City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

August 21, 2017

June 14th; Revised, Reposted

Filed under: Foxglove beardtongue, Horsechestnut, Seasons, Western salisfy, Wild carrot — canopus56 @ 2:20 pm

The Web-of-life

Expanded to summarize ecological relationships between soils, plants and animals in the canyon.

6:45 p.m. This is the last day of the vernal season, or the time of the year in which plants grow at their greatest rate (Feb. 16th). An early heat wave near 100 degrees Fahrenheit has fallen on the city, and I have come to the canyon for a short run in the cool evening air. At the end of the vernal season, early spring flowering plants in the first mile have largely passed and their thickened ovaries grow pregnant with this year’s seeds. Wood rose blossoms are shriveled or have have dropped their leaves, revealing bulbous green spheres beneath. The largest of these are the infant berries of the chokecherry bushes. Western salisfy, also called Giant dandelion, has almost all gone to seed. Its blossom have transformed into a large compound head of achenes – larger version of dandelion weed seeds. The small floating seeds grow out equally spaced from an inverted saucer-shaped head. A result of the large floater seeds competing for limited space is that the giant dandelions’ spherical heads form geodesic dodecahedrons.

The base leaves of the Wild carrot (also called Fernleaf biscuitroot) plants that line the first mile have turned turned yellow and orange, and their blossoms have formed seeds that are turning from green to a light purple. Their fibrous tap roots extend beneath the surface for about a one foot, and they were widely used by First Peoples throughout the Intermountain west (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2011). Great Basin Indians ate the seeds and boiled the roots to make a drink. Other tribes used the first shoots in a salad (id). Modern city “foodies” also collect the plants.

A new delicate penstemon, Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) has appeared overnight along the road. This is an eastern native, and in the canyon, it first appears with white flowers that turn a streaked pink as the flowers age. This is a later spring replacement for the many failing flowers along the first mile. Horsechestnut trees now bear sprays of its spiked fruit, but these new fruits are miniature one-inch diameter versions of falls’ three inch spheres. This year’s growth has returned and the land is pregnant.

This is the last day of my experience of an ecological year in the canyon, and with a new sense of awareness and knowledge, I can feel the canyon’s web-of-life between its some 310 species and families of life (Index). The web begins with the soil that is makes up its ground, and that the nature of that soil begins with the canyon’s geologic formation. West of the Rudy Flat Fault and Freeze Creek near mile 4.3, the soils are Tertiary limy sand and sandy earth, and in the lowest first mile of the canyon, the land around the stream is overlain by deposits from ancient Lake Bonneville. These were formed by a 100 year old mountain range in Nevada that eroded eastward into present-day Utah and that created the sandstone cliffs at milepost 1.0. These lands west of the Rudy Flat Fault are also lower and drier, and thus, the land supports a drought tolerant Wasatch chaparral of Gambel’s oak trees away from the stream and a Rocky Mountain lower montane habitat closer to the stream’s wetness. East of the Rudy Flat Fault, geologically lower strata that consist of limestones have been lifted to higher altitudes, and, thus, those wetter lands support a Rocky Mountain upper montane habitat of pines, firs, spruces, and aspen trees.

Rain and microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and lichens, break down rock and soil to release nutrients to diverse and abundant plant life. Hungry trees signal the fungi in the their roots and beneath their shade to breakdown needed extra minerals from deficient soils (July 1st). The trees also talk between each other directly with airborne chemicals and via subsurface networks of fungi to coordinate their defense against disease, insects, and herbivores (July 1st). The trees summon beneficial insects and birds with chemical scents to feed on nectar or seeds (July 2nd). In a square meter from 10 kilometers above the ground and down to 4 kilometers below the surface of the canyon, there are trillions of protozoans that interact with the geophysical environment (December 20th). Between 84,500 and 169,000 earthworms along the first road mile churn and overturn the soil beneath the trees between every 6 to 10 years (March 23rd).

Plants are winning the evolutionary war with animals (June 30th), and this is evidenced by their use of toxic chemicals to limit mammals, birds and insects to consuming at most twenty percent of their mass each year. The 100ft tall, older Narrowleaf cottonwood trees, their hybrids, and Box elder trees comprise as much as twenty-percent of the biomass of the first mile road forest, and their shade over the stream provides beneficial conditions of the lower montane habitat that supports a diverse insect, bird and mammal population.

The principal plant producers that support the next higher trophic level of insects, birds and mammals are the Gambel’s oak forest and grasslands of Cheat grass, native Wild bunchgrass, and native Bluebunch wheatgrass (July 7th, March 5th). The oaks yield tons of acorns each year (August 30th) and in the late spring and early summer, the grasslands support at most 310 million House crickets (July 6th) and a lesser number of several types of grasshoppers. Engelmann spruce and other conifers provide another base of seeds in the upper montane habitat higher in the canyon. Algal mats and mosses in the stream support a massive population of Gnats (e.g. August 11th). Hidden in the understory of the streamside forest are as many as 126,000 flies hide (May 10th).

Primary consumers of grasses include Mule deer, Elk, and Shira’s moose (moose, August 27th), House crickets and grasshoppers. Primary consumers of the bounty of seeds include Rock squirrels, Mule deer, Western scrub jays, Black-billed magpies, Stellar’s jays, Black-headed grosbeaks, Wild turkeys, Song sparrows, Mountain chickadees, Black-capped chickadees, and Black-hooded juncos. Primary consumers of the bounty of gnats include Variegated meadowhawks and cliff swallows (August 11th, August 22nd). Crickets are also hunted by Desert tarantula. Other consumers of the bounty both gnats and crickets include the many small birds who overwinter or who in the spring reproduce in the canyon including Lazuli buntings and Yellow warbler.

Flowering plants also support a diverse community of primary nectar consumers – butterflies and bees. These include white cabbage , Western tiger swallowtail, Mourning cloak, Painted lady, Spring azure butterflies, and native tri-colored Central bumble bees. These, along with common flies, are preyed upon by Variegated meadowhawks, Blue-eyed darners, Common whitetail dragonflies, Bald-faced hornets, Western yellowjacket wasps and Praying mantis. Butterflies favor the streamside bushes, and Orb weaver spiders fish for gnats, mosquitoes, and butterflies by stringing silken nets just above the stream’s surface (June 25th).

At the pinnacle of trophic levels reside the consumers of consumers including small and mid-sized birds and mammals by Peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, Red-tailed hawks, and Western screech-owls. At the pinnacle of trophic levels also reside consumers of larger mammals. These include Coyotes, Mountain lions and Homo sapiens.

The stream supports trout and its agal mats attract Mallards. The trout are principally preyed upon Homo sapiens rarely assisted by Belted kingfishers. Although anglers follow catch-and-release best practices, about one-quarter of released fish die from the stress of the experience.

Animals and plants die and their waste needs to be recycled. Larger carrion removers include Turkey vultures, American crows and Common ravens. Flies, protein hungry Bald-faced hornets (August 20th), and ants assist. Carpenter ants consume fallen logs. Bacteria and fungi finish the job for both plants and animals.

I can only take in a small part of the canyon ecology’s totality, and taking in the limited part that I can perceive is more than my mind and emotions can absorb. I cannot see it all at once; I am spent; I am exhausted; but I am still smiling.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 14th, 1852, he notes that “[t]he twilight seems out of proportion to the rest of the day.” On June 14th, 1851, he lists birds heard on a twilight walk including bobolink, swallows, fifteen whippoorwills, blackbirds, a robin and night hawk. He contrasts the evening song of the robin with crickets, and notes fish rising in a stream to feed on insects. On June 14th, 1852, he sees a wild rose bush. On June 14, 1853, he hears the season’s first locust and observes aphids on tree leaves. He sees white lily, blue-flag flower, mosquitoes, and fish in the stream. He sees hummingbirds and hears a cuckoo, a red-eye, and a wood thrush. On June 14th, 1854, he sees a cicada. On June 14th, 1859, he sees a grosbeak and a pout’s nest.

* * * *

A cousin of Foxglove beardtongue, Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), is the source of digitalis heart medication. Digitalis is commonly used to strengthen the contractions of the heart muscle in the aged.

* * * *

On June 14th, 1914, the Salt Lake Tribune describes various outdoor hikes around Salt Lake City, including to Big Black Mountain. On June 14th, 1908, the L. H. Murdock of the U.S. Weather Service reported a storm with one-half inch of rain and heavy snowfall in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 14th, 1908, Mayor Bransford, City Engineer L. C. Kesley, Waterworks Superintendent Hobday and Street Supervisor Jake Raleigh discussed steps to abate current flooding from City Creek Canyon (Intermountain Republican). Raleigh defended his use of manure embankments to contain the flood waters (id).

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July 30, 2017

July 21st, 2016 – End of Cyclical Year, Revised and Reposted

Microorganisms, Moss, Lichens, Glaciers, and Climate Trends

(Revised and expanded after lichen identification completed.)

3:30 p.m. It is another day intense summer heat, and as I pull into the parking lot, I take notice of a large Limber pine (Pinus flexilis at the lot’s end, south of the row of cultivar Horsechestnut trees. The Limber pine, Narrowleaf cottonwoods and the Horsechestnuts are among the largest plant organisms in the canyon, excepting some of the 50 foot diameter copses of Gambel’s oaks that may be one large, genetically identical sister plant. A bizarrely twisted, immature Limber pine hides behind to the east of side of the Guardhouse Gate building, and just past the gate, another conifer, a mature 70 foot tall native Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). Key taxonomic differences between the two is that round pine needles occur in groups of two and flat fir and spruce needles are single. At mile 1.7 at picnic site no. 12. There a forty foot tall Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is flanked by two taller Engelmann spruce trees. Although native to northern Utah, these three trees have been artificially planted to provide shade for picnic area.

Jogging up canyon about 100 yards up from the gate, I pass a deadly Bittersweet nightshade plant with small 1.5 inch green fruit. Splitting one of the fruit open, it is full of 1 mm bright orange larvae, and testing a few more, they are all infected. Given the number of young children that pass this spot, this is probably not a good place for a poisonous plant.

In the heat, I jog alone through an empty road, except for bicyclists. Near mile 0.3, sounds in the Gambel’s oak forest undergrowth betrays an yearling Mule deer stares back through the leaves. It is waiting for me to pass, so it can reach the stream and water. A bicyclist streaks unaware of its presence. A slight anabatic up-canyon wind provides a brief relief.

Beginning at mile 0.5 and the pond at picnic site 5, I collect the sponges placed in the stream and seeps on July 15th. The sponges have been collecting microorganisms for several days. I have looked at water samples from the stream under a microscope several times since May, but have never seen any microorganisms. That is a testament to how pure City Creek Canyon water is. My microorganism observing guide suggests using the sponges to trap organisms over time. The sponges also provide a protected framework that might appeal to microorganisms by providing shelter. The first sponge was located below the pond at picnic site 5, and it was placed under a cover of rocks such that stream water would continuously flow through the sponge. The first from the stream is a dark brown – a good sign. The second collected from the seep below picnic site 6 and the third is retrieved from the watercress seep also below picnic site 6. All three are a dark brown-grey color; the sponges have worked.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the Horsemint is in full bloom, and I count 32 Cabbage white butterflies feeding on them. A single Central bumble bee (Bombus centralis) collects among the butterflies. These are joined by an orange Mexican queen butterfly. I stand mesmerized by the glade for a few minutes. Nightshade is now also blooms in this glade.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) reappear after their first spring flight. Uniquely, they fly in a circular pattern closely around me twice, and having rejected me as potential food, they fly off with purposeful intent.

Proceeding again up canyon through the heat, only a few birds are heard at some distance from the stream. I cannot distinguish their calls, except for the nasal cawing of a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

At mile 1.1, I stop where a large rock ledge overhangs the stream and admire a tremendous cottonwood cross, a Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats. This 100 foot tree with a twenty-four inch trunk betrays it hybrid nature through two suckers, each 8 inches in diameter at the base. The parent tree has ovate leaves typical of the cross. Those leaf forms continue on one of the suckers, but at its very tip is one perfectly formed triangular Fremont popular leaf. Mid-way up the second sucker, that is also covered in hybrid leaves, is a bracket of perfectly formed thin Narrowleaf cottonwood leaves. This tree must be at least 100 years old, and perhaps it is older and witnessed the arrival of the Euro-American colonists in 1847. At a few minutes of enjoying this tree, I notice that it is looking back at me. More precisely, another Mule deer is on the rock ledge on the far side of the stream, and it is intently following me. I continue up canyon so it can reach water unmolested.

At mile 1.2, I turn down-canyon on the Pipeline Trial in order to photograph some of the lichens on rocks that line the trail down to where it is perpendicular to the Red Bridge and Chimney Rock. The Gambel’s oaks that border each side of the trail are covered in a ubiquitous dusky orange lichen that is found throughout the canyon. Here the rocks are principally volcanic breccia or limestone conglomerates. The first rock has lichens that are three inch diameter turquoise dollops with raised fruiting centers. The second rock has a large turquoise dollop on one corner and fire yellow bright lichen on one face. This rock also has small dark black lichen circles. The third rock has bright orange circles with darkened brown centers. The fourth has similar bright orange two inch dollops with fruiting orange centers. This same orange rock lichen is common in the canyon. For example, it covers parts of the rock bridge at Weeping Falls near mile 5.2. This bright orange lichen only appears on rocks, and its dusky orange brother keeps to the trees. Near the end of this segment, a gully provides more shade an water. Here, the rocks are covered in complex moss complexes, and unidentified green-black small-onion like moss with fine white hairs.

Continuing up canyon to a western gully near mile 2.3, there is another slope with favored lichen rocks. Here the rocks are sandstone based. In the gully, the first rock is a kaleidoscope of circular lichens colored bright orange, turquoise, and black. The next rock is covered with a bulbous green-black moss with fine white hairs. This is followed by a rock covered in turquoise-green lichen that has a darker brown center. Finally, two foot square areas of an unidentified green-black bulbous lichen attach to a rock ledge’s horizontal surface. Looking over some of my other lichen photographs above milepost 5.0, two prominent upturned limestone ledges stick out next to the road. On these a montane grey-milk lichen that look like delicate leaf petals cling to the stone.

This is all a riot of color mixed with abstract design. Lichen are oldest and, for me, they embody the most alien of terrestrial life. I also hold them in the highest respect because they are all a form of extremophile. They thrive on canyon rocks that both bake to temperatures over 150 degrees during the summer, and they continue to reproduce during the subzero cold of deepest winter. They live on the surface of barren rocks and take all that they need from the passing air and rain. And, what else the need in terms of minerals, they obtain by dissolving the solid rocks to which they attach. Moss are less of an extremophile, but tree moss are one of the few plants that continue photosynthesis through the depths of winter (January 10th).

Returning down-canyon near mile 1.3, ahead, I again here the screeching of a Peregrine falcon. Two falcons are chasing two unidentified hawks away from the sandstone cliffs on the east wall of the canyon near mile 1.0. One falcon easily chases a hawk up canyon and over the ridge. The second hawk begins to climb in lazy, large circles, and the remaining peregrine follows. The peregrine raises higher and then stoops the hawk, all the while screeching loudly. This continues for about 15 minutes. At times I loose sight of the pair as they circle overhead with the Sun behind them. The spring sky is a deep blue, but today, the summer sun makes the atmosphere a white turquoise.

Continuing down-canyon, at picnic site 5 where I collected one sponge, an innovative young couple using long lengths of climbing webbing, have suspended two bright Central American woven hammocks over the stream. They lay side-by-side enjoying the stream-cooled air.

At Guardhouse Gate, there are the cut fireplace-sized remains of a large tree. A quick count of its rings indicates the tree is over one-hundred years old. As the the city cuts down infirm trees in the canyon, they leave the carcasses here as free firewood. The cause of this tree’s demise can be seen in one segment of log – it is riddled to the inner pith with boring beetle tunnels. To supplement my gathering of water borne small life, I also collect from the logs’ surfaces, samples of Green tree moss (probably Orthotrichum sp.) and of orange, black and turquoise lichens.

The lower flood retention pond is full of algae mats. A family of mallards graze on the greenery. The chicks, who a few weeks ago where only four inches long, are now twice that size.

At home, I examine water from the three sponges in under a microscope at 60 power of magnification in order to see some of the smallest plants and animals of the canyon. All of the samples consist mostly of bits of algae, some of which are strung on the ends of mold filament, pulverized bits of plant, and specks of silica. No moving protists are seen. A few rectangular-celled with diatoms with well-defined glass-like walls of the genus Fragellaria are found. Two circular diatoms of the genus Stephanodiscus are seen. Finally, a single, transparent perfectly formed leg of an insect exactly fills the eyepiece and then floats away. This is clean City Creek water.

At home and through the hand-lens, the leaves of the moss, which are present both on trees and on rocks in the stream, reveal their earlier evolution as compared to the leaves of the surrounding trees. They are thin and transparent sheets of green cells, and they lack any vascular features found in true leaves.

Under the hand-lens, where the black lichens interface with the tree’s bark, a separate white hyphae through which digestion occurs. Lichens are composite organisms of algae or green bacteria living symbiotically with fungi. Through the hand-lens, one can see two colors, representing the two organisms in the turquoise and orange lichens. The turquoise portion of the turquoise lichen is also surrounded by white hyphae. The second color is green, and through the lens, these resolve as small bits of algae. That lichens exist on almost all of the trees in the first two miles of road is a good sign. Lichen are sensitive to air pollution and will disappear if Salt Lake’s air quality severely deteriorates over a long period.

The length of the day have changed noticeable from June 20th’s summer solstice. Sunset comes an hour earlier around 9 p.m.

* * * *

St. Clair, Newberry and Nebeker (1991 and 1995) provide a comprehensive list of Utah lichens. They and Flowers (1954) describe which species of lichen are common in various northern Utah habitats, including for the scrub oak forest of Gambel’s oaks, the higher subalpine habitat of Quaking aspens, and the montane habitat of conifers. Brodo of the Canadian Nature Museum and Sharnoff and Sharnoff of the Missouri Botanical Gardens published the definite photographic identification guide for lichens: their massive 2001 “Lichens of North America”. They note common lichen species for the Gambel’s oak forest include Lecanora hageni, Phaeoplzyscia orbicu/aris, Physcia adscendens, Physcia dubia, Physcia stellaris, Plzysconia grisea, Xanthoria fallax, and Xanthoria polycarpa. Using these sources, my descriptions and photographs match with the following scientific names:

List of Lichens

• Hooded sunburst lichen (Xanthoria fallax): This is the dusky-orange lichen that covers most of the Gambel’s oak trees in the canyon (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 744).

• Pin-cushion sunburst lichen (Xanthoria polycarpa): This is the bright orange lichen that covers many rocks in the canyon, including the stone bridge at mile 5.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 746).

• Stonewall rim-lichen (Lecanora muralis): This lichen was the even-toned yellow-green (turquoise) circles on rocks along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 383)

• Sagebrush rim-lichen (Lecanora garovaglii). This is the yellow-green (turquoise) lichen with a darker green center on a rock along the Pipeline Trail (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 380).

• New Mexico rim-lichen ( Lecanora novomexicana): This darker yellow-greenish lichen with yellow fringes was found in the gully near mile 2.2 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 384).

• Gold cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum): This is the bright yellow lichen on one rock along the Pipeline Trail. (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 578).

• Powder-tipped rosette lichen (Physcia dubia): This is the delicate leaf-shaped lichen on the limestone vertical fins near mile 5.0 (Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff, 554).

Like today’s Great Salt Lake (May 26th), ancient Lake Bonneville’s water levels and glaciation of the Salt Lake’s canyons at the end of the last ice age gives clues as to the climate of the Salt Lake valley and the canyon. That record is hidden within the valley’s rocks and trees. In 2015 and updating a prior study from 1997, Oviatt at the University of Kansas reconstructed date ranges in which ancient lake rose and fell by radiocarbon dating organic material in tufa deposits along the lake’s former shorelines. He concluded that Lake Bonneville began its rise about 30,000 years ago (id., Table 1). Between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville reached its maximum height at about 5,100 feet, or near the northern end of Pleasant Valley in the canyon near mile 1.7. Following the failure of the Red Rock ice dam in Idaho, the Lake drained to the Provo Shoreline, which is Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue in the City. Other the next 15,000 years, the lake gradually declined to the current level of the Great Salt Lake (id).

In 2011, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe and colleagues used residual Beryllium 10 isotopes in rocks, taken from the glacial moraines in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake valley and American Fork Canyon in Utah valley, in order to date when glaciers retreated up from the ancient lake’s shores. An ongoing question existed amongst geologists, based on conflicting earlier studies, concerning whether the Salt Lake glaciers receded before, coincident with or after the end of the last Ice Age and-or before, coincident with or after the end of the peak level of Lake Bonneville. Figure 1 of their study shows the area of glaciation stretching from American Fork to the south and Farmington, Utah in the north, thus, including City Creek Canyon. They concluded that glaciers covering the Salt Lake valley canyons started to retreat 15,700 plus or minus 1,300 years before the present, either during or shortly after the maximum 5,100 foot shoreline height of ancient Lake Bonneville. Their confidence interval overlaps the 15,000 to 18,000 years before the present found by Oviatt for the maximum height of Lake Bonneville. Deglaciation started about 4,000 years after the end of the continental Ice Age at 18,000 years ago. Because the lake reached its maximum and retreat of the local glaciers started after the end of the Ice Age, Laabs, Marchetti, and Munroe et al concluded that the local climate between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago was wetter than thought by prior geologists.

That there were glaciers in City Creek Canyon below Grandview Peak and at the canyon’s final hanging valley (September 8th) seems evident from an examination of any terrain map and hiking the canyon. But to my knowledge, there are no studies dating the glacial deposits in City Creek Canyon. Van Horn and Crittenden’s geologic map shows no surficial glacier features (Van Horn and Crittenden, 1987, U.S.G.S. I-1762). Perhaps there was a lighter ice sheet over the canyon 15,000 years ago, but it was insufficient to crave the bedrock.

The Engelmann spruces and other pine trees that live in association with the spruces, tell the history of Salt Lake valley’s and the canyon’s climate for the last 13,000 years before the present. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Engelmann spruce share the glacial scoured hillsides with Limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Engelmann spruce is more tolerant of wet earth and colder soil temperatures, and Limber pine is more tolerant of dry earth and warmer soil temperatures. Thus, as climate changes occur over thousands of years, the relative amount of pollen left in soil layers beneath their canopy gives a general indication of weather in the distant past. In 1979, Madsen and Currey at the University of Utah used a bog in Gad Valley near Snowbird Ski Resort to reconstruct Utah’s late Holocene climate (Madsen and Currey 1979). Based on moraine deposits, the maximum extent of glaciation that extruded glaciers into the Salt Lake valley floor occurred about 25,000 years ago. After a period of warming, a second smaller glacial period ensued and Madsen and Currey, using the bog at Gad Valley places that around 12,500 years ago. Then glaciers within Little Cottonwood Canyon retreated and disappeared. A similar bog in Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood is dated at 9,500 years (id, 258). Using the ratio of Engelmann spruce and Limber pine in the Gad Valley bog, Madsen and Currey were able to reconstruct the relative climate of the canyon, and by extension the Salt Lake Valley and City Creek Canyon, for the past 12,500 years. Between 13,000 and 8,000 years before the present, the valley’s climate was cooler and wetter than today. Between 8,000 and 5,000 before the present, advancing Limber pines indicate a warmer and drier climate than today. Then there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (id, at Fig. 6 and 265). In contrast, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (id). These are consistent with Grayson’s climate divisions for the Great Basin Holocene generally: 10,000 to 7,500 years before the present (early), 7,500 to 4,500 years before the present (middle), and 4,500 years before the present until today (late) (Grayson, Chap. 8).

Over the last 4,500 years, a picture of trends in Salt Lake City’s local climate can be developed from tree ring, Gad Valley bog pollen, and other climate research. Since 4,500 years before the present, there was a brief period in which temperatures greatly declined, followed by a quick warming and a gradual decline to today’s cooler temperatures with respect to the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey, Fig. 6 and 265). It is now colder than average than over the last 13,000 years. The Little Ice lasted from about 1300 C.E. to 1850 B.C. There were highly variable swings in temperature during this time, but those changes were not global, but regional (Solomon et al 2007; Houghton et al 2001). In Utah, the Little Ice Age ended in 1850 and was followed by the most severe winter in Utah history, the winter of 1855-1856.

Since 4,500 years before the present, precipitation has been on a gradual decline for the last 6,500 years and is currently near the 13,000 year mean (Madsen and Currey). From 1492 to the present, the tree rings show that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah (Bekker et al 2014). Variability in Salt Lake City precipitation since the 1960s, including severe drought in the 1960s and peak flooding in the 1980s, is tied to the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, an 11 year cycle of drought and heavy precipitation tied to ocean temperatures off the coast of California and Japan. The level of the Great Salt Lake acts as a recorder of climate, and the Lake’s level has been recorded continuously since 1875 (USGS, 2017a, USGS, 2017b). In the summer of 2016, it dropped to a new historical low of 4,190.1 feet (id).

In 2010, Wang and colleagues at the Utah State University associated the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (PQDO) with a northern Utah three-year leading precipitation and a six year leading level of the Great Salt Lake (Wang, Fig. 4 at 2166). In the association with the level of the Great Salt Lake, PQDO warm phase peaks are associated with the lowest lake levels and PQDO cool phase troughs are associated with the highest lake levels. In 2013, DeRose, Wang and colleagues used tree rings to reconstruct the level of the Great Salt Lake back to 1429, and they associated the lake’s level to the pacific oscillation back to 1700 (DeRose 2013). In recent years, the PQDO has been good for Utah. While California has suffered severe drought, the PQDO has kept annual precipitation relatively higher in Utah (IWWA Project).

The PQDO has not had a phase change since 1997 and the change to a heavy precipitation pattern is overdue. Despite heavy winter snowfall in the high mountains during the winter of 2016-2107, Utah remains in an extended drought with unseasonably warm summers.

Future uncertainty is added by the effect of global warming. Has global warming disrupted the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation? What will its future impact be? However, even excluding global warming, Salt Lake City and Utah are on a path towards relatively hotter weather and declining water supplies as compared to the past.

* * * *

On July 21st, 1942, the City banned the entire north bench of Salt Lake City to entry due to fire hazard, but access to City Creek Canyon would remain open (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1906, the Deseret Evening News published a picture of a 10 foot snow bridge across City Creek Canyon about nine miles up the canyon. On July 21st, prize fighter Tommy Reilly trained by taking a long run up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 21st, 1903, about 100 Ute Tribe members gathered for an annual celebration at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). (In the present, the Ute Tribe holds an annual meet at Liberty Park.)

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).

May 13, 2017

May 10th

Flies

Midnight. In the valley, temperatures are in the low sixties, and this means overnight temperature in the canyon is in the fifties. Everything is in place – water, soil, nutrients, leaf, flower, and life – and the great vernal explosion of growth has begun. My pen and typewriter feel inadequate to the task. With the vernal explosion, everything in the canyon is changing so rapidly, and it is possible only to record a fraction of and a general impression of what is occurring.

4:00 p.m. As I exit the car at the parking lot, a Peregrine falcon zips overhead traveling west to due east. As I start up the road, a Red-tailed hawk is soaring overhead, hovering effortlessly and then moving to the west at a few miles an hour. A down canyon wind just balances it needs for lift and forward propulsion. There about thirty bird calling and singing in the first mile. I can hear the songs of the Dark-eyed Junco, a Western tanager, and the Lazuli Bunting. The bunting also makes separate chirping call. All the song birds are unseen and hidden in the forest.

Woody shrubs are the most prominent flowering plants, and along the first road mile simultaneously, Red-ozier dogwood, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) bushes are blossoming. When heated by sunlight, chokecherry blossoms give off an enticing vanilla odor, but it is not produced when the bush is in shade. On a dogwood complex funnel-like inflorescence, a Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) feeds. At Guardhouse Gate and at the Red Bridge, below Horsechestnut inflorescences, waxy seed pods form. River birch leaves have grown to two or three inches and with hot sun, now are covered in a shiny, wax layer. This may be an adaptation to retain water. At picnic site 1, a pretty flowering invasive, the Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum L.), has about ten blossoms close to the ground. This bulb perennial has small white star-shaped petals that surround a green rim and a set of second interior white petals.

There are about twenty recently common butterflies in the first mile: White cabbage; Painted lady; Zerene fritillary (doubtful); Desert Elfin; and, Western tiger swallowtails; and, Spring Azure. Three examples of new unidentified moth appear. Moths are distinguished from butterflies as they rest. Butterflies fold their wings vertically after landing; moths spread their wings horizontally flat. This small one to two inch moth is light brown, but has a rectangular medium dark brown bar above the trailing edge of its wings.

Ants are active on the road: a tiny black species and larger Carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.). One of the tiny black ants crosses the road carrying a transparent fly wing in its mandibles.

Over the last week and again today, I see a small furry brown bee hovering over the road. To my eyes, it is suspiciously off somehow; the “bee” only has two and not four wings. This is the Black-tailed bee fly (Bombylius major). This fly also has a distinctive long-straight proboscis for sipping nectar, and it lays eggs on bee larvae. I am feeling ill and diarrhetic, and today, for the first time in over two decades, I am compelled to run into the bushes to defecate. Bags that I use to pick up dog droppings from the road are used to remove the mess from the watershed. While this in the category of too much personal information, there is a lesson to be learned. Within less than a minute, the waste mound is covered in over seventy-five flies of three different types, but I make no attempt to identify them. Normally, bees are unseen along the canyon roads and trails, except near waste containers or deer dung piles, but today’s accident reveals that there are hundreds of flies hiding in the bushes and leaf litter. They are both pollinators and nature’s important garbage collectors. Although they favor mule deer and my human droppings, they are less quick to visit canine waste piles left along the road. The flies in turn become food for birds. About ten miles to the west at the Great Salt Lake flats, brine flies fuel the Utah portion of the Pacific Flyway of migratory birds. In a month at the Lake, beaches and lake bed flats will covered in brine flies such that the surface appears to move. Birds wade through the living mass, gorging themselves. In the canyon, the flies restrict themselves to the cool forest understory, and hopefully they feed the Lazuli buntings, warblers and other song birds.

While the flies in the marshes and beaches of the Great Salt Lake support millions of birds, the density of flies in the canyon may be too low, and canyon flies can only supplement canyon the birds’ diets. Assuming based on my accidental experience that there is about one fly per square foot to a depth of fifty feet on either side of the stream and that each fly weighs 12 micrograms, then the first mile holds about 6.3 kilograms of flies (0.12 x 2 x 5,280 x 50). If there are about 50 small birds living in the first canyon mile and each weigh about 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), then the bird’s mass is about 5 kilograms. Flies alone are insufficient to support the small birds’ higher trophic level.

* * * *

A 2010 Tibetan study of the ecological role of flies and beetles quantifies their effectiveness in removing animal waste from prairies. Wu and Sun placed 248 gram patties of yak dung under screens that allowed either flies alone, beetles alone, or flies with beetles in Tibetan alpine meadows for thirty-two days. Over one month, the beetles removed sixty-seven percent (168 grams) of dung and the flies removed fifty-one percent (127 grams) of the waste. Using Black solider flies, similar results have been obtained by farm management scientists who have used the flies to reduce the volume of livestock waste by 42 percent (Diener, Zurbrugg and Tockner 2009). In the canyon, I have anecdotally noticed similar rates of removal of Mule deer scat by flies and beetles.

What ornithologists know about what birds eat comes in part from a remarkable series of studies by F. E. I. Beal of the United States Department of Agriculture from the first half of the twentieth century in which birds were actively killed and then the contents of their stomachs were examined (Beal 1900, 1911, 1915, 1918). For example, ten robins were taken alfalfa fields in Utah, presumably in the valley and in the region of the canyon, and twelve percent of their stomach contents were beetles (Beal 1915, 6). Thoreau also recorded bird stomach contents. Although he would not kill himself, when his neighbors shot local birds, he sometimes examined the contents of their stomachs (e.g. Thoreau, Journal, January 11, 1861). In a more humane era, non-destructive direct observation of feeding habits and bird feces are studied (e.g. White and Stiles 1990).

* * * *

On May 10th, 1910, the City Commission argued over Chief Engineer’s expenditures to study how to increase the city water supply, and the Commission order all work to stop on waterworks improvements in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

May 8, 2017

May 5th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, Horsechestnut — canopus56 @ 11:24 am

Leaf-Out and Phenology

5:00 p.m. The first day astronomical spring was marked by the first bursting of Woods rose buds (March 20th), and they where followed quickly by buds of the red-osier dogwood and sap rising in the non-native willow tree (March 22nd). This also corresponded with the early leafing-out of young suckers at the base of the larger trees (March 22nd). These can be sacrificed in a harsh spring without endangering the survival of the parent tree, and the understory of the first mile forest quickly filled out. Next, buds of the green apple trees and the native Box Elder trees burst (March 24th). Next came the river birches (March 26th). These were followed by bud busting on cultivar horsechestnut trees at Guardhouse Gate (April 7th). On April 12th, although and early anomaly, the first Gambel’s oak trees budded and leafed (April 12th). On April 22nd, I made rough notes on the percent of leaf-out at mile 0.0, mile 0.5 and mile 1.0 along the road:

• At mile 0.0: Cottonwoods – 0 percent; Horsechestnut – 50 percent with small leaves; Red ozier dogwood – 70 percent with small leaves; River birch – 90 percent with inflorescences; Gambel’s oak – 0 percent to mile 1.5; Box Elder – 50 percent with catkins.

• At mile 0.5: Cottonwoods – buds swelling, 10 percent; Red ozier dogwood – not applicable, none; River birch – 100 percent with inflorescences; Gambel’s oak – 1 plant with leaf blooms.

• At mile 1.0: Cottonwoods – 0 percent; Red ozier dogwood – not applicable, none; River birch – 10 percent with inflorescences; Gambel’s oak – 0 percent.

Next, significant increases in leaf length for the cultivars and Box Elder trees occurred, interrupted by cold weather snaps (April 24th). Leaf-out in the red-osier dogwood and chokeberries paused, but then by May 1st, they, along with Wood’s rose have mostly filled-out with growing leaves. By May 2nd, much of the first mile had the appearance of a partially filled-in (sixty percent) green tube, and today, it is the tops of the larger trees that are bursting with catkins and inflorescences.

* * * *

Phenology is the study of cycles in plants and animals, and for trees, that study focuses on the dates of leaf-out in spring and leaf senescence during fall. Thoreau’s observations of the dates of bud swelling and leaf-out provided the basis for researchers to conclude that leaf-out dates for 43 species near Concord, Massachusetts have advanced by one week since the 1860s (Miller Rushing and Primack 2008). A literature search turns up no data for spring leaf-out of the Gambel’s oak specifically, but since the 1990s, leaf-out has become an area of intensive study as an indicator of climate change (Polgar and Primack, n.d., United States Phenology Network 2017). High quality studies on the autumnal leaf senescence or abscission by tree species and for Gambel’s oak also exist (October 11th).

Leaf-out is being studied by human observation in forest reserves (Polgar and Primack, n.d.), using orbital satellite imagery (Richardson et al 2009), using automated ground-based cameras coupled with image analysis (Richardson et al 2009, Yang et al 2017), and through citizen-science data collection (U.S. National Phenology Network 2017). Partial results include mathematical models of regional forest leaf-out (Schwartz, Ault, and Betancourt 2013).

Tree leaf-out in temperate forests is primarily controlled by a few factors: temperature, photo-period, winter-chilling, and the anatomy of a species (Polgar and Primack 2011). Some, but not all, trees respond primarily to temperature, but others ignore temperature and respond only to the changes in the length of the day and intensity of sunlight. All require some minimal level of winter chilling in order cycle through dormancy and spring rebirth. Trees with smaller diameter vascular systems better survive winter cold, and they can on the earliest rise in temperature being to leaf. This ability provides them with an ecological advantage and niche, but such trees also run the risk of an early frost. In the canyon, the horsechestnut tree is an example that bloomed, but then had its leaves wilted by a cold snap. Conversely, trees with larger diameter vessels are subject to more internal circulatory damage during winter freezing, and such trees, like the Gambel’s oak, need a longer resuscitation period in which to repair that injury before they can swell buds and produce leaves (Polgar and Primack 2011).

* * * *

On May 5th, 1994, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a historical piece by Jack Goodman on the Anderson Tower, a 54 foot tall granite tower that stood at 303 A Street in the Avenues between 1882 and 1932 and that was built by Robert R. Anderson. The tower looked down into City Creek Canyon, at the Temple grounds through its 1894 completion, and later at the State Capitol Building. The tower was featured as a tourist attraction as part of the City’s grand scenic boulevard for horse carriages built up City Creek and around 11th Avenue completed in 1906. Anderson lived at 5th Avenue and A Street. (In the present, the west plaza of the State Capitol serves as a similar scenic viewpoint). On May 6th, 1899, work to replace the City Creek water main with a larger diameter pipe was underway (Salt Lake Herald), although a suit seeking an injunction against the construction had been filed. On May 6th, 1888, Z. Jacobs canvassed citizens for suggestions on how to increase the city’s water supply, including Fire Chief Ottinger (Salt Lake Herald). Jacobs argued against building a dam in City Creek Canyon, since failure of the dam would destroy the downtown (id).

April 26, 2017

April 21st

Biophilia – Part III – Nature Fearing Studies

External Link to Image

Collage of City Creek Wildflowers, April 2017. Source: Author. Plant names are in text.

6:00 a.m. Rain showers including sleet fell last night and through the morning. From the city floor on the westside of the valley, I have a sweeping view up City Creek Canyon and along the mouths of the six other Salt Lake County Wasatch Front canyons. The rain falls in periodic sheets and microbursts that, with the morning light, color the canyon with curtains of delicate and varied gray tones. The canyon and the front are a series of paintings that rival the old Renaissance masters and Rubens.

4:00 p.m. As the front passes, the afternoon has given way to bright sunlight, but the canyon is still empty and full of solitude. Painted lady butterflies play tag, and one follows me up the road for about fifty feet, stops and then resumes its trailing track. It repeats this behavior four times before flying off. Two mallards streak down canyon skimming just above the trees and flying directly above the road. The road is their marker. The sleet has wilted all the long new 4 inch leaves of the horsechestnut trees. The Box Elder leaves are barely effected, and the Gambel’s oaks do not notice because they remain largely in their winter slumber. The water marks on Zen Rock show the stream is six lower than maximum notwithstanding last night’s downpour.

All is green and fresh and more spring wildflowers bloom both along the road and along the Pipeline Trail: Starry solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum); Golden currant (Ribes aureum); Purple milkvetch (astragalus agrestis); Arrowleaf balsamroot; (Balsamorhiza sagittata); and western pink and blue-purple Longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia Nutt.)

* * * *

The biophillia hypothesis has a binary opposite: biophobia. And the existence of biophia also can be proof of the existence of a genetic compulsion to be in and to like nature. Biophobic responses are adverse reactions to threats from the environment like spiders or snakes. Biophobic human reactions provide more definitive results because the body’s automatic response to negative experiences is more pronounced and easier to measure. Human negative responses can also be more easily conditioned in controlled experiments. Biophopia studies involve viewing pictures of threatening predators or poisonous animals while being conditioned with mild electric shock treatments. Psychologists then measure how quickly the body forgets the conditioning. If a person takes a comparatively longer period of time to forget the electro-shock conditioning, this is taken as evidence of a genetic predisposition for enhanced awareness of threats in a natural setting, genetic biophobia, and the biophilia hypothesis. Ulrich summarized many of the biophic studies through 1984 (Ulrich 1993):

* Involuntary physical responses to adverse conditioning when viewing natural threats such as spiders and snakes are more persistent than the response to neutral geometric shapes (Ulrich, 78).

* People exhibit stronger defense reactions when observing others’ fear reaction to threatening scenes like spiders and snakes versus neutral scenes (Ulrich, 79).

* After mild electroshock conditioning, a person’s autonomic body responses to spiders subliminal images of spiders and snakes embedded in films still takes a longer time to unlearn as compared to embedded images of non-threatening settings (Ulrich, 80).

* After mild electric shock conditioning, the autonomic body responses of persons viewing open natural settings are more persistent than when viewing low depth heavily forested scenes. This is interpreted as a genetic remnant of human evolution on the African savannas (Ulrich, 82-83).

There is an irony to these experiments, or its seems as I continue jogging down canyon. Showing a genetic basis of liking nature by shocking people with electric prods as they view photographs of nature in a controlled laboratory experiment seems far removed from the clean spring air and blooming flowers of today’s canyon. But these biophobic studies do lend more weight to the proof of a genetic basis for biophillia than the indirect proof of liking studies.

* * * *

On April 21st, 2006, snowpack in upper City Creek is 200 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 15, 2017

April 15th

More Blossoming

2:00 p.m. Several cultivar cherry trees blossom. They range in size from small bushes to two specimens with the first quarter-mile that are between twenty and thirty feet tall. In these larger trees, the gray birch-like pattern to their bark in addition to their bright white flowers are the keys to identification. More Box Elder shrubs have bloomed. One of the three horsechestnut trees at the Guardhouse gate parking lot have exploded, and each bud reveals a radial pattern of leaves surrounded by a cone-shaped green compound set of ovaries. Red ozier dogwood bushes that have leafed out have grown small compound blossom heads that look like heads broccoli. Chokeberries have resumed blooming and one near mile 0.2 is festooned with hanging flowerless blooms at the end of multiple heads at the end of long thin stems. Two immature rock squirrels betray themselves as their run over dry crackling leaves above the roadbank. A shadow across the road reveals to small hawks racing over the road. Their flight is so fast that identification is not possible, but front-wing line has a rounded shape. One seeking to increase its diving speed, folds its wing in to transform itself into a bullet shape. In an instant, they are gone around a ridge. Painted Lady butterflies are joined by a another cousin: a small dusky black butterfly that deep black triangular wing-tips with white spots. After yesterday’s warmth, the snow-melt fed stream today flows at it highest level.

The parking lot is overflowing with cars and their are sixty or seventy people along the road. The watercress gleaners have returned (October 16th) and they are carrying out bags of this edible that they removed from the seep below picnic site 6. I have changed my opinion on this practice: watercress is an invasive that chokes the stream, and if it is overharvested to the extinction, the stream may improve for native fish.

As I jog up-canyon, two young men bicycle down-canyon. They are wearing packs with hi-tech two-part snowboards strapped to the back in a triangle formation. They have ridden to the end of road and then hiked up to Grandview Peak for spring skiing. I did a similar 17 mile road trip ski tour and hike in the 1980s, and it is heartening to see the next generation of young men who would test themselves not in the arena of commerce or in sports against other men, but against the power of the nature. I give the trailing rider a big thumbs up, acknowledging what they have done. But he sees not as a kindred spirit, but only an old man on the lower road to which he gives no return glance.

* * * *

On April 15th, 1909, a brush fire broke out at four miles above Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News). On April 15, 1906, boxer Young Corbett trained in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). This was probably Young Corbett II, who later became the world Featherweight boxing champion. On April 15, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association planned to assist in planting trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 15, 1896, negotiations between the City and the Salt Lake and Ogden Gas and Electric Light Company broke down, prompting the City to further consider constructing an electric power station in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 9, 2017

April 7th

Filed under: Guardhouse gate, Horsechestnut, River birch — canopus56 @ 5:02 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part IV – A New Preservation Force

2:00 p.m. A new approaching front has created overcast skies with the threat of snow tonight, but the air is flowing up canyon with warmth. The river birches below picnic site 3 are fruiting. What I had supposed were two or three inches long seeds bloom into a complex inflorescence of about thirty tiny flowers, each with ovary and stamens. At Guardhouse Gate and at picnic site 1, the horsechestnut tree buds have swelled, and several have exploded into five radially distributed ovaries. These mimic the circular pattern of the leaves that will fill these trees as they leaf in.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 7th, 1854, he notes hazel trees blooming and finds the first sedge grass shoots. On April 7th, 1855, he see a large flock of goldfinches and sparrows. On April 7th, 1860, he sees a purple finch, and he sees many pickerel swimming in shallow water.

* * * *

The city has been changing its character in the last two years. After the 2007 arrival of new 240,000 acre feet of trans-basin Central Utah Project water, construction in the county has filled in most of the valley such that is now a familiar mimic of California. The older city center resisted with change. I was there in 1978 when a new form of government, a city council, took control from long standing commissioners. The new council was elected by a new generation of city residents from the 1960s who were concerned that development was destroy their tree-lined streets with apartment buildings. Over the years, those good intentions along with increasing economic inequality have transformed the city’s soul into a dark spirit of exclusionary zoning. The older Salt Lake City proper is a city of trees; its streets and boulevards lined with great seventy-year to one-hundred year old publicly-owned cottonwoods. This characteristic of the city along with the nearby City Creek canyon attracts biophiliacs, that is persons who love nature and the force of life, and it distinguishes the old city with surrounding modern suburbs that have fewer, smaller privately owned trees planted close to the walls of homes. But the darker side of Salt Lake resident’s spirits was revealed by community face-contorted hatred and opposition to re-constructing the capacity of an 1,200 existing homeless shelter for the poor. The result is that the city will reduce the capacity of existing shelters to around 800 persons. They opted for exclusionary zoning practices despite have received over $35 million in federal funding since 1978 to construct low income housing for both low-income renters and homeowners. Most of the benefits of the funds were streamed into homeowner only programs.

Commensurate with this cultural development and the aridity of region, two other forces are reshaping the city into a treeless city of gentrification, as has occurred in so many other western cities. First, in order to conserve the limited 240,000 acre feet of new water, the residents have allowed construction of many box-like apartment buildings and condominiums along its major roads and in its former industrial areas. A single family home requires about 1 acre foot of water per year, but apartments only need about one-tenth that amount. In order to accommodate developers, the buildings are constructed right up to the lot line and provide no space for the broad shade trees that so define the old city. The rents in these new apartments are beyond the wages of existing local residents. The second force is the arrival of internet-based short-term rental units that compete with hotels. A new bill was passed in the legislature that will take effect on May 2nd that will void an existing city ordinance that prohibits apartment and homeowners from participating in short-term rental sales. This statute was promoted by a conservative Utah legislator from the suburbs, again citing Mormon historical values of hyper-free-enterprise and Tenth Amended (March 20th) freedoms from governmental control. In other cities in the west and around the world, conversion of apartments to speculative individual internet-hotel rentals has doubled both a city’s rents and the number of its homeless persons. Yesterday, I met my first speculator, a woman who flew in from San Francisco, who has bought two condominium-rentals and was spending two days in Utah to outfit them as internet-based hotel rooms. She was returning to the west coast today to run her business remotely.

The result of these present decisions will transform the future city into into one in which a substantial portion of residents will be deprived of nature in their daily lives. In 1984, Nobel laureate Edward O. Wilson proposed a socio-biological theory – the biophilia hypothesis – that humans have an inherent genetic drive to seek out natural areas (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993, Kellert 1993). Modern residential and commercial architecture with its planned unit developments and eco-certified construction have incorporated the theory by including natural areas and vistas in their design. But the new box-apartments of Salt Lake City do not, and this design feature of the multi-family buildings of future residents’ dwellings will foster a new increased utilization of close-by natural areas like City Creek Canyon and will result in increased political forces to assure the canyon’s future preservation.

* * * *

On April 7th, 1997, Tony Cannon, who logged 22,175 miles running in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Salt Lake Tribune). Cannon was a descendant of the Mormon advance party of 1847. The Tony Cannon Memorial Trails Foundation was formed (id). On April 7th, 1909, a movie company was scouting locations to shoot a film in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune April 8th, 1909). On April 7, 1919, University of Utah geology Prof. Fred J. Pack gives a lecture on the geology of Utah and describes how City Creek was carved out by the recession of Lake Bonneville (Salt Lake Herald).

March 30, 2017

March 30th

Filed under: Birds, Gambel's Oak, Horsechestnut, Plants — canopus56 @ 4:17 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XI – More Water Infrastructure

1:30 p.m. Another Coriolis effect storm is approaching, the sky is overcast, and as I drive along the lower canyon, two Gambel’s oaks have bloomed. The overcast skies reduces residents using the canyon, and it is a quiet day of solitude, except for a singing House sparrow perched at the top of the Horsechestnut tree below Guardhouse Gate. At picnic site 6, two large trees have bloomed at the uppermost branches one-hundred feet above the ground. They are only two in the first mile. During the last half-mile, the storm brings with a mild rain, and it is expected to turn to snow in the night.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 30th, 1853, he excavates a woodchuck burrow. March 30, 1856, he sees a purple lake grass, shunk cabbage, golden saxifrage, marigolds, and sedge grass. On March 30, 1858, he sees fifteen sheldrakes. On March 30, 1859, he sees a red squirrel and two sheldrakes.

* * * *

Increased recreation use in the canyon led to further water infrastructure improvements. In 1950, fecal coliform counts in the canyon waters had grown to high levels (Hooten, 30), and the Public Health Service threatened to prohibit use of Salt Lake’s drinking water at facilities involved in interstate transportation, i.e. – bus stations, train stations and the airport (Salt Lake Telegram, December 27, 1951).

As noted previously (January 5th), in 1952, the Salt Lake City Commission approved a plan to increase its drinking water quality as required by the U.S. Public Health Service (Salt Lake Telegram, Jan. 5, 1952). The plan included closing City Creek Creek above any water intake pipe, building a water filtration plant, moving all toilet facilities at least 50 feet away from the stream, and patrolling the canyon for watershed violations. The water filtration plant was built in 1952 and 1953. All public access to City Creek Canyon was closed until 1965 (Hooten). In 1965, the City reopened public access to the water plant at mile 3.4, but the canyon above the plant remained closed. In 1975, public access to the entire canyon was restored (Hooten).

* * * *

On March 30, 1994, three prison escapes were arrested at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

November 19, 2016

November 19th

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

Where Have All the Crabapples Gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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