City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.)

Other

• 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).

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July 19, 2017

July 18th

Radio Tower Run and Anti-wind

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

July 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.

July 14, 2017

July 14th

An Upside Down Side Canyon

2:00 p.m. Today, I drive 4.3 miles up-canyon to Freeze Creek, an north trending side canyon that begins at Lower Rotary Park. The side canyon leads uphill to Mueller Park below Unnamed peak at 8283 feet. The trail was probably constructed in the 1920s by the Rotary Club, and the canyon supports piping and a cement encased natural spring that delivers water to the picnic area below. What I like about the Freeze Creek hike is that the canyon is, botanically, upside down. Because the canyon rises towards the north, it spends most of its time in perpetual shade, and thus, the canyon is colder at the bottom than at the top. The hike begins at its lowest elevation along a stream and through a grove of Lodgepole pine, a tree that normally grows at colder and higher elevations, and then ascends through tall maple trees and Quaking aspen trees. Off in the distance of this lower part of the Freeze Creek, I can hear the taping of a Downy woodpecker(Picoides pubescens). Then as the trail exits higher into warming sunlight, open grassland appears that ends at an impenetrable forest of Gambel’s oaks. To the east of the oak forest, a Birchleaf mountain mahogany grove can be penetrated, and after a few minutes of effort, access to a trail that leads to Mueller Park Grove is gained.

* * * *

On July 14th, 1906, the Salt Lake Herald published two panoramic photographs of Salt Lake City by George Mortimer Gutch. One contrasted downtown Salt Lake City at 200 South Main and the second was taken near the top of Smuggler’s Gulch on Black Mountain, City Creek Canyon. On July 14th, 1886, City Engineer George Ottinger and work crews were cleaning out the City Creek stream bed of debris in order to increase water quality (Salt Lake Herald).

July 13, 2017

July 13th – Revised

The Thoreauian Experience

4:00 p.m. In the near 100 Fahrenheit degree afternoon heat, at a seep along Bonneville Drive leading to the canyon, there is a thick stand of Common goldenrod. Its inflorescences have up to 30 small yellow flowers that each extrude 10 to 15 stamens. It is distinguished from roadside Missouri goldenrod by its serrated leaves (Pratt, Banner, and Bowns 2013). On one flower, a small 2 mm pink unidentified nymph solider beetle is grazing, and as I rotate the angle of the sunlight, its iridescence changes to lavender. Like yesterday, I again go for a short jog to milepost 1.0 and then back down the Pipeline Trail.

With summer’s heat and the proliferation of leaves, disease and opportunistic parasites arrive. In the first one-third mile, there are numerous Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwood saplings. One the saplings, something is attacking the leaves. At first glance, their leaves look like locust bean pods that have opened, but on closer inspection, some disease is forcing the leaves to fold back and grow four to five small bean-like pockets on each leaf. The newly grown pockets are open at the bottom. I pry several open, but find only one that has a small 1 mm fully-formed gnat inside. It is not clear whether this is some hatched larvae that forced the leaf to form the pockets or whether the gnat has simply crawled inside for protection. On the Pipeline Trail, a single Gambel’s oak leaf that has about ten small red-orange insect larvae attached to its underside. I mark this for a future check to see what develops.

There are only a few butterflies along the road, but at the seep Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint with lavender inflorescences has matured. The small stand is covered with about 12 Cabbage white butterflies. In the heat, only a few people are on the quiet road and none are on the trail. I am restored.

As I jog through today’s canyon, I try to clear my mind of all thoughts and just experience the canyon’s nature. Although the benefits are commensurate, the amount of time that each day’s excursion takes is great, and this reduces my engagement with friends and a social life. Some see it as self-absorption, although I view it as centering. At a minimum, the practice of daily nature observation provides a restoration of mental attention and executive functions (April 24th and April 25th). From that renewed and centered emotional strength, a better understanding of the day’s political, social and economic events can be had, and only from a position of understanding can actions be formulated that will not make things worse for oneself or ones friends. But is a Thoreauian daily nature experience of nature just another form of modern narcissism?

Based on my experience visiting the canyon each day for almost a year, it is not. Close observation of nature is about sensitivity to and recognition of subtle biological relationships between plants, animals, geology and weather. That study is undertaken in the spirit of husbandry, since humans are the only beings on the planet with sufficient sentience to willfully modify the environment. There are few better metaphors for preparing oneself for a life moral well-being. It is a form of practice for being sensitive to and understanding human relationships. But its practice is only a sufficient condition to becoming a good person, and it is possible to study nature and biology for a lifetime while ignoring the lessons of interconnectedness that it provides.

* * * *

In dueling articles 2015, Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz argued in The New Yorker Magazine that Thoreau did not deserve his literary fame: he was simply a self-absorbed narcissist (Schulz 2015). Essayist Jedediah Purdy responded the following day in The Altantic: Thoreau was engaged in the issue of his day – the abolition of slavery – and however awkward he was socially, he wrangling with moral issues remains an instructive today. Thoreau developed the stream in American thought that community injustice committed against some of its members is an injustice against all members of the community. Purdy notes that like Thoreau in the nineteenth century, life today involves moving in the alienating gray area “between feeling the justice and wrongs of our communities as our own and becoming insensate to them” (id). Thoreau’s method of thoughtful engagement, which grew out of his daily, careful observation of nature, is a good approach for daily life in our complex modern world.

That sense of alienation in a gray area of indecisiveness is magnified in modern culture by our cultural insistence that policy decisions should not be based on human values alone, and that experts should quantify and model issues to guide our selections (April 27th). Our ability to quantify and model reality has increased exponentially still the beginning of the digital industrial age in the 1980s, but this has the effect disempowering ordinary citizens (id). Many of the mathematical models that guide modern society, in particular in economics and commerce, are simply rough guides with little statistical validity, and although such modeling does provide a useful check on often-wrong intuition, they are not replacements for the human-valued centered decision-making of Theoreau’s century (id).

Our increased technological ability to collect enormous amounts of information and to model reality continues the dualism between Plato and Aristotle that set the structure of Western civilization two-thousand years ago. Plato was the ultimate deductionist: he felt that the characteristics of an underlying transcendent reality could be deduced and from inferior models of the everyday world. Artistole was the penultimate observationalist and inductive thinker: he felt that things in the everyday world were ends in and of themselves, and thus, observing and enumerating the infinite variations of natural objects was an end in and of itself. Our modern technological society are simply augmented versions of that duality and of Thoreau’s era. I can view mountains of information about the small 3 by 12 square mile canyon collected from sensors and quickly scan millions of research journals and academic books about its weather, wildlife and plants, but in the end, modern scientific research (and my amateur enjoyment of it) is Aristotelian observation followed by Platonic deduction and modeling. Again (see April 27th), the uncertainty generated by knowing the limits of one’s knowledge and careful decision-making supplemented by consideration of expert scientific opinion are important values, but at times, a Thoreauian sense of community alienation and indecisiveness must be set aside and directions chosen from human-centered values.

This tension between our increasing technological prowess and stifling emotional alienation were known to Thoreau. Norte Dame English professor Walls in the preface to her biography released on Thoreau’s 200th birthday (July 12th) argues that since Thoreau lived at the beginning of the Anthropocene era (April 27th), he was struggling with prospects of future environmental destruction, given the American character and that humanity had begun to modify the nature environment on a continental scale (Walls). Menard notes that early American divided their identity into two parts: a “British” identity that was associated with European industrialization and an “American” identity that was forged from their encounter in the new continent (Menard 2012, 600-602). In Thoreau’s famous essay Walking, he concluded that the American character had been shaped by the nature’s wildnesss. Thoreau argued in his famous statement that “Wildness is the preservation of the world”, that nature is a source of continuing replenishment. As America developed across the Mississippi and into the western United States, it needed to preserve undeveloped wilderness in order to maintain its vigor as a society:

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. . . . The founders of every State which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source” (Thoreau 1862, 665).

And societies that over-develop and destroy their wild places lose the ability to replenish their vigor and creativity. He attributes that loss to the end of the Roman Empire:

“It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the wolf [their destroyed wildlands] that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the Northern forests who were” (Thoreau 1862, 665).

In Walking, Thoreau predicts that if Americans do not preserve wilderness as they expanded into its western territory, e.g. – the Salt Lake valley in which City Creek Canyon is located, then the American character will degrade and decline into a mere “English” society (Menard, 605, 607-608):

“[Y]et we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man, – a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilization destined to have a speedy limit” (Thoreau 1862, 670).

One-hundred years later and after considerable development of the West, Wallace Stegner in his Wilderness Letter echoed Thoreau’s reasoning. The American character was uniquely shaped by wilderness and to maintain that character, the residual of wild places left by 1960 must be preserved:

“I want to speak for the wilderness idea as something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a people. . . . Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; . . . We need wilderness preserved – as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds – because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed (Stegner 1960, and “wilderness was working on us”).

Thoreau also argued that daily exposure to natural places was necessary for the maintenance of mental health: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (Thoreau 1862, 658). Regular exposure to nature was a condition to well-being: “Will not man grow to greater perfection intellectually as well as physically under these influences?” (id at 664).

Foreshadowing the development since the 1980s of biophilia and attention restoration therapy (April 19th to April 27th), 100 years later after Thoreau, Stegner also concludes that wild places are necessary for our emotional health in light of continuing hyper-development of Western lands:

“One means of sanity is to retain a hold on the natural world, to remain, insofar as we can, good animals. . . . . We simply need that wild country available to us, . . . . For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope” (Stegner 1960).

The history of the early resource exploitation of City Creek’s Canyon and its subsequent preservation as a natural area parallels these tensions and contradictions (March 20th to April 3rd).

* * * *

On July 13th, 2007, a man was robbed by two women who drove him to City Creek. A second man, working with the women, came out of the bushes and robbed the man using a BB gun (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, July 14, 2007). On July 13th, 1930, forty school girls hiked up City Creek to Rotary Park (Salt Lake Telegram ). On July 13th, 1912, a large fire was reported to have burned between City Creek and Dry Fork Canyons, and E. H. Clark, Wasatch Supervisor organized a canyon fire patrol (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 13, 1908, thousands of residents escaped high summer heat by going to resorts and to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 13th, 1906, efforts to remove the last industrial facility in lower City Creek Canyon, a rock crusher owned by P.J. Moran, continue (Deseret Evening News).

July 12th

Latter Saint Day Conservation

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

July 11, 2017

July 6th

Dry Fork Canyon

3:45 p.m. It is the third day of 100 degree Fahrenheit heat as I return to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the University of Utah Hospital. I plan to jog up Dry Fork Canyon at the southeast end of the Salt Lake salient and then west along the Shoreline Trail above the Avenues. The Trails goes up Dry Fork for about one mile, crosses a pass, and then traverses a series of gullies that come down from the ridgeline to the Avenues and city below. The Trail begins in a invasive Cheat grass sea that is typical of the city’s foothills. Here, small light brown House crickets (Acheta domestica), another non-native, infest the Cheat grass. There are twenty or thirty per square yard. I round a corner into Dry Fork Canyon, and quickly its narrow walls close in and shade the canyon. The Fork’s walls are covered in dense Gambel’s oak forest, and this forest broken higher up by fields of the brown sun-dried husks of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In an example of color adaptation, at the base of the oaks, larger, unidentified grasshoppers live, but unlike the sun-exposed crickets, these are colored green in order to better blend in with their surroundings.

At a seep one-third of a mile up canyon, there is a mini-oasis. In ten feet with Wood’s rose bushes on either side, Common sulphur butterflies, Western tiger swallowtail butterflies, small bluet dragonflies, Common whitetail dragonflies, Western Yellowjacket wasps, and Circumpolar bluets, all compete for space and landing rights around a small ditch of shallow water.

Further up canyon, the oak forest comes alive with sounds of birds: Black-headed grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings and Song sparrows call from the oaks spaced perhaps 100 feet apart on both canyon walls. Their songs are clear and strong, and I estimate there are about 250 birds between the canyon mouth and the upper pass. Unexpectedly, this density exceeds that of the stream areas in City Creek Canyon. The birds here, unlike in the City Creek Canyon, are fearless. I am able to stand only five feet from a Lazuli bunting as it tilts its head back to make a song. I am able to make a good recording and spectral graph. I flush two California quails (Callipepla californica) from the brush.

House crickets may explain the high density of birds in Dry Fork Canyon, where as the name implies, there is no water. Assuming a cricket weighs about one-quarter gram (0.000551 lbs), then there are about 85 tons of cricket mass on the city facing foothills between Dry Fork Canyon and the peak at the top of North Terrace Hills Drive in Valley View Canyon (see June 10th) (3,097,600 square yards per square mile x 4 miles x 1.25 miles x 20 cricket per square yard x 0.000551 lbs. per cricket divided by 2,000 lbs. per ton). The crickets exist at a similar density for another ten square miles between Memory Grove in lower City Creek Canyon and milepost 3.5 above Bonneville Drive. This suggests that there may be about 300 tons of these non-native crickets, and this is more than enough to support the summer bird populations seen in Dry Fork and City Creek Canyon.

As the canyon dries out, purple Bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) covered with small black ants, a blue-white thin-petaled Eaton’s aster (Aster eatonii a.k.a. Symphyotrichum eatonii), and invasive blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) grow. The roots of Chicory are roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. The white-topped weed Hoary cress (Cardaria draba) is also found.

As I near the upper Trail pass out of Dry Fork, I count two Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and just before the pass, I am treated to a rare display by a pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri). The male has trapped a female hummingbird at the base of Gambel’s oak sapling. For several minutes the male does its pendulum mating dance. It rapidly flies back and forth in a figure-eight pattern about six feet across, its wings buzzing loudly. Then the male gives up, and he does two high speed runs over the female while making a zinging noise. At the pass out of Dry Fork, I am greeted by expansive views of the city and of the Great Salt Lake, fifteen miles in the distance. The Sun is pounding, but my spirit soars from both the views and the hummingbird’s display.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 6th, 1851, he walks by moonlight and again sees it reflected in water. He notes crickets sing with a different frequency at night. On July 6th, 1852, he hears a pewee and a red-eye. He sees tufted vetch, a fern, a tansey, and a parsnip. He watches a pickerel in a stream. He hears a duck on a pond. On July 6th, 1856, he stumbles on a peet-weet with its nest and young. On July 6th, 1858, he hears and sees loons. On July 6th, 1859, he describes heart-leaf.

* * * *

On July 6th, 1905, the City passed Councilperson’s Woods proposed ordinance banned automobiles from City Creek Canyon. On the same day, the Salt Lake Tribune urged that the road should be sprinkled with oil to keep dust down. Also on July 6th, 1905, the City Council held a heated debate on whether a bridge should be constructed over City Creek Road in support of the Commercial Club’s proposed scenic boulevard (Salt Lake Tribune).

July 5th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Weather — canopus56 @ 3:46 am

Some Mornings You Get Up and Find that Everything You Thought You Knew is Wrong

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Range of Gambel’s oak leave shapes collected along City Creek Canyon Road. (Author taken July 2017).

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Cottam’s F2 Cross of Gambel’s F1 hybrid oaks leaves, 1982. (Figure 2 in Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982).

3:00 p.m. It reaches a record-breaking 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the city today, and as I jog up the canyon, I collect samples of Gambel’s oak leaves. The heat as driven everyone except a few bicyclists from the canyon. Restoring solitude prevails. At the three communities of birds near the Gate, mile 0.6, and milepost 1.0, only two birds each can muster the energy to sing. Near mile 0.4 (Lat. 40.8003234722222, Long. -111.872787472222) is a grove of Gambel’s oaks that I find unsettling. I have long been confused by what a Gambel’s oak is. Almost no Gambel’s oak leaves that I have seen in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range or in City Creek Canyon match the picture in my tree field guide (National Audubon Society 2008 at Plate 246). This oak grove at mile 0.4 is unlike all the other Gambel’s oaks in the canyon. It has the deep lobes and pointed ends that match my field guide. This grove is the only “pure” Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) in the canyon, and its trees are unique. Unlike the stunted growth of most oaks with twisted trunks, which only reach at most 12 feet in height, the trees in this grove reach thirty or forty feet and their trunks are straight.

At home, I arrange my gathered leaves into a grid. Down the left-side are samples of these “pure” Gambel’s oak leaves. To the right of these and proceeding to the right side of the grid, the oak leaves increase in lobe roundness. Towards the bottom of the grid, the leaves decrease in lobe ratio – the lobes disappear towards the bottom of the row. This examples only describe the range of Gambel’s oak leaves found in the canyon. I have not collected a large sample and measured each leaf’s lobe ratio (July 4th) in order find the statistical median of leaf shapes. The historical re-enactor at “This is the Place Monument” was right (July 3rd). The oak forest surrounding the Salt Lake Valley and in the canyon are all hybrids – but they are second generation F2 crosses (July 3rd and July 4th). Conversely, I was also right – I could find no Cottam F1 hybrids at “This is the Place” monument (id). The canyon is covered in a example of plants adapting to an extreme ancient climate change.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 5th, 1852, he notes as a sign of the seasons, that plants bear ripening fruit. He see cherry birds. He describes a sunset where cloud banks stripe the horizon. On July 5th, 1854, he smells blue-curls and life-everlasting flowers.

* * * *

No scientific journal expressly describes the Gambel’s oak forest surrounding the Salt Lake Valley as consisting mostly of Cottam’s F2 hybrids. The Utah Native Plant Society’s Frates suggests that is the consensus opinion of most botanists (Personal communication, July 2017). But the essential correctness of this opinion can be seen in Figure 2 of Cottam, Tucker and Santamour’s 1982 “Oak Hybridization at the University of Utah”. In that figure, Cottam arranges his F2 hybrids along a spectrum from those resembling Quercus turbinnell Greene on the top row. Those F2 leaves in the bottom four rows resemble the typical Gambel’s oak leaves seen along the Wasatch Front Mountain Range.

* * * *

On July 5th, 1907, 40,000 to 50,000 City residents spent the holiday at various resort locations including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Intermountain Republican). Tragically, three-year old Ellen May Elte drowned in City Creek (id).

July 4th

Hybrid Gambel’s Oak – Part II

4:00 p.m. Determined to find a sample of the oak cross in the wild, I go behind the University Hospital, where in 1958 Professor’s Cottam’s graduate student, Rudy Drobnick, located a grove of F1 hybrid oak crosses (Drobnick 1958). It is located on a steep slope above the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Climbing the slope in the 100 degree heat and under the afternoon sun, after two attempts and twenty minutes of climbing, I finally find a copse of the cross. It was worth the climb. This F1 cross developed at the end of the last ice age about 7,500 years ago when in a wetter and warmer climate, both true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak existed at its northern limits around the Salt Lake Valley. (Ehleringer and Phillips suggest that the F1 cross may have occurred as little 750 years ago (Frates 2008).) As the post-glacial valley dried out, the true Gambel’s oaks and the Arizona shrub oak were forced further south. Now only four patches of the F1 hybrid remain.

I also want to verify if this F1 hybrid grove is the same dimensions as found by Drobnick in 1958. This requires climbing up a steeper slope and around of wall of oaks to the grove’s backside. This whole mis-adventure has been one comedic event after another. Today, I am under-geared. I am also jogging, so I am wearing sneakers and not my usual bushwhacking hiking gear. For bushwhacking in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, I usually have walking poles and my favorite now well-worn thirty-year old pair of calf high leather boots with industrial grade soles. You can walk up-hill and over any grade and any condition with those boots. The slope is forty-five degrees and covered in a combination of dry cheatgrass and Winter rye grass (Secale cereale L.). The stems of both invasives are biased pointing downhill. About fifty feet up, I lose my footing and begin a quick fifteen mile-per-hour slide downhill. But I am smiling. This is the summer version of a fall and back-side slide on dense spring snow while back-country skiing in the mountains. My feet go out in front and I am able to self-arrest as I reach the edge of the oak grove. Another try, and I am around to the back of the grove.

In 1958, Drobnick recorded is size at 25 x 15 x 8 feet, and this is similar to what I find today. At the back of the hybrid copse, is a small sapling, three feet high. The hybrid copse is continuing to reproduce.

Later in the evening after a nap to recover from the heat, I return to City Creek Canyon and the stream. Cool canyon and stream breezes make of a pleasing walk to milepost 1.0. Since it is a holiday weekend, the canyon is nearly empty except for a few hand-in-hand strolling couples and families. Tracks reveal a mule deer has come down a steep slope and rested on a clump of crushed horsetails. I count four Broad-tailed hummingbirds in the first mile. Why have they come now, since all of the nectar producing flowers have gone? They also eat insects, and evening air is now thick with Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum). For sugar, they drink the sap that the summer heat will shortly begin to boil from the Big tooth maple trees.

I have touched the canyon’s living past; I have touched the canyon’s living future; and this evening, I stroll in its present.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 4th, 1852, he describes a summer sunrise. He hears a blackbird and sees a kingfisher. As the Sun reaches him, flies and mosquitoes rise. A humming bird passes by. He notes water lilies are damaged by insects. On July 4th, 1858 at night, he hears a loon, a screech-owl, and cuckoo.

* * * *

In 1954, University of Utah graduate botany student Rudy Drobnick noticed the existence of hybrid oaks along the Wasatch Front due to differences in the late fall foliage between the hybrid oaks and other Gambel’s oaks along the mountain range (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 1). University of Utah botany professor Cottam dispatched Drobnick to locate all the patches of these hybrids in Utah (Drubnick 1958). There had been a long-standing debate in amongst botanists about what exactly Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) was. At the turn of the century, P. A. Rydberg had classified eleven types of Gambel’s oaks, including Quercus utahensis, Quercus submollis, Quercus gunnisonii, Quercus vereelandii, Quercus novo-mexicana, etc., but by 1942, it was generally recognized that Quercus gambelii Nutt. had an amazing variety of leaf shapes (Christensen 1949, Christensen was another of Cottam’s graduate students). Thus, all of Rydberg’s previous species were collapsed back into one species – Quercus gambelii Nutt. (id., Tucker 1961), and Rydberg’s former names were abandoned.

Cottam and Drobnick and University of California at Davis botany professor John Tucker sought some explanation of the bewildering array of leaf shapes of the Gambel’s oak throughout the west. Their provisional hypothesis was that in the post-glacial era about 7,500 years ago, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak co-existed in northern Utah (Drobnick 1958, Cottam, Tucker and Drobnick 1959, Tucker 1961, Tucker 1963, Tucker, Cottam and Drobnick 1961, Tucker 1963). As Utah’s climate became drier and in order to better adapt new conditions, Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak hybridized into the F1 form, the hybrid copse that I viewed today. But the F1 hybridized form, with its spiked ends and shallow lobes did not explain multitude of forms of Gambel’s oak leaves seen today. Another of Cottam’s University of Utah botany graduate students, Robert R. Ream, could find no north-south pattern in the variation of Gambel’s oak leaves (Ream 1960).

Doctor Cottam retired from the University of Utah, but in his retirement he continued to work as an emeritus professor on a cross-breeding hybridization experiment of western “white” oaks in part to demonstrate that the current Gambel’s oak forest in northern Utah was a hybrid of other species (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). Using his grandchildren to nurture hundreds of seedlings, he undertook a massive block experiment to examine first (F1) and second (F2) generation of cross-breeds of western white oaks including Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.), Arizona shrub oak (Quercus turbinnell Greene), Quercus douglasii, Quercus lobata, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus robur, Quercus virginia, and six other lesser oak species. Two-hundred and forty-one cross-breeding experiments (id. at 61) and ten years later, Cottam, Drobnick and Tucker had their answer: only one F2 generation cross between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene was stable (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). This result supported, by brute force experimentation, the post-glacial hypothesis that the three investigators formulated in 1958.

Cottam’s F1 hybrid generation shows some remarkable adaptations that place it squarely between Quercus gambelii Nutt. and Quercus turbinnell Greene. Quercus gambelii has deep penetrating roots adapted to northern Utah’s snowmelt high-water season that is followed by drying summers. Quercus turbinnell is shallow rooted and adapted to the summer monsoons of northern Arizona. Quercus gambelii x Quercus turbinnell have roots of intermediate depth (Ehleringer and Phillips 1996). Electron microscopy of the leaves of the hybrid and of its parent plants confirm how the F1 hybrid has taken on the waxy upper surface and hairless underside of Quercus gambelii (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982 at 62, 70 and 71), but the gross shape of the F1 hybrid follows Quercus turbinnell (id. at 72). Similarly, measurements of the F1 hybrid’s lobe ratio (the ratio of a lobe’s vein length to its lobe length), puts the hybrid statistically between Nuttal and turnbinnell (Tucker, Cottam, and Drobnick 1961).

* * * *

On July 4th, 2007, the City announces that City Creek Canyon will be closed for four days during July in order to host various road races (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 2006, legendary local endurance runner Heikki Ingstrom, who trained daily in City Creek Canyon, was reported to have passed away (Deseret News) On July 4th, 1999, City managers describe plans to update the City’s Watershed Management Plan, including for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1993, the City proposes a 100 mile bikeway system that will connect regional parks, including a bikelane from the University of Utah to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 4th, 1908, Fisher Harris of the Commercial Club and Lon J. Haddock of the Manufacturers and Merchants’ Association urged that the Ensign Peak area should be turned in a large park (Salt Lake Herald). The Commercial Club provided $10,000 towards the expense of improving City Creek Road and along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas (id). On July 4th, 1883, City Surveyor Jesse Fox and City Waterworks Superintendent G. M. Ottinger surveyed City Creek Canyon in order to determine possible locations of the construction of new higher water reservoir tanks (Salt Lake Herald).

July 10, 2017

July 3rd

Filed under: Gambel's Oak — canopus56 @ 10:25 pm

Hybrid Gambel’s Oak – Part I

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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).

2:00 p.m. Today, it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and meteorologists are predicting a string of days where temperatures will exceed that level. Behind the University Hospital along the Salt Lake salient, I am hunting for a rare native Utah plant: Cottam’s hybrid cross between Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) and a Arizona shrub oak (Quercus turbinnell Greene). The scientific designation o the hybridized cross is (Quercus gambelii x turbinnell) (Cottam 1959, see February 10th). There are only three or four small patches of this hybrid in the Salt Lake Valley, and I begin today by viewing Walter Cottam’s exemplar, forgotten but well-tended grove of the hybrid at 1760 South and South Campus Drive on the University of Utah Campus, nestled between the campus police department and a maintenance shed. It helps to look at internet images of exemplars of the Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak to understand what the hybrid is (Utah State Univ. 2017, Wikipedia 2017). Gambel’s oak leaves are deeply lobed, soft-pointed ends, and have waxy upper surfaces. Arizona shrub oak leaves are shallow lobes, sharp-pointed ends, and hairy upper surfaces. The first generation hybrid cross between the two species have shallow lobes, sharp-pointed ends, and waxy upper surfaces. The hybrid cross is easily found in the fall during November because Gambel’s oak loses its leaves while the first-generation hybrid cross retains its leaves. (Botanists designate a first generation hybrid cross with the letter “F1”). Cottam, a University of Utah botanist (deceased 1988), famously bred a small grove of F1 Quercus gambelii x turbinnell hybrids in the 1960s and 1970s using native true Gambel’s oaks and Arizona shrub oaks.

After seeing the exemplar, I begin today’s search for this rare Utah native plant at “This is Place” State Monument, at three miles distant from Cottam’s Oak Grove. “This is the Place” is now a state historical reconstruction theme park that commemorates the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. It features a seventy-foot tall bronze statute of the early Mormon president Brigham Young, and a smaller obelisk about a mile away that marks the historical point where Young declared that “This is the Place” at which the Mormons would create new theodemocratic nation (March 20th). An article by the Utah Native Plant Society records that in 2008, there was an easily accessible grove of this hybrid oak marked by an interpretative sign (Frates 2008), but the Plant Society article does not say exactly where the interpretative grove is.

I arrive at the “This is the Place” monument, and this begins an afternoon that is a comedy of errors. No one at that main office knows anything about the interpretative marker or grove. They direct me to a long-time employee, a professional historical re-enactor who has worked at the monument for nineteen years. I ask along the way, and another long-time employee directs me to an overgrown, long-disused path at the “Joseph Smith Memorial Grove”. There, I find no interpretative marker, but one oak whose leaves resemble the exemplar plant in Cottam’s Grove. The leaves are too large to be the hybrid, and other leaves on the parent trunk have round lobes. Next, I seek out the long-time employee, a leather-worker historical actor in the Saddlery shop. Remarkably, he is looks almost like Brigham Young, both in dress, in the strong jawline of Young, and with Young’s piercing eyes. He explains that the Cottam’s hybrid oak marker used to stand in front of what is now a building in the park that lets small children pan for gold in a simulated creek for a one dollar USD fee. I have already inspected that area and it there is no Cottam F1 hybird oak there. The actor is polite and tolerant but becomes disquieted with my continued questioning. He leads me outside, waives his hand are the surrounding oak groves of the Wasatch Front hillsides, and proclaims, “All of these are the hybrid oaks. That is what the biologists have been teaching us for years, and unless they got it wrong of course.” And he gives me a wink of the eye to emphasize I have gotten things wrong. I surmise the Cottom F1 hybrid grove at the monument has been torn out to make way for the tourist trinket store with its adjacent simulate gold-panning stream.

Next, I go to the Utah state arboretum at the Red Butte Gardens, about two miles away, suspecting from another reference book that there may be a hybrid oak grove there (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). No one at the arboretum knows about the hybrid oak, other than that there is large, bronze commemorative sculpture just beyond the entrance to gardens. I search, but find no Cottam F1 cross.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 3rd, 1852, he notes winter-green is in blossom. On July 3rd, 1853, he describes an oven bird nest. On July 3rd, 1854, he hears purple finches. He notes that the leaves on willows, white oaks and maples have become so dense that one cannot see through them. On July 3rd, 1859, he notes the strong smell of partridge berries (Mitchella repens). On July 3rd, 1860, he examines a Northern harrier nest with a young nestling nearby.

* * * *

On July 3rd, 1924, City Park Commissioner M. R. Stewart recommended using prison labor to improve the road in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 3rd, 1907, students at L.D.S. University and their coach Milne trained by running two miles up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 3, 1902, the Salt Lake Telegram reported on the 8 surviving members of the advance party of July 24, 1847. William C. A. Smoot who was 19 in 1847, noted that,

We didn’t succeed in growing anything except an few little potatoes the first year. We had to dig up segos and thistles. By December though our cattle got so that we could have meat.

The valley was not covered with sagebrush then as some persons have said. It was all grass almost as tall as wheat and made fine grazing for cattle. Most of this has been trampled down since but small patches of it may be seen up Parley’s canyon and in some part of the City cemetery.

On July 3, 1901, attorney Fred T. McGurrin’s horse and carriage ran off while he was on a fishing trip in upper City Creek Canyon. The carriage crashed and the horse later had to be euthanized (Salt Lake Herald, Deseret Evening News).

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