Sliding on Ice can be Fun

Mary and Art Heers ready for bobsledding
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers
Mary and Art Heers ready for bobsledding
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers
When cold weather sets into Cache Valley, I usually begin to grumble. But this year, when the weather warmed up and the snow turned to rain, my grumbling got a lot louder.

Everywhere I looked, the sidewalks and roads were covered in ice. I announced that falling on ice was my least favorite activity. I hated ice.

Then I got an unusual Christmas letter from an old family friend, Paulette Campbell. This letter told the story about the skating pond her 3 sons had built for 15 years at their Logan home. The yard was 30 ft wide, 60 ft long, and flat as a pancake – perfect for creating an ice rink. But it took a lot of work. The boys would begin by packing the snow with a heavy roller pulled by their garden tractor. Then they got out the garden hose and sprayed the surface. Three hours later the water had frozen and it was time to spray again. For the next five nights the family pitched in and the ice got sprayed every three hours. The boys packed down the lumpy spots with a shovel.

When the pond was ready, the neighborhood kids flocked to the pond to skate after school. But at 8pm, the floodlights came on and the big kids took over the ice. It was time to play hockey. The boys’ grandparents, who lived next door, pulled their chairs up to the bay window and watched. They insisted on paying the water bill. They insisted the entertainment was worth it.

By the time I finished reading the letter, I had to admit sliding on the ice could be fun.

I was also starting to rerun in my mind my own family ice story. My cousin, Jill Bakken, had been recruited out of high school by the US Olympic committee to give bobsledding a try. Jill took a liking for this slippery sport. In 2002, at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, Jill and Vonetta Flowers brought home the gold medal in the first ever women’s bobsled event.

Now, twenty years later, and to top off this story, I screwed up my courage and signed up to ride down the Olympic bobsled track. I was tucked in right behind the driver as the 4-man sled roared down the track. We hit 70 mph and pulled about 3 g’s. At the bottom, I got out of the sled a bit shakily.

But now I had a new point of view: Sliding on ice can be exhilarating.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers,
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

The Track Sports: Bobsleigh, Luge, Skeleton, Alf Engen Ski Museum, Alf Engen Museum Foundation, https://engenmuseum.org/exhibit/track-sports-bobsleigh-luge-skeleton

Bakken and Flowers win first ever Women’s bobsleigh gold, Salt Lake 2002, International Olympic Committee, https://olympics.com/en/video/bakken-and-flowers-win-first-ever-women-s-bobsleigh-gold-salt-lake-2002

Wright, Sally H. N., Logan family provides ice thrillsShow pleases grandparents, neighbors, The Herald Journal, January 7, 2002, https://www.hjnews.com/logan-family-provides-ice-thrillsshow-pleases-grandparents-neighbors/article_8149fc2d-7e92-5554-a74c-97432423c555.html

Why, It Was Definitely the Snow!

Why, It Was Definitely the Snow! "Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry"
Photo from 1989 Utah History Fair
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes
“Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry”
Photo from 1989 Utah History Fair
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes

Snow-frosted Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Snow-frosted Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Snow. Tiny specks of dust and other particles in the air that attract water vapor to become ice crystals. That is what fascinated a man named Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley enough to capture thousands of one-of-a-kind snowflake photographs and what drew my friend Alf to Utah. In the winter and early spring of 1989, I sat as a Bonneville Junior High ninth grader with Alf Engen in his office at Alta. As a presenter at the Utah History Fair that year, I was gathering stories and artifacts for my project titled Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry.

Engen shared stories about building ski jumps over the fences between his home and school and his journey from Norway to America, not to ski but to buy back the Engen estate divided up at his father’s death of the Spanish Flu in 1919. He said, “I was going to make enough money to go back, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I didn’t even know there was much snow here, I never read about that.” After sharing stories about arriving in Ellis Island, playing soccer in Milwaukee, scaffold hill jumping on Ecker Hill, and cross-country skiing as a forest service employee over Catherine Pass to imagine Alta as a ski hub, he ended with how he felt about jumping Utah’s snow: “They would say “Send Gummer–that is ‘old man’ in Norwegian–over first,” and I would have to do anything new. I knew I could do it, even if I had never tried it before. Once you are up there, you can fly.”

I had forgotten about that experience chatting about snow with a Utah snow giant until a few weeks ago, gazing out at the snow-frosted hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. I gripe about snow plowing piles and delayed-start school days, and I’d rather cut snowflakes from paper than be out in it most frigid days. Yet, this Christmas a friend gave me a blue and white book titled “The Little Book of Snow.”

For someone who grew up in “the greatest snow on earth,” I thought I knew snow well enough, but in addition to discovering linguistic similarities for the word snow and that some have estimated the number of snowflakes that fall to earth each year to be a number with at least 24 zeroes, I confirmed my suspicions about snow that is not white. I’ve often encountered pink snow patches at the high altitudes of Utah, and with a nudge from the watermelon snow paragraph, I found an intriguing citizen science opportunity online called The Living Snow Project led by Dr. Robin Kodner at Western Washington University. By contributing data about spring snow algal blooms through sample vials or at least observation photographs, scientists can study microscopic snow communities and their impact on snow melt.

Snow. When I asked him what about Utah made him stay, Alf Engen said, “Why, it was definitely the snow.” Snow is the stuff of which stories, science, and wonderful dreams are made.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Blanchard, Duncan. 1970. The Snowflake Man. https://snowflakebentley.com/snowflake-man-bio

Coulthard, Sally. 2018. The Little Book of Snow. https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/the-little-book-of-snow

Engen, Alan K. 2001. Alf Engen: A Son’s Reminiscences. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume69_2001_number4/s/10191712​​

Greene, Jack. 2020. I Love Snow. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/i-love-snow/

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2014. Utah’s Rich Skiing History. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-rich-skiing-history/

Libbrecht, Kenneth G. 1999. Guide to Snowflakes. https://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/class/class-old.htm

Liberatore, Andrea. 2011. Snowflakes. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Living Snow Project. https://wp.wwu.edu/livingsnowproject/

Local Lexi. 2021. The History of “The Greatest Snow on Earth” https://www.skiutah.com/blog/authors/lexi/the-history-of-the-greatest-snow-on.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. 1998. Snowflake Bentley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. https://www.amazon.com/Snowflake-Bentley-Jacqueline-Briggs-Martin/dp/0547248296

Strand, Holly. 2009. A Utah Skier’s Snow Lexicon. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/a-utah-skiers-snow-lexicon/

Rascoe, Ayesha. 2022. Why Snow Is Turning Pink at High Altitudes. https://www.npr.org/2022/12/18/1143929924/why-snow-is-turning-pink-at-high-altitudes

Weller, Kristine. 2023. In a State Obsessed with Snowpack, Finding Pink Snow in Utah Is a Problem. https://www.kuer.org/health-science-environment/2023-01-03/in-a-state-obsessed-with-snowpack-finding-pink-snow-in-utah-is-a-problem

Mirabilite Mounds and The Great Salt Lake

Mirabilite Mounds in the Great Salt Lake Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Mirabilite Mounds
in the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Back in October 2019, the ranger at the Great Salt Lake State Park began to notice a white mound forming on the sand flats behind the visitor center. The white mounds turned out to be hydrated sodium sulfate – known as mirabilite- which was being carried to the surface by the upwelling of a fresh water spring. Since the 1940’s geologists have known that in this area, 30 inches below the surface, there was a 3 – 6 foot thick shelf of mirabilite. They knew about the fresh water springs What was new was cold air. Since this stretch of sand was no longer underwater, the mirabilite carried to the surface stayed there as crystals, piling up on each other, puddling and spreading out. One mound rose to the height of 3 feet.

Mirabilite Springs in the shadow of the Kennecott Smelter stack Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Phorographer
Mirabilite Springs in the shadow of the Kennecott Smelter stack
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Phorographer
When the mounds started to form again this winter, I jumped at the chance to to go and take a look. I must admit at first I was a little underwhelmed at the size, perhaps because the Kennecott Smelter Stack nearby dominates the view, rising to 1,215 feet – roughly the same height as the Empire State Building. But the park ranger got my attention when she told us that mirabilite mounds have only been seen in four places in the entire world – the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Central Spain, – and Utah. Just seeing them turns out to be a rare winter treat. When the air warms to 50 degrees, the mirabilite will crumble into a fine white powder and disappear.

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970)
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
My mind flashed back to a trip I’d made to the other end of the lake ten years ago. I’d just graduated from the docent training class at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, and a friend and I wanted to celebrate by having High Tea at the center of the Spiral Jetty, a 1,500 foot, long, 15 foot wide coil of black basalt rock – a stunning example of land art jutting out from the northern shore. We’d been warned that it might be underwater, but when we arrived we were delighted to find we could easily walk to the very center of the spiral as the lake water gently lapped at the edges of our shoes. We clinked our tea cups, and toasted the greatness of the lake.

Suddenly I wanted to see the jetty again, so I hopped in my car and drove to the remote site. I saw the Spiral Jetty was now high and dry. Drifting sand had already started to bury parts of it. The water’s edge was now over 300 yards away. I thought of the millions of migratory birds that would be arriving in the spring to rest and feast on the tiny treasures of the lake, the brine shrimp. I hoped a smaller lake would still be enough for all of them.

The recent words of the director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Lynn de Freitas, rang in my head: “The Great Salt Lake is a gift that keeps on giving. Just add water.”

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text & Voice: Mary Heers, Generous Contributor, Utah Public Radio
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Mirabilite Spring Mounds Near Great Salt Lake Marina, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://geology.utah.gov/popular/general-geology/great-salt-lake/mirabilite-spring-mounds/

Mirabilite, Mindat.org, Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, https://www.mindat.org/min-2725.html

Tabin, Sara, Rare salt formations return to Great Salt Lake’s shores; take a tour while they last, The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 13, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/01/14/rare-salt-formations/

USGS 412613112400801 The Great Salt Lake at Spiral Jetty, Site Map for the Nation, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), U.S. Department of the Interior, https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/nwismap/?site_no=412613112400801&agency_cd=USGS

Case, William, GEOSIGHTS: PINK WATER, WHITE SALT CRYSTALS, BLACK BOULDERS, AND THE RETURN OF SPIRAL JETTY!, Survey Notes, v. 35 no. 1, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, January 2003, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/geosights/spiral-jetty/

Board & Staff, Friends of the Great Salt Lake, https://www.fogsl.org/about/board-staff

Salt Lake Brine Shrimp, https://saltlakebrineshrimp.com/harvest/

Embarking on an Ecological Transition through Permaculture Design

Ecological Transition through Permaculture Design: Before and After Permaculture Rain Garden USU Moab Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain McCann, Photographer
Before and After
Permaculture Rain Garden
USU Moab
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain McCann, Photographer
Before installing our permaculture gardens at Utah State University, Moab, the only birds I observed from my office window were Eurasian Collared Doves and crows. The space is small. It used to consist of concrete and a mono-planted row of juniper bushes. Seven years ago, over 40 members of the Moab community helped us dream up a new vision for the space. We took out a few parking spaces that allowed my building’s roof rainwater runoff to run-in to our garden and into a rock-lined swale and a series of basins. In an area that receives an average of under 10 inches of rainfall per year, our USU Moab permaculture gardens now harvest an estimated 125,000 gallons of rainwater either directly into the garden soil, or into a series of rain tanks for later use.

Alongside planting the rain through water harvesting earthworks, we installed an ecological design with a fruit and shade producing overstory, and an understory of shrubs, plants, and grasses. The understory performs one or more of four functions: pollinator attractors, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators (which pull nutrients deeper in soil layers towards the surface, becoming available through a chop and drop technique), and soil stabilizers. Now, broad-tailed hummingbirds, spotted towhees, rock wrens and more can be seen and heard as the garden bounty ripens each year. These birds bring color, song, and delight as they contribute to pest control, devouring aphids, grasshoppers and pesky plant eating beetle grubs.

What we have learned through our small urban campus is that with permaculture design, any landscape can undergo a complete ecological transition – even a landscape that is only a few feet wide and was previously partially covered in concrete.

If you are interested in applying permaculture design to your landscape, start by observing your site as it currently is. See how water flows in a rain event. Walk around during the hottest days of the year and feel where the hot and cool zones are. How does the sun move across the site during summer solstice. During winter solstice. What views do you want to take in and block? What species engage in your landscape and what ones are missing? These are the types of questions you can ask yourself. Then, as you begin to think about design ideas, here are some general tips:

    • Ask elders in your community about extreme weather events and other helpful historical information
    • Think about what your landscape is currently doing for you, and what you would like it to do. Then, develop your goals for the site. This will help you determine what is and is not currently working
    • In the desert, as a general rule, place your paths high and dry, plants low and wet (or at least wetter)
    • Discover what plants might work well together in what is called a guild. For example, if you have a nitrogen dependent shrub, plant nitrogen-fixing plants around it.
    • Harvest as much rainwater as possible through active systems like rain tanks, and passive systems like earthworks that slow, spread, and sink rainwater
    • Plant your high-maintenance plants in your most-frequented areas – alongside the pathway between your house and chicken coop, for example.
    • Birds and humans appreciate diversity in heights, species, and food-producing plants
    • Start small
    • See failures as opportunities for learning

    For Utah State University Extension Sustainability and the Department of Environment and Society, this is Roslynn Brain McCann and I’m wild about Utah!

    Credits:
    Images: Courtesy and copyright Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann, Photographer
    Audio: Courtesy and copyright Kevin Colver
    Text:     Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann, Utah State University Extension Sustainability
    Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster
    Additional Reading:

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Rainwater Harvesting, Wild About Utah, October 19, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/rainwater-harvesting/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Permaculture, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/permaculture/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Three-Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata), Wild About Utah, November 23, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/three-leaf-sumac-rhus-trilobata/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Dandelion, Friend or Foe?, Wild About Utah, April 4, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/dandelion-friend-foe/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Edible Weeds: Lambs Quarters and Purslane, Wild About Utah, March 27, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/edible-weeds-lambs-quarters-and-purslane/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Yellow-bellied Marmot, Wild About Utah, September 21, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/yellow-bellied-marmot/

    YCC Team, Lush Utah garden makes the most of a small amount of rain, Yale Climate Connections, July 25, 2022, https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/07/lush-utah-garden-makes-the-most-of-a-small-amount-of-rain/