City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

March 27, 2017

March 26th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Chokecherry, Colors, Crabapple trees, Cultivars, Dogwood, Insects, Plants, Stream — canopus56 @ 1:04 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part VII – Mining

2:00 p.m. Today, the Sun and spring returns, but temperatures are subdued in the low fifties. The result is that insects do not try to restart, and they are too stunned by the return of overnight freezing. This also stunts the growth of some plants. The small leaves emanating from the red-osier dogwood have stopped growing. Others are still responding to more light. I find the first full-sized river birch with swelling buds. Their leaves, like the crabapple trees, are covered with small hairs. In the first quarter-mile, another cultivar is opening small white flowers with five petals and a brace of fully formed stamens that hides its ovary underneath. The difference between trees in the city on the valley floor below and those higher in the canyon is marked, and it is not simply a matter of altitude and temperature. Plants in the valley have been selected for an early show. Cherry trees that radiate light purple line many streets. Other cultivars, like willows bloom, but these are mere visitors that cannot survive on their own in arid Utah. In the valley, even valley natives like cottonwoods show blooms at their tops absent in their sister trees in the canyon, but the native trees in the canyon are more subdued, and they still bide their time waiting for the true heat of spring. In the sunlight, some sections of stream reflect repeated steps of slack pool and turgid fall water, and falls make the stream a miniature white water ribbon.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 26th, 1853, he watches a red-tailed hawk at a distance of about 15 yards. On March 26th, 1855, he hears two larks. On March 26th, 1860, he summarizes the first season observations of plants, birds, reptiles and frogs. They vary between years by about one month.

* * * *

The second wave of resource exploitation in City Creek began in the 1870s with Utah’s mining boom. That boom included many mines in City Creek Canyon. The City Creek mining boom last only a few years (Thompson). Other, more profitable ore bodies were found in Little Cottonwood Canyon and in the Park City districts drew miners elsewhere. Amateur ghost town and mining enthusiast Donald A. Winegar has reconstructed the mining history of City Creek and other Utah mining districts from a review of numerous newspaper records such as the Salt Lake Herald to the Utah Mining Bulletin (Winegar) and since 1977, he has attempted to locate and visit each mine where the location is known. There were approximately 31 mines in City Creek with colorful names such as Red Bird, General Scott, and the Rob Roy. Most the mines were active between 1871 and 1875. There was a small football field-sized platted township called Modoc, Utah, at what is now the site of Upper Rotary Park picnic grounds at mile 5.75. In the 1870s, it was little more than a few wooden shacks (id). Another town, called “Hangtown,” was proposed further up the canyon from Modoc (id). Ores mined in City Creek typically were silver and lead. Lead ore was hauled by mule to a smelters located below the City Creek-Avenues ridge. The remains of the smelters still exist and are located to the west of a home at 1507 East Tomahawk Drive.

There were two significantly profitable mines in the Canyon and a third on the city side of Black Mountain. The first was the Red Bird Mine that had a shaft over 1,300 feet in length that was active from the 1870s to 1900 (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 23, 1896 and Dec. 30, 1900). The second was the Treasure Box Mine below Grandview Peak. The Treasure Box Mine was a lead mine with a shaft extending 10,000 feet into the mountain, and as a result of increased demand for lead generated by World War I, the mine was active from 1918 until the early 1920s (Winegar). Various mining machinery still can be found about 1.75 miles up-canyon from the end of the road (Winegar, Personal observation). The third was the Burro Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Mining Review, Sept. 9, 1910). The Burro deposit was discovered in 1906, and the mine was still shipping 300 tons of ore a day i 1910 (id). The locations of the two major City Creek mining areas correspond to geologic faults (Sept. 1st) and northern Utah’s volcanic era (Jan. 7th). The faults promoted mineralization.

Other than the concrete Treasure Box Mine entrance and associated machinery, all of these mines have disappeared from the landscape (Winegar). When jogging along the stream between 0.5 and 1.5 miles beyond the end of road, there are sections of the stream bed where the rocks are still discolored from mine tailings (Personal observation). However, when running or hiking in the canyon, past mining activity does not reduce the present overall enjoyment of nature.

* * * *

On March 26th, 1912, City Engineer George D. Keyser proposed paying prisoners working on creating the new road up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 26th, 1906, the YMCA scheduled hikes for the year including up City Creek Canyon (Intermountain Republican). On March 26th, 1903, the City Council deferred approving bonds for the construction of reservoirs in City Creek and Parley’s Canyons until the city engineer could be consulted (Salt Lake Telegram).

March 24, 2017

March 24th

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part V – Timber Harvesting

2:00 p.m. Spring returns with today’s bright warming sunshine and temperatures regain half yesterday’s the thirty degree drop. Last night’s rain has washed away the carcasses of yesterday’s earthworm explosion. The creek still runs high, and between the stream’s loud white noise, the sun’s warmth, and my own feelings of exhaustion, I am compelled to rest. I find a place next to the stream in the Sun, and fall in a meditative mood, and meld into the moment. Yesterday’s two inches of freezing rainfall, although small by eastern standards, sets a new Salt Lake City precipitation record. March has turned out like February’s unusual weather: record setting warm temperatures for the first few weeks, followed by catch-up rain and snow that regresses to a nearly average year. After the freezing rain, again, the return of insects resets. There are one or two tentative White cabbage and Painted Lady butterflies, and a few stoneflies and gnats reappear.

For plants, the snow, which has now melted except on Black Mountain, stunts the grow of the Wood’s roses for a day. But other trees bloom. A red-osier dogwoods higher up the canyon blooms, and below picnic site 6, the first Box Elder tree blooms at its highest top branches. Further down canyon cultivars bloom. A new tree’s buds open with leaves are covered with small hairs, and more searching finds one that has a desiccated apple attached. These are crabapple trees (Nov. 19th). Their distinctive leaves allows me to do a census: including one tree below Guardhouse gate an two at the up-canyon end of Pleasant Valley, there are five apple trees in the first 1.5 canyon miles. Another new blooming tree has a deep purple ovary at the bud’s center. High in the trees near picnic site 6, migrant song birds sing, but frustratingly, I am unable to see them with my monocular.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 24, 1855, he records a rock slide and describes how rivers erode hills. He summarizes the signs of spring: maple sap, willow and alder catkins, grass on south banks, cowslip, and maple buds. On March 24th, 1858, he hears song birds and sees a flock of twenty shore larks.

* * * *

Early immigrant John Miller described lumber harvesting in City Creek, an activity done during the winter, principally for the purpose of selling or using timber as firewood:

In the first place, Brigham Young laid claim to the entire canyon. There were two gates through which all must pass to enter the domain. One was the Eagle Gate and the other was at the mouth of the canyon . . . There was a gate-keeper at the inner gate and he took one-third of every load of wood that came down out of the canyon. This was Brigham Young’s toll. . . . .

Brigham Young had a great wood yard just inside the inner gate, with a circular saw run by the waters of City creek. There the toll wood was cut up into stove lengths and after that it was distributed among the president’s numerous wives . . . .

There [the logs] where taken by teamsters, and hauled to the city after paying Brigham Young toll at the gates. . . . .

After cutting down a tree, we would cut it into lengths of ten or twelve feet. Then we would point one end of it and start it down the hill on the snow. It would go down like a streak of lightening . . . There were forty of us working up in the mountains, and each one would put a private mark on his logs to enable him to settle with the teamsters below. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5).

* * * *

In a March 24th, 2004 letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City resident Jay S. Bachman argues in favor of banning cougar hunting in City Creek Canyon. On March 24, 1900, the City Council directed the Police Department to provide prisoners to work on creating a boulevard up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

November 19, 2016

November 19th

Filed under: Crabapple trees, Guardhouse Gate picnic area, Horsechestnut, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:37 pm

Where Have All the Crabapples Gone?

Yesterday’s snow has completely melted on the south facing slopes of the canyon, but snow still lingers on the north facing angles and in the most shaded portions of the narrow, lower portion of the canyon. This begins the process of restoring soil moisture in the canyon. Previously, the summer sun evaporated almost all of the water from the ground. Even after a Fall storm, the sun was strong enough to remove the newly fallen water from the soil column. But now the Sun has lost its power, and from now until spring, repeated snow fall and melting will again make the first few meters of soil saturate with water. At mile 1.1, a wind-protected south facing slope that is covered with trees that still retain their leaves, is a contrast of white and orange-brown leaves.

It is warm enough that runners have returned to wearing only shirts, and the parking lot is packed and overflowing with cars. There are even two horseback mounted bow hunters on the road. During this warm recovery, only three insects are seen: an unidentified moth at the parking lot, an immature Box elder bug, and a miniature Thin-legged Wolf spider.

At the Guardhouse Gate picnic area, I notice an overlooked cultivar: a fifteen foot crabapple tree that was previously hidden behind the leaves of the horsechestnut trees. In its highest branches, there are still twelve apples. I throw a stick in the tree, and dislodge one. It is in good condition despite the recent cold weather, rain, and snow. This is my second canyon apple for this year.

Back on October 5th at 2:00 p.m., as usual I am jogging while looking down at my feet. As I look down near picnic site 6, I see a small red crabapple without any blemishes sitting on the road. It looks identical to one that I purchased at a local supermarket earlier that day, only slightly smaller. Looking up, I was standing underneath one of the canyon’s cultivars. Historically, domestic fruit trees have been planted along the road about every three-quarters of a mile. These non-native trees could have planted when an enterprising Mormon pioneer first forced a road up the canyon in 1853 to start a saw mill, or at some later time, e.g. – in the 1950s when the water treatment plant was constructed. There is no historical record of the planting.

This afternoon, I am standing next to two green crabapple trees near the old Pleasant Valley Reservoir site at mile 1.7. Last year in October, both were full crabapples. During October through early November, each day I would pick a green crabapple from the high branches above the browse line of deer for a snack. This year, there are none here or at two others between here and the water treatment plant at mile 3.4. These crabapple trees stayed green through October 15th, and then over a short four day period, they turned a bright yellow and their leaves fell. Today, they are all sleeping leafless trunk and twig.

This year, I had to make do with my two red crabapples – which were both delicious, instead of the usual twenty. Where have all the green crabapples gone?

September 20, 2016

August 31st

Peak Production

6:30 p.m. The canyon has passed its peak productivity. In the first two miles of the canyon, all the red fruit of a chokecherry bush (Prunus virginiana L.) has ripened to a dark purple. Box elder trees (Acer negundo L.) hang heavy with their helicopter seed pods. The white fruit of an unidentified berry bush extrudes vanilla smelling juice when squeezed. All thistles have bloomed into hairy grey tufts. Gambel’s oaks are dropping numerous acorns on the road. green crabapple trees, planted by the pioneers every third of a mile, are ripening fruit. Horsechestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) are full of their green spiked seeds. Where is City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive, the mud flat in the stormwater pond is filled with 8 foot tall cattails (Typha latifolia L.) that are beginning to bloom. Along the pipeline trail, only one or two small birds are heard.

At meadows, grasses and weeds are parched varying shades of tan to dark brown. At one seep near mile 1.3, trees at its top are green and healthy while at the bottom all the water has been taken from the ground and the manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos manzanita P.) are shriveled. Even for healthy Gambel’s oaks and cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia James or Mountain Cottonwood), the unrelenting sun has burnt leaves on the top branches a curled brown. To escape the heat, the Box Elder trees on west facing slopes are turning their autumn pale red and light brown. But box elders with an adequate water supply on the canyon bottoms are still green.

Producers having peaked, the reducers now take over. In the scrub oak forest and in the meadows, crickets have multiplied. In the first two miles, I see five adolescent squirrels and hear another five scurrying through the brush. They have begun gathering and storing acorns for the coming winter.

 

August 10th

Filed under: Chokecherry, Colors, Crabapple trees, Gambel's Oak, Plants, Seasons, Thistle — canopus56 @ 10:49 pm

First Signs of Fall

4:00 p.m. The first day of Fall is not until September 22nd, but the early signs of the coming change of the seasons appear: At mile post 0.25 the fruit of a single chokecherry bush turns a deep purple-black. Higher up the canyon the fruit of similar bushes are still red. The first unripe green acorn from a Gambel Oak falls on the roadway. The first early green crabapple rolls across the pavement. On one bull thistle bush in the lower canyon, a single blossom explodes in a gray fountain of seeds. All the other blossoms on the same plant are still compact and purple.

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