City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).


April 9, 2017

April 8th

Filed under: River birch, Wild carrot — canopus56 @ 5:05 pm

Cooperation vs. Competition

3:00 p.m. The promised snow did not arrive, and today is all sun and warmth. The parsley-like plant at the base of trees has grow a radiating head of blooms, and this suggests an identification as Wild carrot (Lomatium dissectum). Small bits of bark have fallen onto the road from some immature trees. The bark reveals the trees’ identification. They are cultivars of eastern Water birch (Betula occidentalis). A glade down canyon from picnic site 6 is visible from the road in a break between the trees. In a small spherical clearing, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, two-pairs of unidentified thrushes chase each other in tight, fast orbits.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 8th, 1852, he notes alder catkins are blooming. On April 8th, 1853, he sees a pine warbler. On April 4th, 1854, he sees a bald eagle harassing a flock of crows. On April 8th, 1859, the roots of a white pine, that he is standing next to, are partially lifted from the ground by the wind. He notes viola, a woodland flower that grows away from water, is shooting up through the leaf litter layering.

* * * *

During the 2014-2015 winter and spring, I recorded and plotted the distribution of several nesting species in Pleasant Valley in the canyon. Different species such as Stellar Jays and chickadees that relied on same Gambel’s oak resource shared an overlapping space. This space sharing was reinforced by predatory birds, such as peregrine falcons. Their behavior suggests cooperative diversity and not unrestrained competition as the optimal behavior that advances the good of the whole. Much can learned by the detailed observation of nature because inherent in watching nature is not only involves the emotional connection to living things. Nature appreciation includes the development of critical thinking skills. Competition is a necessary component in life, but cooperative stability are equally, if not more, important. Thus, even smalls birds in the canyon have lessons to teach us.

The migrating song birds continue to build this seasons’ nests in the canyon and they mate to begin their broods. Between picnic sites 3 and 5, the Gambel’s oak forest on the west side of the road gently slopes uphill and this is favored spot of several species of smaller birds to nest. Here, nature provides an instructive lesson on human affairs with respect to cooperation, competition, and the benefits of diversity. In 2014, Farine at the Oxford and an international team of colleagues observed about 19,000 feeding events by 1,900 laboriously RIF chip tagged birds of four different species of tits at four feeders in rural England. (A fifth specie only had 32 of 1,900 samples). They observed that rather than compete by each species dominating one of the four feeders, birds preferred to live in mixed specie groups of nearly equal proportions at each feeder. Farine et al’s hypothesis was that although costly, the benefit of increased information about resources and predators gained by social living in mixed groups outweighed the costs of increased competition for food and exposure to parasites. The researchers found that this preference for mixed groups held when feeding sites were stressed by the introduction of a fake sparrow hawk predator.

* * * *

In modern Euro-American culture, inequality has again reasserted itself to a level last seen in the late 1800s, and this change is both the cause and effect of a legacy of Darwinian socialism, Lamarckianism and eugenics of the nineteenth century. In the twenty-first century, Darwinian socialism has fused with a distorted view of E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology theory, globalism, and New Chicago School hyper-free market economic theory to foster a commonplace belief that economic and political elites are superior to ordinary people, instead of simple being the beneficiaries of random concentrations of inherited wealth in a semi-chaotic economy. In this new form of Social Darwinism, people believe that through economic competition, a superior class of individuals is created, who culturally transmit supposed superior attributes to their children. Persons with mid- to lower-economic status are expected to defer both economically and politically to this new global-elite, and it has become fashionable to elect economic elites to positions of power on the commonplace theory that “they know how to get things done” and in the mistaken belief that elites will not use such power principally to advance their personal interests and the interests of other elites. Such political and economic cultural consensus about society and economy go in cycles. The first half of the twentieth century in World Wars I and II resolved in a political consensus that favored cooperation and constrained competition guided by the desires of non-elites. Through 2017, that consensus has shifted to belief in hyper-competition and living in a state of constant economic and social disruption is more productive than creating new things and ideas from a base of cooperative stability.

* * * *

On April 8th, 2005, City Councilperson Eric Jorgenson announced plans to renovate the stairs at 4th Avenue and 9th Avenue in City Creek Canyon using monies from the 2002 Winter Olympics Legacy Tax Fund (Deseret News). On April 8th, 1915, local mining magnate William Spry presented a plan to build a causeway from 7th Avenue across City Creek to the State Capitol (Salt Lake Herald). On April 8th, 1913, plans to build a dam in City Creek Canyon were dropped due to a large negative response by residents (Salt Lake Herald). Residents fear that the dam might fail and destroy the city below.

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).

April 3, 2017

March 31st

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

March 27, 2017

March 27th

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part VIII – Water Infrastructure

9:30 a.m. Another great Coriolis effect band of clouds and rain that stretches from central Canada to New Mexico sweeps over the canyon. This is the second in three days, and it rains continuously overnight and into the morning. The canyon freezes overnight. Except for a single gnat, insects are absent. A lone robin and chickadee calls from the thicket far from the road. Some plants respond, but most canyon trees continue their wait for spring’s true warmth. A lone river birch below picnic site 3 blooms, but along the stream, many small birch shots have bloomed and extended small leaves. Service berry bushes are among those that thrive despite the early spring cold. They have bloomed and in the last few days have grown one to one-and-one-half inch leaves. The forest understory is greening first. Whether beneath Box Elder or Gambel’s oak trees, small sucker shoots are blooming with leaves. Their mature parents stay dormant. Near mile 0.1, buds on an unusual tree swell and prepare to open. When sap surged up its grey trunk and branches, the wood’s skin has turned a dull orange. The rain floods the canyon with a pleasing earthy smell.

The events of the last week reveal the pattern of early spring in the canyon. Plants respond primarily to the lengthening of daylight, but insects are waiting for overnight temperatures above fifty and daytime temperatures in the sixties. Days alternate between sun and cold nourishing rain with an overall pattern of increasing temperatures, but an early heat wave fools the insects into an early exit from winter’s hibernation. All wait for the dominate forest trees to swell their buds and to deploy this year’s leaves.

The last few days have also given me a new appreciation for the few water seeps and springs in the first mile of the canyon (January 20th). They are signs of the larger sub-surface migration of water from the surrounding canyon walls and beneath the Gambel’s oak forest. Refreshing rain falls on the high ridges and leeches through the high sandstone layers picking up minerals, and these nutrients then seep underneath the earth to the stream below. Along the way, forest roots dip below to sip the mineral rich broth to obtain the necessary building blocks of life.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 27th, 1842, he sees birches and pines reflecting light as they wave. He watches two fledgling hawks and an eagle. On March 27th, 1853, he notes flowering hazel. On March 27th, 1859, he notes alder trees are in bloom. On Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 28th, 1858, he sees a flock of shelldrakes, a flock of ducks, two dippers, and two herring gulls.

* * * *

The third era of utilization of City Creek Canyon was water infrastructure development. As previously noted (Dec. 27th), City initially developed infrastructure in the canyon between 1870 and the early 1900s. Construction began in 1872 with the installation of an enclosed piped water main up City Creek, dug by City prison labor (Cater, 94). Three enclosed take-off points were developed that went to the business district, Central City, the low Avenues below 6th Avenue, and the Ensign Peak 20th Ward. The “high-line” went from a head gate in City Creek at 5030 feet in elevation to a reservoir in the high Avenues and provided water to the high Avenues district. The “mid-line” went from a head gate at 4712 feet to the low Avenues and Central City districts. A second head gate at 4676 feet went to Capitol Hill and west-side districts. The “low-line” went from a head gate at 4579 feet to serve the business district (Hooten, 21-26; Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 27, 1903). Two take-offs in City Creek from the main pipeline still serve Capitol Hill and the high Avenues. The take-offs are at westbound water line trail at picnic site 4, mile 0.5 at the site of the old Twentieth Ward aqueduct head gate, and a southeast bound line at the red bridge on the south side of the road at mile 0.9, the site of the old mid-line headgate. In 1915, the City completed construction of the 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at the up-canyon east end of Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 2, 1916).

* * * *

On March 27th, 1920, the snow depth at the High Line station in City Creek was 17 inches (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 27th, 1900 in order to increase the City’s water supply, the City Board of Public Works approved the bid of Moran Construction to install a 30 inch iron water main from City Creek Canyon for $61,854 (Salt Lake Herald).

February 22, 2017

February 22nd

Tree Trunks

4:00 p.m. This a year of extremes: on February 21st, the temperature was sixty-six degrees and yesterday and last night and today, after raining for almost ten hours, the temperature has dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. As I enter the canyon, it is snowing, but this is light snow that turns to water when it touches any physical object. The high ridgelines and Pleasant Valley are covered in snow dust, perhaps one-eight of an inch thick, but it will not last. This is the second sign of the coming spring now one month away: The battle between spring overtaking winter (September 22nd) has begun. There are other signs. At Guardhouse Gate, I see my first, fat and healthy Rock squirrel of the season. It runs across the road and is busily inspecting bushes for fresh buds. The constant rain has driven three earthworms on to the road, even though temperatures are freezing. High on the ridgeline near mile 1.1, I see my first mule deer in over a week. Even at this distance, it is skittish; it tentatively comes out of a copse, feeds, and then retreats for cover.

The lichens and mosses are the most responsive to the hours of light rain. Everywhere the orange, yellow and green colors of lichen and mosses have deepened, and a few trees become vibrant flames amongst winter’s brown, grey and white. Black cankers on tree branches that normally turn to dust when touched have become plump, fat and solid with water. It is the time of year for the simplest organisms, for the earliest life.

Tree trunks have so many varieties of forms. Above picnic site 6, some trees are like brothers and sisters. The trunks of two 4 inch diameter immature river birches intertwine in a playful embrace, and they spring from a common root. Next to the River birch, are three immature Box Elder trunks that also rise from the same root. These stand tall and vertical like two brothers. At and down-canyon of picnic site 6, large Mountain cottonwoods have large bulbous galls on their lower trunks, and this is evidence of old attacks by insects, bacteria, and fungi. Other trees in the lower canyon have partially or completely succumbed to age and disease. At picnic site 6, an ancient tree has been broken off to about four feet above the ground and spilt in half. The remnant remaining in the earth is pock marked with with trails and caves of insects that reminds me of the cave houses carved out of volcanic tufa in Cappadocia in Turkey. In the lower canyon, still half-alive cottonwoods have had much of their bark stripped away, and underneath the xylem and heartwood has taken on a sinuous, smooth, yellow texture like human skin. At Pleasant Valley and at picnic sites 9, 7, and 2, dead cottonwood snags are bleached grey-white. Where large trunk stubs are near the road, erosion has exposed their subsurface tap roots, and this reveals a tangle of gnarls that remind of Eastern paintings of nature. An example is below the Red Bridge.

Traveling down-canyon, a familiar pattern appears in the River birches, Box elder and Mountain cottonwood trees that line the stream. Multiple, large, mature trunks sprout from a single root, and at the base, numerous suckers rise. For these trees, the mixture of angled mature trunks and smaller shoots gives the impression of a circular fan opening or a fountain of water rising. In this respect, trees are simply a larger, woody version of the brome grass bunches in Pleasant Valley, further up canyon. I realize that my impression of trees as organisms that are born, grow, have a middle age, and the die is mistaken. Angled older branches grow and fall away, and this gives the young shoots an opportunity to grow and replace them. But both originate from the same tap root, from the same genetic material. In this sense, most of the trees in the lower canyon that surround the stream possess a form of immortality. My misconception of the lives of these trees is the result of my biased exposure to shade trees in the city. Those trees mimic the cultured form of an English oak forest. There, trees are manicured and husbanded as individuals by their human farmers. Those trees do experience an individual birth, a middle age, and a death. But the English form of a forest is only one classical European choice, and here in the canyon, the stream trees pass their lives in a cycle and not along linear time.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 22nd, 1856, he observes the first insects of spring crawling over snow.

On February 22nd, 1910, the City Council debated whether to lease a second gravel pit in lower City Creek (Deseret Evening News). On February 22nd, 1894, an attorney sought permission from the City to hunt a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. Permission was granted and the hunter took a cougar (Salt Lake Herald).

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).

January 12, 2017

January 11th

Filed under: Colors, mile 1.2, Owl, River birch, Smells, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:52 am

Water Birch Bark

3:00 p.m. Temperatures remain in the high forties, and in the morning there is heavy rain shower. Eighty-percent o the snow has been stripped from both canyon walls, and even in the shaded road, the snow is half gone. The air is smells heavy with moisture and the earth. The bark of the river or water birch trees have changed to a light silver color. I compare today’s color with a photograph taken on September 23rd, and during the summer and autumn, the bark of the same tree at picnic site 3 was dark gray.

7:00 p.m. During a second jog in the dark, at mile 1.2 two owls are having a call and response session. I cannot locate them by sound other than to obtain a general direction. Their low-pitched calls travel great distances.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 11th, 1852, he sees green patches of light in overcast sky at sunset. On January 11th, 1859, he records a -22 degree Fahrenheit temperature and hears the frozen ground loudly cracking open. On January 11th, 1861, Thoreau examines the contents of a crow shot by a neighbor in order to during the crow’s diet. He finds apples, berries, acorns, the bones of small animals and a pebble.

December 7, 2016

December 7th

Speckled Snow

1:30 p.m. December 2nd, 2016. Back on December 2nd, I am doing a very slow jog in order to closely scan the trees for birds’ nests. This is a good time of year to look for nests: the trees have lost all of their leaves and the low angle of the afternoon Fall sunlight brings out details that might otherwise be missed. I plan a survey route. I have on December 1st, I jogged the pipeline trail parallel to the road between guardhouse gate and Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. Today, I will jog through the snow covered dirt road and trail along the south side of the canyon between mile 1.2 and the end of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.7, then up the road to mile 2.2, and then back down the road along the pipeline trail that parallels the road on the north side back to mile 1.2. I will end up with another close look at the road between mile 1.2 and the gate.

Jogging along the dirt road and trail between mile 1.2 and 1.7 is hard going because the road is covered in six inches of snow, but it is rewarding. Overnight temperatures have dropped into the teens, and as a result, the surface of fresh snow is covered in the beginnings of surface hoarfrost. The hoar crystals are only between one or three millimeters in size, and this surface reflects the sun in hundreds of thousands of speckled flashes. Although the Moon is new, this same effect is spectacular under a full Moon.

The snow records the movements of unseen birds and mammals. I can easily follow how the deer have come down from the south canyon wall (November 25th), crossed the canyon floor, and started up towards their winter critical grazing fields on the north canyon ridgeline. The movements of smaller mammals that I have seen previous years are also revealed. A hair’s tracks cross the trail and climb up a slope towards the road, but is stopped by a thicket, reverses, comes back down, and then succeeds in its climb by an alternative route. Further on, the tracks of a fox are found and are distinguished by the clear imprints of its small claws. A small, very light bird has landed on the snow and barely made an imprint. It hopped once, turned to the left, and then took off again.

This small half-mile stretch of fresh hoar covered snow is a trivial and faint reminder of experiences in the high Wasatch Front Mountain Range where tracks of such snow can be found for one or two miles. Backcountry skiers hunt for this snow on slopes that drop a thousand feet or more. It has a unique sound and feel. It does crackle or crunch underfoot; it compacts with a distinct hollow thump, but still provides a firm foundation for both foot and thinner alpine backcountry ski. It provides support underneath but yields as if it were airs as one glides through it on skis.

Near the stream, I find river birches that show that spiders are still active despite the cold weather. A sunlit branch has three or four distinct spider threads along it, and since threads only last a day or so, they must have been laid after the recent snow storm. I search for some time, but I am unable to find the spider that laid them. I regain the paved road near mile 1.7.

Returning down canyon through Pleasant Valley, the south facing canyon slopes have lost their snow. Dried tan meadow grasses look like they have been combed by the hand of the wind.

After running the snow covered trails and through the cold shaded lower canyon, I am chilled but happy. Time for a hot shower at home, for a nap, and then for a relaxed and contented evening.

December 2, 2016

December 2nd

Filed under: picnic site 4, River birch — canopus56 @ 8:34 pm

Mystery Bark

2:00 p.m. Back on October 19th and after a wind storm, just before picnic site 4, I find three curious pieces of River birch bark without the tree trunk in the center. Each piece is cylindrical and about 4 or 5 inches in height. There is no evidence of a seam in the cylinder and the ends show no signs of have been cut by a tool. Picnic site 4 features several clumps of healthy mature River birches. How did these mysterious pieces separate themselves from a tree? It is incredulous that some prankster might have sliced the bark from a tree and then glued the ends back together. I hunt around and find the source. There was a fallen limb in the brush. Birch bark is more resistant to decay than the interior wood pulp. The wood has decayed leaving a tube of bark at the end. This bark then cleaves off creating the cylinder. The process repeats, and then strong Fall winds lofted the cylinders next to the road.

Today in December, all of this is buried underneath the snow, but I have one of the pieces on my desk as a curiosity to show friends. Tomorrow, I will return this mystery bark back to canyon.

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