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).

Advertisements

October 14, 2016

October 14th

The Last Sunflower

4:30 p.m. As the canyon opens up at mile 1.2 into Pleasant Valley, the character of the meadow has changed. The yellow tube of leaves below this point has extended up into the meadow. The Gambel’s oaks have all turned a rich dark golden brown, and the are set off by accents of a few bright red maples that remain. All this sits in a sea of light brown meadow grass. Green is only an after-thought. Some new growth of grass is in the meadow. Some green tamarisk (genus Tamarix) hugs a seep at picnic site 11. At picnic site 12, there are two now out-of-place dark green pine trees.

In the Pleasant Valley across from picnic site 11, the last sunflower of hundreds remains in bloom. All others have already died and turned brown, or if still yellow, they are shriveled. The last one in full bloom is at the north-east corner of the gas pipeline check value.

On the south-side of the road, hidden in the trees, a flock of Black-Hooded Chickadees can be heard playing.

September 23, 2016

September 22nd, Fall

Filed under: Bicyclist, Light, Meadow Mile 1.3, People, Pleasant Valley, Runners, Smells, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:31 am

I am Happy that I am Happy Jogging in the Dark

7:30 p.m. First day of Fall. It’s been raining on and off for most of the day and evening in the Canyon, the storm clouds are formed solid layer about 1,500 feet above the valley floor. This just touches the ridge lines on either side of the canyon at the meadow at Mile 1.3, and beneath the cloud bottoms, a light dusting of snow can be seen on Little Twin Peaks.

This is a typical storm for the last week of September. After a dry summer, a low cloud layer backs up against Wasatch Front mountains , and great bolts of lightening travel horizontally between clouds. Generally, the lightning is silent but occasionally, the flash is followed by loud “crack”. It is not uncommon for these storms to begin in the evening and to last all night. Lightning in the early hours of the morning often wakes the city up or when lightening hits an electrical line, it plunges portions of the city Into darkness for a few hours.

These early fall storms are a harbinger of the winter to come. In a wet year, these storms can last up to 10 days. In a wet year, these heavy early storms blanket the high Wasatch mountains with snow, and young hard-core backcountry skiers, eager to prove their manhood by putting themselves against nature, race to the highest peaks in order to claim the informal prize of laying “first tracks” in this season’s snow. But in a drought year, and this is a drought year, these storms last one or two days, and then are followed by a couple of days of sunshine. By the first week of October, the storms end, and the weather again becomes warm. But around the first day of November, an early winter grips northern Utah. Then over two or three-days, temperatures will drop 30 degrees, and overnight sub-freezing temperatures will be the norm until next March.

Tonight it has become dark, and while I jog through the storm protected by my rain poncho, after a lightning flash, a very heavy downfall ensues. The air is tinged with a sharp clean scent of winter. Under the running poncho, I am dry but my shoes are wet. Although dark, the road is still well lit. The city lights reflect off below clouds, and the road is covered in a mirror like surface of rain. This surface reflects the light coming off the bottom of the clouds, and so seeing is not difficult. This is a special form of light known to most Salt Lake City residents: light reflected off the streets at night during and just after a storm where the air is thick with moisture. The effect is caught in the Salt Lake Cityscapes of a local artist, Kathryn Horne. The sound of raindrops hitting my poncho and the ebb and flow of the wind through the trees makes for a meditative and relaxing jog, notwithstanding the cold and wet. Last night at this same spot in Pleasant Valley of the canyon, crickets roared in unison with a loud song, but with tonight’s pounding rain, all insect and animal life huddle in silence under the woodland canopy.

Lest you think that I’m crazy, I am not alone. Another runner zips by. He in his seventies and although he is more than ten years my senior, he still runs two or three times faster than I can ever hope to ever jog. A mountain biker also passes. At the mouth of the canyon, three runners stand next to their cars, who are dressed in light running clothes, talk to one another as if the downpour does not exist. Their clothes are drenched, but they are grinning.

I mean the following with no sense of animus or superiority over my fellow members of our modern consumer society, but I am happy that I am happy jogging in the dark and in the rain. Although I am dry under my poncho, my shoes are wet. I am happy that I am happy not doing what I would otherwise be doing: sitting in the steel white light of a computer or television screen watching the just released season of new entertainment shows. A marketing t-shirt currently popular among young people expresses a similar sentiment: “Just shut up and run.”

It is 11 o’clock p.m. when I finally get around to a dinner of hot stew, and it is still raining heavily outside. The earlier wet run and the continuing rain makes the stew taste all that much better. Tonight, fierce Winter made its first assault on gentle Summer, and for a time it seemed like Winter would overwhelm Summer’s defenses. But just and kind Autumn intervenes, she raises her sword, and she deters Winter for another month. But Winter will return and will prevail. By jogging in the dark, I will be ready for his return already adapted for the cold and with a strong , welcoming heart.

 

September 20, 2016

August 25th

Filed under: Bicyclist, People, Runners — canopus56 @ 11:25 pm

The Singing Bicyclist

3 p.m. A female bicyclist rides by singing out loud. She is the third example of this unusual psychological phenomenon. There is one other male bicyclist in the canyon who regularly does this. There is an older gentleman who runs on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail every other day who belts out classic 1960’s tunes as he runs. I am not a psychologist and I do not understand the motivation for this behavior. As I jog, I do feel the energy of nature coursing through my body, but this is an internal affair. Perhaps for some this energy is so great that they feel the need to break out in song. I do not view there singing with disapproval. It is simply a behavior that is so contrary to my own nature that I do not understand it. Each to their own.

Blog at WordPress.com.