City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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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.

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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).

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