City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 16, 2017

July 15th

The Homeless and the Canyon

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Bluets on Bulrush in City Creek Canyon at Seep (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328). Author taken July 2017.

3:30 p.m. True summer heat near 100 degrees Fahrenheit returns and the canyon air takes on oven-like qualities of later in the season. While I was born in the cold of the northeast, part of my adolescence was spent under the blazing sun of southern California deserts. My now heated adapted summer body takes the high temperatures easily. The pulse slows; veins and arteries expand; blood flows and cools in hands and legs. Limbs become flexible; muscles relax; and toxins escape through open pores. The mind becomes lethargic and meditative, but with exercise in heat, thinking remains clear.

The heat has emptied the first mile of road, and only a few joggers are present. The road becomes as empty as in the opposite side of the temperature scale, that is in the depth of winter (December 27th). As in winter, I no longer recognize in myself the person who ran through five degree temperatures.

The heat also affects mammals and insects. Counter-intuitively, it makes Rock squirrels active, and I count three in the first mile. Insects begin to succumb. On the road’s surface, Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) lays dead, baking on the road, and that carcass is followed by a Giant western crane fly. Next, I find a spent Cabbage white butterfly. This allows me to examine one this usually hyperactive insect with my hand lens. As their name implies, the Cabbage whites are white in color, but close-up their abdomens are jet black. Numerous white hairs cover that segment and make the butterfly appear all-white.

The earth has dried out, and turns the rare cases of stationary surface water in the canyon into oases. The oasis at the seep about 100 yards below picnic site no. 6 (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328) has reached an idyllic peak of diversity. In an ellipsis of sixty by twenty feet, Circumpolar bluets rest on Bulrushes surrounded by Indian ricegrass and fronted by Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses surrounds a water rivulet in which Western Yellowjacket wasps and White Admiral butterflies stop and rest for a drink. Giant cattails are flanked on one side by six foot tall Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint, covered in Cabbage white butterflies. On the other stands five foot tall blue Chicory. Stands of Starry solomon’s seal are backed by a large grove of Western poison ivy and are intermixed and are intermixed with Common California aster. A cultivar Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) shades the up-canyon end of the glade.

A short-distance downcanyon, three rare butterfly visitors are seen with orange wings, a black circumferential band and white wing spots. These are Mexican queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus strigosus), and they are usually restricted to New Mexico.

Up-canyon, this season’s teasels (Dipsacus sylvestris) have risen to four feet in height below the Red Bridge. For some weeks, the great two foot triangular leaves of the Burdock (Arctium minus Berhn) invasive weeds that line the canyon road have been raising two and three foot vertical stalks, but their purple flower heads have yet to open.

Today, I place three sponges in the lower canyon. The first is in the stream below the pond at picnic site 5. The second is in the seep 100 yards below picnic site 6, described above, and the third in at the watercress stand at the tunnel seep 50 yards below picnic site 6. I will retrieve these in a few days to see what mirco-life has become trapped or grown in the sponge’s cavities.

The intense Sun has boiled huge summer cumulus clouds from the reservoirs that line the eastern side of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and the clouds frame the north and eastern ridgelines of the canyon as I reach the Gate. Those reservoirs provide the valley with most of its drinking water. In the parking lot, an elderly gentleman, who each day leaves a homeless concentration zone at 500 West and 200 South in the City to seek the canyon’s cool breezes, sits on a bench eating a sandwich.

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The homeless have long had a relationship with City Creek Canyon. In addition to the homeless person who spends the day at a picnic parking lot, another homeless individual frequents the canyon during the winter, but spends cold nights in a local supermarket. Sometimes in the depths of winter, I have taken the homeless who come to the canyon with the intention of camping overnight back to the city and advise them that they have underestimated the sub-zero temperatures of canyon winter nights. Some are obviously mentally ill. They talk to themselves and their mental illness is either the result of the stress of becoming homeless or an effect of their pre-existing mental illness. For many years, there was a small homeless tent city near the parking lot gate off the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but in recent years, the County and the City cleared the camp out. Now the watershed patrol vigorously patrols the canyon and takes any homeless citizens back to the concentration zone on the valley floor citing the fear that persons in a homeless camp might set the canyon’s grasslands on fire. While that is a legitimate concern, I suspect the City also quickly acts to remove any homeless from the canyon in part because middle-income citizens simply do not want the homeless there. They fear the homeless as potentially violent and secretly they fear becoming homeless themselves in an uncertain economy.

Salt Lake citizens struggle with the moral ambiguities created by their city’s homeless concentration zone. City residents have long resisted building sufficient facilities to house the homeless on the unsupported theory that building more beds will attract more homeless, and residents, like most other major United States cities, have long avoided building enough affordable housing. The City also struggles with the practice of surrounding communities and hospitals shipping their destitute and ill residents to into the City’s concentration zone. In the 1980s, Salt Lake City took the lead on homelessness by opening Utah’s first homeless shelters. Rather than expending monies addressing their own homeless problem by building their own shelters, for years, neighboring cities have shipped their destitute to the concentration zone citing that Salt Lake City was the only municipality with facilities to house them. Although the concentration zone has become a state and national embarrassment, city residents prefer to keep the homeless out-of-sight and away from other areas of the city, including out of the canyon.

The homeless’ relationship with the canyon goes back farther than this: the homeless built the canyon’s infrastructure. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the City dealt with its homelessness problem by shipping the destitute to the canyon. An early Utah statute permitted cities to impress the destitute and mentally ill convicted of the crime of vagrancy into road work gangs (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85). In the early 1900s, when the City wanted to build a wider, graded road up City Creek Canyon to promote the new automobile tourism, it began systematic sweeps of the city, arresting the homeless for vagrancy as needed to supply laborer for building the canyon’s road (e.g., Salt Lake Herald, Sept. 26, 1910; Salt Lake Telegram, Nov. 11th, 1913). The city police were sophisticated in their sweeps. For example, in 1908, the road gang needed an experienced “dynamite man” to handle explosives used to break up rock ledges along the canyon road’s path. The Police Department did a sweep of vagrants seeking to arrest one with necessary skill (Deseret Evening News, April 24th, 1908). Unemployed miners got wind of the scheme and fled the city. A particularly racist cartoon, by modern standards, in the August 14th, 1904 Salt Lake Tribune shows who was working on road gangs and what residents’ attitudes were towards the poor. The gangs consisted of elderly unemployed men, persons with alcohol addiction, and minorities. On April 28th, 1908, Mark Aaron, a prisoner serving a 90 day sentence for vagrancy, was shot to death in the canyon will attempting to escape the road gang (Deseret Evening News). The officer claimed that he was aiming for Aaron’s legs, but missed and instead the bullet entered Aaron’s head. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared vagrancy laws unconstitutional.

This darker era in Salt Lake’s past provides some instruction for the City’s modern homeless problem. What the destitute need to restore their dignity is a roof over their heads and paying employment, even if that means government provided make work. If at night there are any ghosts wandering the canyon, they are probably of homeless men rattling their work gang chains.

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On July 15th, 2015, Mayor Ralph Becker proposes a “Connecting to Nature” plan in which $125 million USD bond would fund park renovations and new land acquisition (Deseret News). On July 15th, 1938, hard oil surfacing of the scenic drive along Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue was nearly complete (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 17th, 1915, the U.S. Weather Bureau installed an advanced stream flow measuring gauge at the High Line Water Tanks in Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On July 15th, 1891, the Red Bird Mine reports opening a four foot wide vein that may contain 1,000 ounces of silver (Salt Lake Times). Fifteen men are working at various prospects in City Creek Canyon (id).

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July 13, 2017

July 12th

Latter Saint Day Conservation

7:30 p.m. Today, I go for a short jog up to the seep below picnic site 6 and then back down the Pipeline Trail. The successive days of summer heat is transforming the canyon. The tips of some Gambel’s oaks begin to curl and turn brown, and Starry solomon’s seal on the dry side of the road below picnic site 3 have curled up and turned brown. The road divides plants that are dry verses water tolerant. On the wet stream side of the road, Scouring rush horsetails line the stream. On the bank of the dry side of the road, Spikerushes have grown up to four feet in height. Herbaceous plants along the first one-third of road mile have turned from green to yellow-green. The Foxglove beardtongues are the only flowering plants that seem to grow more vigorously in this dryness and heat. Hidden near the stream, yellow-flowered Goldenrod plants (Solidago spp. L. or Solidago canadensis) grow three feet tall. Near mile 0.6, a new grove of yellow Toad flax (also called Butter-and-eggs) blooms out of its spring season in a microclimate of a shaded-cleft of the stream’s bottom. Yellow, the color of warm sun, is the color of this season.

It is the time of grasses. Along the road are the tall and slender Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), fuller-headed Blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus), and open-headed Wild bunchgrass. The smaller roadside Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.) weeds begin to turn brown. At the seep below picnic site 6, there are Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus (Rchb.) Palla spp.), a sedge like marsh grass with large round heads, and the delicate bunchgrass Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides). All have turned brown, and multiple shades of brown are the other color of this season.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the six foot tall Cattails have gone to seed and they start to turn brown from the top of the green cigar-shaped female pistillate down towards the pistillate’s base. The male spikes above the pistillates are flush with pollen. Blue Chicory and blue Common California aster (Aster chilensis a.k.a. Symphyotrichum chilensis) are also found in the seep.

Turning back towards the City and down the Pipeline Trail, young Lazuli buntings call in the fading light from the oaks and while perched on the powerline above the trail. Underneath the dwarf Gambel’s oaks, the subshrub Creeping Oregon grape (Mahona repens) grows with its pale blue fruit. Somehow, I missed its yellow flowers during the spring. Just down trail from Oregon grapes on dry exposed soil, a 50 by 20 foot patch of cylindrical green immature Broom snakeweed bushes (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is responding to bright, hot days. They will expose their yellow flowers in a few weeks.

Overhead, high linear clouds turn bright pink as the sun sets and the sky darkens.

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Mormons have super-majority voting control in the Mormon corridor – roughly an area three hundred miles on either side of a line running from Coreur d’Alene, Idaho on the north, through Salt Lake City, and then to Scottsdale, Arizona on the south. In the Utah portion of the corridor about sixty-six percent of voters identify with the L.D.S. Church. Mormons pride themselves on a tradition of conservation and foreword-thinking urban planning. As evidence of that cultural tradition, they site the early cooperative efforts of the Euro-American colonists of 1847 in cooperatively building irrigation ditches when the valley was settled (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Salt Lake City’s long-standing water manager, LeRoy Hooten, Jr., credited church leader Brigham Young with preserving the City Creek Canyon watershed with early, far-seeing water pollution laws (Hooten 1986). The early settlers laid out Salt Lake City in a grid pattern based on a vision of the City of Zion by their first prophet, Joseph Smith. This Mormon tradition of stewardship has a basis in their religious teachings (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Their teachings extoll that “the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings” and that eventually, a divine creator will require “every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship” (Doctrine and Covenants, sections 104:12-13; Galli 2006). Brigham Young University history professor Thomas Alexander describes how Brigham Young and early church leaders taught mixture of religious conservation with entrepreneurship. Church members were expected to pursue a business life and to development natural resources while preserving and enhancing a divinely provided trust of the natural life (Alexander 2006).

This cultural tradition reappears periodically in Utah political dialog. Local attorney and former head of the Bureau of Land Management under President Clinton, Patrick Shea, often alludes to it. In supporting President Clinton’s declaration of the Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument, Shea claimed that Brigham Young declared “City Creek Canyon off-limits to logging, mining or any activities that could pollute the creek or harm the environmental refuge next to the growing city” (Salt Lake Tribune Oct. 6, 1996). Shea has also been active in preserving City Creek Canyon and in supporting the construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that crosses the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 1997). In 2015, he opposed the Mountain Accord, a private proposal to limit development in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range canyons on the grounds that it did not provide enough protection, citing Brigham Young’s historical precedent of sustainable use in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune March 21, 2015). The Mormon tradition is cited by Utah free-market proponents as a justification to transfer all federal lands to state control. Because of their dominate Mormon religion, Utahans will be good stewards of any newly received lands, it is claims.

Although Mormons talk environmental values, their conduct is little different from aggressive commercial exploitation of the natural environment (Flores 1985). Brigham Young engaged in heavy of logging that denuded much of the first growth forest in the City Creek Canyon (see entries March 21st through March 25th). His lumber operations in City Creek was an important component of Young’s personal and early church wealth (March 25th, April 4th). Water pollution controls and modern water infrastructure in City Creek Canyon were enacted after the non-Mormon Liberal Party and “Gentile” Mayor Richard Baskin first took control of Salt Lake City government in the 1890s, after Young’s death (Feb. 6th). Even after non-Mormons took control of city government, they allowed extensive mining in City Creek canyon through 1920 (March 26th). Hull noted the contradiction between the rise of Utah forest conservation in the early 1900s that stopped the over-harvesting of timber and the concurrent unabated overgrazing of rangelands (Hull 1976). But Hall’s research answers his own question. He noted that Bancroft (1890) reported that by grazing for free on public lands, early Mormon ranchers realized gross margins of 40 percent on sheep and of 84 percent on cattle. Because of simple greed by 1900, early Utah ranchers denuded the rangeland by overgrazing, and then through the 1930s, they continued practices that allowed invasive cheat grass to cover the state (July 7th).

Another disturbing aspect of fringe Mormon environmental beliefs, not discussed by Alexander or other Mormon scholars, relates to Armageddon or “end-days” theology. My own personal experience with a few Mormons, admittedly a non-representative sample from lower income classes, is that they believe that environmental protection is not necessary because the degradation of the Earth is a symptom of biblical end times. They candidly state that there is no need to preserve resources because after the end-time, a divine creator will provide the religious post-Armageddon few with a brand new earth, free of pollution and restocked with natural resources. One historian has also noted this cultural phenomena (Flores, 173-174).

Alexander’s response to critics of Mormon stewardship of Utah lands is that church leaders can only extol their members to conform to its religious teachings (Alexander 2006). Their secular actions are no different than the followers of the modern environmental movement, such as Deep Ecology, where the actual commercial practices of individuals may deviate from doctrinal ideals (id). A modern example might be subscribing to the Sierra Club magazine while opting to purchase a Humvee instead of a Prius. In this respect, I agree with Alexander: the environmental behavior of historical and modern Utah Mormons is not exceptional or different from their secular consumer counterparts. But those LDS conservation traditions and religious teachings provide a useful reminder that can be employed to counter the environmental excesses of the Mormon controlled Utah state government and local private industry.

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On July 12th, 1916, the YMCA led an outing of boys up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 12th, 1906, City Creek Canyon was closed to fishing because the stream had been fished out, and the Fisherman’s Protective Association was working to re-stock the stream (Deseret Evening News). On July 12th, 1905, City Mayor Hewlett signed a resolution approving construction of a bridge across City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). This is probably the bridge were the stream crosses present day Bonneville Drive. On July 12th, 1890, plans for a 120 foot high wooden bridge across City Creek Canyon at Ninth Avenue were obtained by E. L. Craw (Salt Lake Times). On July 12th, 1899, John W. Snell reported assaying high quality lead, silver and gold ore eight miles up City Creek Canyon, and the Red Bird Mine is still producing (Ogden Standard).

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