City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 30, 2017

January 30th

Filed under: Birds, Elk, milepost 1.5, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:52 pm

Wing Flutter

4:30 p.m. Because of the inversion layer, the air quality index on this clear day is in the unhealthy range of 150 and about 55 micrograms of PM 2.5 dust for each cubic meter of air. There are no air quality monitoring stations in the canyon, but a private station up Emigration Canyon also reads an AQI of 150. At milepost 1.5 in City Creek, on Black Mountain, the trees are no longer white frosted (Jan. 27th), but are again green. Black Mountain is seen through a dusty haze and as the sun sets is glows pink, not yellow, from the air pollution.

Turning down-canyon, two events quickly happen in the twilight. On the high west ridge the silhouette of a large bull elk appears. He has large antler rack that is visible to the naked eye from almost a mile away. Through my monocular, I count five points on each antler. This bull is safe from hunters (Jan. 27th); only taking antler-less elk is currently legal, and the antler-less hunt ends tomorrow.

Next, a flock of small birds silently flies about fifty feet overhead traveling up-canyon. There are about seventy-five in all, and although there is simple city rumble noise (Jan. 14th), I can hear the delicate sound of their wings fluttering in the thick cold air. In the dimming light I cannot identify them, but I suspect that they are European house sparrows. A owl and three chickadees are heard but not seen. At one of the spring seeps near mile 0.7, another unidentified bird lands a tuft of grass in the seeps and expertly dips down to take a sip of the cold trickle of water. It flits to another tuft and then repeats this twice before flying off.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 30th, 1877, Carl Dahlgreen displayed his painting of Pleasant Valley, City Creek Canyon at the Salt Lake Tribune offices (Salt Lake Tribune). It is one of his series of Utah landscapes. Carl Dahlgreen (a.k.a Charles Dahlgren) immigrated from Denmark to Salt Lake City in 1870 where he opened an art school. In 1878, he moved to California and become a noted California landscape painter (askArt, Family History). The current location of his painting of Pleasant Valley is unknown.


January 27, 2017

January 27th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Elk, milepost 1.5 — canopus56 @ 8:18 pm

Black Mountain, Yellow Mountain

4:30 p.m. It has been the first clear day of blue sky in almost one week, and I have forgotten what Black Mountain looks like. In the lower canyon, the snow-covered high walls are covered in deer or elk tracks, but I do not see either mammal directly. On parts to the south ridge, a three or four feet cornice has formed. Near sunset at milepost 1.5, Black Mountain comes into view. Normally, the Black Mountain is black or dark green due to its heavy coverage of Lodgepole pine and Douglas firs, but today the mountain is completely snow-blasted white. This makes Black Mountain look more fierce and crag-like than it really is, and, as the sun sets, the mountain becomes ablaze in yellow light.

At mile 0.5, I pass two anterless elk hunters coming down-canyon. They drag a sled that contains at most thirty-forty pounds of meat. They have not butchered well and have left two-hundred to three-hundred pounds of meat rotting in the watershed. Later, I discover that this is possibly an illegal take. Near mile 1.3, their sled tracks and footprints trudge up and back down the mountain side, but legal rifle hunting in the canyon does not begin until after mile 4.0. This may also explain why I see no elk or deer. The anterless elk hunt ends on January 31st.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 27th, he sees small nests of wasps made from mud. (These are probably nests of the mud dauber wasp.)

January 17, 2017

January 16th

Filed under: mile 0.5, milepost 1.5, Mule Deer, Owl, Sounds — canopus56 @ 4:18 am

Owl Calls

5:00 p.m. The city air is increasingly poor as the inversion layer builds, and the bad air seeps up into the canyon. I endeavor to jog high enough to reach above it, and since it is a holiday, there are many runners on the road with the same goal. On a late evening jog to milepost 1.5, there are two deer grazing at mile 0.3 on the snow melted south wall of the canyon. Because it is a holiday, there is no city rumble. The noise feels at a minimum, but I measure background noise at 40 decibels. Footfalls can be heard as individual steps for each passerby. Near milepost 1.0, I photograph the sawed-off end of a large tree trunk, intending in the future to count its rings. In the silence at milepost 1.5, the two owls heard on January 11th again call to each other in the twilight. Going down canyon, a third is heard near mile 0.4.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 16th, 1857, he describes sedge grass encased in a thick layer of ice. On January 16th, 1860, he describes a feeding technique of sparrows. They grab branches and shake them to cause the seeds to fall to the ground.

On January 16th, 1878, a group of citizens led by H.P. Kimball had proposed to the city that the city lay a waterline over the City ridge, probably to the high Avenues. The Avenues were then called the “Dry Bench” because homeowners had to haul water by hand to their homes from the lower Avenues. A committee appointed by the City Council to examine the matter did not recommend adoption of the proposal (Salt Lake Herald).

January 6, 2017

January 6th

Filed under: milepost 1.5, Picnic site 9 — canopus56 @ 5:22 pm

Lake Bonneville

1:00 p.m. Temperatures remain in the teens today; the Refrigerator (Dec. 28th) continues. While driving to Guardhouse Gate and at the corner of 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive, I see two another areas of recent landslide activity. On the west side of lower City Creek Canyon along East Capitol Boulevard and north of the Capitol grounds, is another large landslide area shown on the Salt Lake County geologic hazard map. One home owner along East Capitol has constructed three stories of cement block wall below their home as insurance to keep their home from moving. This landslide area continues up canyon to picnic site 3. Turning the corner on to Bonneville Drive towards the canyon, there is a low concrete wall that the City erected to hold back the sliding slope on the east or right side of the road. Jogging up to picnic site 9, then on to milepost 1.5, and turning back down canyon, a rockslide can be seen on the southeast wall at the entrance to Pleasant Valley. This slide is shown on both the Van Horn and Salt Lake County geologic maps, but not being a geologist, I am unsure what the maps refer to. There appears to be a slump at the base of this wall, but there are also large boulders on the hill side that have cleaved from sandstone layers and tumbled downhill.

Jogging downhill, I come to picnic site 7 and then the red bridge at mile 0.9 at an elevation of 4,712 feet. A lay geologic guide to the Wasatch Canyons of the Utah Geologic Survey marks this area where a beach of ancient Lake Bonneville stabilized during 14,000 to 12,500 years ago (Ut. Geo. Survey, n.d.; see Stratford 1999). The Provo Bench of Lake Bonneville frames the lower canyon at Bonneville Drive on the east and below Ensign Peak on the west. The Provo Bench was first identified in G. K. Gilbert’s classic 1890 geologic investigation titled “Lake Bonneville” while Gilbert was employed by John Wesley Powell, the great western river explorer and first director of the United States Geological Survey (Gilbert; Stratford). After the lake first formed about 30,000 years ago, the lake grew and eventually formed the Provo Pleistocene epoch beach that extends up into the canyon near picnic site 7. But this was not the highest level of the lake, and between 16,500 and 15,000 years ago, the lake temporarily reached its highest level at around 5,325 feet, or just below the water treatment plant. While at the lower Provo bench level, City Creek formed a fan-shaped delta below the surface of the water that reached to the present location of the Mormon Temple. Hintze reproduces a fanciful reconstruction by De Courten of Ice Age animals seen from a viewpoint looking south from the vicinity of City Creek and the State Capitol 15,000 years ago (Hintze, 118). At about 11,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville quickly reduced, but paused briefly at 4,250 feet to create the faint Gilbert Shoreline (Hintze, 119, Fig. 152). Then the lake’s level fell to its current level of 4,206 feet, and at that time, the first evidence of human habitation at the fringes of the lake were found in Danger Cave near Wendover, Nevada (id). Because of the rapid reduction in the lake’s level, the resulting high stream velocity was able to crave out of that fan-shaped delta, the v-shaped canyon seen today below Guardhouse Gate and Bonneville Drive. In order to exploit the resource provided by the ancient delta fan, through the 1910s, a gravel pit operated in the lower canyon in the location of Memory G6rove (Salt Lake Tribune, April 12th, 1911).

Driving downtown after my jog, I turn back and look at the hillside above Warm Springs on Beck Street. There is a fainter lower terrace at about 4,500 feet elevation that Gilbert named the Stansbury Bench (Stratford, 369; Hintze, 119). Some years ago when I worked downtown during lunch, I would run up to the Stansbury bench west of the State Capitol building. This lower bench was created between 30,000 and 16,500 years ago as Lake Bonneville was first forming (Stratford, 369). Looking to the west and Antelope Island, the three benches, the Bonneville, Provo and Stansbury benches, can be seen carved on its eastern side; however, the bench elevations on the Antelope Island are higher than the elevations of the corresponding benches on the western side of the Wasatch Mountain Front Range in and near City Creek. Gilbert first noted this in 1890, and he reasoned that the weight of 1,000 feet of water had pushed the land down as the beaches were forming (Stratford 369-370). After the waters receded, the land at the center of the lake rebounded and raised the benches.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 6th, 1838, he describes a mixture of star-shaped snowflakes and round grapple snow.

On January 6th, 1939, the Utah Audubon Society planned a monthly field trip up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 6th, 1883, two miners attempted to reach Snell’s mine more than seven miles up City Creek Canyon. After traveling two miles in neck deep snow, one miner collapsed from exhaustion, the second miner made it back to the City exhausted, and the first miner was rescued the following day with frost-bitten, black feet.

December 30, 2016

December 30th


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 11, 2016

December 11th

Filed under: Colors, Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, milepost 1.5, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:17 pm

Rain Drops and the Half Black Tube

3:00 p.m., December 10th, 2016. The clouds from last night have thickened and it has rained for most of the afternoon. The half-day of rain has created new color contrasts in the canyon. As I drive to the gate and at the 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive turn, hues from the grasses on the west slope of the lower canyon have turned from a bleached light-tan to a golden-brown. They contrast with the Gambel’s oak that have turned coal black from the soaking. This effect continues up canyon as I jog under my rain poncho up to the oak forest at milepost 1.5. The first mile is a “half-tube” of black oaks on the north and west side of the road. Compare the green tube (comment, Nov. 11th), the yellow tube (Oct. 11th), the brown tube (Oct. 24th) and the white tube (Nov. 24th). At mile 1.3, again the maple trees high on the south slope that retain some brown-orange leafs have a good contrast with the now wet dark tan hillside (November 19th). But the Gambel’s oaks show more subtle colors. The tips of the groves are tinged red-brown and the green of the lichen is emphasized. For some oak groves, the lower trunk is soaked black, the mid-trunk remains a dry gray, the upper third is green with lichens, and the top is reddish-brown. But from a distance, these subtleties are lost, and the groves look a deep black. In just a few days, the orange lichens near picnic site 9 (December 6th) have reverted back to a greenish color.

On closer inspection, the reddish-tinge at the oak grove’s fringes are this year’s new sprig growth. Each sprig is a light brown color, as compared to the grey of the trunk, branches and smaller twigs. The sprigs contain the unopened buds that are ready for next year’s resurrection.

The buds are discontinuities on the smooth twigs and sprigs. Here the water collects into small droplets that contain miniature inverted images of the hillside in the distance. The size of the twigs are such that water tension prevents droplets forming along its length. Further down the canyon, the smaller and smoother twigs of the red dogwood bushes allow water to retain sufficient tension that the droplets form like beads along all of that species horizontal twigs.

The rain is light and the droplets are large. I stop at the pool at picnic site 6 and watch the sporadic droplets make large expanding ripples on the surface. The drops and their expanding ripple circles cover more than one-half the pool, interfere with each other, cancel one another, and then fade out of existence. This type of experience inspired thought experiments by physicists that led to the modern understanding of the dual nature of light a particle and a wave.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 11th, 1855, Thoreau revels about winter nature and states that, “[w]inter with its snow is no evil to be corrected.”

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