City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 9, 2017

March 9th

Filed under: Eastern Boxelder Bug, mile 1.2, Moon, Moth, Mule deer, Mule Deer, picnic site 7 — canopus56 @ 10:14 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – First Peoples – Part VII

5:30 p.m. It is again warm today, but I do not get to the canyon until late, and even so, the parking lot is overflowing and their are thirty people in the first mile. It is the warmth of pre-spring that draws people. The canyon looks dreary, but perhaps that is because I am in a poor mood. Everything is waiting for more light. Plants on the side of the road look dirty; the leaf litter is slowly transforming into a paste that will foster this spring’s growth. Although it is dusk, a few Box Elder bugs are out and a moth flutters by. Below picnic site 7 on the west side of the road and across from the overhanging rock (Jan. 3rd), there is an intermittent spring whose small rivulet runs down an earth bank and along the road. I start up the bank to trace the rivulet back to its source, but then hear a branch crack behind me. Turning around, on south-east side of the canyon and across the stream, two mule deer are picking their way through the undergrowth. They see me turn and freeze. One of the deer stands with one foot held above the ground in mid-step. I wait for a minute and rather than stress them further, I decide to continue up the road and leave their forest home to them alone. At mile 1.1, a nearly full Moon hangs over Black Mountain, and this contrasts the earlier earlier afternoon Moon also seen over Black Mountain on March 7th. Coming back down canyon, I remark about the deer to a canyon regular – a man who daily walks an abused dog that he rescued from a shelter. He patiently was been working with the animal for a year, trying to reduce its aggressiveness. He reports that at dusk yesterday, there was a herd of fifty or sixty deer on the western slope above mile 1.2. Although he is known to me to be a reliable reporter, not prone to exaggeration, this is the type of report that needs to be witnessed directly. Fifty or sixty deer in one herd is more than I have ever seen or heard reported in the canyon, but his description does indicate that the deer have begun their spring move.

Occasionally, humanity does aspire to greatness and it tries to fix its missteps and injustices. For example, the Northern Ute Tribe received $272 million under the 1992 Central Utah Project as compensation for the United States’ failure to complete the Unitah portion of the multi-basin water project. In 2010, the State of Utah agreed to pay $33 million to the Navajo Nation related to the mismanagement of trust royalties for the 6,000 Navajos living in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. Conversely, no monies were actually paid to Northern Utes when they succeeded their lands to the United States under an 1868 Treaty with the United States.

In modern economics study, much is made of the economic miracle of the United States since the initial North American colonization and the exceptional peoples who created that miracle. A typical undergraduate first economics course is Heilbroner and Singer’s “The Economic Transformation of the America: 1600 to the Present”. Heilbroner and Singer’s economic narrative parallels the history of Euro-American Utah: hard-working, creative, persistent immigrants following free market principles took a raw valueless land and turned it into an economic powerhouse unparalleled in human history. The subtext message of the authors is that Americans are exceptional, and, similarly, the Mormons by their religious beliefs also feel themselves to be exceptional even among exceptional Americans. A simpler explanation of the Utah and United States economic miracle is that Euro-Americans were better capitalized. In settlement of the 1848 water with Mexico, the United States paid Mexico about $19.65 per square mile, or 3 cents an acre, for western lands including present day Utah. In present day Utah of the 84,899 square miles, or 54,335,360 acres, about 31 percent is held privately or by the State of Utah. After 1851, Utahans could buy homestead land at $1.25 per acre in 1850 currency, and in 1805, United States undeveloped land was valued at about $2.00 per acre. Thus, in 1850, future private and state lands were conservatively worth about 33,687,922 USD in 1850 currency or 740,198,508 USD in 2016 currency. That is about 148,039 USD for each of the 5,000 colonists of 1847. Viewing Utah as a “business venture”, starting a business with about 150,000 USD capitalization per shareholder is likely to be a successful prospect. Unknown to both the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists was the value of Utah’s mineral wealth, which extracted and still extracts billions of dollars per year from the earth. In 2016, the value of minerals extracted from Bingham Canyon and the Great Salt Lake were about $3 billion USD. Had the Euro-Americans of 1847 and western United States settlers kept to their fair market and contract law principles and paid the First Peoples the fair value for their lands, the Utah Euro-American colonists would have started out their business venture with a per capita debt of 150,000 USD in 2016 currency. If the Utah colonists had been true to their professed beliefs, then the economic history of Utah would have been much different. The same economic reasoning applies to much of the Manifest Destiny expansion of the United States westward of Appalachia’s in the 1800s. This reasoning should not and does not mean to denigrate the struggle, hard-work and sweat equity that the Euro-Americans, my ancestors, put into transforming the nation. But context is important to understanding the past and present, and certainty in one’s exceptionalism is the enemy of democracy because it prevents a person from seeing issues from another’s perspective and thus from reaching compromise.

Exceptional abilities implies choice within a given context. By 1847, the Euro-American colonists were well into the era of the Indian Removal Act of 1930, that established the precedent of removing First Peoples from lands west of the Mississippi. Removal of First Peoples was their cultural and political policy of first choice. But there were choices. The 5,000 colonists of 1847-1850 could have chosen to remain confined to Salt Lake Valley; they could have slowed the rate of their migration; they could have chosen to expand first to the north; they could have chosen to engage in a reparations program of providing supplemental cattle to First Peoples during the winter. The options are endless, but at the forefront of the colonists Indian policy was seizing the most fertile land in the region in Utah, not Salt Lake, valley. In this regard, the colonists of 1847 were not exceptional, and their behavior differed little from previous Euro-American contact with First Peoples up to that time.

City Creek Canyon also exists in a larger context. Sometimes that context is climate (Feb. 7th), and sometimes that context is the economic and political needs of the Euro-Americans as they developed the surrounding region (Feb. 24th). It is this relationship between nature and human resource and infrastructure needs that modified the pre-colonization condition of City Creek Canyon into what is seen today. Here, again context and ability implies choices. While the canyon has been modified since 1847, by historical accident and by political design, much of its 1847 pre-colonization state remains.

What choices did the Euro-Americans make, and how has nature in City Creek Canyon been changed from its 1847 condition by those choices as compared to the six other Salt Lake Valley canyons?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 9th, 1852, he notes that bluebirds arrive with the first warm wind (see March 7th here). March 9th, 1853, he opines that the first bark of the red squirrel is a sign of spring. On March 9th, 1854, he see a large flock of ducks and reflections of the landscape in water. On March 9th, 1855, he scares a rabbit from the brush.

January 12, 2017

January 11th

Filed under: Colors, mile 1.2, Owl, River birch, Smells, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:52 am

Water Birch Bark

3:00 p.m. Temperatures remain in the high forties, and in the morning there is heavy rain shower. Eighty-percent o the snow has been stripped from both canyon walls, and even in the shaded road, the snow is half gone. The air is smells heavy with moisture and the earth. The bark of the river or water birch trees have changed to a light silver color. I compare today’s color with a photograph taken on September 23rd, and during the summer and autumn, the bark of the same tree at picnic site 3 was dark gray.

7:00 p.m. During a second jog in the dark, at mile 1.2 two owls are having a call and response session. I cannot locate them by sound other than to obtain a general direction. Their low-pitched calls travel great distances.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 11th, 1852, he sees green patches of light in overcast sky at sunset. On January 11th, 1859, he records a -22 degree Fahrenheit temperature and hears the frozen ground loudly cracking open. On January 11th, 1861, Thoreau examines the contents of a crow shot by a neighbor in order to during the crow’s diet. He finds apples, berries, acorns, the bones of small animals and a pebble.

January 4, 2017

January 3rd

Filed under: Geology, mile 1.2, picnic site 8, red bridge — canopus56 @ 12:51 am


5:30 p.m. In the last twenty-four hours, about a one-foot of snow has fallen in the canyon. I only go for a short run to milepost 1.0 and the red bridge. Up canyon from the red bridge to mile 1.1 and below picnic site 7, as noted in part on December 24th, the canyon contains three types of rock. First, on the south east canyon wall and running down to the far (south) side of the stream are shelves of “Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2,” a “[c]onglomerate and sandstone and sandstone, pale-brown to medium-gray, poorly consolidated to well-cemented. . . .” (Van Horn and Crittenden’s 1987). The effect of erosion in the canyon, by both wind and water, are best seen here. The water-drilled natural arch at the red bridge (Dec. 24th) is made of Van Horn’s red sandstone conglomerate. Above on the south canyon wall is Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is eroded by many air and freeze-thaw water hollows and proto-arches. Second, above the natural arch at the red bridge and on the south-east canyon side of the stream are layers of Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2 of the Van Horn’s medium-gray color type. Both these layers formed between 35 and 37 million years ago when the canyon and Utah were part of an inland sea at the foot of a mountain range to the west. The lower gray layers were deposited when the sea was deeper, and the upper sandstone as the mountain ranges were nearly worn down and the sea was filling in. Between the red bridge and below picnic site 7, large grey-green conglomerate boulders stick out of the hill-side and are being undercut by stream. In one extreme case, an overhanging fifteen foot ledge has been undercut by the water, but it is being held in place by tree growing on its top side. In another unusual example, a stone the size of a house is partially undercut by the stream (described on Dec. 31st as providing ice-forming shade). In the future, it this undercut outcrop will fall into the stream and perhaps form a new natural arch. Third, on the west side of the stream and extending down to Guardhouse Gate are, according to Van Horn and Crittenden, “Tt – Tuffaceous deposits (Tertiary) – Siltstone, sandstone, and limestone containing abundant volcanic shards . . .” This layer is also between 35 and 37 million years old. Three hundred feet upstream from the red bridge, a twelve foot tall boulder of Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2 has rolled into the middle of the stream. It is an anomaly, in that it survives undercutting, but has been carved by water into an an egg shape. I call it the “zen rock”.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 3rd, 1853, he identifies nature with the female aspect and humans with the male aspect.

On January 3rd, 1911, geology professor Fred J. Pack gave a lecture on the Wasatch Fault, and described how the line of the fault extends from Box Elder County in the north, travels through City Creek Canyon, and then on to Nephi in the south. Dr. Pack described a 100 foot escarpment caused by an earthquake that is associated with the fault near the Beck Street Hot Springs (Salt Lake Tribune).

Blog at