City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 11, 2017

April 11th

Queen Bee

4:00 p.m. Below picnic site 6, an aging tree has toppled, but this was not from high winds. The amount of rain from the last storm was so large that the soil around the tree, which sat on the inclined road bank, failed, and the entire tree slide down the slope. This has occurred before for several large cottonwood trees. Either they fall across the road, are removed, and leaves a scalloped mark on the road bank or their bleaches trunks fall against their neighbor. They rest there for many decades until wind and insects take them away. Near mile 0.2, a two foot by four foot by three foot segment of the side-bed of the road has broken away and fallen into the stream, and the stream bank is reduced to two feet from the road. This is geologic erosion in real time. To erode the both sides of the stream bank of the first mile two feet back and ten feet down to the stream bed would take about 35,000 such events.

Jogging up canyon, a kingfisher that flies by also traveling higher, and he alights on the power lines strung across the canyon at Guardhouse Gate about two hundred feet above the ground. There, he sits and watches my progress. The opposite of the down-canyon flight behavior seen on April 6th occurs. As I reach underneath him, the kingfisher noisily flies off going up canyon. He lands one hundred feet away, and when I reach him a second time, he again flies up canyon for another one or two hundred feet. This repeats four times as we reach below the picnic site 4. Then the kingfisher loops back and starts flying close above the stream in one hundred foot stretches. As on April 6th, he is looking for dinner. A few moments later, an unidentified raptor with a five foot wing span glides down canyon below the western canyon wall. He or she is too far and too quick to make an identification.

Under the snow’s effect, the flowers of the glacier lily fields along the road have shriveled, and in one field, I can find perhaps seven intact blossoms. Their passing was too quick, and I have seen no pollinator working their flowers. Will they try for a second bloom?

On this overcast day, I choose to jog back down the Pipeline trail to Shark Fin Rock, and I come across loud single chirps from the Gamble oak forest and an unseen bird. Its single chirp is loud and piercing, and the calls registers 70 decibels on my sound meter. A few minutes of patient waiting reveals a pair of Black-capped chickadees. Several hundred feet up canyon, another chickadee responds to my new neighbor’s call. Then for some unknown reason, the kingfisher from the stream below joins in with its loud rapid fire call, and the three take turns calling.

Along this trail, I see the first large bumblebee of the season, and it has a black rump, dark brown wings, and a single orange abdominal band. It is almost one and one-half inches long, and the bee is grazing on the many open poison ivy blooms along this section of the trail. It is a Hunt bumble bee (Bombus huntii), and given its size and the month that it is active, this may be a queen (Koch 66-68). Koch’s annual timeline for this specie’s annual activity suggests that the queen will be active for one month. During this period, she is building her underground nest and laying the eggs of her future sister workers. In May, these workers will slowly become active as their queen retires underground. Returning to the road, the land dwelling shrimp, the common pill bug (July 31st), has returned and it plods along the road apparently oblivious to temperature.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 11th, 1852, he describes the close inspection of a stream bottom including micro-air bubbles in the water and yellow mica on the stream bottom. In the Riverside Edition of Thoreau’s “Journal”, new entries begin again on June 1st.

* * * *

On April 11th, 1904, the Utah Audubon Society noted a drop in the City Creek bird population (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 11th, 1904, George W. Root announces that he had located a gold ore vein in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).


April 9, 2017

April 9th

Filed under: Glacier lily, Seasons, Weather — canopus56 @ 5:46 pm

Glacier Lily Expansion

5:15 p.m. Last night and this morning, a heavy rain storm blanketed the valley and canyon, and at night a snow storm left an inch of fresh whiteness on the ground. Another front containing more rain and snow is moving in from the west, but this afternoon is warm and clear. In the canyon, the snow is mostly melted, but it retards flowering cultivars. This daily pattern of alternating rain and sun (April 4th) still controls the arrival of spring in the canyon, while in the city with its artificial selection of cultivated trees and shrubs, the landscape, including most trees is a green landscape. Being distracted by the demands of a working-life, I have always experienced spring in the city as an almost instantaneous event. In the city, springs seems to arrive in a few days, but its pace in the canyon is a more subdued and drawn out affair. Glacier lilies are normally found only above the road bank on the west side of the stream’s first mile, but at the Red Bridge, there is one lily that has managed to establish itself on the east of the stream bank.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 9th, 1953, he sees a sparrow and watches a pine warbler feeding on flies. Clowslips are blooming. on April 9th, 1855, he notes blackbirds. On April 9th, 1859, he watches the ripple pattern that wind makes as it blows across water.

* * * *

On April 9th, 1904, residents presented a petition to widen City Creek Canyon Road where it connects to State Street (Deseret Evening News). On April 9th, 1902, the City considered a resolution to eject (homeless) squatters from the mouth of City Creek Canyon and to create a park at the mouth (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 3, 2017

March 31st

Filed under: Glacier lily, River birch, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 11:48 am

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XII – Water Protection

2:00 p.m. It has rained through the night and into the morning, but in the afternoon the front passes and all is sunlight. The stream’s seasonal flow has peaked, and I measure its decline using the Zen Rock (January 4th) as a measuring weir. The rock is narrower at its base for about eight inches above the stream bed, and this is the result the annual high water erosion over geologic time. Three days ago, the stream was at the top of the narrowing base, but today, it is four inches lower than this high-water mark. The stream’s melodious and meditative sound continues to dominate the canyon road. The automated SNOTEL hydrograph for the Lewis Meadows station shows how unusual this year is (Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2017). The 1981 to 2010 median behavior of the snowpack is to accumulate through the middle of March, decline slightly, and then re-accumulate snow to the first of April. Only then does the annual melt and peak run-off occur. This year snow accumulated through the first week of March, precipitously declined through mid-March, had the smallest of increases, and now is resuming its fast evaporation.

One River birch below picnic site 3 has begun to grow its spring seeds. The leaves of the Wood’s rose bushes have grown to one and one-half to two inches in length. Keay at the University of Idaho found that mule deer and squirrels forage on glacier lilies (Keay 1977). I will keep a watch on the lily field above the west side of picnic site 6 for grazing squirrels and deer, but I expect few deer, since they prefer the east side of the stream where they can quickly escape into the thickets.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 31st, 1853, he observes that hazel tree catkins are turning yellow and shedding pollen. He and hears robins and a warbling vireo. On March 31st, 1860, he notes that white maples have red fringe tops. n March 31, 1857, he notes that the earth is sufficiently unfrozen to dig a garden. (He notes that during winter at that time, the dead are left frozen outside until the ground unfreezes, and then the dead can be buried.) On March 31st, 1858, he sees a flock of 12 black ducks. On March 31st, 1860, he sees small red butterflies.

* * * *

It was during the 1952 to 1975 canyon access hiatus that a major natural gas pipeline was run in a straight line across the canyon at mile 1.3 from the Avenues to Bountiful. The pipeline’s alignment disregarded contours, and on the south side of the road, a switchback road runs up a near vertical face, repeatedly crossing the pipeline track. On the west-south side of the canyon, a single road makes one switchback and then steeply climbs directly to the west ridge. (Personal observation).

During the hiatus, wide dirt fire protection access lanes were run west-to-east along both the north and south ridgelines, and where four-wheel drive enthusiasts might try to drive down into the canyon the erected steel wire barriers. These have fallen into disrepair and are now replaced with paper signs. Additionally, a network of Forest System routes where allowed to fade back into the landscape. In the mid-1980s, I reviewed with the two Wasatch-Cache National Forest recreation officers an old map of the forest system trails that covered City Creek and the other canyons to the south. Numerous small trails, probably made by earlier miners and lumber harvesters, existed in City Creek. (I did not copy the map.) By Forest Service policy, these were allowed to overgrow and disappear in the modern forest (Personal communication). The best example of an old, now disused trail is the Freeze Creek Trail that used to run north from Lower Rotary Park to Rudy’s Flat and on to Mueller Park on the City-Creek Bountiful ridge. The old trail is well-preserved for the first mile, but it now fades out one-half mile below the ridge. This route was once considered as part of a skyline drive from City Creek and back down to Bountiful (Salt Lake Telegram, September 14, 1927). Effectively, this prevents hikers and mountain bikers from riding down the trail from Bountiful and into City Creek.

The effect of these trail and fire road changes made during the public access hiatus was to wall off canyon access except at the lower gate, at the two roads that follow the natural gas pipeline, and at the Smuggler’s Gap trail (September 1st and 9th) at about 1.2 miles above the end of the road and 6.5 miles from Guardhouse Gate. With those closures and the annual exclusion of automobiles from the canyon for six months each year, the canyon has time to recover.

March 30, 2017

March 29th

Filed under: Glacier lily, Long-leaf phlox, Western bluebird, Wolf spider — canopus56 @ 4:11 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part X – Road Development and Increased Recreation

1:00 p.m. Sun continues for another day, and insects make a tentative try at recovering. Only three butterflies are seen, and one is unidentified with large orange wings. A spider with a prominent light strip on its thorax, possibly an immature Wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis), scurries along the road. The Glacier Lily field up canyon from picnic site 6 is much larger than I had originally thought, and containing several hundred plants, it extends on the slope above the roadbank for 120 feet by 120 feet. Between picnic sites 4 and 5, a small one-hundred by two-hundred foot field on the south-east of the stream is covered with newly opened purple Long-leaf Phlox (Phlox longifola). Near milepost 1.0, Wild onion (Allium bisceptrum) stalks grow. These are another sign of spring: flowering bulbs are rising. At Guardhouse Gate, a Western bluebird (Turdidae sialia), lands on a nearby branch and sings. I estimate perhaps 20 song birds in the trees along the first mile, but the bluebird is the only one visible. The parking lot and road remain full of runners, walkers and bicyclists.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 29th, 1859, he sees crows and possibly an eagle.

* * * *

The fourth era of human utilization of the canyon was road development and increased recreation use. In the era before indoor air-conditioning and with the rise of the middle-class in Salt Lake City, escaping the city summer heat by going to City Creek in horse-drawn carriages became a popular activity. A 1901 Salt Lake Tribune article noted that, “It is estimated by a man that not less than five hundred equipages passed through Eagle Gate and the drivers of all these were bound for the canyon” (Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 16, 1901). In 1903, the Tribune noted that on Sundays, “hundreds” of City workers would escape to City Creek for relaxation and camping. Camping in the canyon was a popular past-time (Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903).

With the arrival of the automobile and expansion of Salt Lake City’s middle class, more demands came from the public for improved scenic roads. Utah law had long allowed for the municipal use of prison labor (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85 (1953 amended), and predecessor statutes). The City extensively relied on city prison road gangs to improve City Creek road. As previously noted, on January 17th, 1909, City Water Commissioner Frank M. Matthews reported that City Creek the road was being widened road using prison labor (Intermountain Republican). On December 31, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune noted that the City Creek road had been improved that year, and the paper endorsed park proposals by a better roads civic improvement group to link and upgrade the Wasatch Boulevard scenic drive, 11th Avenue and the City Creek road in order to create a scenic drive for the now popular automobile. On January 31st, 1917, City Commissioner Herman H. Green reported that jail prisoners were continuing work on grading the new scenic boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). Between 1919 and 1927, the Rotary Club built parks at Memory Grove and picnic grounds at Lower Rotary Park (mile 4.3) and Upper Rotary Park (mile 5.2) (Salt Lake City Corp. 1999b).

March 28th

Filed under: Geology, Glacier lily, Raptor — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IX – Water infrastructure

Noon. Yesterday’s storm passes and today the sun returns. Between mile 0.4 and 0.8, there are three Glacier lily (Eythronium grandiflorum) fields on the west side of the road. Two are on ledges above the road, but the third is on the road embankment above picnic site 6. These are delicate yellow lilies with drooping stamens, called Adder’s Tongue by Thoreau (Thoreau’s Journal, June 21st 1852 and June 22nd, 1855). Next to these is a small hollow with that ends in a pile of boulders, and a small spring seep falls over one of the rocks that is made of Van Horn’s “Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2” (December 24th). Over geologic time, two one foot cave-like cavities have been worn into one of the boulders by this small intermittent drip. This pattern is repeated on progressively larger scales in other nearby rock formations. Above the Red Bridge at mile 0.9, Chimney Rock, which is made of the same material, weeps water from the yesterday’s rain, and the formation itself is covered with small pockmarks of one to three feet in diameter. Turning around and looking at the high west wall of the canyon, the thick horizontal cliffs of Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2 are also broken by many small cave-like depressions. Water seeping from inside the wall freezes during the winter, and then in the spring large flakes cleave off that generate shallow caves over eons. High over these walls, two large, unidentified raptors soar. The parking lot and road are full again with people.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 28th, 1852, he hears a flock of geese. On March 28, 1853, he sees tree sparrows, eleven ducks, and a Hen Harrier. On March 28, 1857, he sees twelve butterflies. On March 28, 1858, he sees hazel tree blooming. He notes the differences between men who are in the outdoors and those that stay indoors. On March 28, 1859, he notes that greens of lichen and mosses contrast with brown earth.

* * * *

Water infrastructure is not always hard construction projects; it also can mean patrols of a watershed, like those adopted in City Creek in the nineteenth century, to exclude polluters. The impetus for the water system improvements beginning in the 1870s was public health concerns over water borne disease. From the 1870 through 1917 and even with the availability of pure water in the canyon, the City’s residents suffered repeated epidemics of water borne diseases like typhoid fever (Cater). In a 1918 study, it was estimated that 14,000 cases of typhoid fever occurred in Salt Lake City prior to 1904, and between 1904 and 1917, the City’s water borne communicable disease rate was among the worst in the country (Cater, 94 ftn 5). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin, apparently to reduce water borne disease, that in City Creek about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald). As previously noted (Feb. 6th), on February 6th, 1895, Mayor Robert Baskin outlined various improvements to the City Creek water system, in part, to alleviate unsanitary water during spring runoff:

“Ever since the erection of the present waterworks system, for a few weeks each spring freshet [sic], and as often as there occurs a heavy rain or cloudburst, the inhabitants have been compelled to drink and use for culinary purposes very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water. This ought to not be allowed to continue. (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 6, 1895).”

He also reported on a seventy-five percent reduction of water borne illness, in part from prior water system improvements, including in City Creek:

“In 1893, the number of deaths from cholera infantum was 71; in 1894, 43; in 1893 from diphtheria, 24; in 1894, 7, in 1893, from scarlet fever, 25; in 1894, 6. (id).”

The pressure of water borne diseases enforced a social consensus that City Creek Canyon needed to be free of grazing or dead livestock and to be patrolled regularly to assure violations of water protection laws were remedied. Evidence of that consensus can be seen in a Dec. 2nd, 1883 editorial comment by the Salt Lake Herald:

“THE HERALD is of the opinion that City Creek canyon should be held sacred by the city for the benefit of its inhabitants, first as reservoir which furnishes their water supply, and second as a resort for their recreation and health. Any movement of the City Fathers in this direction is sure to receive the unqualified approbation of all good citizens. (id, emphasis in original).”

The earliest documented implementation of that consensus occurred one-hundred and twenty-five years ago. On December 28th, 1892, Salt Lake City Water Department Patrolman J.B. O’Reilly, who was “stationed in up City Creek canyon . . . [to] keep the stream clear of obstructions and to prevent the killing of game in the canyon” noted that “The canyon has become a regular haven for game since the ordinance went into effect . . .” The ordinance appears to refer to a ban against hunting in the canyon. (Salt Lake Herald). On January 19th, 1905, City Land and Water Commissioner Ben D. Luce reported that City Creek was regularly patrolled to prevent livestock from grazing in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). “City Creek is patrolled daily and no sheep or livestock of any kind allowed in the same.” On December 18th, 1907, Deputy Water Commissioner Matthews impounded seven cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). Eventually, a permanent watershed patrol was established. On January 14, 1913, Superintendent of Waterworks C. F. Barrett proposed the formation of a canyon watershed patrol to police all watershed canyons, including City Creek, for water polluters (Salt Lake Tribune).

* * * *

On March 28th, 1915, weather bureau officer A. A. Justice and the City’s Canyon Patrolman Carl Hammond reported that City Creek due to a low snowpack will not provide much water during the runoff season. They took two-hundred and ninety-six snow depth measurements using a plunger-like snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram on March 31). Later, on April 4th, 1915, they reported the details of their March 22nd to March 25th snow-camping survey (Salt Lake Herald). On March 28, 1900, the Princeton Mine in City Creek Canyon reported the discovery of good grade ore (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 28, 1898, Dr. M. H. Faust of the forestry association made the following recommendations: turn pioneer square into a park; to reforest City Creek Canyon and turn it into a park using trees from Liberty Park; and that City residents on Arbor Day gather in City Creek and plant trees (Salt Lake Herald).

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