City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 19, 2017

July 18th

Radio Tower Run and Anti-wind

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2017

July 9th

Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve

2:00 p.m. It is the sixth day of summer heat over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Checking the daily daily jet stream forecast graph at the California Regional Weather Service, the jet northern circumpolar stream has dissipated as usually occurs at summer’s peak (April 4th). The western United States is covered by a massive high pressure zone, and its heat is baking the moisture from the land. Today, in order to see what the Salt Lake salient looked like before the arrival of Cheat grass, I am traveling to one of Salt Lake City’s most unusual nature parks: the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve. To get to the preserve, one drives ten miles north to North Salt Lake City, climbs steeply up through an expensive North Salt Lake City subdivision to North Salt Lake City’s Tunnel Springs Park. The Salt Lake City nature preserve is a hanging valley near the end of the salient that overlooks the Great Salt Lake. It is located three hundred feet above the valley floor, and its vista cuts off views of a major freeway and an industrial area at its base. No mechanized sound penetrates the preserve. This hidden valley is about sixty acres in size, and the City only purchased a conservation easement protecting the land in 2006 (Salt Lake City, 2010b). This valley is the southern terminus of the Salt Lake City Bonneville Shoreline Trail. A popular mountain bike ride starts in City Creek Canyon, goes over the northern half of the Salt Lake salient at the Radio Towers, and ends in this field. Riders then return to Salt Lake City by the paved roads below.

The sky overhead is deep blue even under the high summer sun. The Tunnel Springs Park is an old seep that is now filled in with an invasive, the Common reed (Phragmites australis). A large Willow tree is the centerpiece spring feed glade. To the south of the spring is the City nature preserve. It is an expansive grass land field that is primarily covered in Wild bunchgrass with minor contamination by Winter rye grass. Intermixed with grass are many white Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis L.) flowers. It is nesting and it periodically interrupts its song to momentarily dive into the brush. But it quickly reappears to resume singing. I am treated to a ten minute long concert. The field is similar to the grass fields of Antelope Island out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. There, great numbers of Western meadowlarks are evenly spaced every few hundred yards.

Significantly, even though it is early July, the native Wild bunchgrass of the field is still green. The light brown Cheat grass sea crawls down to this oasis of native grassland from the surrounding hills, but after a few minutes I can imagine what the Salt Lake salient must have looked like before the invasive grass arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century and the foothills were covered in a cloak of green Wild bunchgrass.

The grass field overlooks the eastern half of the Great Salt Lake and Farmington Bay. Vistas extend to Pilot Peak one-hundred miles away. In the foreground, the eastern half of the lake is a dry lakebed with the remains of the Jordan River winding through it. The view is breathtaking, but this is not a good indicator for the future of the lake. This year’s precipitation in the northern drainages was 150 percent of normal. At the highest peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the snowpack was 200 percent of normal. It is the kind of year that should refill the lake, but that has not occurred.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 9th, 1852 at 4 a.m. in the morning, he sees another aurora borealis, and he listens to bird and cricket chorus as the twilight recedes. He admires the leaves of a shrub oak. He describes the daytime summer heat as “furnace-like”. He sees a red lily. On July 9, 1854, he examines a thistle. On July 9 , 1857, he discusses how black willows disperse their seeds.

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On July 9th, 1996, Salt Lake City Watershed manager Russ Hone reports conflicts between hikers and mountain bikers in all of the Salt Lake Valley canyon trails, including in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9th, 1996, Chevron Pipeline Co. reports that the proposed Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline through City Creek Canyon is unnecessary because the existing Chevron pipeline along 11th Avenue has sufficient capacity to carry Canadian crude oil projected for the next fifty years (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9th, 1994, Salt Lake City enacted a complete ban on all fires in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 9, 1921, the Young People’s Hebrew Association planned an automobile outing up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 9, 1913, the City announced that the improved City Creek automobile boulevard touring road will be opened to the public (Salt Lake Herald). On July 9th, 1904, Joseph R. Dover, who built a marble works in City Creek Canyon and who worked as stonemason on the Mormon Temple, passed away (Salt Lake Telegram).

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