City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar Bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate stink bug (Eleodes sp.), a.k.a. the Darkling sting bug, is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by heeding on caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

* * * *

On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

June 13, 2017

June 5th

Hopping Horsetail Pollen

4:15 p.m. It is the third day of an unusual early heat wave where daytime maximum temperatures reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average maximum for early June is about 80 degrees. In the heat, fewer birds sing. There is one Warbling vireo near picnic site 1 and a single Black-headed grosbeak and a few Song sparrows below milepost 0.5. On this Monday, people follow suit: the heat deters them and there are only a few runners and walkers along the road. Despite the heat and yesterday’s end of canyon snowmelt, the stream still runs high. But at mile 0.6, there is a distinct thermocline: a breeze picks up and temperatures are ten or fifteen degrees lower than in the city. The birds respond accordingly.

The season’s first unambiguous Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyeri latifascia), a black butterfly with white wing bars, floats by at milepost 1.0, and this followed by a Blue dasher dragonfly. A new white butterfly is seen, but it is too fast and appears too briefly to identify. Two dead brown moths are found at different places along the road that have delicate yellow-orange underwings. They are invasive Large yellow underwing moths (Noctua pronuba).

The heat has also begun to force Wood roses along the road. As they reach maturity, their color starts to lighten, and a day or two later, their blossoms shrivel. More are gone at the lower canyon, the wave of mature roses is slowly moving up canyon. The blossoms of the Solomon’s seal field in the cattail seep at mile 0.7 have shriveled and passed. Across the road, the beginnings of Milk weed plants rise to a foot tall. New crops of horsetails have matured between mile 0.4 and mile 0.8, and they can be distinguished from the still reawakening horsetails that overwintered. These new horsetails are larger in diameter, have a lighter green color, and have larger cone shaped heads. Older horsetails are a darker green, and for the most part, their heads from not yet swelled with pollen for this new spring. On close inspection, the newer horsetail heads release a puff of pollen when disturbed.

Turning down canyon from Pleasant Valley, below the Red Bridge near mile 0.9, an orb weaver spider has woven a large four-foot circular web suspended between boulders and surrounding tree branches. Some of the web’s silken, supporting suspension cables reach six feet over the stream. The web whips wildly in each breeze, but it is effective. The spider has bundled up several insects along its web’s radial branches.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 5th, 1850, he smells that the air is full of spicy odors. He sees lady’s slippers and wild pink plants. On June 5th, 1852, he records cinquefoils, and he notes that lupines are in full bloom. On June 3rd, 1853, he again notes that the air is full of fragrance and that meadows are full of sorrel and green grasses. On June 5th, 1853, he sees a pair of nighthawks and their nest, and a blackbird. On June 5th, 1855, he notes sedge grass growing in rock cracks. On June 5th, 1856, he records lady slippers and he examines a cuckoo’s nest.

* * * *

In 2013, Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé at the University of Grenoble reported that the 50 micrometer pollen of horsetails have the ability to “walk” (Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé 2013). These tiny pollen are shaped like harlequin starfish, except they have four arms instead of a starfish’s five. When wet, the arms of the pollen curl around its central body. As the pollen dries, the arms suddenly unfold and propel the pollen into the air, and once aloft, it can be deposited in a more favorable, moist habitat (id).

* * * *

On or about June 5, 1975, Utah’s first gay pride festival, then called “Gay Freedom Day” was held in Memory Grove at City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 5, 2008). A small crowd of 300 gathered over beer, burgers and hotdogs. Then they moved to the Sun Tavern. One of the participants of the first festival recalled that people were afraid to attend because they were concerned that bosses, co-workers or neighbors might see them attending. “We knew we were being discriminated against, and it was at least up to us to stop discriminating against ourselves,” the first pride day participant noted.

March 12, 2017

March 12th

Filed under: Butterfly, Cottonwood tree, Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, gnats, grass, Horsetail, spiders — canopus56 @ 8:25 pm

Flooding of City Creek’s Delta – Part III

5:00 p.m. It is a Sunday; in the high fifties; and bright because it is the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Clocks were moved forward one hour, so this 4:30 p.m. was 4:00 p.m. yesterday. The stream is twice its usual volume; early spring run-off has begun. Until I am away from the stream on the Pipeline Trail, I do not appreciate just how loud it has become. The canyon is overflowing with people, and in addition to the strolling couples, now families with young children frequent the road. They are a sign of the coming spring. There are other signs this evening. I count six spiders of the same unidentified species on the road. A brown and orange butterfly goes by; the first of this new year. Below mile 0.4, some red-osier dogwoods are covered with new spider webs. In this lower part of the canyon, the buds of three types of plants begin to respond to lengthening daylight. The buds of some dogwoods have engorged and through their outer winter cases, the green of chlorophyll production can be seen. Horsetails through most of the canyon still lay flat, having been pushed down by the weight of prior snow. But below mile 0.4, the horsetails are standing erect, and this also indicates that chlorophyll production has begun. The buds of an unknown cultivar, out of place in this climate, ooze a reddish pink fluid and the stems leading the buds are turning green. But above mile 0.4, these signs end. Higher up canyon at Pleasant Valley, grasses respond. Where grasses were low last year, the ground is covered in green velvet, but for fields of taller grass with browned stems, the green is muted under that last year’s canopy. But in the entire canyon, the buds of native Gambel’s oak and cottonwoods wisely remain dormant. They are conditioned to a much colder February and March with more snow. Doing my distribution analysis of snow and precipitation for February, last month through February 21st, was a three percentile year for snow and a ninety-eight percentile year for temperature. In the last six days of the month, heavy storms and cold pulled February back to a 40th percentile year for snow and an 83 percentile year for temperature. This is a persistent drought pattern, and I expect March to also be unusually warm and dry. I am perplexed as to why early spiders would arrive and set up their nets. Above milepost 1.5, I look down canyon at the back lit road. The answer is the over 100 gnats suspended above the road. A coyote barks from the thickets of the southern canyon wall; it is waiting for the mule deer to start giving birth in April.

Most city residents take the 1983 flooding of Salt Lake City’s downtown as the benchmark of how rare city flooding is, but this impression based on a single lifetime is misleading. City Creek’s delta, and its business district, have flooded on numerous occasions prior to 1983, and if Bekker et al historical reconstructions are correct, the City Creek delta will be subjected to flooding in the future. Downtown flooding occurred in 1852, 1854, 1864 (flooding North Temple), 1866, 1869, 1870, 1873, 1874 (flooding Main Street and South Temple), 1876, 1882 (possibly flooding downtown), 1884 (flooding North Temple), 1885 (flooding streets), and 1889 (flooding streets) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L.C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from an extreme weather cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon (Salt Lake Telegram):

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before It. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until It, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing Is not probable, it Is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (Salt Lake Telegram, June 9, 1903).

After Kelsey’s caution, flooding also occurred in 1907 (flooding North Temple), 1908 (flooding North Temple) and 1909 (flooding North Temple and requiring construction of five foot embankments) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). Although the Intermountain Republican played down the extent of the damage and suggested that only minor improvements were needed, photographs of the 1909 flood at the J. Willard Marriott Digital Archives (Honker) and the newspaper’s own contemporaneous account suggest that North Temple to Second South were inundated with almost a foot of water:

The damage by the flood is not so great as would be suggested to a casual observer. . . . It will several weeks until the creek has receded to it proper channel before North Temple street can be cleaned up. Hundreds of tons of dirt and gravel, brought down by the water, will have to be cleaned up and hauled away; the temporary banks will have to be removed, bridges will need repairing, and in some instances totally reconstructed. The (City Creek) conduit must be cleaned and the channel banked up. All this will take weeks of strenuous work on the part of the street department. (Intermountain Republican, June 9th, 1909).

City Engineer Kelsey recommended a more robust response: encase City Creek in a concrete pipe under State Street that would bypass the central business district. On March 10th, 1910, P. J. Moran Construction Company reported that it will complete the underground aqueduct to carry City Creek waters past the downtown district and opined that the aqueduct will “render it impossible in the future for floods to go tearing down Canyon Road and the State Street . . .” (Salt Lake Herald). After the City implemented this permanent solution, downtown flooding again occurred in 1912 (flooding South Temple with tons of sand) and 1918 (silting 200 South with 1 foot of mud) (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). On August 13, 1923, Kelsey’s 1903 prediction came true. An extreme cloudburst event along the Wasatch Front sent torrents down Farmington Canyon, destroyed Farmington City, and killed seven (Honker, 35-36). Salt Lake’s downtown also flooded (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999).

Despite moving City Creek to an underground conduit, Salt Lake’s downtown also flooded in 1925 (flooding basements), 1931 (12 inches of water in streets), and 1945. In the flood of August 19th, 1945, after a summer of fires that denuded the hills above the Avenues, a flash flood ripped down Perry’s Hollow, through the cemetery, and deposited headstones on N Street. Reminiscent of Kelsey’s 1903 caution, in the central business district,

“Two hours later [after the cloudburst] State St. was still blocked by the overflow from flooding City Creek. Boulders weighing 300 and 500 pounds were left along the way. Parked automobiles were carried for blocks. Tree branches and trash cans were left in four and five foot drifts.” (Salt Lake Telegram, July 16th, 1946).

The City reported $500,000 USD of damages in 1946 currency. In the 1990s, a roadway retention dam was built across upper Perry’s Hollow to prevent a recurrence of Avenues flooding.

The flood of 1983 required building of embankments on State Street, out North Temple to 1000 west, and along 1300 South (Woolley at 96-120, Honker 1999). Sandbagging along State Street prevented the then only underground garage at ZCMI from flooding (Salt Lake Tribune, June 1983). Historical photographs of the floods of 1907 through 1909, reproduced in Honker 1999, are reminiscent of the sandbagging of State Street in 1983. But by 1983, the earlier flood era had been forgotten, and city residents of 1983 viewed their flood as a new, rare occurrence (Personal recollection).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 12th, 1853, he sees the first lark of the season, and he strips back the bark of a dead pine tree and finds gnat grubs. On March 12, 1854, he sees a flock of blackbirds, the first robin of the season, a jay, a chickadee, and crows. He records bare earth with no snow. On March 12th, 1856, he records heavy snow drifts. On March 12th, 1857, he sees a red squirrel feeding on frozen apples. On March 12th, 1859, he admires a rain-soaked bank that is colored by lichens, brown grasses and weeds, and sand.

On March 12th, 1916, the new scenic boulevard from 11th Ave, up City Creek, and then around to the State Capitol opened. The boulevard was then called “Wasatch Boulevard” (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 12th, 1906, Land and Water Commissioner Frank Mathews impounded fourteen cows that he found illegally grazing in City Creek (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 12th, 1905, City Engineer Kesley has begun survey work for the new 5,000,000 gallon reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News).

February 19, 2017

February 19th

Filed under: Blacked-Headed Chickadee, Horsetail, Lichen, picnic site 4, picnic site 6 — canopus56 @ 6:19 pm

Blue-Green Lichen

4:00 p.m. It rains into the afternoon, but around 3:00 p.m. the Sun reappears. Horsetails have tan pads that divide each green segment, and usually, these go unnoticed. But the rain makes the green more vibrant, and where horsetails hang over the stream, the beige segments are highlighted. Drops of rainwater stick to the cylindrical segments and randomly fall into the stream below. In response to the continuing warmth, the Black-capped chickadees have moved further up canyon to mile 0.6. Now that the snow is gone, it leaves behind a flattened mat barely 1/16th inch thick of soaked leaves. In the autumn, these covered the ground to a depth of four inches. Scraping at the mat with a stick, one small insect is dislodged. All is primed for leaves’ decay back into soil, and the ground only waits the addition of spring’s heat. Testing the Box Elder catkins, the helicopter seeds easily come loose and are awaiting the strong winds of March. At picnic site 4, an unusual lichen stands out. Lichen is uniformly orange on trees in the lower canyon, as was this specimen. But the lichen on this tree has changed in the last week; it now has an orange green tint. Examining the lichen closely, under the orange lichen miniature green moss-like leaves are fruiting. Interspersed with these plants are three-quarter inch circles of a kaleidoscopic blue-green lichen. The centers are slate blue, the border is light blue, and a splash of new growth light blue-green tops the mass. At mile 0.2, I find another “mystery hole” next to the road (December 3rd). This hole is only four inches in diameter, and on exploring it with a stick, it is at least eighteen inches deep.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 19th, 1852, he notes that the lengthening of the days is a sign of the coming of spring. At night, he sees a bright auroral display that covers the entire northern horizon. On February 19, 1853, he finds more insect cocoons.

On February 19th, 2006, a moose wandered out of City Creek Canyon and into the Avenues where wildlife officers tranquilized it for removal (Salt Lake Tribune). On February 13th, 1913, 49 head of cattle were found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon and were impounded by the City (Salt Lake Herald). On February 19th, 1912, Superintendent of Waterworks Charles F. Barrett recommended tunneling in City Creek in order to develop new water supplies for the City and to reduce current water shortages (Salt Lake Telegram). On February 19th, 1903, City Councilperson Hewlett recommended building a reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On February 19th, 1896, Charles Stewart, the manager of a mine in Hardscrabble Canyon just on the other side of the City Creek divide, argued for the development of a road down City Creek Canyon from Morgan County (Salt Lake Herald).

October 26, 2016

October 26th

Filed under: Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, Horsetail, Light, People, Sea gull, Watercress, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

A Horse’s Tale

1:00 p.m. In the spring and summer, foliage obscures the stream and its banks, but now, with the leaves stripped away, the stream is visible. Low-angle shafts of late afternoon light strike into its depths and illuminate individual pools and rocks. The scouring rush horsetail dominates these dappled stream banks for the first five miles of the canyon. It shares the banks with western poison ivy, occasionally with wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and, further from the bank, with Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii) and the red-osier dogwood bush. These are surrounded and overshadowed by a variety of trees, some of which like the cottonwood reach 100 feet in height.

Horsetails are the sole survivor of Paleozoic forests that covered the Earth until the rise of flowering plants 250 million years ago. But how did the eighteen inch horsetail evolve into a 100 foot tall cottonwood tree? Here again, another “just-so” evolutionary story will have to suffice. In the canyon, the horsetails occupy the banks at the stream’s spring water line. In the spring, they are flooded, which is consistent with their evolutionary roots as a marsh plant. Thus, they do not need and do not issue deep roots. In the summer, their roots are just sufficient to reach the stream’s water table, but in years of drought, they must grow deeper. Drought fosters evolutionary selection that makes them grow larger and deeper. The larger they grow, the further their seed can spread away from water, and then their descendants must grow even larger to reach down to water. In years of extreme drought, the smaller predecessors may die off all together, leaving only their taller progeny. Over a hundred million years, one can see how this self re-enforcing loop can transform the horsetail into a giant narrowleaf Mountain cottonwood next to the stream or into a Gambel’s oak that drives deep roots and that survives on little water far from the stream.

It is an unusually warm day in the seventies. The leaves of the Wood’s Rose bushes near picnic site 1 have turned a brilliant red. Four sea gulls soar 800 feet above the canyon floor, and they are followed by a distant raptor. There are about twenty walkers and runners, some of who have taken their shirts off, and a group of about 40 first or second graders. To prevent the prisoners (I mean students) from escaping (I mean wandering off), each child is dressed in a bright red T-shirt. Their voices are loud and boisterous until I out-run and leave them behind on the road. But there is only one hunter car on this Wednesday, which is expected. Insects are present, and an array of six types spanning about 30 individuals is found in the first mile. Four blue dragonflies, probably Blue-eyed Darners, fly by at mile 0.6. Several injured grasshoppers are on the road, and they provide a meal for a flock of six Mexican scrub jays.

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