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 20th

Summer

First Day of Summer

External Link to Image

Comparison of City Creek Canyon Road near Mile 1.1 in Winter on November 24th and on the First Day of Summer, June 20th.

6:00 p.m. It is nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit on this first day of summer. Although this is the longest day of the year, and the amount of total light is four times the amount of light that occurs on the winter solstice (March 21st), this is usually not the hottest day of the year. The Earth continues to absorb the sun’s heat by melting at the poles, and thus, the hottest days of the year with 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit are lagged by three or four weeks to the end of July. But the recent heat wave is an unusual preview of the coming summer hottest days. Today, and more typical of late July, the heat boils the water from the land, and in the afternoon, great cumulus clouds rise and re-deposit the day’s water during the cool of the evening. As I approach the canyon, the sky to the west is gray and boiling. The bottom of the cloud layer swirls in confused eddies and circles. Winds rage and the trees wave back and forth as if they are in a current below the surface of the ocean. Only the large Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia) hover in the strong breeze. The whitetail’s are misnamed; their tails are more often black. From the safety of the leaf screened branches, Song sparrows, Chirping sparrows and Black-headed grosbeaks call. First, the air smells of summer, but then it mixes with the rain primed, fresh moisture. Small spatters fall, and then a brief deluge comes. Runners on the road, including myself, jog without their shirts on. The afternoon storm passes, the air clears, and all is renewed.

Along the first mile road, Milkweed plants have grown large, fecund seed heads.

* * * *

Although Thoreau declares summer to begin informally on June 1st (see his “Journal” on June 1st, 1853), astronomically summer begins on June 20th. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 20th, 1840, he sees mica particles glittering in sand. On June 20th, 1852, he notes blue-eyed grass flowers are closed in the before sunset, and he hears an American Bittern drumming on wood. He notes that grass fields are red tinged because the grass has gone to seed. On June 20th, 1853, he sees meadow-sweet flower and water lilies. During a full Moon walk, he admires how water reflects black under moonlight. He encounters a skunk. He notes that elm leaves and trunks have the same hue under moonlight.

* * * *

On June 20th, 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published a historical article on George Ottinger, founder of Salt Lake’s fire department and later in the early 1900s, Salt Lake City’s Superintendent of Waterworks. He lived in an adobe house on 3rd Avenue and E Street. As a young man, Ottinger was an adventurer. He traveled as a sailor to China, Hawaii, the Indonesian Islands, and Panama, before returning for a late California Gold Rush (id). Omitted from this article is Ottinger’s witnessing of the last 1887 lynching of a man in downtown Salt Lake City. On June 20th, 1999, Utah Jazz assistant coach Mark McKown was injured while speeding down City Creek Canyon a bicycle (Salt Lake Tribune). He was accompanied by Utah Jazz star basketball player Karl Malone. On June 20th, 1998, City Creek Canyon was closed for three days after torrential rains caused a mudslide (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 20th, 1908, City Engineer L.C. Kesley budgeted 9,000 USD to extend an iron pipeline from State Street to City Creek Canyon Road and 50,000 USD for a distributing reservoir in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). On June 20th, 1896, ore samples taken from the Willard Weihe claim in the Washington mine group, 1.5 miles north of Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon, assayed at 94 and 84 USD per ton (Salt Lake Herald).

October 25, 2016

October 25th

Filed under: Cattails, Milk Weed, picnic site 6, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

A Cat’s Tale

5:15 p.m. Today, a Tuesday, has been a warm, almost summer, day with clear skies. On the canyon road, there are about twenty-five walkers and runners, but only two cars with hunters. At milepost 1.5 and looking south, the foreground trees and background trees on the slope are all grey, with only four exceptions. Nonetheless, against the deepening turquoise sky, the leafless Pleasant Valley has its own appeal.

Jogging up canyon, I pass a small marsh below picnic site 6 on the west side of the road. The two stands of common cattails (Typha latifolia L.) in the canyon have almost turned completely brown. Some green remains at their bases. The first stand fills the flood retention pond where City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive. There the cattails are over six feet tall and are capped by foot long spikes. The second is a small stand of four plants in a small seep marsh where the road bends just south of picnic site 6. The few cattails here stand in here against two unidentified shrubs: the leaves of one are deep purple, and the other a dark wine red.

In the 1980s and 1990s, this used to be one of my favorite places in the lower canyons. This mini-marsh was thick with cattails, but in the early 2000s, a City front loader came in, scoured the ground clean, and removed the cattail grove. The City may have been concerned that the marsh was retaining too much water, and the water would seep underneath, the water would freeze and then destroy the road with winter heave. Now, fifteen years later, a few cattails have found their way back into the marsh, along with, Utah milkweed Utah milkweed, a less dramatic version of the common Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and a large grove of western poison ivy. Birds have probably carried the seeds the approximately seven-tenths of a mile between the flood retention pond at the canyon’s mouth and the seep. In another ten years, I hope to see the full cattail grove restored.

The common cattail is a world-spanning plant. University of New Mexico botanist H. D. Harrington, in his classic book “Edible Plants of the Rocky Mountains”, describes the many ways this edible plant can be used. The early shoots can be eaten raw and added to salads; the early tubular flower stalks can be boiled; pollen can be shaken from the mature flower tubes and the pollen is used as a flour; and, the mature roots can be leeched and then boiled like potatoes. The root tuber has such a high starch content that it causes illness if eaten without preparation. The tuber needs to be chopped and leeched of part of its starch, which leaves enough starch behind that cattail root is similar to a potato. And as noted here previously, cattail groves provide shelter and a hunting ground favored by hummingbirds (August 1st). After finishing today’s jog at the flood retention pond, I try to pull a cattail out of the marsh bottom. It breaks near the surface but brings out part of the root tuber. The tuber is a reflective, bright white, and the white appears similar to the children’s paste which is also made almost entirely of starch. I will have to return with a shovel in order to extract one.

September 23, 2016

September 23rd

Contrasts in Color

5:30 p.m. Yesterday’s storm and cold continues through most of today, and it still rains during this afternoon’s jog. The storm is driven by a low pressure system that has stopped directly over Salt Lake City and the canyon. The clouds that soaked me last night have had time to travel around the circular storm track, and I feel same clouds that soaked me last night have returned for another try.

Some trees respond immediately to the rain and cold. River or water birches (Betula accidentalis H.) turn a bright yellow almost overnight. At the guardhouse gate at mile 0.0, the horsechestnut trees begin to turn. Their leaves become brown around the fringes and the color works towards the center of each leaf. The Gambel’s oaks have begun to turn in response to the cold. When they turn, the leaves go directly to a shriveled tan color.

The rain and diffused overcast light emphasizes the brightest color leaves, and the canyon is a study in color contrasts. The deepest red comes from western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) and a chokecherry tree hidden behind a clump of Gambel’s oaks at picnic site 10. At that location, a sole Box Elder tree has also half turned, and with one-half green and one-half yellow leaves, the tree stands out with a bright light green hue. The brightest red-orange comes from a few select maples. A light blue and light purple are found in a few remaining roadside weeds, including some tansyasters. The brightest yellows come from two immature narrow leaf cottonwood trees and clumps of dried milkweed stalks. Most larger cottonwoods have not yet begun to turn.

It rains continuously through the night and into the half of the next day.

 

September 20, 2016

August 31st

Peak Production

6:30 p.m. The canyon has passed its peak productivity. In the first two miles of the canyon, all the red fruit of a chokecherry bush (Prunus virginiana L.) has ripened to a dark purple. Box elder trees (Acer negundo L.) hang heavy with their helicopter seed pods. The white fruit of an unidentified berry bush extrudes vanilla smelling juice when squeezed. All thistles have bloomed into hairy grey tufts. Gambel’s oaks are dropping numerous acorns on the road. green crabapple trees, planted by the pioneers every third of a mile, are ripening fruit. Horsechestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) are full of their green spiked seeds. Where is City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive, the mud flat in the stormwater pond is filled with 8 foot tall cattails (Typha latifolia L.) that are beginning to bloom. Along the pipeline trail, only one or two small birds are heard.

At meadows, grasses and weeds are parched varying shades of tan to dark brown. At one seep near mile 1.3, trees at its top are green and healthy while at the bottom all the water has been taken from the ground and the manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos manzanita P.) are shriveled. Even for healthy Gambel’s oaks and cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia James or Mountain Cottonwood), the unrelenting sun has burnt leaves on the top branches a curled brown. To escape the heat, the Box Elder trees on west facing slopes are turning their autumn pale red and light brown. But box elders with an adequate water supply on the canyon bottoms are still green.

Producers having peaked, the reducers now take over. In the scrub oak forest and in the meadows, crickets have multiplied. In the first two miles, I see five adolescent squirrels and hear another five scurrying through the brush. They have begun gathering and storing acorns for the coming winter.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.