Finally! This weekend really felt like Spring. Saturday was cool but sunny, a good day for a nice road ride. I headed up Emigration Canyon and on past the gate up Big Mountain Pass till the snow stopped me (pic below, right).
Tangent For Salt Lake Road Bikers: Seriously, is there anything nicer than a really smooth road that’s closed to cars? I know they need to open the road over Big Mountain Pass, but what about upper Mill Creek? Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of opening it July 1, they just left the gate closed all summer? How cool would that be??
Sunday was even nicer- mid 60’s, sunny, and for the first time this season, I was able to ride the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from the zoo to City Creek. What a perfect Easter.
All About The Easter Bunny(s)
Tangent: Wait a minute, wasn’t Easter last weekend? Nope. Only for you heathens. Greek Easter was this past Sunday; Orthodox Easter is usually later than “American” Easter because they have the added date requirement that it fall after Passover.
When my siblings and I were kids, our parents of course wanted to celebrate Greek Easter, but didn’t want us to feel “different” or “left out.” So we had- get this- two Easters: “American Easter” and “Greek Easter”. This was of course way cool, but what was even cooler is that my parents developed a whole supporting Dual Easter Mythology, featuring- I am not making this up- two Easter Bunnies.
Nested Tangent: I’ve always been dismayed by the incredibly weak support-mythology for the Easter Bunny. Think about it. For Christmas, we have Santa Claus, and a whole supporting Santa-Mythology. We know where he lives (North Pole), we know what he does the rest of the year (make toys, keep lists.) We know how he does it (elves help him out) and how he delivers the toys (sleigh, flying reindeer, dropping down chimney.) We even know a bit about his family life (Mrs. Claus.)
But for the Easter Bunny, we got nothing. Who- or rather what- is this creature? Is it an actual rabbit? I always assumed it was more of a man-sized bipedal rabbit/humanoid, with prehensile forepaws (to, you know, carry the baskets) but if you think that through, that’s kind of scary. Where does the candy come from? How does he get to all the houses in the world in one night? And how does he get into your house? And is it a “he” or a “she”?*
*I always assumed the Easter Bunny was male, because even when I was a kid, I kind of sensed that obsessive loners who dedicate inordinate amounts of time to strange pursuits (famous artists, inventors, serial killers, the Unabomber, half-assed-stream-of-consciousness- science-bloggers) tend to be male.
So let’s assume that the Easter Bunny was supposed to be a man-sized, bipedal rabbitish-humanoid. Where is he supposed to have come from? Is he a freak mutant rabbit, or just one member of a secret race of rabbit-men who burrow in the ground far below us? Or is he the result of some mad science experiment- an escapee from the Island of Dr. Moreau? Can he speak? And what about his clothes? A lot of drawings show him wearing a vest, like a fly-fisherman or a CNN reporter. But that’s all he’s wearing. He wears a vest but no pants? Great, now he’s a pervert, too.
Anyway you think it through, the Easter Bunny Story falls apart with even a moment’s critical thinking. After this blog, my next project will be to author a series of sickeningly-cutesy and ridiculously-overpriced children’s books that define and flesh out a comprehensive Easter Bunny Mythology.
Yeah so like I was saying, we had 2 Easters with 2 different Bunnies. For American Easter, it was the “American Easter Bunny.” My sister- let’s call her “Elizabeth”- and I always imagined this bunny as- I am embarrassed to admit- white. We imagined the American Easter Bunny as happy, friendly, generous and uncritical.
But on Greek Easter, the candy was delivered by- I swear I am not making this up- The Papadopoulos Bunny. Yes, that’s what our parents named him. Elizabeth and I imagined the Papadopoulos Bunny as dark brown, gruff, impatient and a bit cross; in short, pretty much like all the middle-aged Greek guys at our church.
Usually by late April I’ve been regularly riding Shoreline for ~a month, but this crazy, Stalker-Ex winter has made for a late start. So when I rode it Sunday, there was a lot to notice.
Right behind of the U. of Utah hospital is a good place to look around. This is one of the lowest and sunniest parts of the Shoreline trail and so whatever’s happening down here is a good indicator of what will be happening up a bit higher over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the first Arrowleaf Balsamroot (pic left)I’ve seen this season*; in a couple weeks these things will be covering the hillsides above. Balsamroots, and their close cousins, Mules Ears, can be a bit confusing to distinguish. Last June I did a pretty thorough post on them that might be a good primer if you’re curious about them over the coming weeks.
*I checked last April’s archives. I spotted the first one of these last year on 4/23. These guys run like clockwork.
Also down low, in a couple of the minor draws, the Bigtooth Maples are starting to leaf out (pic right). Just a few hundred feet higher they’re still bare, but that’ll be changing within a week or so, and as I mentioned last year, the BT Maples generally leaf out a good week+ before the Scrub Oak, so over the next couple of weeks you’ll be able to tell the 2 trees apart pretty easily from a distance, which is a lot harder to do (from a distance) during the summer. As you do, you’ll see that the Maples dominate in the wetter, shadier draws, while the Oaks do better on the dry, sunny hillsides. (But over time, the Maples will begin to invade the Oak stands, a process which I described in this post.)
In lower Dry Creek right now, the understory is practically carpeted with Glacier Lilies (pic left). If you’re local, try to ride/run/hike Dry Creek this week; it’s really stunning. Further up the canyon, pools of water appear, and before long (well below the South Fork junction) a full-on stream is running (pic right). There’s always some water in Spring in the bottom of Dry Creek, but this is only the 3rd Spring in 14 years in which I’ve seen a full-on, cascading stream running down the canyon. Streamside rides are a fairly uncommon in Utah, and very unusual in the Wasatch foothills, so enjoy it while you can.
You’ll leave the stream behind when you switchback left and climb out of the canyon bottom; for the next mile you climb till your first view of the downtown Slat Lake. The trail turns right/North here, and about ~50 yards ahead, on the uphill/East side of the trail, is a new blossom- Utah Milkvetch, Astragalus utahensis. This is another great-looking and distinctive flower. Unlike most wildflowers in the foothills, Milkvetch is irregular, in that there’s only one line along which you can divide it symmetrically. It’s a pretty flower, early to bloom, and does well in dry, cold, sunny conditions. It’s a popular xeriscaping shrub, and does well once established, but is a bit finicky to get started. It’s very intolerant of shade, and supposedly extremely sensitive to being transplanted/repotted. (In addition, some gardeners claim the seeds are allelopathic*, and so should only be planted one to a pot, but other gardeners say this isn’t so.) The flowers will turn into woolly pods in a month or so, from which you can shake the seeds, if you’re inclined to try growing it.
*See this post for explanation of allelopathy.
A. utahensis seeds can remain dormant-but-viable for several years, and have been the subject of studies around germination triggers. Following wildfires, land managers often try to reseed burnt areas with native species. But invasive species, such as Cheatgrass, are often much more aggressive in colonizing such spaces, in part because they germinate quickly and reliably. So land managers are always interested in figuring out how to get native shrub-seeds to germinate more quickly. The seeds of Utah Milkvetch for example seem to be triggered to germinate more quickly by the presence of a couple of different types of fungal spores.
There are over 2,000 different species of Astragalus. Some, like Utah Milkvetch, are pretty common (though this is the only spot I’ve seen it along Shoreline trail. The other place I’ve seen it is out on Stansbury Island.) But others are quite rare. An extreme case is Deseret* Milkvetch, Astragalus desereticus, down in Utah County.
*Name corrected following Sally's comment.
Deseret Milkvetch has a way cool story. It was discovered in the 1890’s, and then last spotted in 1909. For over 70 years it was thought to be extinct, until a botanist re-discovered it in 1981. Its entire range consists of just 5,000 – 10,000 plants spread across 300 acres along a sandstone outcrop in Utah County, on a mix of private and state land. And the whole 300 acres- get this- is within 1,000 feet of US89.
There’s one other foothill flower poking out right now, just starting to bloom. This flower (pic left) is all over the place in the foothills, and in fact it surrounds the patch of Milkvetch along Shoreline. It’s another exotic, Alyssum sp., possibly Pale Madwort, Alyssum alyssoides, which is native to Eurasia and a member of the Mustard family.
Of course speaking of flowers, down on the valley floor thousands of trees are practically exploding with blossoms right now, and though virtually none of these are native, they’re the brightest, loudest indicator of Spring, and worth checking out for a moment.
Next Up: Suburban Extreme Makeover
Note: Special Thank You to Lorraine aka “The Collector” for the Alyssum ID. Thanks Lorraine!