City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 11, 2017

July 8th

Filed under: Pleasant Valley, Starthistle — canopus56 @ 6:18 pm

Failed Grassland Restoration

4:00 p.m. It is the fifth day of summer heat over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I take a short jog to milepost 1.5. The City’s and Utah Conservation Corps attempted starthistle abatement at lower Pleasant Valley has failed. Their manual pulling and chemical application was initially successful, and their efforts resulted in a lush green field filling in with native grasses (Oct. 12th, Oct. 16th, Feb. 11th, May 17th, May 21st, June 10th). Now the treated field and slopes at lower Pleasant Valley are thickly covered with two foot high starthistle plants (June 16th). This year’s restoration budget to abate 100 acres of starthistle contaminated land in City Creek and Parley’s Canyons is about 86,000 USD (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2017a). A controlled burn may be needed to restore this area, as proposed in 2010, but homeowners adjacent to the canyon are resistant (Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities 2010a).

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 8th, 1854, he sees the light of a full Moon reflecting off rippled water, and he hears whippoorwills. He notes that shining rose (Rosa nitida) have completed their bloom. On July 8th, 1857, Thoreau counted the 126 rings in the stump of a sawed off white pine. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 8th, 1858 during a camping trip, he describes summiting a mountain in a cloud. There he is surrounded by white with a blue patch of sky above. He sees snow banks in high mountains. Through July 19th, 1858, he continues his description of his camping trip in New Hampshire mountains.

* * * *

On July 8th, 1998, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the status of the experimental off-leash dog areas, including up-canyon from Memory Grove in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 8, 1903, the National Guard planned a military tactics practice in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 8th, 1891, the Red Bird mine, three miles up City Creek Canyon, reported high grade ore strikes in lead, gold and silver (Provo Evening Dispatch).


June 23, 2017

June 22nd

Day of the Butterflies

Day of the Butterflies

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, the first mile canyon road is lined with butterflies, and in total there are about thirty in the first mile. A large Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), a black butterfly with contrasting red-orange chevrons, slowly moves up canyon. The Red Admiral is hawk of butterflies. Unlike most butterflies, that frenetically flap and change direction, the Red Admiral moves it wings in great, slow soaring motions. Cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) play in the hot sun as western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) also pass by. Two Common sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice eriphyle) chase each other. Two unidentified butterflies fly by. One is the bright yellow with a trailing black wingbar. The second is a small orange.

Large Common whitetail dragonflies patrol overhead. In the Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) weeds that lines both sides of the road, Western Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula penslvanica) feast.

At Pleasant Valley, city watershed crews are mowing the sides of the Pipeline Trail.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 22nd, 1851, he sees blooms of yellow loose strife and bladderwort. On June 22nd, 1852, he sees a rainbow after a thunderstorm. He observes that fireflies are numerous. On June 22nd, 1853, he notes that even night air is warm. During an evening walk, he notes that blueberries are coming in.

* * * *

On June 22nd, 2014, Nathan Peters set a new course record in the 35th annual Wasatch Steeple Chase, an annual running race that goes for 17 miles up City Creek Canyon, that gains 4,000 feet while going over Black Mountain, and end back down at Memory Grove (Deseret News). Two-hundred and forty runners participated. Peters finishes in two hours and eleven minutes (id). On June 22nd, 1996, Mayor Deedee Corradini temporarily ordered suspension of construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail due to complaints from Avenues’ residents (Salt Lake Tribune). Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Becker noted that that a controversial trail alignment near Ensign Peak was a condition of the developer receiving approval for a luxury subdivsion (id). On June 22nd, 1906, an Intermountain Republican editorial accused the Salt Lake Tribune of spreading lurid lies about Mormon culture in eastern newspapers, including that “Utah is steeped In lawlessness; that depravity runs riot; that the waters of City Creek canyon going down our gutters [are] tinted with the ruddy flow from blood atonement; that all Mormons are polygamist; and that a presentable woman is in peril of than her life . . .”

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).

May 18, 2017

May 14th

Filed under: Ants, Cricket, European earwig, Maple tree, People, Pleasant Valley, Raptor, Spider, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 4:32 pm

First Cricket

2:30 p.m. In the lower canyon, there are no butterflies except for one dusky brown and no songbirds. The song birds have moved to the warmer air at Pleasant Valley, and there I hear six or seven calling unseen from the groves. The first cricket of the season is heard at the lower field in Pleasant Valley. In two months, their chorus will be as loud as the song birds. Near mile 0.4, in the disease hollowed-out base of a 50 foot tall Red maple tree, a 1.5 millimeter black and brown spider has spun a web over the hollow’s entrance. A live victim struggles in its web. At the edges of the road, several one-half inch odd black bugs are active. They have a many-segmented abdomen and small pincers near their tails. These are immature European earwigs (Forficula auricularia). At the slightest disturbance, they bolt beneath rotting leaves. They have come to feed on smaller insects, like aphids. Three small black-winged ants are also dispersed evenly along the first mile. These may be male Carpenter ants searching for a new queen.

It is Mother’s Day and the canyon road, normally frequented by runners and ultra-bicyclists, is full of the unfit. The obese and elderly enjoy the canyon with more attention to their surroundings than the racers. After a clear and sunny morning, the evening canyon is overcast. The stream runs at maximum; the flood retention pond is within four feet of cresting the road even though this is not a flood year; and water streams five or six inches smoothly above the rock barrier that makes the pond at picnic site 5. As an experiment, I through progressively larger junks of wood into the swift moving waters, and from this the stream moves at an estimated twelve to fifteen miles per hour, about the speed of a bicycle on flat terrain. A bicyclist returning at a leisurely pace from the end of the road at mile 5.75 can run parallel to the same drop of stream water for one-half hour. On my United States Geological Service map for the canyon, the two ridgelines on either side of the canyon are collectively labelled the “Salt Lake Salient”, i.e. – a piece of land that juts out at an angle. In this case, the canyon and its two ridgelines jut out a forty-five degree angle from the larger wall of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and this northern salient defines the upper end of the Salt Lake Valley. At its southern end, another salient, the Traverse Ridge, juts out at a right angle, and it marks the valley’s lower end. Both are generated by earthquake faults, but in the case of City Creek, the fault line partially runs down the middle of the salient. Unlike Traverse Ridge, this allowed water to gain a foothill, to split the salient in two, and to crave out the cooler canyon below.

This evening, along the western ridgeline about a third of a mile away, a flock of 10 unidentified raptors are soaring on the wall’s updraft. They are two distant to identify, and over the next ten minutes, the recede up-canyon until the small points of their bodies can no longer be seen against the grey sky.

On May 14th, 1903, E. H. Airis sued the City to prevent it from diverting City Creek Canyon water such that Airis would not longer have irrigation water (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 14th, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald reported several active mines in City Creek Canyon (May 14, 1896).

May 5, 2017

April 28th

Filed under: Pleasant Valley, Stream — canopus56 @ 12:58 pm

The Never Ending Task

Noon. It has been warm this morning, but as I begin today’s jog a front moves in uncharacteristically from the northeast. It is counter-clockwise spin of another winter-like low pressure system, and with its arrival temperatures drop twenty degrees and cold rain falls. I notice today that there is an inconsistent flow above and below Pleasant Valley. There is more flow coming out of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.1 than goes into it at mile 1.7. In 1881, a city officer first recognized that about one-third of City Creek’s flow was seeping through the creek bottom at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald, August 9th, 1888), and in 1896, the city first proposed and then subsequently rip-rapped the stream bottom up to Pleasant Valley in order to reduce the loss (Salt Lake Herald, July 27th, 1896, July 26th, 1913). Could this work in reverse during spring rains? Are the heavy rains on the surrounding hillsides of the last few days, which are approximately of uniform height through mile 3.4, percolating through the rock and recharging the stream?

* * * *

On April 6th, I noted that the dominate Mormon society will have more future choices to make regarding the preservation of their canyons, including City Creek Canyon. It seems this is a never-ending battle. In this month’s issue of a local newsletter, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Councilperson Erin Mendenhall comment on current efforts of a Utah state legislative commission, the Utah Quality Growth Commission, to remove the state authority to pass ordinances to protect water quality in watersheds outside of the City’s boundaries (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-15 (2016)). Although that state authority has existed since first granted by the Territorial legislature and before statehood, implied supplemental authority was granted by the United States Congress in 1914 (March 13th, Public Law 63-199, see Public Law 73-259). The impetus for the Commission studying the proposal are real estate developers and a private inhold landowners in public Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons whose development opportunity is limited by the City’s refusal to grant them additional City-owned water permits. In response, Biskupski and Mendenhall noted that,

“For decades, critics of our protective approach have tried to chip away at Salt Lake City’s watershed management. But our hard line grew out of experience In the 1930s and into the 1940s, the City Creek Canyon watershed was contaminated through recreation overuse and grazing. This contamination led to a typhoid fever outbreak, making hundreds ill and causing several deaths. As a result, City Creek Canyon was closed to all public access and uses from 1950 through 1962. Fifty-five years later, the canyon is treasured by the public for recreation although certain restrictions are in place that successfully protect water quality.”

“Salt Lake City has heeded lessons on water quality disasters, and has prioritized the protection of our watersheds to avoid risk. This includes regulation, investment in land restoration, land preservation, stream restoration, sanitary facilities and watershed education. As a result, our drinking water is clean, and we have avoided public health disasters and economic impacts from water contamination that have so profoundly affected other communities.”

. . . .

“An ongoing and one-sided conversation about Salt Lake City’s watershed protection policies was initiated last summer by the Utah Quality Growth Commission. This effort is fueled by water speculators and land developers critical of Salt Lake City’s watershed regulation. The goal of some of the commission and the handful of developers is to change Utah Code 10-8-15 . . . Weakening this law will restrict our ability to protect our drinking water sources from pollution.” (Biskupski and Mendenhall, April 2017, Utah Code Ann. 10-8-15).

In a draft issue analysis paper, the Utah Quality Growth Commission outlined various objections to the one-hundred years of City’s protection of water quality along the Wasatch Front canyons,

“Authority granted by the state must protect the public health, welfare, safety, recreation and economic growth of the state and be science based. . . . . County and State Residents are disenfranchised by the extra-territorial jurisdiction. . . . . No scientific justification has been advanced for increasing the watershed jurisdiction beyond the standard municipal jurisdiction of 300 feet on either side of the creek for 15 miles or 1100 acres. . . . . [No scientific evidence] is ever offered by Salt Lake City for regulations like . . . prohibiting wading in streams. . . . Despite Surplus Water being available, Salt Lake City refuses to sell water to anyone in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons. This prohibition on new water connections has been in place since 1991. . . . . Salt Lake City Water Empire. Salt Lake City’s used and unused water holdings are so massive that Salt Lake City has effective control of much of Utah’s water.” (Utah Quality Growth Comm. Sept. 9, 2016, pp. 2-8)

This continuing conflict of between the general public, who favors preserving the Wasatch Front Canyons in a less developed state for its watershed and recreation values, and wealthy real estate and business interests, who seek to turn the canyons into another version of Vail, Colorado, is fueled by small-lot private in-holdings. These can be turned into luxury ski cabins worth millions of dollars, as has occurred in the Park City, Utah drainage to the east (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 23, 2017). Local attorney Patrick Shea noted that, “When there is that kind of economic disparity of values, the vultures of development want to swoop in in search of profit regardless of the impact to watershed” (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 23, 2017).

This long-simmering controversy between real estate development interests, the City, and Wasatch Front residents seems to have no end. The City, directly and through the Metropolitan Water District created in the 1930s by popular elections along the entire Wasatch Front, has water-banked substantial reserves and does use its power, along with other cities along the Front, to restrict development in the watershed. In this they are supported by ordinary citizens. The present controversy is reminiscent of the 1870s between Brigham Young and Robert Baskin (March 21st and April 1st, above). In the current cycle, the City is being cast as Brigham Young and faceless real estate interests and few notable small lot holders having taken on the roll of Baskin. The arguments advanced on both sides focus on water pollution and water quality, but the discourse ignores the lessons learned from the storm floods of the 1920s and 1930s. Removal or small areas of coverage at the headwaters of Wasatch Front Range canyons leads to devastating downstream floods during cloudburst storm events (Bailey, Cottam 1945, Forsling, Utah Flood Commission, April 6th, above). Given the federal watershed grants of 1914 and 1934, if the City’s right to protect watershed is curtailed, all of the other Wasatch Front Canyons may be dramatically changed. But City Creek Canyon should remain the same, since the City has acquired almost all of the land above mile 0.3 of the road. City Creek, unlike the other canyons, is not plagued by numerous private in-holdings.

* * * *

On April 28th, 1920, the $3,300,000 special water issue bond was defeated (Salt Lake Herald). On April 28th, 1916, the City Commission decided to use only prison labor to finish the scenic boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 28th, 1908, Mark Aaron, a prison laborer working on the City Creek Road was shot and killed while trying to escape (Deseret Evening News). He was serving a 90 day sentence for vagrancy. The officer claimed he was aiming a Aaron’s legs, but hit Aaron in the head instead.

January 6, 2017

January 5th

Filed under: Geology, Pleasant Valley — canopus56 @ 2:52 am


External Link to Image

4:00 p.m. Last night another foot of snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped into the teens. Instead of jogging up the canyon, I drive up to the top of Terrace Hills Drive and then jog up to the south-east ridge between the Avenues and City Creek Canyon. The ridge between the Avenues and City Creek is favored by runners because of the dramatic views of the city and, in the distance, of the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island. It is here that local climbing legend and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson would run during the depths of winter’s inversion haze in order to escape the bad air of the city.

I am here to look for a geologic feature in the canyon shown on the Van Horn and Crittenden’s 1987 map and a Salt Lake County geologic hazards map: a large landslide on the west side of the canyon that extends from mile 1.2, picnic site 9, to about mile 2.5. This landslide is not apparent standing on the road between mile 1.0 and mile 2.0, but from vantage point of a peak on the south ridge, I am over taken by immensity of the slide. The leafless trees and winter’s snow emphasizes the shape of the land. Several north-south trending side canyons regularly come off the opposite ridge, but centered near milepost 2.0, it is as if some Titan has deflated the land and its empty billowing shell floats above the bedrock. Pleasant Valley exists because of this landslide – the flatter land of the valley is a run out zone of the slide. Although this feature is undated on these experts maps, the slide must be geologically relatively recent. The stream has not had time to reshape the flat into the archetypal v-shape of a stream cut valley.

The slide has three parts. First, at the down-canyon opening of Pleasant Valley, just up canyon where a natural gas pipeline road climbs up the opposite ridge, there is a large sluff topped by a distinct scallop shape. This slide is not shown on the geologic maps. A few days ago, I watched deer grazing on that hillside (Dec. 31st). Second, beginning at picnic site 12 above milepost 1.5 and continuing to milepost 2.0, there is the large region of “deflated” land shown on geologic maps. Third, a smaller similar slide is near milepost 2.5. None of these landslides are apparent when walking or running up the canyon. The road is set at an elevation closer to the stream and on the north-west of the canyon the slide has created a ledge that hides the view of the much larger slide zone. For several decades, I have jogged on the road underneath these slides several hundred times, and I have been to the south ridgeline on as many occasions, but this is the first time that I have perceived what is now an obvious, large feature of this landscape. The eyes see, but they do not really understand.

As I drive out down Terrace Hills Drive to 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive, I go past another slide just a few blocks from home. At the corner of 11th Avenue and Terrace Hills is another landslide about one-half mile in diameter, but all evidence of it has been erased. For many years, a gravel pit operated at this corner, but the pit was redeveloped into an elementary school, a park, and a fire station. Surrounding residential homes complete the mask that obscures underlying landslide. The Salt Lake County geologic hazards map show this as an area that may again move in the next major earthquake.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 5th, 1852, he remarks that trees are white-frosted only their storm-side exposed to blowing snow. On January 5th, 1854, he again see small fleas in the snow. On January 5th, 1856, he observes reflected speckles of light from small crystals on the snow’s surface and calls them “crystal stars”. On January 5th, 1859, he compares the constant song of a sole winter chickadee to a man talking to himself. On January 5th, 1860, Thoreau notes that what one sees in nature depends on what a person believes is important in nature or that which has his or her narrow immediate attention. Thus, repeated observation as suggested by Aristotle, are needed to truly know a thing in nature.

On January 5th, 1952, the Salt Lake City Commission approved a plan to increase its drinking water quality as required by the U.S. Public Health Service (Salt Lake Telegram). The plan included closing City Creek Creek above any water intake pipe, building a water filtration plant, moving all toilet facilities at least 50 feet away from the stream, and patrolling the canyon for watershed violations. The water filtration plant was built in 1952 and 1953, and thereafter, the City’s water supply was chlorinated. All public access to City Creek Canyon was closed until 1965. In 1965, the City reopened public access to the water plant at mile 3.4, but the canyon above the plant remained closed. In 1975, public access to the entire canyon was restored (L. Hooten, Jr., History of City Water 1975). On January 5th, 1918, the Treasure Box mine in City Creek Canyon reported striking high-grade ore (Salt Lake Herald). On January 5th, 1883, J. Worthing and S. Potts wagered $80 USD (about $2,056 USD in 2016) that Worthing could catch twice the number of fish from City Creek as Potts (Salt Lake Herald).

December 31, 2016

December 31st

Filed under: Bonneville Drive, Elk, Gambel's Oak, People, Pleasant Valley, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:45 pm


3:00 p.m. New Year’s Eve by the Georgian Calendar. In the morning, although Internet cameras in the mountains show that it is a bright sunny day at higher elevations, the city is overcast all day due to the thick inversion layer. This lack of natural daylight is conducive to sleeping in, and if lack of sunlight persists to inducing seasonal affect disorder.

Along Bonneville Drive leading to the canyon, many trees are frosted with rime, and this is where the thick fog was seen yesterday near sunset. Overnight, small two and four millimeter ice crystals have sublimated on some trees, and this turns them along diffuse light into silvery-white apparitions. In the first mile jogging up canyon, I see little of these rime covered trees, but beginning at mile 1.0, more of the trees are frosted. This is probably due to the Bernoulli wind-tunnel effect (Aug. 18th) caused by the high canyon walls opening into Pleasant Valley. At the opening to Pleasant Valley, all of the trees are rime covered, but the Box Elders and their catkins are particularly thickly covered. The catkins provide a high-surface area ratio to which the rime frost can adhere. Going further up canyon, where side gullies have also accelerated the air, trees also are layered this heavier frost.

As I reach picnic site 6, a father, son, and daughter, are walking out and are outfitted with rifle hunting gear. From the lack of weight in their packs, I judge that they were unsuccessful. Rounding the bend to the red bridge at mile 0.9, an anterless elk is standing the middle of the road. She is in the no hunting zone that surrounds the road. She sees me first, freezes, and then slowly walks into the leafless forest. Examining her tracks, I can follow where she entered the road, went to drink at water seep on the west side, and then sauntered away. Water seeps from the cliffs on the west side provide water without wildlife having to trudge through deep snow to reach the stream. A walking couple stops me and tells me that they just say a herd of twenty elk crossing the south ridge line at Pleasant Valley. A few elk are also grazing on the west hills next to the road, they excitedly report. Rounding the bend into Pleasant Valley, there are four elk grazing on the hillside. Like the wild turkeys (Dec. 30th), they are pawing at the snow free ground underneath the Gambel’s oaks looking for acorns. Although unseen, I can hear the flock of wild turkeys in the oaks forest.

Near milepost 1.0, an overhung ledge shelters the partially and thinly ice covered stream. The cavity between the underside of the ice and the surface of the stream create a natural amplifier, and the stream resoundingly gurgles and thuds. Weather forecasters have promised another storm tomorrow afternoon, and this should clear out the inversion layer. If it does not arrive, I will have to go higher above the haze layer in order to enjoy a much needed dose of sunshine.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 31st, 1850, he describes how blue jays warn each of other of approaching threats. On December 31st, 1851, he observes leopard [sic – probably a lynx] tracks. On December 31st, 1853, he again notes how snow reveals the tracks of many animals normally unseen. On December 31st, 1854, he notes how the shadows on snow are not grey or black, but blue.

On December 31st, 1995, the Salt Lake Tribune noted the historical event that the eagle statute on the top of Eagle Gate was modeled on an eagle actually killed in City Creek Canyon. On December 31, 1995, the Audubon Society scheduled a walk up City Creek Canyon for January 11th, 1996 (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 31, 1924, the City Waterworks Department denied a petition by the Utah Athletic Association to build a four mile long tobogganing run down City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). A Salt Lake Telegram editorial supported the proposal on the grounds that it would relieve the winter boredom of local residents (id). On December 31, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune noted that the City Creek road had been improved that year, and the paper endorsed park proposals by a better roads civic improvement group to link and upgrade the Wasatch Boulevard scenic drive with 11th Avenue street and the City Creek road in order to create a scenic drive for the now popular automobile.

December 29, 2016

December 29th

The Great Concentrator

4:00 p.m. Thoreau called the winter snow and cold “The Great Betrayer” because wildlife, normally unseen, can be easily followed by the tracks in the snow. For me, this coldest part of winter is The Great Concentrator. Elk and mule deer collect in larger herds closer to the city. Birds condense into even larger flocks. Yesterday, I saw a flock of fifteen wild turkeys at mile 1.7, near the bend at the end of Pleasant Valley. Turkey flocks are forced closer to the road in the depth of winter. There, they scratched through the thin snow layers at the edges of Gambel’s oak groves, and fed on the acorns hidden beneath the snow. They were wary of humans, but unlike summer, they did not rush into the oak groves at the first sight or sound of people. The oak groves also provide protection from coyotes predation. At night, the turkeys form a circle deep within the oak groves, but sit in the trees one or three feet of the ground. In this defensive stance, they repel attacks by lone coyotes. In late January and February during the early mornings or late evenings, the bark of the coyote and responsive calls of the turkeys can be heard. Several other walkers and I watch the flock for about ten minutes.

As the deep cold of winter continues, European house sparrows will concentrate in a large flock at Guardhouse Gate. Mountain chickadees and Black-hooded chickadees will form even larger groups. These will be joined by flocks of Stellar Jays. But for now, only the magpies have grouped at Pleasant Valley, the Mountain chickadees have formed small groups near picnic site 3 at mile 0.3.

Today, at mile 1.7 where turkeys grazed yesterday, snow tracks reveal a rabbit crossing the road. At mile 2.3, a group of four hunters are transferring freshly killed elk meat from their backpacks to a bicycle towing a cart. The hunters are outnumbered by twenty or so walkers and runners and three bicyclists. As I run out of the canyon, the sky is a clear, cloudless blue, then grey, but below a thick inversion layer hangs over the city. With the sky having no cloud cover, tonight temperatures will fall near zero degrees Fahrenheit in the canyon.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 29th, 1851, he notes and unusually warm winter day. On December 29th, 1853, he notes the worst winter storm day in memory. On December 29th, 1858, he contrasts the speed of an ice skater with that of winter walking.

On December 29th, 2006, Salt Lake City Dept. of Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Niermeyer reported that in the spring, the department would be fixing chuckholes on City Creek Canyon road due to complaints from bicyclists (Salt Lake Tribune). On December 29th, 1934, the City reported the costs of fighting major fires in City Creek, Parley’s and Lambs’ Canyons (Salt Lake Telegram). A total of 234 acres were burned in the three canyons, mostly in City Creek. On December 29th, 1909, an airship company sought to purchase the Ensign Peak area from the City and to build a water reservoir in City Creek for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a dirigible airport on the peak (Salt Lake Telegram, Dec. 29, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 30). On December 29, 1907, the President of the Civic Improvement League suggested that City Creek Canyon is a “A neglected spot of great natural beauty is City Creek canyon [and] some uniform plan should be adopted by which this spot may be gradually improved and its natural advantages protected” (Salt Lake Herald). On December 29th, 1907, Water Superintendent Frank L. Hines reported 18 inches of snow at five miles up City Creek Canyon (at elevation 5030 feet), and this was more snow than had been seen in the previous five years (Salt Lake Herald).

December 15, 2016

December 15th

Filed under: Light, Pleasant Valley — canopus56 @ 11:56 am

Blue Light

4:15 p.m. December 12th (Supplement). Near the bend in the road at the up canyon side of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.8, as the sun sets behind the south hill at the entry of City Creek, I see a flash of turquoise in the snow. The flash of color is in a small seven by one foot chute of snow that sits perpendicular to the direction of the hidden sun. Even though the Sun is hidden behind the peak and the sunset light is indirect, the face of the chute glows with yellow light. The interior of the chute contains a light blue shadow. At the chute’s apex, there is small subtle patch of turquoise shadow. As I move my head, this blue patch appears and disappears. Light from sunset is traveling through the peak of the chute and all but light blue light is filtered out. Crystals on the surface of the snow then reflect the light back towards the viewer.

Thoreau often remarks about seeing blue shadows in winter snow, e.g. – January 2nd, 1854.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 15th, 1838, he finds the silence of the outdoors during this season as more normal and comfortable than noise. He notes that with silence with soul can commune with itself. On December 15th, 1856, he describes the many natural and human sounds of a typical snowbound day.

On December 15, 1906, the Deseret News reported on the history of the City Creek water-powered mill, built by the Euro-American pioneers in the 1850s, that sat at the mouth of City Creek (possibly near North Temple and Canyon Road). The mill was Utah’s first iron works and blacksmith shop. The mill also contained a grist mill for grinding barley and a turbine mill for manufacturing adobe bricks.

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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