144-145). The Farallon Plate takes its name from a remnant of the plate found at the Farallon Islands off of the coast of San Francisco. In 2012 using mathematical inverse image techniques to reconstruct the plate from seismic waves, Pavlis, Sigloch, Burdick, and colleagues visualized the remains of the Farallon Plate whose melting carcass is now embedded in the Earth’s mantle a thousand miles below the midwest (see Sigloch and Mihalynuk 2013). Willis likens the response of Utah’s surface from the Farallon Plate passing underneath to a boat riding a passing wave on water (Willis, 4). A more familiar visualization would be a resting surfer, seated on her board as a wave passes underneath.

As Utah and Nevada rode up the leading face of the wave between 105 and 80 million years ago, a cordillera – a vast north-south mountain range similar the the Canadian and United States Rockies – rose in Nevada and western Utah (Hintze, 67, Fig.s 98 and 103; Livaccari, 1106, Fig. 1(a)). Utah was compressed. Hintze and Kowallis conclude that Utah’s western border was about sixty miles closer to the current location of Salt Lake City during this event (Hintze, 5). Between 80 and 65 million years ago, those mountains eroded away and the crest of the Farallon Plate continued to migrate under Utah (Livaccari, 1106, Fig. 1(b), Hintze, 6). Central and eastern Utah, including the canyon, were part of inland sea, and the sandstones and the red conglomerates in the canyon, including the natural bridge at mile 0.9, were deposited from the erosion of the cordillera mountains to the west. Next, about 35 million years ago, the melting of the Farallon Plate as it passed under Utah resulted in a volcanic era, and volcanoes formed in west central Utah around present day Tintic (Hintze, 6). Where molten lava reached the surface, as at Van Horn’s “Tv” conglomerate layer between picnic site 6 and picnic site 9 at mile 1.1, breccia formed. Where molten lava remained trapped beneath the surface, the granite that formed Lone Peak was created (Ut. Geo. Survey, Pub. Info. 87).

Finally, as Utah slid down the backside of Fallaron wave, the land stretched (Hintze, 6). Utah’s western border expanded to its current location. As the land stretched east and west, north-south faults formed in the thin crust, and one of those lifted the Wasatch Front Mountain Range into the sky. The lifting was uneven between the canyon and Lone Peak. At the City Creek end, uplift exposed rock to the Tertiary era, but in the north in Farmington, uplift raised older Cambrian rock to the surface. At the Lone Peak southern end of Salt Lake Valley, the lifting was more extreme. Erosion removed the Cambrian rock entirely, and subsurface pockets of frozen, granitic lava were lifting to 11,000 feet. Thus, the lowly breccia in City Creek share the same parent as the lofty heights of Lone Peak.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 7th, 1851, he enjoys how the winter sun lays a yellow tint on pine trees. On January 7th, 1852, he describes a sunset where one-half of the sky in the east is covered in white clouds and one-half of the sky is in west is blue and clear. On January 7th, 1853, he sees a sunrise where a white mist covers low lands. On January 7th, 1855, he describes an early thaw. The morning overcast sky is tinged with blue, green and red. On January 7th, 1857, he notes it is the fifth consecutive day of cold, windy weather, and he describes the renewing psychological effect of getting “a mile out town” and taking a walk in nature’s solitude. On January 7th, 1858, he again notes speckled crystals on the surface of fresh snow.

On January 7th, 1903, hunters collected County bounties on a total of twenty coyotes killed within or just outside the city (which then included the high Avenues). Hunter George McNeil stated that “City Creek canyon is full of them [coyotes,] and I killed two wildcats up there a few days ago.”

December 30, 2016

December 30th

Reflections

3:00 p.m. The angle of the lowering Sun makes this a season for reflections just as winter is the season most suited for introspection. Wherever water in the stream is smooth, a clear reflection can be seen of the trees on the opposite bank. The clarity of the images varies with the degree to which the surface water is disturbed. The reflections range in appearance from a realist to impressionist to abstract painting. I catch glimpses of the silver ribbon (December 26th).

Mountain chickadees still flock at mile 1.3. At milepost 1.5, a flock of sixteen wild turkeys are grazing on the west hillside just next to the road. As the sunset line rises up the hill, they stay just above it in the sun’s warmth. In the shade beneath them, small birds that I cannot identify, flit from and hide behind tufts of bunch grass. I count perhaps five or six, but then at some unknown signal, a flock of thirty take to the air and float down canyon.

It is a clear day and the temperatures in the canyon have dropped into the teens. There are only two or three other regular walkers on the road. The inversion layer lays thick over the city, but it thins as it extends up into the canyon. Being a city-dwelling, I have become acclimated to heavy haze and smog, and I do not appreciate how dense the smog and haze is. The inversion air consists of water saturated haze from snow melting from the ground, and this mixes in with exhaust from automobiles and industry. The toxic mixture cannot escape the valley because it is a trapped underneath a layer of cold air. At Guardhouse Gate the sky is gray, but as I reach milepost 1.5, a bluer, but still white-tinged, sky appears. At the 5,000 foot level, I can see the top of the inversion layer is still another 700 feet over my head. But here, the layer’s density is much reduced, and I come here in the depths of winter for the health benefit of clearing my lungs. As I run back down canyon, as the Sun falls lower, a tipping point is reached in the atmosphere, and its saturated moisture turns to an even denser fog. As I reach Guardhouse Gate, I am coughing and clearing my lungs every quarter-mile. Even so, my daily trip to the canyon’s relatively clear air helps cope with the rest of the day in the City.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 30th, he observes a shrike. On December 30th, 1860, he describes the distribution of blueberries and their natural history throughout the year.

On December 30th, 2000, William Alder, the long-time chief meteorologist with the Salt Lake Office of the National Weather Service, retired, and he rated the floods from City Creek Canyon in 1983 as the second most significant weather event of his career (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 30th, 1991, there was a heavy inversion layer in the air and the Salt Lake Tribune featured a picture of joggers in City Creek Canyon exercising above the smog. On December 30th, 1917, retiring City Commissioner Heber M. Wells cited as a major accomplishment, the installation of the then new multi-million gallon reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 30, 1900, the manager of the Red Bird Mine, on the City Creek side of the City Creek-Morgan County divide, reported having completed a 750 foot-mine tunnel (Salt Lake Tribune).

December 7, 2016

December 8th

Filed under: Birds, Coyote, Deer Mouse, Guardhouse gate, People, Pleasant Valley — canopus56 @ 11:00 pm

Three Types of Hunters

3:30 p.m. On December 7th, daytime temperatures are in the low twenties, but it is a clear sunny day. I am continuing making an inventory of bird and insect nests in the canyon. Three hunters are on the prowl in the canyon.

At the up canyon end of Pleasant Valley Reservoir along the trail parallel to the road that leads back to picnic site 11, I find a set of mule deer tracks in the snow interspersed with canine tracks. Canine snow tracks are distinguished from mountain lion tracks by the presence of claws and the number of rear lobes on the paw print. Canine tracks have claws; felines do not. Canine tracks have two rear lobes on their paws; felines have three (Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources). This are canine tracks but it is too far from the road for them to be domesticated dogs. Therefore, I suspect the canine tracks are from a coyote.

Near mile 1.2, two hunters are walking down canyon carrying a pack between them. They are armed with both bows and rifles. The anterless elk hunt remains open through January 31st, 2017, and they describe how they and a third hunter have taken two elk up the canyon. Our encounter underscores the wastefulness of this hunt. The city prohibits vehicle access except by special request and the City prohibits State permitted anterless elk hunting in the canyon although, the City allows it by special discretion of the water treatment plant operators. To muddle matters further, their are two classes of State issued anterless elk permits: regular permits where the user may hunt on public lands and special elk control permits where a hunters may not hunt on public land. Because of the City rules, the hunters are hand-hauling perhaps 50 lbs of meat from a 200 or 300 lb. elk for  6 to 8 miles out of the canyon. The remainder of the carcass is left to rot. Their hunting companion did obtain permission to bring a car into the canyon, and he jets by dragging a snow sled that also contains a sack of meat.

At mile 0.6, I instinctively look up in response to hearing a shriek. A raptor is crossing the canyon, but it is to fast and too high identify.

Each of these three hunters has their own assessment of what is valuable and each have their own objectives. This affects how each sees the canyon.

On October 23rd, I talked with a clerk at City Department of Public Utilities. She states that there is only one City permitted hunting season in City Creek Canyon – the regular rifle deer hunt that ends October 31st. I indicate that I have seen hunters regularly during the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources’ December anterless hunt and during its November 30th bow hunt. She states that if I see rifle hunter’s during the anterless hunt in the future, I should call the Department and they will send up the police to get them out. But then she qualifies the restriction by stating that the plant manager may be let people hunt at his discretion. This confusing state of affairs is complicated by modern technology that provides cell phone applications that allegedly map all permitted hunting areas. I surmise that some of the hunting that I have seen during December in the canyon is in fact illegal.

This regulatory confusion becomes apparent when I reach Guardhouse Gate where a luxury home owner on the bench above the canyon entrance is distraught over the scoped high-powered hunting rifles that the two hunters have lain on the ground while waiting for a ride. I talk with the hunters to assuage her overstated fears. They claim to have taken the two elk outside the drainage north of Bountiful, and then quartered carcasses and dragged them over the ridge and out the City Creek Canyon side. They even pull out their cell phones to show me maps that their hunting area was “legal”. I suspect that they are being deceptive, since their clothing is not wet and I have hiked the route many times that they claim to have taken. Part of the route is a one and one-half mile trek through up to eighteen inches of snow with no trail. They would have had to have post-holed in snow up to their calves for at least one-half mile. One has to bushwack about three-quarters of mile through dense thickets. Their story is not believable, but the watershed canyon patrol also saw them and let their companion’s vehicle into the canyon, so I let the matter go, congratulate them on a successful hunt, and give some background to the distraught homeowner. In order to reduce such conflicts, I write the maker of the popular hunting cell phone application that these hunters were using and ask them to add the additional City hunting restrictions to their online maps.

Even today, with the wind where temperatures drop into the teens, there are about twenty runners and walkers on the canyon road. The Utah Division of Wildlife Services website indicates that a total of 40 anterless elk permits were available for the Salt Lake County hunting zone, including City Creek Canyon (Utah Division of Wildlife Services, 2016).

My own feeling is although the canyon is a multiple-use area, these winter hunts are simply wasteful since the City is not granting organized, permitted vehicle access in order to give the watershed a rest, and it is not possible to remove all of the meat taken. Today, these three human hunters have left perhaps five or six hundred pounds of carcass to rot in the backcountry. Given the change in recreation use mix from hunting to other dispersed recreation, these winter hunts are arguably not an appropriate multiple-use balance.

The two other non-human hunters in the canyon today generate no such controversies.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 8th, 1855, he observes that due to the winter cold, nature surrounding his home is empty of both mammals and birds. In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 8th, 1850, Thoreau records the first significant snow of the season.

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