City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 26, 2017

April 26th

Filed under: Dandelion, Meadow Mile 1.3, Plants, red bridge, Stream, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:18 pm

Biophilia – Part V – Biophilia Expression

5:30 p.m. Another heavy rain storm dominates the day, and the canyon parking lot is nearly empty. In the heavy rain, there are still three or groups walking with umbrellas and eight or nine bicyclists careen down canyon during a break in the rain. On Chimney Rock above the red bridge, I notice that its vertical face is covered in a green cloak of various small plants and mosses. Usually, the rock is red and barren. Using the monocular, the sandstone cliffs between mile 0.7 and mile 1.2 and the small sandstone massive on the west side of the road near mile 1.1 are also covered with small plants. The coming heat of May will quickly bake them off, but for now they are a welcome sign of spring’s explosion. In addition to the winter ice and spring thaw and the raw force of rain, these plants are the other force that will tear down the cliffs over geologic time. Even the Zen Rock is ignominiously colonized by dandelions, and dandelions along the road are reaching their peak bloom. The stream remains swollen and loud, but it is still four inches below its maximum spring peak.

* * * *

Stephen Kellert at Yale classified the values by which people relate to nature as a predicate to analyzing evidence supporting the biophilia hypothesis (Kellert 1993, Kellert 1984, Kellert 1976). Those values are a useful topology for understanding the nature experience:

List of Biophilia Values

Source: Kellert 1993, p. 59, Kellert 1984.

* Utilitarian – material exploitation of nature.

* Naturalistic – satisfaction from direct experience of nature.

* Scientific – Systematic study of the structure, function in relationships in nature.

* Aesthetic – physical beauty of nature.

* Symbolic – use of nature for metaphorical expression.

* Humanistic – strong emotional attachment or love to nature.

* Moralistic – ethical concern for nature.

* Dominionistic – dominance of nature.

* Negativistic – fear, aversion, or alienation from nature, e.g. biophobia.

To these, I would add two other values that may be subsets of elements already in Kellert’s topology: grieving and spiritual. People come to the canyon to grieve (July 22nd), and it even contains Memory Grove, a place of contemplation on those lost to death. In the 1800s, the modern forest model for cemeteries became popular, and this reflects how people associate death with a return to nature. In contrast, the Romans built sub-surface necropolses that were separated from the natural environment. There is a long history in western Judea-Christian history of prophets who go from cities to nature for meditation and reflection.

At home, I review my own journal entries and the digests of historical Utah newspapers regarding the canyon. Kellert’s biophilic topology provides an insightful and encompassing list of how I and other city residents have related to the canyon since the arrival of the Euro-Americans.

* * * *

On April 26th, 1948, two young cyclists were injured while racing down City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 26th, 1909, the City was ready to let several contracts, including installing a pipeline between the Twentieth Ward and the main in City Creek Canyon (Intermountain Republican). On April 26th, 1909, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the previous Sunday, residents flocked to parks and for strolls up City Creek Canyon.


January 22, 2017

January 22nd

Filed under: Chokeberries, Colors, Meadow Mile 1.3, wild rose — canopus56 @ 9:21 pm

The Brown Ribbon

4:00 p.m. Yesterday’s heavy snowfall made the canyon a wonderful monotone white, and this emphasizes the stream. Usually, I do not notice the varying shades of brown of the stream, but now without the distraction of other colors, I perceive subtle variations of its dark brown bottom, the red of the bank’s soil, and various shades of brown stones sticking up above the water. There are a few other colors besides white snow, an overcast white sky, and grey tree trunks.

At mile 0.2 around the first bend from Guardhouse Gate, a chokeberry tree, a large wild rose, and a red osier dogwood (Aug. 31st, Nov. 6th) intertwine with their branches covered in snow. The chokeberry is one of the few that still retain many of its dark purple dried fruit, and these are suspended next to red bulbs of the wild rose bush. White, red, and purple provide a reminder of brighter colors now gone from the canyon, except for winter’s bright subtle pinks and yellows in the sunset. At mile 1.2 off of a side trial that leads to Pipeline Trail, there is one other notable example of a large wild rose bush. I have to shake the branches to reveal the color hidden underneath. There a wild rose bush is intertwined with a cultivar green apple tree. Some of the shriveled and ice-frozen fruit of the apple tree are plum or orange colored, and they contrast against the red buds of the wild rose and the snow. This is the largest wild rose bush in the canyon.

As I jog up canyon, there is man muttering to himself in revelry. “Fantastic”, “amazing”, “beautiful”, he stammers while he watches the snow covered trees and takes numerous photographs. He is in his early fifties and remarks that although he has lived in the city all of his life neither himself or his relatives have gone into the winter canyon during his lifetime. He rides bike here during the summer and recalls how as a boy, he and his friends would do annual summer hike. They would hike to the end of the canyon at camp near the divide with Morgan County. The next day they would hike out Hardscrabble Canyon and then to East Canyon, where their parents would pick them up. As we part, he notes, “it is strange how a man can be near something the like this, but never really see it.”

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 22nd, 1852, he turns a rock over and finds a colony of black ants. On January 22, 1854, he sees subtle hints of rainbow colors in the clear, setting sun sky. (These were probably due to ice crystals in the air.)

January 14, 2017

January 13th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Dogwood, Elk, Gambel's Oak, Meadow Mile 1.3, Mule Deer — canopus56 @ 3:15 am

External Link to Image

Chiral Leaves

5:00 p.m. The rain has abated, it is still overcast, and the inversion layer is building. At mile 1.3, there are on each of elk or mule deer on the high ridges flanking the gate to Pleasant Valley.

Today, I pull out some leaves that I had picked up in early autumn (Oct. 11) and stored between the pages of a book. While walking, I noticed that leaves were chiral, that is they have unique left and right hand versions. The dried maple leaves and Gambel’s oak leaves removed from my book appear to be almost duplicates, but if rested on top of one another such that the top and underside veins match, each leaf is an asymmetric mirror of the other just like human hands. One does find symmetric leaves; they occur when a leaf grows from a terminal bud. Box Elders have a lower ratio of symmetric leaves to chiral leaves due to their structure. Its leaves come in sets of three: a terminal leaf flanked by two chiral leaves. Maple tree leaves are similarly structured. Dog woods have a higher ratio of chiral to symmetric leaves. Their branches are laid out like a symmetric ladder with the bi-lateral opposing leaves each set at an forty-five degree angle to the stem. The result of this layout is that there may be four to eight lateral chiral leaves for each symmetric terminal leaf. The same is true for the leaves of the Water or river birch trees.

It is now in the depths of winter. Looking at photographs taken of how leaves where laid out on branches almost thee months ago, I am reminded of the warmth of October.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 13th, 1854, he hears a buzzing sound coming from a pocket of air escaping from the frozen ground. On January 13th, 1856, he describes the architecture of a vireo’s nest. (In Utah, warbling vireos are also found.)

On January 13th, 1913, Police Chief Grant proposed to alleviate overcrowding the City jail by leasing the vacant county jail (Salt Lake Tribune). Transients (convicted of vagrancy) would be housed in the old county jail and then required to work on public works, including improving City Creek Canyon Road (id). On January 13, 1909, Waterworks Superintendent Thomas Hobday recommended replacing the wooden pipes and reservoir tanks in City Creek Canyon installed in 1890 be replaced with concrete pipes and reservoirs (Salt Lake Tribune). On January 13th, 1898, City Engineer Kelsey recommended that a large concrete reservoir be built at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon, that settling tanks be built lower in the canyon, and that permanent water gauges be installed in City Creek and other watershed canyons (Salt Lake Herald).

January 10, 2017

January 10th

Wooden Noises

3:00 p.m. Last night media was concerned that flooding may occur because of the heavy rain and continuing high temperatures. Most of the snow is gone from south facing slopes and the snow left along the road is saturated with water. It has remained warm, so no crust has formed on the snow’s surface, but everywhere the snow is covered with bits of bark, leaves and dirt from a high wind. There is no sign of the potential flood; the stream has not risen; but, for the remainder of the season the risk of avalanche in the high Wasatch Front Mountains will be high. At higher elevations, this water soaked layer will form a base on which further snow layers will accumulate, and this can form a fracture zone in which back country skiers can be swept to burial. At Guardhouse Gate, a chickadee is sings a bright note. The sky is overcast and gives off a uniform diffuse light. For some stretches of the stream, I see hints of the silver ribbon (Dec. 26th).

Where the snow bank is partially eaten away, the bunch grass is exposed, and the dried tan grass is mixed in with still growing green shoots. Although recently soaked in water, this time the tips of the oaks and maples do not turn red-tinged (Dec. 11th), and the trees make no start at growth in response to the water. Although I had thought that mosses had stopped growing, at the down-canyon end of picnic site 4, I find two trees where on the west side, they are covered in bright orange lichen and on the east side, they are covered in a thick mat of dark-green moss.

From this weather, at picnic site 9, the Bald-Faced hornet nest is reduced to the size of a large grapefruit. At picnic site 1, the hummingbird nest is dissipating. I can partially see through its weaving.

Another storm front is approaching, and at mile 1.3, the wind gusts at 30 miles per hour while six anterless elk graze on a west hillside about three hundred feet away. The Gambel’s oaks creak and groan. Leaves rustle, and a single leaf loudly tumbles across the surface of the snow. There is a fourth sound. Where the wind causes two small branches to collide, they make a subtle dull and hollow thud sound, similar to tone of musical wooden xylophone. In their resting state, it sound as if the branches of trees are empty of water.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 10th, 1957, he records a -8 degree F. temperature with heavy snows that have trapped him at home. He recalls summer. On January 10th, 1858, Thoreau prescribes the snow-covered beauty of catkins as a remedy for winter seasonal affect disorder. He notes that any sight of “catkins, birds’ nests, insect life” is welcomed in winter. He observes a sunset in which pink light is reflected off of snow.

November 26, 2016

November 26th

The White Tube is Gone

3:30 p.m. In the city, it again reaches into the fifties, and in the canyon at mile 1.1, the white tube (Nov. 24th) has melted, and the trees are again brown. With less water from snow fed water drops, the lichen on tree trunks have lost their bright green luster and are again becoming a dull orange-brown. It is a holiday weekend, and during the two hours on the lower two miles of the road that I am traverse, I count 91 unique persons.

The canyon is still cold and brisk at mile 1.1, but as I exit into the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.2, the temperature rises by fifteen degrees. The air is quite warm. This is the breeze catching the air heated by sun-soaking grass on the north-west slope. Earlier in the day, this warm air must have penetrated to the narrows at mile 1.1 and melted the white tube. It being warmer, the deer are not driven into the lower canyon and are not seen at the usual winter grazing places high on the canyon ridgeline.

The Sun begins to fall behind the south-east ridge as I reach the second meadow at mile 2.1, and there I hear my first bird of the day: a distant chickadee. Going down canyon at the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.3, the Sun, which is now much more southerly than a month ago, sets behind the south-eastern ridge instead of the north-western ridge. Here, the second bird, a lone Black-billed magpie patrols this open space.

Because the Sun is setting more southerly and behind the south-east ridge, as it sets, the road is in shade, but a shaft of light runs up the canyon and illuminates the north-western canyon wall and half of the meadow. Suddenly, a flock of fifty birds follows this shaft of light up the canyon and lands on the Gambel’s oaks higher up the canyon wall and about four hundred feet away. They are too far to identify, even through my monocular, but they have dark colored wings and white underbellies. The Sun is at its lowest, and the brown meadows and hillside are bathed in a yellow luminescent glow. After resting for a couple of minutes, the flock of fifty alights in unison, and slowly ascend to about one-hundred and fifty feet above the canyon the floor. As their wings flap, their lighter underbellies are exposed, and the yellow sunlight brightly reflects off the belly down. As they fly, the fifty birds flash like yellow beacons against the darkening blue sky, but are far more pleasing than any man-made object. The flock rallies and returns to their flight up-canyon and some unknown destination. As this first flock leaves, a second flock of fifteen stragglers arrives from down-canyon, and this second flock repeats the process. They land in the same oaks; rest; and after two or three minutes, resume their up canyon flight. It is special time.

As I about to exit the canyon at mile 0.1, I turn and look up canyon. All is darkness and grey, and there is no hint of, but only a remembrance of, rising birds bathed in a yellow glow.

It is now 7:30 p.m., and another winter storm front is approaching the valley.

November 25th

Filed under: Meadow Mile 1.3, Mule Deer, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:37 pm

The White Tube Continues

4:30 p.m. Temperatures reached 50 degrees in the city today, but the canyon remains cooler. The white tube is gone completely between guardhouse gate and the mile 1.1. Between mile 1.1 and mile 1.25, there a short stretch into which the Sun cannot reach, and here the white tube survives. The trees remain frosted with white, but the some of the snow surrounding branches and at the end of twigs have turned to ice. The water treatment plant workers have sanded the road, and this helps the bicyclists that yesterday had to dismount and pick their way up and down the icy road. At mile 1.3, a couple with binoculars points out three deer. One on the north-west ridge is a proud stag with long antlers that is silhouetted against a yellow sunset sky. On the south-east canyon wall, two doe are sitting in the snow separated by a quarter-mile. At first, I thought they be ill because deer are rarely seen bedding, but when running down canyon, both have stood up and are browsing. They were just resting, like me, after enjoying the warming rays of the setting Sun.

It is a holiday weekend and no one is working downtown; however, it is a traditional shopping day and downtown is fuller than usual. At mile 0.2, the roar of city rumble (Nov. 18th) is deafening compared the winter silence of the canyon.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 25th, 1853, he observes at sunset that one-half the sky is clouded, but the clouds end at a straight line over his head. The over side of the sky is clear. On November 25th, 1857, he sees a fox crossing a road at twilight. On November 25th, 1860, Thoreau notes how a winter storm has driven and concentrated crows in a meadow.

November 19, 2016

November 19th

Filed under: Crabapple trees, Guardhouse Gate picnic area, Horsechestnut, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:37 pm

Where Have All the Crabapples Gone?

Yesterday’s snow has completely melted on the south facing slopes of the canyon, but snow still lingers on the north facing angles and in the most shaded portions of the narrow, lower portion of the canyon. This begins the process of restoring soil moisture in the canyon. Previously, the summer sun evaporated almost all of the water from the ground. Even after a Fall storm, the sun was strong enough to remove the newly fallen water from the soil column. But now the Sun has lost its power, and from now until spring, repeated snow fall and melting will again make the first few meters of soil saturate with water. At mile 1.1, a wind-protected south facing slope that is covered with trees that still retain their leaves, is a contrast of white and orange-brown leaves.

It is warm enough that runners have returned to wearing only shirts, and the parking lot is packed and overflowing with cars. There are even two horseback mounted bow hunters on the road. During this warm recovery, only three insects are seen: an unidentified moth at the parking lot, an immature Box elder bug, and a miniature Thin-legged Wolf spider.

At the Guardhouse Gate picnic area, I notice an overlooked cultivar: a fifteen foot crabapple tree that was previously hidden behind the leaves of the horsechestnut trees. In its highest branches, there are still twelve apples. I throw a stick in the tree, and dislodge one. It is in good condition despite the recent cold weather, rain, and snow. This is my second canyon apple for this year.

Back on October 5th at 2:00 p.m., as usual I am jogging while looking down at my feet. As I look down near picnic site 6, I see a small red crabapple without any blemishes sitting on the road. It looks identical to one that I purchased at a local supermarket earlier that day, only slightly smaller. Looking up, I was standing underneath one of the canyon’s cultivars. Historically, domestic fruit trees have been planted along the road about every three-quarters of a mile. These non-native trees could have planted when an enterprising Mormon pioneer first forced a road up the canyon in 1853 to start a saw mill, or at some later time, e.g. – in the 1950s when the water treatment plant was constructed. There is no historical record of the planting.

This afternoon, I am standing next to two green crabapple trees near the old Pleasant Valley Reservoir site at mile 1.7. Last year in October, both were full crabapples. During October through early November, each day I would pick a green crabapple from the high branches above the browse line of deer for a snack. This year, there are none here or at two others between here and the water treatment plant at mile 3.4. These crabapple trees stayed green through October 15th, and then over a short four day period, they turned a bright yellow and their leaves fell. Today, they are all sleeping leafless trunk and twig.

This year, I had to make do with my two red crabapples – which were both delicious, instead of the usual twenty. Where have all the green crabapples gone?

November 8, 2016

November 8th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Meadow Mile 1.3, River birch, Sounds, Stream, Unidentified, Watercress — canopus56 @ 11:13 pm

Birding Season Starts

2:30 p.m. On this warm, clear fall day, the first mile of the canyon is now leafless, and this has opened up the lower canyon. In the spring and summer, the first mile is green tube. One can see only a few feet into the surround thicket of Gambel’s oaks and River birches. At most, vision penetrates 20 or 30 feet, and this provides good cover for birds. In the summer, you can hear many birds behind the leaves’ screen, but it is fruitless to wait and try to catch a glimpse of them. Now with the leaves gone, you see 100, 200, and even 300 feet into the forest and around trunks and branches. The stream is also past its summer minimum; it is a few inches higher, as can been seen by some of the watercress that is now submerged. Since the leaves now longer muffle or block the sound of the stream and the stream makes more noise because of its higher flow. The stream, and not crickets, are the main background sound of in the first mile.

At mile 1.3, I hear an unfamiliar bird call – a series of short chirps. A mid-sized bird with a blue back (it is not a scrub jay) flutters in the middle of a scrub oak copse, but now I can see the bird. I follow it with my monocular as the bird flits from branch to branch, but it is too quick to make a positive identification. But this is a good omen. It marks the beginning of birding season, and things will only improve until next spring. During the coming winter, the cold weather will drive birds closer to the road, where they can be seen, and in the spring, when migrants first return to nest, there will be no leaves to hide them.

September 28, 2016

September 28th

Filed under: Insects, Meadow Mile 1.3, People, Places, Pleasant Valley, Sunflower, Uncategorized, Wasp — canopus56 @ 8:00 pm

Iridescent Wasps

2:00 p.m. The last of the sunflowers in Pleasant Valley are giving out, and a just a few remain at the natural gas check-value in Pleasant Valley at mile 1.3 across from picnic site 11. I check them for pollinators. One is surrounded by a swarm of about 10 micro wasps. They are less than one-quarter of an inch long and are steely dark blue green. Their thoraxes and heads are iridescent, and their wings are brown-black. They are definitely not flys, as they have discernible stingers. They are not the same micro-wasps seen back on August 9th. Those had yellow banding on their thoraxes while these are completely black. I am unable to identify these wasps, nor have I seen them before in the canyon.

In the canyon on this warm fall afternoon, there are two groups, lead by graduate teaching assistants, of university biology seniors studying plant systematics (University of Utah BIO 5435). They carefully go through each plant along the roadside and discuss its scientific name. These are the real current and future experts on classifying life in the canyon.

Late in the evening, another storm front moves in, and a cold rain falls.

September 23, 2016

September 22nd, Fall

Filed under: Bicyclist, Light, Meadow Mile 1.3, People, Pleasant Valley, Runners, Smells, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:31 am

I am Happy that I am Happy Jogging in the Dark

7:30 p.m. First day of Fall. It’s been raining on and off for most of the day and evening in the Canyon, the storm clouds are formed solid layer about 1,500 feet above the valley floor. This just touches the ridge lines on either side of the canyon at the meadow at Mile 1.3, and beneath the cloud bottoms, a light dusting of snow can be seen on Little Twin Peaks.

This is a typical storm for the last week of September. After a dry summer, a low cloud layer backs up against Wasatch Front mountains , and great bolts of lightening travel horizontally between clouds. Generally, the lightning is silent but occasionally, the flash is followed by loud “crack”. It is not uncommon for these storms to begin in the evening and to last all night. Lightning in the early hours of the morning often wakes the city up or when lightening hits an electrical line, it plunges portions of the city Into darkness for a few hours.

These early fall storms are a harbinger of the winter to come. In a wet year, these storms can last up to 10 days. In a wet year, these heavy early storms blanket the high Wasatch mountains with snow, and young hard-core backcountry skiers, eager to prove their manhood by putting themselves against nature, race to the highest peaks in order to claim the informal prize of laying “first tracks” in this season’s snow. But in a drought year, and this is a drought year, these storms last one or two days, and then are followed by a couple of days of sunshine. By the first week of October, the storms end, and the weather again becomes warm. But around the first day of November, an early winter grips northern Utah. Then over two or three-days, temperatures will drop 30 degrees, and overnight sub-freezing temperatures will be the norm until next March.

Tonight it has become dark, and while I jog through the storm protected by my rain poncho, after a lightning flash, a very heavy downfall ensues. The air is tinged with a sharp clean scent of winter. Under the running poncho, I am dry but my shoes are wet. Although dark, the road is still well lit. The city lights reflect off below clouds, and the road is covered in a mirror like surface of rain. This surface reflects the light coming off the bottom of the clouds, and so seeing is not difficult. This is a special form of light known to most Salt Lake City residents: light reflected off the streets at night during and just after a storm where the air is thick with moisture. The effect is caught in the Salt Lake Cityscapes of a local artist, Kathryn Horne. The sound of raindrops hitting my poncho and the ebb and flow of the wind through the trees makes for a meditative and relaxing jog, notwithstanding the cold and wet. Last night at this same spot in Pleasant Valley of the canyon, crickets roared in unison with a loud song, but with tonight’s pounding rain, all insect and animal life huddle in silence under the woodland canopy.

Lest you think that I’m crazy, I am not alone. Another runner zips by. He in his seventies and although he is more than ten years my senior, he still runs two or three times faster than I can ever hope to ever jog. A mountain biker also passes. At the mouth of the canyon, three runners stand next to their cars, who are dressed in light running clothes, talk to one another as if the downpour does not exist. Their clothes are drenched, but they are grinning.

I mean the following with no sense of animus or superiority over my fellow members of our modern consumer society, but I am happy that I am happy jogging in the dark and in the rain. Although I am dry under my poncho, my shoes are wet. I am happy that I am happy not doing what I would otherwise be doing: sitting in the steel white light of a computer or television screen watching the just released season of new entertainment shows. A marketing t-shirt currently popular among young people expresses a similar sentiment: “Just shut up and run.”

It is 11 o’clock p.m. when I finally get around to a dinner of hot stew, and it is still raining heavily outside. The earlier wet run and the continuing rain makes the stew taste all that much better. Tonight, fierce Winter made its first assault on gentle Summer, and for a time it seemed like Winter would overwhelm Summer’s defenses. But just and kind Autumn intervenes, she raises her sword, and she deters Winter for another month. But Winter will return and will prevail. By jogging in the dark, I will be ready for his return already adapted for the cold and with a strong , welcoming heart.


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