City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 17th

Filed under: Douglas Fir, Gambel's Oak, Lodgepole pine, Maple tree, People, Runners, Wild bunchgrass — canopus56 @ 4:25 am

Masters of the Wasatch Steeplechase

8:00 a.m. It is Saturday, and in the cool morning air, birds are active. Black-headed grosbeaks and Song sparrows are the most common. This morning is also the 39th running of the Wasatch Steeplechase (Adams 2017). The Wasatch Steeplechase is purist running event whose 17 mile path goes up the south part of the Salt Lake salient, over the limestone knife edge at the top of Little Black Mountain, down Smuggler’s Gap, and then out the City Creek Canyon Road. Over the course, about 3,000 feet in elevation is gained and lost. Unlike other Salt Lake City running events, there is no registration packet, no inflated air start and finish line blasting loud rock music, and no prize money. About 200 runners just show up at Memory Grove Park at 6:00 a.m. and start. Participants tend to be lean ectomorphs between the ages of 25 to 50 years old, and the best finish the race in about two hours and fifteen minutes. Last place finishes in about six hours. The purist ethic of the race is reflected in its liability waiver agreement:

“Whereas, participation in the annual Wahsatch Steeplechase is a privilege and sacred ritual in celebration of the Summer Solstice and, whereafter, the undersigned acknowledges the uniquely and hazardous nature of the race course, including raging streams at full flood, wicked sagebrush, poisonous snakes, and precipitous crags, and has inspected the course or in the alternative freely assumes the risk or failure to inspect the course” (Adams 2017).

I am a stocky American football player-like endomorph. Although I have solo-run the track (in reverse direction) about nine times in the last forty years, my best jogging time was somewhat more than six hours, but each time the route was both an inspirational and mystical experience. First, the route goes up seven miles along the City Creek Canyon Road to the end of the paved road through both the Gambel’s oak and maple forest. Then a near vertical trail leads 2,000 feet through an upper montane forest of Douglas firs and Lodgepole pine trees that is thick with Stellar jays. Then the route goes along a knife-edge ridgeline for one-half mile along the top of Little Black Mountain. Here, one must boulder back and forth along limestone ledges that tilt downhill and away from the direction of travel. In most places, a slip means a fall of ten to twenty feet onto a sixty degree slope. Survivable, but something to be avoided given the difficulty of extraction from this high mountain. Next is a about ten miles stretch under the watchful eyes of hawks and eagles that descends back through a Pinyon Juniper forest, along the Wild bunchgrass southern salient past the Little Twin Peaks, and then back through the Gambel’s oak forest to the canyon bottom. Along the summit and south salient, expansive views of the urbanized Wasatch Front cities, the Great Salt Lake, and the Bonneville flats extend at most one-hundred and fifty miles. In some years, dramatic summer storms flow across the Great Salt Lake dropping streamers of lightening from gray and black clouds. The route is a tour-de-force of the many of the Great Basin’s habitats. The Steeplechase is less of a run and more of a spiritual experience brought on by fatigue, dehydration, strong summer sunlight, and exertion at altitude. After each traverse of the route, I fall into a meditative, contented state for one, and if I am lucky, two days.

In September, another extreme race, the Wasatch 100, goes from 100 miles from Farmington, north of City Creek Canyon, along the upper headwaters of the canyon, and onto Park City, Utah, a mining town turned upper income ski-resort. The maximum allowed finishing time is 36 hours. Unlike the Steeplechase, the Wasatch 100, which is beyond my physical capabilities, has a more tradition competitive road-race feel, and by disposition, I have always favored the Steeplechase.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 17th, 1852, he notes that crickets sing loudly in the morning after hot summer nights. He sees or hears a brown thrasher, a red-eye, an oven-bird, and a wood thrush. Citus are blooming. He notes how a boulder has made a micro-habitat in which several tree seedlings have taken root. On June 17th, 1853, he notes that pogonias, adder’s tongue, blue-eyed grass, lambkill and mountain laurel are at their peak. He records an egg in a night-hawk nest has hatched. On the morning of June 17th, 1854, he feels dew covered grasses and sees cobwebs hanging across the grass.

* * * *

On June 17th, 2000, the First Congregational Church planned to hold its annual outdoor service in City Creek Canyon. On June 17th, 1915, P. J. Moran was awarded the contract to build the reservoir at Pleasant Valley for the sum of $18,209.59 (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 17th, 1915, a locomotive was hauled to the capitol grounds along newly constructed track along the west side of City Creek (now East Capitol Street) to begin grading for the new state capitol building (Salt Lake Herald). On June 17th, 1894, the City changed from having a staff of full-time water tankmen (who clean water tank filters) to a part-time staff of day and night patrols (Salt Lake Herald).

June 1, 2017

May 29th

Memorial Day

3:00 p.m. Today, I drive up to mile 4.2, picnic site 20, and jog in the upper canyon to mile 5.1, and the Weeping Rock Cave. While the lower canyon and city are in the summer-like eighties, the upper canyon remains in the low sixties. In the lower canyon, all Gambel’s oaks have leafed out, but at milepost 2.0, most are not leafing. There is distinct band of bare oaks or oaks that have leafed out by twenty to thirty percent, but the canyon’s appearance is still a heavily wooded green, because all of the other deciduous maples, ash, and cottonwood have leafed out. These create an illusion of green around the stream, but the maples, together with Douglas fir and Norway spruce, block the view of the oaks further away from the road. The higher one goes in the canyon, the less leaves that oaks have until a glimpse of slope at milepost 4.5 and Lower Rotary Park shows all the oaks to be leafless. The upper canyon transitions from oak woodland to a mountain fir habit, and by mile 5.0, over half the trees are firs or spruces.

Although the stream is at first wider than the lower canyon, near mile 5.0, the canyon narrows as vertical limestone fins, turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The canyon closes in further and the stream turns into a white, turbulent mass as it crosses younger volcanic rocks. This western canyon feels more like an eastern forest because it is directionless. Green meets the eye in all directions, and only the flowing of the stream gives a sense of location or direction. American wild mint (Mentha canadensis) grows by the roadside, and I gather a few leaves to make tea with at home.

The butterflies have taken refugee here, having followed the thermocline up canyon. Fifteen Desert elfin and Spring azure fly intertwined a dance. Mourning cloaks abound. Blue-eyed barner dragonflies are seen. Unlike the hotter lower canyon, the shaded upper canyon with its step sides is flooded with insect life. Numerous small biting flies and other insects force me to move on after stopping for a few minutes. Picnickers light fires to keep the insects at bay. There is enough life here to keep small birds well fed.

Bird communities along the road are dispersed, homogeneous and larger than in the lower canyon. Warbling vireos dominate near mile 5.1. Song sparrows are at mile 4.8. The large group of vireos allows me to spend sometime listening to their calls with some assurance of matching unusual calls to a species. A bird will make familiar textbook Warbling vireo call, followed by another unrecognized call. I hear three distinct vireo calls that I cannot match with catalogue recordings for this bird. A single female Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) hovers a few inches off the ground inspecting a dandelion. A few flashes of blue streaking into the forest reveals Stellar’s jays. A Rock squirrel peaks from around a bush. Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0, but I see no chicks.

At Weeping Cave, the stream is split in two. The western stream carries about 12 cubic feet per second of water down-canyon in a torrent. The eastern branch consists of about 2 cubic feet per second of subterranean flow that emanates from a vertical Mississippian limestone fin. The fin itself is distorted into melted lines of red and browns, not from water, but from extreme heat when this outcrop was buried far underground. On one volcanic boulder in the stream’s middle, a Red maple and a Norway spruce shrub are growing from crevasse in the bare rock. Backlit by the southwest sun, the maple casts a reflection of a pure light green on the flat water’s surface.

Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0. I see no chicks. The heat, the sunlight, and that it is a holiday, make everyone in the city lethargic. No one is focused, including myself, and a day of relaxation is the rule.

* * * *

All parts of City Creek Canyon function as a place of remembrance and grieving. We connect death with a return to nature, and it is not uncommon to read about, hear of, or pass small informal wakes in the canyon. Memorials are also left by people grieving the loss of loved ones along City Creek Canyon road. Physical memorials typically consist of cards or a handwritten note with flowers left at the base of a tree. A specific part of the canyon, Memory Grove, has been set aside for grieving and formal remembrance of war dead.

The origins of Memory Grove begin in 1912 as a general use park, similar to Liberty Park. On April 14th, 1912, a petition from citizens proposed the creation of a park system for the city, including establishing a park at the canyon’s mouth, now Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). Memory Grove was created in the context of the construction of the State Capitol Building and the aftermath of World War I during the 1920s. In 1920, the Gold Star Mothers of the Service Star Legion asked the city to donate land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon to create a memorial park for their sons who died in WWI (Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman, May 30, 1993). On April 25th, 1920, the Salt Lake Herald published an artist’s rendering of a proposed iron bridge that would cross City Creek at 7th Avenue. A similar proposal was suggested by G. A. Iverson of Northeast Bench Improvement Association on May 24th, 1920 (Salt Lake Telegram). The bridge was to be part of a proposed memorial WWI war dead at what is now Memory Grove. By the end of 1920, the Gold Star Mothers had purchased 300 trees and planted them near the mouth of the canyon (Salt Lake City Tribune and Goodman, July 31st, 1994). On November 5th, 1920, a subcommittee of the City Planning Committee, including Mayor Clarence Neslen, outlined plans to create a new park at the canyon’s mouth (later Memory Grove) and to turn City Creek Canyon into a large park (Salt Lake Telegram). By 1926, Mrs. E. O. Howard, a Gold Star Mother, raised 60,000 USD from private donations, a state appropriation and contributions from the city and county for the park and Memorial House construction (Salt Lake Tribune and C. Monson, Sept. 16, 1994; Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman July 31st, 1994), or about the equivalent of 830,000 USD in 2017. The Memorial House was to be constructed by renovating the abandoned Salt Lake City Waterworks maintenance shed. On December 17, 1926, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that a mature horse chestnut tree, that was being dug up at the corner of 100 South and 300 East, was being donated and relocated to Memory Grove Park in City Creek Canyon. On May 30th, 1927, Governor George Dern (grandfather to actor Bruce Dern and great-grandfather to actress Laura Dern) dedicated a monument to the Mormon Battalion at the southeast corner of the Utah State Capitol grounds that overlooks lower City Creek Canyon and Memory Grove (Monument plaque visited May 2017). The sculpture was rendered by Chicago artist Gilbert Riswold (id).

Memory Grove Park was constructed in increments from 1920 through 1927, and Memorial House served as the meeting place and wedding chapel for the Gold Star Mothers for several decades thereafter (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1993). In 1920 and 1924, trees were planted (Salt Lake Herald, April 16, 1920; Salt Lake Telegram, April 15, 1924). On June 14, 1926, the Memorial House was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 27th, 1926, a tablet containing the names of 732 Utahans killed in WWI was unveiled (Salt Lake Telegram, June 24th, 1926). In a March 1927 ceremony, Gold Star Mothers R. W. Fisher and Clesson Kinney noted the contributions of “Mayor Nelsen, Councilman Crabb, Mr. Slater of Liberty Park, Mr. Parkinson of the U.S. Forest Service” to the park’s creation (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31st, 1994). On October 8, 1927, the Austin Artillery Memorial was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). The Austin Artillery Memorial, an obelisk to the north of the pink meditation chapel, commemorates Capt. James Austin and three other Utah officers who were killed in the Argonne Forest during WWI (Salt Lake City Tribune and Dawn House, May 26, 2003). During this period, the Rotary Club constructed the related Rotary Club park at miles 4.5 and 5.5 of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram, August 17, 1927).

Riswold sculpted the art deco female reliefs on the columns at the entrance to the Grove. They set the grove’s tone. In a west relief, a Grecian clothed mother looks over her shoulder to a military cross in the background. Riswold also did the sphinxes on the entrance to the Masonic Temple near 700 East South Temple (Utah Capitol Preservation Board 2017). In 1932, a second round greek style structure was added to the south of meditation chapel. It holds an octagonal bronze plaque that lists about 732 Utahans killed in WWI (Plaque visited 2017).

On April 2nd, 1935, Gold Star Mother E. O. Howard of the Salt Lake Gold Star Mothers Committee presented the Committee’s opposition to a City Street Department Plan to build a bridge across City Creek Canyon above Memory Grove (Salt Lake Telegram). They supported a plan to build stone stairs on the east side of Memory Grove to the Avenues.

World War II saw the addition of other monuments. On July 28th, 1948, the war dead chapel was dedicated at Memory Grove in front of a crowd of 10,000 (Salt Lake Tribune and John Ure, November 9th, 1997). This is the pink granite chapel in the center of the park. The Memorial Chapel was donated by the family of Ross Beason Jr., a pilot killed off the coast of Italy in WWII, but whose body was not found (House 2003). The Beason family dedicated the Memorial Chapel to all soliders whose bodies were never found (id). A step leading to the Chapel reads “In memory of 42 brave sailors who followed me to their death. C.A. ‘Red’ Beam, USN (ret.).” Beam dedicated the step in memory of his platoon that was wiped out, except for himself, during a WWI raid on Tarawa Island (House 2003). This step could not be found in 2017. 1,405 Utahans died or were missing in action in WWII (United States Military Archives 2017).

In May 1983, the park was damaged during a 100 year flood of City Creek. On February 3, 1991, the City Parks Department considered proposals to renovate the then abandoned Memorial House in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On October 4th, 1994, the Utah Heritage Foundation reopened the renovated Memorial House, where its offices remains today (Salt Lake Tribune, October 16th, 1994). On November 9th, 1997, the Memory Grove Foundation announced its plans to raise $500,000 to renovate war memorials in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 9th, 1999, the successful completion of the Memory Grove Foundation’s program to repair monuments in City Creek Canyon was reported (Salt Lake Tribune). On August 11, 1999, trees in the park were substantially destroyed by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1999).

On September 24th, 1999, Rep. Ralph Becker announced a $250,000 grant from the Metropolitan Water Conservancy District to rehabilitate Memory Grove following its destruction by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune and Jim Woolf, Sept. 24th, 1999). On September 30th, 1999, City Director of Public Utilities LeRoy Hooten, Jr. announced the construction of a six-by-six foot concrete pond near Memory Grove in which dogs can wade (Salt Lake Tribune). Dogs entering City Creek’s stream have quadrupled the coliform count. On July 20st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith noted that a gate had been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune).

In 2003, a Korean War Dead monument was added to the park (Plaque visited 2017). (The Vietnam era memorial is on the west capitol lawn. The Iraq Afghanistan war memorial is in Cedar City, Utah.) 141 Utahans died in Korea (Salt Lake Tribune. Apr. 25, 2013). 370 Utahans died in Vietnam (Virtual Wall). Through 2010, an unofficial count for Iraq and Afghanistan was 39.

A stone monument listing 6 Utah Medal of Honor recipients was also added. Recipients include George E. Wahlen, after whom the Salt Lake Veteran’s Hospital is named. Medic Wahlen was shot several times during the Battle for Iwo Jima such that he was unable to walk. Nonetheless he crawled across a battlefield under enemy fire to give assistance to other wounded soldiers. Whalen survived. George T. Sakato, a member of the WWII Nisei battalion led a charge against repeated enemy attacks. Brian Miles Thacker, still living, defended Firebase 6 in Vietnam as it was being overrun by North Vietnam regulars. He stayed behind and provided cover fire that allowed all other base members and wounded to evacuate. He evaded the NVA as the base was overrun and made his way back to US held territory through hostile ground. Jose F. Valdez’s WWII platoon of six was attacked by German tank. Valdez drove the tank off using only a carbine. The German army counter attacked with two companies (160-500 men). Valdez volunteered to and stayed behind to hold off the attack, allowing his platoon mates to escape. He was shot more than once, but still managed to evade capture and return to US lines. Valdez later died from his wounds sustained in the counter attack.

Battle deaths, meaning military deaths on both sides of a conflict plus collateral civilian deaths, were: WWI, 17 million; WWII, 60 million; Korea, 1.2 million; and Vietnam, 2 million (Lacina and Gelditsch 2005), or a total of about 80 million persons.

On February 1st, 2011, the Salt Lake Rotary Club, who built Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon in 1921 and who renovated the Ottinger Hall in 2005, the former fireman’s association meeting house near Memory Grove, celebrated its 100th anniversary (Salt Lake Tribune and Mike Gorrell, Feb. 1st, 2011). Ottinger Hall is now a youth center.

In counterpoint to the Memory Grove memorial to war dead, Salt Lake City hosts another unique memorial indirectly related to the non-combatant victims of war: the International Peace Gardens in Jordan Park at 1000 South and 900 West. The Peace Garden was conceived in 1939 by Mrs. Otto Wiesley and the Salt Lake Council of Women as a beautification project for the 1947 Utah Centennial (Salt Lake Council of Women 2017). Construction was halted by WWII, resumed in 1947 after the end of WWII, and the peace garden was dedicated in 1952. The garden contains monuments donated by 28 different countries. The United States’ “Peace on Earth” statute in the gardens features heroic images of mothers that was created by Mormon sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks. The statute is dedicated to “the hope we can leave a more peaceful future to our children.” Inscriptions on the statute read “Our Hope to the Children”, “Peace on Earth”, and “The Dawn of a New Era”. After the 2002 Winter Olympics, 84 “Peace Poles” were installed at the entrance to the gardens: one for each country participating in the winter Olympics. (Other sources list 78 countries as participating in the 2002 olympics.) There are about 156 similar peace gardens and another 146 larger peace parks around the world (peace.maripo.com)

Political scientist J. R. Rummel of the University of Hawaii (d. 2014) specialized in systematically counting civilian non-battle deaths – those deaths in conflicts not between two states – and he total an astounding 262,000,000 losses from 1900 to 1999 (Rummel, 1994, 1997, 2002). Examples include the Khmer Rouge in the 1970 and Stalin in the 1930s. The world population increased by 5.5 billion persons between 1900 and 1999, that is the net of live births less deaths. Therefore, Rummel’s 262 million represent at at most 5 percent of all persons alive during that century. Using more sophisticated estimates, some experts place the figure at less than 1 percent of all persons who were alive during the twentieth century.

Many more days are devoted in the United States to remembering military battle dead as compared to civilian battle dead, other civilian victims of conflict violence or life in general. Memorial Day is one of the three official United States’ holidays that are related to war and the solemn remembrance of war dead: Memorial Day (May 30th), Independence Day (July 4th), and Veterans Day, (November 11th). Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day that remembered the war dead of World War I, and four other days are now observed primarily by the United States military: Pearl Harbor Day (December 7th) marks the beginning of World War II; the less well-known Armed Forces Day (May 21st); D-Day (June 6th) marks the landing of allied forces on the French coast; and V-J Day marks the end of World II (September 2nd). German Remembrance Day, the German day for remembering war dead, is observed annually around November 14th at Fort Douglas cemetery at the monument to 41 German WWII prisoners of war who died in Utah. From the view of First Peoples, Columbus Day (October 9th) marks the beginning of Euro-American genocide against native Americans and is also a day of remembrance. From the view of United States working people, Labor Day (September 4th), celebrates a compromise that ended violent conflict between labor and upper classes. Although not widely observed in the United States, International May Day celebrations began in Chicago in 1886 with celebration of labor’s declaration for the eight-hour work day, but was quickly followed by the violence of the Haymarket Massacre on May 4th. Today, it is observed worldwide as a day commemorating the struggle between labor and capital.

In contrast to the seven days commemorating war dead, two unofficial and one official United States holiday celebrates life and nature: Earth Day (April 22nd), Arbor Day (April 27th), and Christmas near the first day of winter. These are supplemented by two other unofficial days related to the movement of life through the seasons: the first day of spring and autumn. No official United States holiday commemorates civil battle dead or other civilian victims of conflict violence. In 1981, the United Nations established the International Day of Peace on September 21st of each year (United Nations, 1981). Small observations around the globe are coordinated by the International Peace Day organization.

* * * *

On May 29th, 2009, Utah Governor John Huntsman, county Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker held a press conference in City Creek Canyon to announce a new planning process administered by Envision Utah called “Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow” (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 29th, 1993, James R. Cook, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, proposes to transform Traverse Ridge at the south end of Salt Lake Valley into a nature reserve similar to City Creek Canyon at the north end of the valley. (By 2017, Traverse Ridge was transformed in a luxury subdivision). On May 29th, 1914, City officers visited the newly completed City-Creek Wasatch Boulevard in anticipation of its opening on May 30th (Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake Tribune). City Creek Canyon Road has been widened to Pleasant Valley (id).

May 18, 2017

May 14th

Filed under: Ants, Cricket, European earwig, Maple tree, People, Pleasant Valley, Raptor, Spider, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 4:32 pm

First Cricket

2:30 p.m. In the lower canyon, there are no butterflies except for one dusky brown and no songbirds. The song birds have moved to the warmer air at Pleasant Valley, and there I hear six or seven calling unseen from the groves. The first cricket of the season is heard at the lower field in Pleasant Valley. In two months, their chorus will be as loud as the song birds. Near mile 0.4, in the disease hollowed-out base of a 50 foot tall Red maple tree, a 1.5 millimeter black and brown spider has spun a web over the hollow’s entrance. A live victim struggles in its web. At the edges of the road, several one-half inch odd black bugs are active. They have a many-segmented abdomen and small pincers near their tails. These are immature European earwigs (Forficula auricularia). At the slightest disturbance, they bolt beneath rotting leaves. They have come to feed on smaller insects, like aphids. Three small black-winged ants are also dispersed evenly along the first mile. These may be male Carpenter ants searching for a new queen.

It is Mother’s Day and the canyon road, normally frequented by runners and ultra-bicyclists, is full of the unfit. The obese and elderly enjoy the canyon with more attention to their surroundings than the racers. After a clear and sunny morning, the evening canyon is overcast. The stream runs at maximum; the flood retention pond is within four feet of cresting the road even though this is not a flood year; and water streams five or six inches smoothly above the rock barrier that makes the pond at picnic site 5. As an experiment, I through progressively larger junks of wood into the swift moving waters, and from this the stream moves at an estimated twelve to fifteen miles per hour, about the speed of a bicycle on flat terrain. A bicyclist returning at a leisurely pace from the end of the road at mile 5.75 can run parallel to the same drop of stream water for one-half hour. On my United States Geological Service map for the canyon, the two ridgelines on either side of the canyon are collectively labelled the “Salt Lake Salient”, i.e. – a piece of land that juts out at an angle. In this case, the canyon and its two ridgelines jut out a forty-five degree angle from the larger wall of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and this northern salient defines the upper end of the Salt Lake Valley. At its southern end, another salient, the Traverse Ridge, juts out at a right angle, and it marks the valley’s lower end. Both are generated by earthquake faults, but in the case of City Creek, the fault line partially runs down the middle of the salient. Unlike Traverse Ridge, this allowed water to gain a foothill, to split the salient in two, and to crave out the cooler canyon below.

This evening, along the western ridgeline about a third of a mile away, a flock of 10 unidentified raptors are soaring on the wall’s updraft. They are two distant to identify, and over the next ten minutes, the recede up-canyon until the small points of their bodies can no longer be seen against the grey sky.

On May 14th, 1903, E. H. Airis sued the City to prevent it from diverting City Creek Canyon water such that Airis would not longer have irrigation water (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 14th, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald reported several active mines in City Creek Canyon (May 14, 1896).

April 19, 2017

April 17th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 2:45 pm

Squirrel Hole

1:30 p.m. Today’s overcast skies keeps temperatures in the sixties, but overnight temperatures for the last two days have been above freezing overnight. As a result, the stream is again running at its highest, as measured by its water mark on the Zen Rock (January 4th). At Guardhouse Gate, the three mature horsechestnut trees bloom together. To mile 0.2 along the road, the Gambel’s oaks are starting to bloom. They, like the river birch, have a small compound tubular inflorescence of about twenty ovaries. Along the roadway for the first mile, numerous herbaceous plants that have stalks and leaves arranged like corn have grown about one-foot tall. What will they become? At mile 1.2 above picnic site 8, a Red maple tree has blossomed. The radiating blossoms are similar to the green blossoms of the Box Elder tree, but in the maple, they are dusky red in color.

Going down-canyon near mile 0.4, I hear scurrying on the road bank and catch a glimpse of a young Rock squirrel. I have often wondered where their burrows are, and today, above picnic site 5, I find a three or for inch diameter burrow hole on the west side of the road bank. There is fresh dirt around the entrance. I mark this site (40°47.889′ N, 111°52.420′ W) for watching. Perhaps I can confirm its inhabitant is a squirrel.

The parking lot is full, but the today only holds bicyclists.

* * * *

On April 17th, 1991, residents in Memory Grove sought closure of Canyon Road to reduce “cruising” traffic (Deseret News). On April 17th, 1900, city prison labor is used to build the boulevard around City Creek, now Bonneville Drive (Salt Lake Tribune).

January 16, 2017

January 15th

River Birch Rivendell

(Originally October 20th) 3:30 p.m. Rivendell was the mythical land of the elfin in Tolken’s “Lord of the Rings.” The canyon’s Rivendell is a short stretch of stream located about 100 feet along a trail at the end of the picnic site 11. There the stream runs slow, flat and wide across moss laden rocks. The stream banks is covered in dense scouring rush horsetails and is surrounded by ten to fifteen river birches with green and yellow leaves. The trail runs parallel to and about 20 feet north of the stream. The trail is overhung by less water tolerant Rocky Mountain maples with bright red leaves. The trail itself is covered in a patchwork of fallen Red Maple and yellow River Birch and Box Elder leaves. Shafts of low-angle afternoon sunlight pierce through the upper branches of trees and illuminate parts of the stream. Black-Hooded Chickadees flit between nearby branches.

From this canyon Rivendell, the trail winds parallel to the road through moves groves of horsetails until it opens into the northeast end of Pleasant Valley.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 15th, he again sees numerous fleas on top of winter snow. On January 16th, 1857, he describes how a winter sparrow’s song lifts his spirits, and he sees tracks of mice on top of winter snow.

On January 15th, 1926, the University Hiking Club announced a planned hike to the top of Black Mountain and then to slide down over the snow in City Creek (Utah Daily Chronicle).

December 11, 2016

December 11th

Filed under: Colors, Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, milepost 1.5, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:17 pm

Rain Drops and the Half Black Tube

3:00 p.m., December 10th, 2016. The clouds from last night have thickened and it has rained for most of the afternoon. The half-day of rain has created new color contrasts in the canyon. As I drive to the gate and at the 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive turn, hues from the grasses on the west slope of the lower canyon have turned from a bleached light-tan to a golden-brown. They contrast with the Gambel’s oak that have turned coal black from the soaking. This effect continues up canyon as I jog under my rain poncho up to the oak forest at milepost 1.5. The first mile is a “half-tube” of black oaks on the north and west side of the road. Compare the green tube (comment, Nov. 11th), the yellow tube (Oct. 11th), the brown tube (Oct. 24th) and the white tube (Nov. 24th). At mile 1.3, again the maple trees high on the south slope that retain some brown-orange leafs have a good contrast with the now wet dark tan hillside (November 19th). But the Gambel’s oaks show more subtle colors. The tips of the groves are tinged red-brown and the green of the lichen is emphasized. For some oak groves, the lower trunk is soaked black, the mid-trunk remains a dry gray, the upper third is green with lichens, and the top is reddish-brown. But from a distance, these subtleties are lost, and the groves look a deep black. In just a few days, the orange lichens near picnic site 9 (December 6th) have reverted back to a greenish color.

On closer inspection, the reddish-tinge at the oak grove’s fringes are this year’s new sprig growth. Each sprig is a light brown color, as compared to the grey of the trunk, branches and smaller twigs. The sprigs contain the unopened buds that are ready for next year’s resurrection.

The buds are discontinuities on the smooth twigs and sprigs. Here the water collects into small droplets that contain miniature inverted images of the hillside in the distance. The size of the twigs are such that water tension prevents droplets forming along its length. Further down the canyon, the smaller and smoother twigs of the red dogwood bushes allow water to retain sufficient tension that the droplets form like beads along all of that species horizontal twigs.

The rain is light and the droplets are large. I stop at the pool at picnic site 6 and watch the sporadic droplets make large expanding ripples on the surface. The drops and their expanding ripple circles cover more than one-half the pool, interfere with each other, cancel one another, and then fade out of existence. This type of experience inspired thought experiments by physicists that led to the modern understanding of the dual nature of light a particle and a wave.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 11th, 1855, Thoreau revels about winter nature and states that, “[w]inter with its snow is no evil to be corrected.”

November 22, 2016

November 22nd

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Cottonwood tree, Maple tree, picnic site 3, Plants, River birch — canopus56 @ 10:19 pm

Broken Arrow

Noon. After a night of heavy cold rain, at picnic site 3, there is a new fallen thirty-foot tall maple tree that still retains its brown leaves. This is probable the same species of tree that still retain their brown leaves along the shadowed south ridge wall at mile 1.1. Unlike its relatives that grow vertically, this maple grew at a sixty degree angle in order to avoid the shade of an adjacent eighty-foot tall narrowleaf Mountain cottonwood and a fifty foot tall Boxelder tree. The angle of its growth is the undoing of the maple. With the recent snow and rain, the leaves became soaked, and the maple snapped about five feet above the ground. The eight-inch diameter trunk at the fresh break looks healthy and no disease is apparent. The weight of the water soaked leaves was just too much of the tree’s design, given that it was growing at an angle.

Many trees in the canyon grow at a similar angle, such as the River or water birches, but they and many other trees lose their leaves earlier in the year and before first snowfall (see October 24th). In addition to the reduction in light, this broken maple suggests another agent of natural selection that directs trees to lose their leaves earlier in the year – snowfall. Trees that do not lose their leaves are more susceptible to losing branches.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 22nd, 1853, he notes geese migrating south. On November 22nd, 1860, Thoreau notes how the Fall light makes branches and twigs to seemingly glow.

November 3, 2016

November 3rd

Helicopter Seeds

5:00 p.m. After a major storm on October 31st that involved wind gusts up to thirty-five miles per hour, today parts of the road are still covered in the lobe shaped seeds of Boxelder trees. The seeds are about three-sixteenths (4mm) in diameter, but are attached at the end of a half-inch “wing”. Overall, the seed and wing give the impression of a musical note. The seeds hang in symmetrical pairs on a catkin, a collection of about twenty seeds. Along the road in the first mile, there are many of Boxelders up to fifty feet in height that are covered in catkins. I walk up to one to pull a couple of seeds off, and each seed is surprisingly still strongly attached to its catkin, even though the tree is leafless. I can see why it took thirty-five mile per hour winds to dislodge the seeds that are on the road. I raise one above my head let it go. It starts to rotate quickly and like its cousin, the maple seed, it “helicopters” down to the ground. Testing several Boxelder seeds, they travel an average trajectory at about thirty degrees from vertical. As any middle or high school geometry student can tell you using a 30-60-90 degree right triangle, this means that a seed released from the top of a fifty foot tree might travel twenty-five feet horizontally from its parent tree. This is just enough to land outside the canopy of the mother tree.

During a wind gusts on October 27th, as I jogging past Boxelders near picnic site 6, a few of these “helicopters” would dislodge and float down will a light rain. One was freed from the highest branch by a first gust of wind, and as it floated to eye level, a second wind gust blew through. With that burst of wind, the helicoptering seeds stopped in mid-air and rose slightly, but as the gust diminished, it resumed its descent to the road.

Until relatively recently, the aerodynamics of these flying seeds was a mystery. Using the same principles of flight that govern birds and jetliners, the seeds should technically not float or “helicopter” slowly to the ground. The seeds should drop like a stone. Solving that mystery also explained other instances of creatures that should not fly and should not be able to hover, including several found in the canyon, i.e. – bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds.

In 1991, Lentink at Wageningen University of the Netherlands, Dickson and their colleagues determined that helicoptering maple seeds had a different mechanism of flight than that used by bird or man. As the seed helicopters, the leading edge of the seed’s wing generates a small, horizontal tubular vortex over the wing. This generates a low-pressure vacuum that lifts or sucks the seed upward. Unlike a bird, the wing has no familiar aerodynamic lifting shape. In normal flight like that of a bird or airplane, a smooth laminar flow over a wing’s special shape, similarly generates low-pressure above the wing, and the relatively higher pressure under the wing then lifts the wing and plane or bird into the sky. These horizontal vortices are called leading edge vortices or LEVs.

You may have seen analogous vortices when using a paddle in the water, when moving your arms while standing a pool, or when a plane lands through fog. Horizontal vortices form off the tips of paddles, your arms, or the tips of an airplane’s wing. In the case of the seed, a spinning vortex forms over the entire length of the wing’s flat surface.

In 1996, Ellington of the Vrije University in the Netherlands and his colleagues extended this concept to explain how many insects, like bees, moths and butterflies, can fly when aerodynamically, they should be unable to do so. They found the beating wings of moths generating the same leading edge vortices seen in helicoptering maple seeds. In 2000, Z. Jane Wang at New York University modelled flapping insects wing and noted that for some insects, two counter-rotating vortices are formed. One is a higher pressure vortex under the wing and it pushes up, and the second is a lower pressure vortex that “sucks” the insect up. In 2001, Lauder at the Harvard University built mechanical insect wings in order to better model the leading edge vortices. In 2004, Adrian Thomas at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues studied dragonflies tethered inside wind tunnels, and they imaged the counter-rotating leading edge vortices (id. Fig. 11). In 2011, Liang and colleagues at Purdue University built mechanical wings with rigid veins similar to those seen in both Boxelder seeds and dragonfly wings, and they found that the ridge veins increased flight performance.

Wasps, bees and dragonflies have a different number of wings. Wasps only have two wings; dragonflies and bees have four. Bees have smaller fore-wings that lock into the larger back wings to form a single wing surface during normal flight. Only the dragonfly has two sets of independently moving wings, and only it moves the wings out-of-phase: while one wings goes up, the other flaps down. The dragonfly can rotate the angle of attack for each wing independently. In 2008, Z.J. Wang noted that the out-of-phase beating gives the dragonfly additional-enhanced lift. These results of Ellington, Lauder, Wang and Thomas give a clearer picture of how the dragonflies seen in the canyon hover and do their amazing acrobatic maneuvers (August 11th).

In 2005, Warrick at the University of Oregon and colleagues showed how hummingbirds also use leading edge vortices to feed while hovering in front of flowers.

In conclusion, the canyon currently hosts many examples of where nature has solved the problem of flight and hovering using leading edge vorticies instead of a bird’s flapping aerofoils or man’s propellers: Boxelder seeds, maple seeds, Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, red-rumped central bumble bees, Bald-faced hornets, Black-chinned hummingbirds, and several moths, butterflies and other flying insects. The first dragonflies, the massive Protodonata with 30 inch wingspans, appeared in the fossil record 325 million years ago. Flowering trees first began to dominate forests in the Cretaceous period beginning 145 million years ago, and they co-evolved with bees. Hummingbirds appeared 22 million years ago (McGuire et al. 2014).

Today in the canyon, even though the Boxelders where hammered by the strong winds, only a small fraction of their catkins were dislodged. Most Boxelders are still thick with seeds, and I can still look forward to more future showers of helicoptering seeds on windy days.

October 15, 2016

October 15th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Maple tree, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:18 pm

Sex and the Single Box Elder

5:00 p.m. Last night there was a large wind storm, and on this weekend day it is very warm. As a consequence, the parking lot is packed and the canyon is full of strolling families, couples and bicyclists. But from the guardhouse gate to mile 0.9, the yellow tube is gone (Oct. 11th). In this lower part of the road, narrowing canyon walls create a Bernoulli wind-tunnel effect (Aug. 18th). The fast winds of last night have scoured the Box elder trees and Rocky Mountain maples bare of leaves and deposited them in large carpets on the road. The helicopter shaped seed catkins of the Box elders remain affixed to the trees. Between mile 0.9 and 1.1, the yellow tube remains. At mile 0.9, the canyon widens, the wind tunnel effect is less, and last night’s winds did not have enough force to strip the trees of leaves.

Box elder trees space themselves along the road. They are in clumps of four or five, then an open space, followed by another clump. Oddly, the Box elders alternate pregnancy. One clump has catkins and next does not, and so on along the road. Is this some way that the Box elder’s use to increase genetic diversity and to avoid incest? If so, since they are too far apart to communicate by root-touch, how do they decide which will play “female” and which will play “male” each season?

October 6, 2016

October 4th

Filed under: Colors, Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, Sounds, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:33 pm

Fallen Leaves

 

4:30 p.m. For several days, overnight temperatures have fallen into the 40s and now 30s, and two nights, it has rained overnight. The effect on the Gambel’s oaks and insects is profound.

Gambel’s oaks, in just one or two days, have significantly turned. Some are still largely green; others largely yellow. Between those two color extremes, the variance is large. One grove near picnic site 11 has all of its leaves turned yellow, but other oaks at the southwest end of the meadow have turned only ten or twenty-percent. Others have turned seventy or eighty percent. The cold has also affected the maples. On the south face of the canyon at mile 1.3, the dominant tree is the maple, and a few days ago the face was a dusky red-orange from the maples’ leaves. The south face has been that color since September 13th, but now, in large patches of maples, all the leaves have fallen, again almost overnight. When looking south from the road and over the patches of green Gambel’s oaks or yellow turned oaks, the color in the distance is the often a slate grey of the leafless maples. Walking between milepost 1.5 and mile 1.7, one is treated to all the combinations of a tan grass foreground, a yellow or green middle-ground, and a red or grey background.

Like after the passing of the previous fall storm, today is a day of recovery for insects. The loud chorus of crickets heard on September 29 is gone, and perhaps five or ten hardy individuals still sing. On October 3rd, the ground was still drying and a brisk wind blew across the meadow at mile 1.3. Then the crickets were silent. Standing in the middle of the meadow and without the crickets, loudest sound was the dry grass rustling under the brisk wind.

When walking through this meadow, it is common to flush out small sparrows that either nest or feed amongst the tall grass. But these sparrows are fast, and I have been unable to get a detailed view of them, sufficient to make an identification.

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