City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 14, 2017

June 9th

First Tarantula and a Fake Bee

7:45 p.m. The jet stream to the northwest has begun to lower temperatures in the eighties and brings cooling evening breezes to the canyon. On this Friday evening, families seeking release from the days of heat fill the first few picnic sites. The heat wave is starting to end, and invasive Yellow sweet clover lines both sides of the road and waves under the wind. But there is no sign of summer’s yellow sunflowers along the road in Pleasant Valley. More soft tufts of pollen float down from the Rocky Mountain cottonwoods and their white down lines the roadside. Evening Black-headed grosbeak calls predominate in the first mile. A 3 inch unidentified dark blue-black dragonfly sails by. A unidentified light brown beetle, that has the shape of a solider beetle, has been seen on the road over the last few weeks. At the rear tip of its shell, there is a diamond shaped darker brown patch. On the road today, the nymph form of this beetle crosses the road. It is bright lime green. A black ant drags a bug twenty times its size to the side of the road.

Planted squarely across the center of a Wood rose blossom near mile 0.3, a member of the Galphyridae family of Bumble bee scarabs. The Bumblee bee scarab is a beetle, not a bee. Its wing shell has four horizontal white strips on the sides and two vertical white stripes on either side of the centerline. Its bee-like features are the abdomen that extends past the wing shell and is covered in fine yellow-white hairs. Its thorax is also covered with these fine hairs. Male Bumblee bee scarabs are sometimes found in flowers, as this oddly behaving one is. This scarab appears almost intoxicated. It is oblivious to my presence and seems to relish feeding on the rose’s pollen. Given its lethargic ways, the scarab’s mimicry of a bee might provide protection from predators, but given that birds eat bees, what predator does the scarab’s mimicry deter?

Near mile 0.4, the season’s first desert tarantula crosses the road. It is only two or three inches across. By mid-summer, it will grow to 5 to 6 inches across (August 17th).

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 9th, 1850, he notes pitch-pine pollen collected on water. On June 9th, 1851, he observes that signs of the season are grass waving in the wind, new leaves on trees, and increasing louder crickets. On June 9th, 1853, he sees the season’s first lily bud and notes white clover is common. He sees starflowers in a meadow and gathers strawberries. He observes a hawk pair. On June 9th, 1854, he sees a lark and notes that the air has a high density of mayflies. On June 9th, 1857, he sees an indigo bird. On June 9th, 1860, he sees water bugs in a stream.

* * * *

On June 9th, 1915, a new reservoir on Fifth South that holds 10,000,000 gallons was inspected, and it will supplemented by a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On June 9th, 1909, the Intermountain Republican reported that a flooding City Creek stream was still carving “numerous erratic channels down North Temple street”. Sandbags and manure was used by crews working under Street Supervisor J. T. Raleigh to create embankments, but this results in large pools of fetid water forming (id). The Tenth South canal overflowed its banks. On June 28th, 1905, the Commercial Club officially turned over the new Wasatch Boulevard to the City (Salt Lake Herald). The boulevard runs up City Creek Canyon, along 11th Avenue to Popperton Place, and then on to Fort Douglas. The boulevard then descends to Liberty Park (id). The Club plans to line the boulevard with trees and stone walls, interspersed with developed parks every few miles (id). On June 3, 1903, as a result of infrastructure improvements, the City had increased its water supply capacity to 28,000,000 gallons per day (Salt Lake Telegram). One hundred and thirty-one miles of water main pipe has been laid in the city, including City Creek Canyon (id). A city ordinance regulates residents sprinkling their lawns. The High line system in City Creek brings water to Popperton Place. On June 9th, 1877, the Salt Lake Tribune recommended City Creek Canyon Road for scenic carriage rides.

April 26, 2017

April 24th

Benefits of Nature – Part II – Restoration of Well-Being and Stress Reduction

4:00 p.m. Heavy rain falls all day, and I am running in a medium to light downfall. Even so, there are twelve runners and walkers on the road and enjoying a wet canyon. The stream is swollen. The rain brings out the colors of the tree trunks: the Box Elder, cottonwood and River birch all have slightly varying grades of gray. Under this light and the soaked trunks, orange lichens have a high contrast. The red trunks of the Red ozier dogwood bushes also starkly contrast with their two-inch sparse green leaves. In the winter, these red trunks contrasted again the white snow. The Gambel’s oaks all show signs of leafing through mile 0.2, but they slumber thereafter. All other trees through mile 1.2 have significant unfurled buds. Green begins to dominate the upper story of the forest along the road, and Solomon’s seal dominates the understory. I hear about eight unseen chickadees in the forest’s thickets.

* * * *

Attention Restoration Theory (ART) proposes that the daily mental strain of modern life leads to cognitive burn-out and that a natural environment can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes. In 2012, Ruth and Paul Atchley at the University of Kansas and David Strayler at the University of Utah measured the creativity of 56 participants before they entered three-day Outbound Bound retreat in the wilderness were technological devices were banned (Atchley et al 2012). Post-wilderness participants had significantly higher scores on a creative problem-solving task as compared to pre-wilderness participants. This is a psychologist’s way of showing that vacations are necessary for restore ones mental functioning. In another small study, Howell and colleagues at Grant MacEwan University surveyed 452 undergraduate students regarding their degree of connectness to nature and their sense of emotional well-being (Howell et al 2011). They found that a person’s sense of connectedness with nature, measured using accepted psychological test scales, is positively associated with their sense of emotional well-being. But these are small studies involving non-randomly chosen populations.

* * * *

Research also indicates that exposure to nature reduces stress. Previously discussed studies involving a self-reported sense of well-being based on using accepted psychological test scales may be describing a subjective response to nature that has no physical counterpart. Such studies lack objective physiological, biochemical measurements. Thompson at the University of Edinburgh and colleagues measured outdoor activity and cortisol in salivary secretions over two days in 25 unemployed persons between the ages of 33 and 57 years of ago (Thompson et al 2012). They found a positive association between the slope of their daily cortisol levels (which naturally decline throughout the day), an increasing self-reported sense of well-being, and their increasing levels of activity in natural areas. Persistent low-levels of cortisol are indicative of continuing emotional stress, e.g. as in PTSD. Park at the Chiba University and colleagues used a portable electrocardiograph, a wearable blood pressure monitor, salivary swabs and psychological tests to measure changes in heart rate, ECG, and cortisol levels before and after exercise by 480 urban residents before and after traditional Japanese Shinrin-yoku nature walks in forests (Park et al 2010). Different types of electrocardiograph data is correlated with activity in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Park et al found that as compared to urban settings, walking in forests lowered cortisol levels, pulse rate, blood pressure, increases relaxation (as measured by parasympathetic nervous activity) and lowers the flight-or-flight response (as measured by sympathetic nervous activity). Alvarsson and colleagues found in laboratory experiments on forty university students that the sympathetic nervous system, measured using skin conduction, recovered faster to loud natural sounds as opposed to loud noise, e.g. urban noise (Alvarsson et al 2010). This suggests that interrupting living in an urban environment saturated with traffic noise over-stresses the fight-of-flight (symathetic nervous) response and that breaks in a natural setting might aid in restoring symathetic nervous system. Again, these are small studies involving non-randomly chosen populations.

* * * *

On April 24th, 1992, Beacon Elementary students held a one-mile hike in City Creek Canyon support of the creation of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (Salt Lake Tribune, Tribune April 25, 1992). According to Rick Reese of the Shoreline Trail association, progress is being made on agreements to start construction of the segment between the University of Utah and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, April 25, 1992). Reese’s vision is to be able to “to walk from Emigration Canyon to Shriners Hospital without traffic or constraints[.]” (Reese was a legendary early rock climber who with Former Mayor Ted Wilson, explored many now classic rock climbing routes in the Wasatch. Reese went on to be an officer of the Great Yellowstone Coalition in Montana.) The Children’s Association to Revive the Earth will also plan to plant trees with Gov. Norman Bangerter on Arbor Day. On April 24th, 1908, the Police Department did a sweep of vagrants seeking to arrest one with experience handling explosives. A skilled prison laborer was needed to dynamite rocks during the construction of City Creek Canyon Road (Salt Lake Herald). R. B. Matthews, the City Creek Canyon water patrolman, impounded 13 stray cattle found in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 22, 2017

March 22nd

Filed under: Cottonwood tree, Dogwood, Light, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 6:43 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part III – City Land Acquisition

3:00 p.m. A spring storm brings rain to the canyon while I jog, and it stains the River birch trunks half soaked dark, half dry light. In the spring afternoons through May, low lying clouds back up against the Wasatch Front Mountain range, and slowly a thick bank of clouds builds over the valley and City Creek Canyon. As occurred today, then there is about twenty minutes of loud thunder and a cool, heavy rain. The clouds reduce their weight, this allows them to rise, and then they cross the high peaks. This is followed today by a special light. The remaining thin clouds and moisture filled air, backed by the sun, makes a diffuse light that is augmented by the Sun’s direct rays, and in this light details in the surrounding rocks and trees come alive. A single chickadee calls hidden in a thicket. At mile 0.4, I find first red-osier dogwood buds blooming and opening. Since I have found this tree as it is first opening, the buds are in various stages of development. One or two are in their closed winter state. Two small inner casing leaves surround a small circular mass, and two large outer casing leaves enclose the inner mass. The bud swells from within, and the outer casing starts to transform into green leaves. The inner leaves unfurl as miniature formed leaves. Many are fully opened, a light green central mass sits surrounded four points. The Wood’s rose open buds have developed further. Extending from the end of a twig, they are bilateral and each half has expanded into a five miniature leaves. Another bush uses and elevator technique to grow. The initial leafed bud rises on a stalk, and at its base, another set of leaves develop.

The first trees respond to the light. At Guardhouse Gate, a lavender blossomed plum tree stills on a hillside, out of place in the midst of grove of cottonwoods. A the low branches of a willow tree below picnic site 6 have turned a light green, and this indicates that sap is being pumped into the ends. The buds along the twigs at the ends of the branches have begun to open. Above picnic site 6, the first mountain cottonwood leaves appear. The older trees have not opened their buds, but the young suckers at their base have. The buds on one maple tree have opened. On the ground, parsley-like stalks rise everywhere, and on test tasting the smallest tip of one aromatic leaf, the plant is bitter and clearly toxic.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 22nd, 1853, he hears a woodpecker. On March 22nd, 1855, he captures a flying squirrel in its snag-tree nest, closely examines it, and then takes it home. On March 22nd 1860, he notes that in March, temperatures rise, snow melts, and frost appears on the ground. On March 22nd, 1861, he records a driving snow storm.

* * * *

After the creation of the Territory, the Territorial Legislature sought to clear title granted by the State of Deseret by requiring land claims to be submitted by 1854. Otherwise lands would revert to being open public domain (Hooten, 19). On June 12, 1872, Congress cleared title to land within Salt Lake City limits by Land Patent 710, and that patent included a grant of all “accrued” water rights. The City interpreted this as giving title to water flowing from the canyon to the City and not Young. Title to the land above Brigham Young’s Lion House farm remained unclear, and the matter was further complicated by railroad land grants. Section 3 of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and subsequent expansions to the Act granted 10 square miles of land around each mile of track laid except in existing towns or cities. Thus, when the railroad came to Salt Lake City, City Creek was nominally open public land and title to much of the City Creek in the upper canyon vested in the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1883, the City negotiated the purchase of two square miles of City Creek from the railroad (Hooten, 29; Salt Lake Herald Dec. 12, 1883). On January 23rd, 1901, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the City had received a proposal to purchase 240 acres of land in City Creek owned by an eastern bank. After a series of land purchases between 1907 through 1947 (Hooten, 29), the City presently holds title to 56% of the land in City Creek; the U.S. Forest Service owns 29%; and remainder is private lands principally down-canyon of approximately 0.7 miles above Bonneville Drive (Salt Lake City, 1999a at 51). On 2006, the City acquired 57 acres at the base of the west slope of the City Creek ridgeline, in part, to create a winter wildlife refuge that is contiguous with the canyon (Salt Lake City, 2010b). In 2016, the City acquired another 305 acres in and near City Creek, including 144 acres above Ensign Peak and another 160 acres on the ridgeline (Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 2016). There are small unused mining inholdings at and around the abandoned Treasure Box Mine below Grandview Peak. (id).

* * * *

On March 22nd, 1898, the City Council refused to confirm John T. Caine as Waterworks Superintendent on the grounds that as the City’s former recorder, he is a political appointee of the Mayor with no expertise in engineering (Salt Lake Herald).

March 18, 2017

March 17th

Filed under: Cottonwood tree, Flood retention pond, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:21 pm

Cottonwoods and Lightning

1:30 p.m. Another extremely warm day. Although the parking lot is full, there are few people on the road. They have, like the chickadees, have dispersed along the length of the road, and the crowded canyon is sufficiently empty to evoke a feeling of solitude. The stream roars and water at the flood retention pond now is one-third full. Although the canyon is empty, on the drive out of the canyon along Bonneville Drive and the State Capitol Building, I am seventeenth in a line of pleasure driving cars. This route was originally developed by the City in the early 1900s as a scenic pleasure drive for horse carriage rides to draw tourists off the transcontinental trains, and in the 1910s, the road was improved to accommodate the new automobile tourists.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 17th, 1854, he observes green shoots growing on a south facing bank where snow has partially melted. On March 17th, 1857, he hears a woodpecker and notes green plants grow in puddles between snow banks. On March 17th, 1858, hears bluebirds, sees the season’s first flicker, and sees a robin and a redwing. On March 17th, 1860, he sees flock of shelddrakes.

A portion of the largest mountain cottonwood trees in the first mile are either dead or dying. Those with the largest trunks are also the tallest trees within the first mile, and typically they reach about one-hundred feet in height. Cottonwoods live to be at most 160 years old (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). What causes morbidity in these giants? Do they simply grow so high that the physics of raising water one-hundred feet above the ground will no longer sustain their biological requirements? Do they succumb to disease? Three tall cottonwoods in the first 1.2 miles suggest to me that lightening is the principal cause of their demise. Some years ago, I saw one now dead hundred-foot tall cottonwood tree on the south wall of the canyon shortly after it had been hit by lightening. The next day it was still smoking, and it was the tallest tree within several hundred feet. Two equally tall cottonwoods adjacent to each other near picnic site 7 are still alive, but they both have large tracks of missing bark that spiral down the main trunk. On December 23, 1853, Thoreau in his journal described a similar spiral caused by lightening hitting a pine tree. My own speculation is that cottonwoods do not die from old age or disease. They die because as they age they grow to be too tall, and they become the biological lightening rods of the canyon.

On March 17th, 1915, two weather bureau officers began snow-shoeing into upper City Creek Canyon in order to measure the depth of the snow pack (Salt Lake Tribune). They took over 296 snow depth measurements using a hand snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, March 17, 28, 1915, Salt Lake Telegram, March 31, 1915).

March 12, 2017

March 12th

Filed under: Butterfly, Cottonwood tree, Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, gnats, grass, Horsetail, spiders — canopus56 @ 8:25 pm

Flooding of City Creek’s Delta – Part III

5:00 p.m. It is a Sunday; in the high fifties; and bright because it is the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Clocks were moved forward one hour, so this 4:30 p.m. was 4:00 p.m. yesterday. The stream is twice its usual volume; early spring run-off has begun. Until I am away from the stream on the Pipeline Trail, I do not appreciate just how loud it has become. The canyon is overflowing with people, and in addition to the strolling couples, now families with young children frequent the road. They are a sign of the coming spring. There are other signs this evening. I count six spiders of the same unidentified species on the road. A brown and orange butterfly goes by; the first of this new year. Below mile 0.4, some red-osier dogwoods are covered with new spider webs. In this lower part of the canyon, the buds of three types of plants begin to respond to lengthening daylight. The buds of some dogwoods have engorged and through their outer winter cases, the green of chlorophyll production can be seen. Horsetails through most of the canyon still lay flat, having been pushed down by the weight of prior snow. But below mile 0.4, the horsetails are standing erect, and this also indicates that chlorophyll production has begun. The buds of an unknown cultivar, out of place in this climate, ooze a reddish pink fluid and the stems leading the buds are turning green. But above mile 0.4, these signs end. Higher up canyon at Pleasant Valley, grasses respond. Where grasses were low last year, the ground is covered in green velvet, but for fields of taller grass with browned stems, the green is muted under that last year’s canopy. But in the entire canyon, the buds of native Gambel’s oak and cottonwoods wisely remain dormant. They are conditioned to a much colder February and March with more snow. Doing my distribution analysis of snow and precipitation for February, last month through February 21st, was a three percentile year for snow and a ninety-eight percentile year for temperature. In the last six days of the month, heavy storms and cold pulled February back to a 40th percentile year for snow and an 83 percentile year for temperature. This is a persistent drought pattern, and I expect March to also be unusually warm and dry. I am perplexed as to why early spiders would arrive and set up their nets. Above milepost 1.5, I look down canyon at the back lit road. The answer is the over 100 gnats suspended above the road. A coyote barks from the thickets of the southern canyon wall; it is waiting for the mule deer to start giving birth in April.

Most city residents take the 1983 flooding of Salt Lake City’s downtown as the benchmark of how rare city flooding is, but this impression based on a single lifetime is misleading. City Creek’s delta, and its business district, have flooded on numerous occasions prior to 1983, and if Bekker et al historical reconstructions are correct, the City Creek delta will be subjected to flooding in the future. Downtown flooding occurred in 1852, 1854, 1864 (flooding North Temple), 1866, 1869, 1870, 1873, 1874 (flooding Main Street and South Temple), 1876, 1882 (possibly flooding downtown), 1884 (flooding North Temple), 1885 (flooding streets), and 1889 (flooding streets) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L.C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from an extreme weather cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon (Salt Lake Telegram):

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before It. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until It, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing Is not probable, it Is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (Salt Lake Telegram, June 9, 1903).

After Kelsey’s caution, flooding also occurred in 1907 (flooding North Temple), 1908 (flooding North Temple) and 1909 (flooding North Temple and requiring construction of five foot embankments) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). Although the Intermountain Republican played down the extent of the damage and suggested that only minor improvements were needed, photographs of the 1909 flood at the J. Willard Marriott Digital Archives (Honker) and the newspaper’s own contemporaneous account suggest that North Temple to Second South were inundated with almost a foot of water:

The damage by the flood is not so great as would be suggested to a casual observer. . . . It will several weeks until the creek has receded to it proper channel before North Temple street can be cleaned up. Hundreds of tons of dirt and gravel, brought down by the water, will have to be cleaned up and hauled away; the temporary banks will have to be removed, bridges will need repairing, and in some instances totally reconstructed. The (City Creek) conduit must be cleaned and the channel banked up. All this will take weeks of strenuous work on the part of the street department. (Intermountain Republican, June 9th, 1909).

City Engineer Kelsey recommended a more robust response: encase City Creek in a concrete pipe under State Street that would bypass the central business district. On March 10th, 1910, P. J. Moran Construction Company reported that it will complete the underground aqueduct to carry City Creek waters past the downtown district and opined that the aqueduct will “render it impossible in the future for floods to go tearing down Canyon Road and the State Street . . .” (Salt Lake Herald). After the City implemented this permanent solution, downtown flooding again occurred in 1912 (flooding South Temple with tons of sand) and 1918 (silting 200 South with 1 foot of mud) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). On August 13, 1923, Kelsey’s 1903 prediction came true. An extreme cloudburst event along the Wasatch Front sent torrents down Farmington Canyon, destroyed Farmington City, and killed seven (Honker, 35-36). Salt Lake’s downtown also flooded (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999).

Despite moving City Creek to an underground conduit, Salt Lake’s downtown also flooded in 1925 (flooding basements), 1931 (12 inches of water in streets), and 1945. In the flood of August 19th, 1945, after a summer of fires that denuded the hills above the Avenues, a flash flood ripped down Perry’s Hollow, through the cemetery, and deposited headstones on N Street. Reminiscent of Kelsey’s 1903 caution, in the central business district,

“Two hours later [after the cloudburst] State St. was still blocked by the overflow from flooding City Creek. Boulders weighing 300 and 500 pounds were left along the way. Parked automobiles were carried for blocks. Tree branches and trash cans were left in four and five foot drifts.” (Salt Lake Telegram, July 16th, 1946).

The City reported $500,000 USD of damages in 1946 currency. In the 1990s, a roadway retention dam was built across upper Perry’s Hollow to prevent a recurrence of Avenues flooding.

The flood of 1983 required building of embankments on State Street, out North Temple to 1000 west, and along 1300 South (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). Sandbagging along State Street prevented the then only underground garage at ZCMI from flooding (Salt Lake Tribune, June 1983). Historical photographs of the floods of 1907 through 1909, reproduced in Honker 1999, are reminiscent of the sandbagging of State Street in 1983. But by 1983, the earlier flood era had been forgotten, and city residents of 1983 viewed their flood as a new, rare occurrence (Personal recollection).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 12th, 1853, he sees the first lark of the season, and he strips back the bark of a dead pine tree and finds gnat grubs. On March 12, 1854, he sees a flock of blackbirds, the first robin of the season, a jay, a chickadee, and crows. He records bare earth with no snow. On March 12th, 1856, he records heavy snow drifts. On March 12th, 1857, he sees a red squirrel feeding on frozen apples. On March 12th, 1859, he admires a rain-soaked bank that is colored by lichens, brown grasses and weeds, and sand.

On March 12th, 1916, the new scenic boulevard from 11th Ave, up City Creek, and then around to the State Capitol opened. The boulevard was then called “Wasatch Boulevard” (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 12th, 1906, Land and Water Commissioner Frank Mathews impounded fourteen cows that he found illegally grazing in City Creek (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 12th, 1905, City Engineer Kesley has begun survey work for the new 5,000,000 gallon reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News).

March 5, 2017

March 5th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part III

2:00 p.m. It is a day of pre-spring, March wind. Temperatures have risen in the sixties, but it is cool because the wind has been gusting to fifty and sixty miles per hour. The driving force is a large storm that approaches from the north west, but it is a low pressure vortex, and the storm’s large Coriolis effect arms are sweeping from the southwest. The winds are a precursor to a new storm front that may again blanket the canyon with fresh snow. In the canyon, the cottonwoods groan and sway in the gusts, and their tops move in pendulous oscillations that travel about two feet. There is a great noise. My sound meter phone application is reading spikes of 80 to 100 decibels, and although this is more than level of a jet engine, the ebb and flow of the wind sound has a reassuring and comforting, meditative quality. Where the wind blows through the lower Gambel’s oak branches, it produces a hollow low tone. I have heard this sound before, and I am haunted by a sense of deja vu. After a few minutes, it comes to me. It is same sound as ocean surf on a windy day. It has been some years since I have been to the ocean, and I have forgotten. But this ocean and its noise is of air and not water. The noise is mesmerizing, and although I plan to only take a short one-half mile up-canyon walk, I go for two. The wind has also dried the soil and trees. Snow is gone, evaporated, except for a four or five one foot square wind-protected patches near mile 0.3. A day ago where abundant dark green mosses stood high from the sides of tree trunks, now only desiccated flat dull green mats are found. Cracking leaves are pushed up the canyon road in groups like flocks of birds. The high wind keeps all insects and birds in hiding, except for one. A miniature red-brown centipede about two-inches long but only 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter crawls across the road. Below picnic site 6, there is a group of unidentified bushes that retain a light-yellow waxy fruit. At the Bonneville Drive canyon mouth, the City has unleashed a large back hoe on the cattail grove in the flood retention pond. Their remains are stacked in a rotting pile. This may affect the return of the spring hummingbirds, as the cattail grove is their favored feeding ground (August 1st).

In 2016, the City updated its management plan for noxious non-native plants, and the report included an assessment of native, that is pre-colonization, biota of Salt Lake City habitats including those types found in City Creek Canyon and the valley floor. The main habitats are:

• Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands habitat, applicable to the valley floor, to the lower canyon below Guardhouse Gate, and along the western slope of City Creek between milepost 1.0 and 3.0.

• Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands habitat, applicable to Pleasant Valley from mile 1.1 to mile 2.2.

• Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands habitat, applicable to banks and floodplains surrounding the stream from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0 and to the flood retention ponds at the intersection of Bonneville Drive and City Creek Canyon Road and at mile 3.0.

• Emergent Marsh Wetlands, applicable to stream and stream banks from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0.

The dominant native plants in each area are listed as follows:

List of Common Native Plants by Habitat (SWCA Environmental Consultants 2016)

Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands

• Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides).

• Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

• Arrowleaf balsamroot(Balsamorhiza sagittata) .

• Wild geranium (Geranium L. spp.).

• Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.).

• Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa).

• Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus).

Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands

• Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.)

• Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum Nutt.)

• Oregon grape (Mahonia repens).

• Wild geranium (Geranium viscosissimum).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands

• Cottonwoods (Populus angustifolia and P. fremontii).

• Box Elders (Acer negundo L.).

• Willows (Salix L. spp.).

• Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii Lindl.).

• Black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.).

• Golden currant (Ribes aureum Pursh).

• Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea [Pursh] Nutt.).

Emergent Marsh Wetlands

• Cattails (Typha L. spp.).

• Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa [Torr.] and A. incarnata [L.]).

• Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus [Rchb.] Palla spp.).

• Spikerush (Eleocharis R. Br. spp.).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 5th, 1852, he observes that red maple and elm buds are expanding and maple sap is flowing. He examines tree lichens growing. On March 5, 1859, he watches a nuthatch and admires its song.

February 22, 2017

February 22nd

Tree Trunks

4:00 p.m. This a year of extremes: on February 21st, the temperature was sixty-six degrees and yesterday and last night and today, after raining for almost ten hours, the temperature has dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. As I enter the canyon, it is snowing, but this is light snow that turns to water when it touches any physical object. The high ridgelines and Pleasant Valley are covered in snow dust, perhaps one-eight of an inch thick, but it will not last. This is the second sign of the coming spring now one month away: The battle between spring overtaking winter (September 22nd) has begun. There are other signs. At Guardhouse Gate, I see my first, fat and healthy Rock squirrel of the season. It runs across the road and is busily inspecting bushes for fresh buds. The constant rain has driven three earthworms on to the road, even though temperatures are freezing. High on the ridgeline near mile 1.1, I see my first mule deer in over a week. Even at this distance, it is skittish; it tentatively comes out of a copse, feeds, and then retreats for cover.

The lichens and mosses are the most responsive to the hours of light rain. Everywhere the orange, yellow and green colors of lichen and mosses have deepened, and a few trees become vibrant flames amongst winter’s brown, grey and white. Black cankers on tree branches that normally turn to dust when touched have become plump, fat and solid with water. It is the time of year for the simplest organisms, for the earliest life.

Tree trunks have so many varieties of forms. Above picnic site 6, some trees are like brothers and sisters. The trunks of two 4 inch diameter immature river birches intertwine in a playful embrace, and they spring from a common root. Next to the River birch, are three immature Box Elder trunks that also rise from the same root. These stand tall and vertical like two brothers. At and down-canyon of picnic site 6, large Mountain cottonwoods have large bulbous galls on their lower trunks, and this is evidence of old attacks by insects, bacteria, and fungi. Other trees in the lower canyon have partially or completely succumbed to age and disease. At picnic site 6, an ancient tree has been broken off to about four feet above the ground and spilt in half. The remnant remaining in the earth is pock marked with with trails and caves of insects that reminds me of the cave houses carved out of volcanic tufa in Cappadocia in Turkey. In the lower canyon, still half-alive cottonwoods have had much of their bark stripped away, and underneath the xylem and heartwood has taken on a sinuous, smooth, yellow texture like human skin. At Pleasant Valley and at picnic sites 9, 7, and 2, dead cottonwood snags are bleached grey-white. Where large trunk stubs are near the road, erosion has exposed their subsurface tap roots, and this reveals a tangle of gnarls that remind of Eastern paintings of nature. An example is below the Red Bridge.

Traveling down-canyon, a familiar pattern appears in the River birches, Box elder and Mountain cottonwood trees that line the stream. Multiple, large, mature trunks sprout from a single root, and at the base, numerous suckers rise. For these trees, the mixture of angled mature trunks and smaller shoots gives the impression of a circular fan opening or a fountain of water rising. In this respect, trees are simply a larger, woody version of the brome grass bunches in Pleasant Valley, further up canyon. I realize that my impression of trees as organisms that are born, grow, have a middle age, and the die is mistaken. Angled older branches grow and fall away, and this gives the young shoots an opportunity to grow and replace them. But both originate from the same tap root, from the same genetic material. In this sense, most of the trees in the lower canyon that surround the stream possess a form of immortality. My misconception of the lives of these trees is the result of my biased exposure to shade trees in the city. Those trees mimic the cultured form of an English oak forest. There, trees are manicured and husbanded as individuals by their human farmers. Those trees do experience an individual birth, a middle age, and a death. But the English form of a forest is only one classical European choice, and here in the canyon, the stream trees pass their lives in a cycle and not along linear time.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 22nd, 1856, he observes the first insects of spring crawling over snow.

On February 22nd, 1910, the City Council debated whether to lease a second gravel pit in lower City Creek (Deseret Evening News). On February 22nd, 1894, an attorney sought permission from the City to hunt a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. Permission was granted and the hunter took a cougar (Salt Lake Herald).

January 31, 2017

January 31st

Filed under: Cottonwood tree — canopus56 @ 9:12 pm

Tree Rings

4:30 p.m. Another day of heavy air pollution. It is also the last day of the anterless elk hunt. The elk are free from human predation until next August. Near mile 1.0, I take a photograph of the end of a machine cut mountain cottonwood log that is about thirty inches in diameter. Processing the digital image and counting the rings yields that the tree was felled at about 105 years of age. I do not know how long ago this cottonwood was cut down, but from the state of the bark, I suspect it was within the last twenty years. This dates the tree to between 1900 to 1920. Thirty inches in diameter is about as large as any cottonwood grows. There are perhaps ten cottonwoods of this size in the first mile of the canyon, and all of those shows signs of illness. I know of only one larger in the city at the corner of Third Avenue and J Street, and it is healthy because it is well cared for.

A 2016 forest resource report by Werstak et al. describes distribution of the age classes of various trees on national forest lands in Utah (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). For elms, ashes and cottonwoods, about twenty-five percent reach between 101-120 years in age and then decline rapidly. None appear to live past 160 years old.

I first came into the canyon about 40 years ago, and thus, some of the cottonwoods that I now see were seedlings in the 1980s. Others were mature sixty year olds and are now one-hundred. But I have no conscious recollection of see any of these trees change over the years. Their growth is too slow to be perceived by humans. Later at home through an internet utility that allows viewing homes on streets anywhere in the United States, I look at a recent photograph of a home where my father planted trees fifty years ago. I remember them as one-inch stems brought home from the nursery that barely survived their first year due to attacks from tent caterpillars. Now they are great trees with trunks two feet across and are seventy-five feet tall. I hope that somewhere with modern technology, an academic biologist will set up a fixed camera and record a forest on the same day, once during each season, for one-hundred years, so a future generation may see how a forest grows and changes.

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 31st, 1917, City Commissioner Herman H. Green reported that jail prisoners are continuing work on grading the boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 31st, 1902, City Engineer L.C. Kesley submitted his report to the mayor recommending the construction of a concrete reservoir at Pleasant Valley and reporting the expenditure of $22,792 USD (approx. $631,000 in 2016) for the construction of a water pipeline up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Evening News). On January 31st, 1900, the Board of Public Works asked for authorization to implement City Engineer Kesley’s recommendation to replace the water main in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The Land and Water Commissioner asked for an additional deputy to police the canyons to prevent arrest persons for “violating the law by befouling of the streams” (id). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin that in City Creek, about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald).

January 26, 2017

January 25th

Filed under: Cottonwood tree — canopus56 @ 12:59 am

Crenulated Trees

4:30 p.m. Another storm refreshes the snow. While jogging up-canyon, I notice the various depths of creases in the barks of trees, particularly in mountain cottonwood trees. When young, their bark is almost smooth. The depth of the crenulations in cottonwoods’ bark increase with age, until near mile 1.0, an aged cottonwood has creases that are almost two inches in depth.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 25th, 1852, he describes a frozen cattail. The sight of the sun reflecting off of the bottom of a stream reminds him of summer. On January 25, 1856, a collected pine cone opens are being warmed in Thoreau’s home. He marvels at the difficulty of and the ability of squirrels to remove seeds from a closed cone. On January 25, 1858, Thoreau notes the many types of buds on trees.

On January 25th, 1925, forty-one students of the University Hiking Club, went up Black Mountain, slid down the mountain’s backside, and hiked out City Creek (Utah Daily Chronicle, Jan. 30th, 1925).

November 22, 2016

November 22nd

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Cottonwood tree, Maple tree, picnic site 3, Plants, River birch — canopus56 @ 10:19 pm

Broken Arrow

Noon. After a night of heavy cold rain, at picnic site 3, there is a new fallen thirty-foot tall maple tree that still retains its brown leaves. This is probable the same species of tree that still retain their brown leaves along the shadowed south ridge wall at mile 1.1. Unlike its relatives that grow vertically, this maple grew at a sixty degree angle in order to avoid the shade of an adjacent eighty-foot tall narrowleaf Mountain cottonwood and a fifty foot tall Boxelder tree. The angle of its growth is the undoing of the maple. With the recent snow and rain, the leaves became soaked, and the maple snapped about five feet above the ground. The eight-inch diameter trunk at the fresh break looks healthy and no disease is apparent. The weight of the water soaked leaves was just too much of the tree’s design, given that it was growing at an angle.

Many trees in the canyon grow at a similar angle, such as the River or water birches, but they and many other trees lose their leaves earlier in the year and before first snowfall (see October 24th). In addition to the reduction in light, this broken maple suggests another agent of natural selection that directs trees to lose their leaves earlier in the year – snowfall. Trees that do not lose their leaves are more susceptible to losing branches.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 22nd, 1853, he notes geese migrating south. On November 22nd, 1860, Thoreau notes how the Fall light makes branches and twigs to seemingly glow.

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