City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

August 21, 2017

July 1st; Revised, Reposted

Talking Plants – Part I – Hidden Scents, Hidden Networks

Revised to include plants talking to each other by subsurface common mycorrhizal networks.

2:00 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, it is another butterfly day. Cabbage white and Western tiger swallowtail butterflies line the road. Families stroll through the heat on a holiday weekend.

It is also the time of mature trees. The giant trees of the canyon – those taller than seventy-feet – now dominate the canyon experience. Species include Box Elder trees, Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees and Freemont’s cottonwood trees (Populus fremontii). They now provide a partial canyon that protects the mid- to small-sized trees and the understory bushes from the harsh summer sun. Walking past one of these biological skyscrapers, one can feel the increase in humidity from their exhalations. In winter, their skeletons are ignored and when walking up-canyon during the cold season, one does not give them a passing thought.

At Guardhouse Gate, Black-headed grosbeaks and Lazuli buntings dominate. At picnic site 3, Song sparrows are prominent, and at third active zone of birds appears at milepost 1.1.

At seep below picnic site 6, the Starry solomon’s seal has, in seemingly a few days, been overrun by Western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii). It is now a deep green, and in the fall will turn a deep red (Sept. 23rd).

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 1st, 1852, he notes that rabbit’s foot clover is turning colorful, mulleins are turning yellow, wild roses are at their peak. He describes a white lily in depth. He hears a red-eye, oven-bird and a yellow-throat. On July 1st, 1854, he again notes that the edges of distant objects are distinct in clear air. He watches the shadows of clouds moving across the land. On July 1st, 1859, he notes white ranunculus is in bloom.

* * * *

Plants communicate with each other and with insects by volatile airborne chemical signals in order to coordinate defenses against herbivores (Hartley 2010, Hartley 2009, Alba 2012, Engelberth 2012, Heil and Karbon 2009, see Witzany and Baluska (ed) 2012). Experiments suggest that Box Elder trees, the Gambel’s oaks, the bushes of the understory, the Curly dock weeds, the Starry Solomon plants, the sagebrush, and the other plants currently active in the canyon are carrying on a conversation, unheard by human interlopers. Experiments have been done on plants outside species of the Gambel’s oak forest, but one example exists for communication between the sagebrush groves along east Bonneville Drive. In 2011, Shiojiri at Kyoto University, Karban at University of California at Davis and Ishizaki at Hokkaido University replicated and expanded Karban’s 2006 study on Great basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) plant communication (Shiojiri, Karban and Ishizaki 2011). They found that the neighbors of sagebrush plants mechanically damaged with scissors but allowed to spread VOCs suffered less damage from grasshoppers than sagebrush plants not allowed to receive VOC emissions from the damage sagebrush. In short, sagebrush plants talk with their sagebrush neighbors and warn them to start producing insecticides to ward off grasshoppers. In 2008, Mäntylä et al at the University of Bristol demonstrated that birch trees issue volatile airborne chemicals, not detectable by humans, when attacked by caterpillars. To control scents, they contained some damaged branches in plastic bags, but left other branches exposed. Birds preferentially visited and attacked branches where trees’ VOC scent was present. In short, their Great Britain birches talk to birds. Although the specific species in investigated in Great Britain are not present in the canyon, the canyon hosts Birchleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus Raf.). In 2011, Mäntylä et al demonstrated a similar effect in Scottish pines (Mäntylä et al 2011). Engelberth notes that some plants use VOCs to signal predatory insects, e.g. predatory wasps, that they have been damaged by insect herbivores that are preferred foods of the predator insect (Engelberth 2012).

Plant species talking between themselves, with other species of plants, and with insects and birds may have arisen by conferring an evolutionary advantage (Heil and Karban 2010). By alerting its same-specie and inter-specie neighbors, sagebrush, for example, can create a herd-like resistance to grasshopper attacks. Similarly, by talking with insects and birds, plants create co-evolutionary relationships that benefit both the plant and associated insect eating birds (id., Engelberth 2012). Through 2010, Heil and Karban summarize known examples of plant “talking” with VOCs (id). In this Great Basin canyon, such communication has only been shown specifically for Great basin sagebrush, but Heil and Karban also list known plant VOC demonstrations for families of plants whose cousins are also present in the City Creek Canyon, including willow trees, sugar maples, poplar trees and alder trees. That the other trees and other plants present in City Creek Canyon are talking to a each other seems a reasonable extrapolation, but demonstration of their VOC communication remains to be shown by future researchers.

Trees also may be talking with each via networks of fungi that permeates the soil beneath the trees. That tree roots make complex associations with fungi has been known for many years (Lanner, pp. 98-100), but with respect to canyon and Wasatch Front Mountain Range trees, this has only be studied extensively with respect to Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and even then, studies were performed principally in Washington State. When trees and fungi form associations, they are called mycorrhiza, and such associations are broken down into two parts. First, when fungi merge with interior of a root, they are termed arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), and second, when fungi form fungal mats underneath and around the roots, they are termed ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF). When AM or EM fungi connect between trees, they form a common mycorrhizal network (CMN). There can be more than 200 species of fungi that participate in arbuscular mycorrhizal association with a single plant. In this symbiotic relationship, fungi, for example with respect to Douglas firs, release additional nutrients from the soil that increases the firs’ ability to grow (Cline 2004), and conversely, the trees manufacture and provide unique nutrients to the fungi that they cannot obtain from the soil such as glucose. Thus, although trees can grow without an AMF or EMF, they grow slower and with less vitality (Cline). The CMN is formed by long hypae, or narrow primitive vascular tubes – that are characteristic of fungi. AMF or EMF associations occur in 80 percent of terrestrial plants.

A recent hypothesis suggest that the common mycorrhizal network of AMFs that provide a pathway by which chemical information is exchanged between trees (Barto et al 2012). Under this hypothesis, plants coordinate their defense against insects and disease using the CMN, and experimentally, this has been shown to occur in AMFs for three invasive grasses (id). Gorzelak and colleagues at the University of British Columbia extended this theory to EMFs (Gorzelak et al 2015). Once again, new modern biochemical and genetic analysis techniques provide insights into the complex life of seemingly simple trees. In 2015, Song and colleagues found in British Columbian forests where they artificially defoliated Douglas firs chemically signaled Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) through the EMF-CMN. The pines responded by issuing stress chemicals. Thus, two different species of trees “talked” with each other over a fungal network.

Both Douglas firs and Pondersa pine are found in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range generally, but not in the canyon specifically. Given that eighty-percent of species and over ninety-percent of families of pldants form AMF and EMF associations, many of the other unstudied trees with AMFs and EMFs in the canyon, like the oaks and maples, may also be talking between themselves over fungal networks. But this is supposition, a “just so” story, and confirmation of whether the canyon’s trees along the first road mile awaits future research by biologists.

* * * *

On July 1st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith notes that a gate has been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1997, a small grass fire broke out near Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1925, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial approved of the City’s use of “hoboes, drunkards and indolent men” on the prison road work crew then working in City Creek Canyon. On July 1st, 1920, twenty-five service men convalescing at St. Marks Hospital will be given a picnic outing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 1st, 1919, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial reported that a large fire had been burning in City Creek for several days (Salt Lake Telegram). The Telegram reported rumors that the fire may have been started by I.W.W. members (id). (Famed I.W.W. organizer Joe Hill had been previously executed in Salt Lake City in November 1915.)

July 21, 2017

July 19th

Crossed Cottonwoods

6:00 p.m. Afternoon thunderclouds threaten, but it is for nothing near City Creek Canyon. Where the road first enters the canyon, it gives vistas of the valley and sheets of water can be seen lowering from the clouds across southern and western ends of the Salt Lake Valley. But at the valley’s northern end, no water falls, and the weather station at the airport records only a trace of moisture. The clouds tease the parched land, dried grass and thirty trees. One canyon tree is well-adapted to this climate; it grows large; it puts down deep roots that search for underground water.

Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwood (Populus angustifolia J.) are numerous in the first mile and are easily identified by their linear, willow-like leaves. True Freemont’s cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) with their broad triangular cordate leaves are more difficult to spot, and the home range of Freemont’s cottonwoods is further to the south in New Mexico and Arizona. Like the F2 generations of Cottam’s hybird Gambel’s oaks that dominate the drier land of the canyon (July 3rd, 4th and 5th), the Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwoods and Freemont’s cottonwoods have been hybridizing. Like the Gambel’s oak, it makes numerous hybrids along the canyon’s bottom whose leaves are of intermediate forms between the parent types (Lanner 1984). Their more common cross, Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats, have intermediate ovate leaves that look like a larger version of a Western water or River birch leaf and resemble other common native and introduced trees (Arizona State University and Baker 1993). This confuses identification of trees in the first canyon road mile.

There are many trees in the canyon, and learning tree identification can be eased by examining known exemplars. The following is a list that cross-references some known trees species in the canyon with local examples at the University of Utah and Westminister College in Salt Lake City. The list is weak on conifer exemplars:

List of Exemplars for Trees in City City Creek Canyon at University of Utah, Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area and Miscellaneous (2017)

At the University of Utah (University of Utah Tree Tour))

• *Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 5, located at the southwest corner of the George Thomas Building on President’s Circle. Lat. 40.763604, Long. -111.8539387.)

• Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 7, located at the southwest corner of the George Thomas Building on President’s Circle. Lat. 40.763848, Long. -111.8522112.)

• Big Tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum). (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 8. Located south of the George Thomas Building (the old Natural History Museum) and east of University Street. Lat. 40.76375, Long. -111.851917.)

• *Norway maple (Acer platanoides) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 15. Located north of the George Thomas Building on north side of President’s Circle Drive. Lat. 40.764604, Long. -111.8536557.)

• *Purpleleaf plum (Prunus cerasifera) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 21. This is similar to the cultivar Newport flowering cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera Newportii) found in the canyon. On the north side of the President’s Circle at the intersection with Lat. 40.7646614, Long. -111.8506819.)

• Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 24 located northwest of the Talmage Building on President’s Circle Drive. Lat. 40.764621, Long. -111.8521057.).

• *Norway Spruce (Picea abies) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 28 located south of the Widtsoe Building on the south side of President’s Circle Drive. Norway spruce were planted in City Creek Canyon around May 1st, 1918 by the City (Salt Lake Tribune). Lat. 40.765321, Long. -111.8526205.)

• *Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). (McPherson and Graves (1984, 66-67) No. 46. A massive Siberian elm in the quad at the east end of the Bookstore. Lat. 40.764521 Long. -111.8500557. There is also grove of these elms in Lindsey Gardens at the north east corner of M Street and 7th Avenue. Lat. 40.777452 Long. -111.8659852.)

• Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 64. Located on the back east side of the Pioneer Memorial Theatre. This is similar to the native Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) found in the canyon. Lat. 40.762741, Long. -111.8512532.)

• Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 82. Between LINCO and Business Buildings along walkway from Marriott Library. Also along South Campus Drive Traffic Roundabout. Lat. 40.765543, Long. -111.8441142.)

• Cottam’s F1 Hybrid Cross of Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak. (Author taken July 2017 at 1760 South Campus Drive, University of Utah, Lat. 40.760233, Long. -111.8415315.)

At Westminister College Emigration Natural Area Tree Project: Trees)

General directions: At Westminister College on one-eighth mile stretch where Emigration Canyon Creek crosses the campus (Harrison 2002). Park in the main visitor parking area along 1300 East and walk to the starting point in front of Giovale Library at Lat. 40.730536 Long. -111.8558192. Refer to Owens 1999 map for location descriptions.

• Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia). (The Narrowleaf Cottonwood is on the south bank of the stream surrounded by other species in Owen’s Reach No. 2. Look for the narrow leaves from the viewing point. Saplings are closer to the top of the stream bank. Go across the footbridge near Giovale Library and head east to viewing point at Lat. 40.730154 Long. -111.8570887.)

• Hybrid cross between Freemont’s poplar and Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia x fremontii). (Go down the stairs to the west of Giovale Library to the trail that overlooks Emigration Creek. Go to the Nunemaker Amphitheater along the trail in Owen’s Reach No. 3. Hybrids are along the back of the stage. Compare the intermediate forms of these leaves that are between the parent Narrowleaf and Freemont poplars. Lat. 40.730537 Long. -111.8585217.)

• Freemont’s poplar (Populus fremontii). (Freemont’s poplar is located further west along the trail near the end of the parking lot structure on the north border of the trail in Owen’s Reach No. 6. Lat. 40.730521, Long. -111.8588057.)

• Box elder (Acer negundo). (Box Elder trees are prevalent in Salt Lake City An exemplar can be found east of the footbridge. From in front of Giovale Library, go along the sidewalk at the east of the residence hall to the east. Lat. 40.73029, Long. -111.8552372.)


• Coyote willow (Salix exigua) (There is Coyote willow along east Bonneville Drive about one-quarter mile after the turning on to the one-way Bonneville Drive from 11th Ave. Lat. 40.7826391 Long. -111.8825331.)

Source: University of Utah, Department of Facilities Management (2017). Tree Tour (Web). Link (GIS Map Tour of trees in the Walter Cottam Tree Collection spread throughout the University of Utah campus.), McPherson and Graves 1984, Harrison 2002, Boogert 2017, Owens 2000, and Author. * – Cultivar or invasive.

The Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area is a deep gulch about 1,000 feet long that holds one of the Salt Lake Valley canyon streams. The four streams flowing from the north and east of the City, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley’s and City Creek, are for the most part encased in underground conduits, but where Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Creeks cross soft soils on the elevated east bench of the City, they cut small gorges in which it was impractical to build. There four mini-canyon parks provide short, cool walks under the shade of native trees during the oppressive heat of afternoon summers. Red Butte Creek runs through the Miller Natural Park near 1100 South and 1700 East and from there it continues on bordered by private lands to Liberty Park. Emigration Canyon Creek runs through Wasatch Hollow Nature Area near 1500 South and 1700 East, then the Blaine Street Nature Area, and then on through the Westminister College Natural Area described above. Parley’s Canyon Creek flows through a small gorge Hidden Hollow Nature Area surrounded by office towers and a shopping center near 2100 South and 1300 East. In this way, City residents always have some form of City Creek Canyon always close at hand.

The Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area is a deep gulch about 1,000 feet long that holds one of the Salt Lake Valley canyon streams. The four streams flowing from the north and east of the City, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley’s and City Creek, are for the most part encased in underground conduits, but where Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Creeks cross soft soils on the elevated east bench of the City, they cut small gorges in which it was impractical to build. There four mini-canyon parks provide short, cool walks under the shade of native trees during the oppressive heat of afternoon summers. Red Butte Creek runs through the Miller Natural Park near 1100 South and 1700 East and from there it continues on bordered by private lands to Liberty Park. Emigration Canyon Creek runs through Wasatch Hollow Nature Area near 1500 South and 1700 East, then the Blaine Street Nature Area, and then on through the Westminister College Natural Area described above. Parley’s Canyon Creek flows through a small gorge Hidden Hollow Nature Area surrounded by office towers and a shopping center near 2100 South and 1300 East. In this way, City residents always have some form of City Creek Canyon always close at hand.

* * * *

Eckenwalder at the University of Toronto is credited demonstrating prolific ability of poplar’s to hybridize, including Fremont’s poplar-cottonwood (Eckenwalder 1984), but he did specifically cross-breed Fremont’s cottonwood and the Narrowleaf cottonwood. In 2002, Schweitzer, Martinsen and Whitham at the University of Northern Arizona crossed and back-crossed Fremont’s poplar and the Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus fremontii x P. angustifolia) using trees along northern Utah’s Weber River. They found that in terms of seed mass and seed weight, the F2 back-crosses fell between the more productive Fremont’s poplar and the less productive Narrowleaf cottonwood. Thus, they concluded that the hybrids were at least as productive as one of the parent trees.

Sparks and Ehleringer at the University of Utah used Narrowleaf cottonwood, Fremont’s poplar-cottonwood and Coyote Willow to investigate whether trees maintain lower or higher levels of photosynthesis at different elevations (Sparks and Ehleringer 1984). This is a deceptively simple question. As elevation increases, carbon dioxide is less dense and leaves may thicken to protect against harmful ultra-violet radiation. The stoma (pores) in leaves may also restrict in order to better retain water at the lower pressure of higher altitudes. Conversely, higher altitude mountain plants get more water. How do these factors balance? Contrary to other studies, Sparks and Ehleringer found that Fremont’s poplar and Narrowleaf cottonwoods in Big Cottonwood Canyon do more photosynthesis as altitude increases.

* * * *

On July 19th, 1895, a Mr. Taylor reported to the city council that he intended to develop 26 mining claims in the canyon and then force the city to buy him out in order to protect its water supply (Salt Lake Herald).

July 18, 2017

July 17th

Seed Dispersal, Porcupine and First Trout

2:00 p.m. Although the canyon is still in the estival and not the serotinal season, I have inadvertently stepped into a patch of common Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.), and my shoes are covered its spikelets. I pause to remove about twenty out. The serotinal season, which begins on August 15th, is the time of maximum seed production and dispersal. Although a native plant, Foxtail and like the invasive Cheat grass disperse by animals. Dispersal by animals is particularly effective, which explains why many invasive and weeds move their seeds by spikes and velcro-like surfaces that grab onto mammal fur and bird feathers. Others use animals. Along the road today around the cultivar crabapple trees (genus Malus) in the first mile, there are half-eaten rotting fruits. Birds have been pecking at them and consuming both the sweet pulp and seeds. Mule deer have already consumed the fruit on the lower branches. I have often wondered at the inefficiency of other plants like Gambel’s oak and Box Elder trees. Both produce large prodigious amounts of seeds at a great expense of energy, but only an infinitesimal portion of the seeds can ever be reasonably expected to reach maturity. The oak drops its seeds vertically by gravity, where they cannot do not sprout in the shade. Presumably the oaks are helped by Rock squirrels (Spermophilus variegatus) that move and store the acorns in their burrows. The Box Elder is covered in is catkins of helicopter seeds that by its aerodynamics float a short distance from its parent. Cottonwoods, Western salisfy (Giant dandelion), and Fireweed, respectively, produce pollens and seeds that parachute away from their parent suspended below a feathery pappus. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) fruits and floats down the stream to establish new colonies. How watercress moves upstream is unclear. Perhaps small crushed leaves fall off the lips of deer that browse on it. Dandelions, who favor the stream’s banks, moves its seeds upstream on the wind and downstream by floating on the water. Other plants like the Gambel’s oaks and aspen trees increase their range asexually by extending tubers underground.

6:00 p.m. The heat of the Sun bakes the water out of the land, and afternoon thunder clouds, born from the Great Salt Lake and reservoirs covers the valley. The great cloud tops are only threats, and pass with leaving any life-giving water to the city or to the canyon. It has been several weeks since I last remember any rain falling in the canyon. Checking weather records, the last rainfall above a trace amount was about one-tenth of an inch on June 13th.

8:45 p.m. I take a second late-evening run thorough the cool air and fading light. In the pond at picnic site 5, the first Brown trout (Salmo trutta) of this season has returned to the lower-canyon stream. A brushy tree limb has been removed, so the trout does not have the same cover as last year (Oct. 21st), but there is a bare six inch diameter tree trunk in the pond’s bottom. The trout uses this scant cover and goes for a hiding place in between the bottom of the log and the stream bed. The presence of the trout is related to shade provided by 100 foot canopy trees like Box Elder and Narrowleaf cottonwoods (Lanner 1984). Trout prefer cool water and the exposed stream, the flood retention ponds both below Guardhouse Gate and above at mile 3.0 may have become too warm for them. Now they seek cool pools shaded by the forest and where the stream has deep, vertical banks.

As I pass the watercress field in the tunnel seep below picnic site 6, I notice two eyes starring back from the darkness. A small North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is sitting at the edge of the seep, contentedly grazing on the watercress. I have not seen a porcupine in the lower canyon for about two decades, and I had thought most of them to be driven out of the upper canyon above mile 4.0 by the increasing drought (Nov. 2nd). This porcupine, like its species, is docile and unafraid. Because of it quills it has few serious natural enemies, although quills have been found in mountain lions, coyotes and bears. Eventually, it becomes wary of me and effortlessly climbs a nearby forty feet tree. They eat green plants, like clover, leaves, and the bark of trees (Hayward 1948 at 494, Spencer 1964). Such discoveries of old animal friends raise my spirits. They have not been driven from Salt Lake canyons. In the fading twilight, bicyclists streak out of the canyon illuminating their way with blinding LED lanterns.

* * * *

There are four primary methods of seed dispersal: by wind, by water, by gravity, and by animals. Animals move seeds by several methods. Epizoochory is the movement of seeds, like the Foxtail, by attaching to the outside of an animal. Endozoochory is the movement of seeds by animals internally, i.e. – eating of seeds by birds and mammals followed by the seed’s excretion distant from the parent. More recently anthropochory, the movement of seeds by humans, has radically changed the canyon and western habitats, by moving seeds across oceans and continents.

In 1993, now Utah State University of Utah botanist Eugene Schupp noted that the benefit to a plant that an animal disperser provides is a probability function of the quantity of seeds dispersed and the quality of the seeds produced (Schupp, Jordano, and Gómez 2010, Schupp 1993). Quantity of dispersal depends on the number of disperser visits and the number of seeds dispersed on each visit. The quality of seeds produced depends on either its treatment in an animal’s digestive tract or quality of seed deposition, i.e. – some animals are sloppy eaters and drop seeds close to the parent and others efficiently eat all seeds and move them a significant distance from the parent. Combining these factors gives a seed dispersement effectiveness index, and that single dimensional index can be used to relatively rate the importance that the many animals that consume a plant’s seeds contribute to the plant’s reproduction. For example, any single tree species many have five or ten bird species that eat and disperse its seeds.

Seed dispersal matters to the recuperation of forests. Where forests, like the canyon’s Gambel’s oak chaparral or stream-side association, are long-lived and mature, bird dispersers have little effect on a forest’s health. But when a forest is disturbed, for example by fire or clear-cutting, a forest cannot re-colonize unless it also supports a healthy bird population that can distribute its seeds (Howe and Miriti 2004, Martínez and García 2017). This process works in reverse. Bird dispersers can be lost, and eventually this may lead to the loss forests that they visit (Howe and Miriti). This underscores the need to preserve bird habitats on a continental scale, since the avian distributors of seeds that will help City Creek Canyon’s oak and montane forests recover from a future fire, may overwinter in Central American forests (May 22nd, May 23rd and May 24th).

* * * *

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 17th, 1908, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the city prison road work gang had labored for 18 months to improve City Creek Canyon Road. On July 17th, 1888, ten families had set up tents for cool summer camping in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 17th, 1887, the Salt Lake Herald reports that several families have moved into tents in and for the cooler air of City Creek.

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).

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at