06-Sep-2004 -- With an area of 61,100 square kilometers, the Nebraska Sand Hills is one of North America's most fascinating ecosystems. Almost as amazing is that any confluence within this vast expanse is actually a manageable hike. It was a special treat for me, Joseph Kerski, as a geographer, to visit another Sand Hills confluence. I, together with my favorite confluence visitors, visited 42 North 102 West on what we celebrate in the USA as "Labor Day." Labor Day
recognizes the nation's workforce. Sand hill hiking was the kind of labor that I enjoy the most!
The confluence trek allowed us to travel on a road through some of the least sparsely populated areas in the continental USA--Nebraska State Highway 2--The Sand Hills Road. It is good to know that the wide open spaces really do still exist. We passed through a few towns on our trek that began at Mullen, but even the county seats of
government are usually unincorporated communities. We passed more freight trains loaded down with Wyoming coal than other vehicles. Grant County, where the confluence is located, was home to 747 people in 2000, down from 769 in 1990. Just west of Ashby, we turned south on a one-lane
road that was, surprisingly, paved. The road threads through a pass between two hills and after 2 km, drops into the Larkin Valley.
At 10am mountain time, we took precautions against the sun and headed into the fields that were grazed by cattle. Janell stayed behind to deal with the landowners. A large herd of cattle was clearly visible a few hundred meters to the west. We climbed and crawled over and under two fences, one of them electrified, before skirting one of the numerous ponds for which the sand hills are noted. The pond was partly dried out at the end of the summer, and we sunk into the sandy soil with each step. After a 20 minute walk from the vehicle that covered about 900 meters straight line distance but 1400 meters after skirting the lake, we arrived at the confluence. The lack of trees made it quite easy to zero out the GPS unit.
The confluence lies on nearly flat ground, sloping ever so slightly toward the lake to the north. It is covered mostly by short prairie grasses, and surprisingly, a few flowers, as seen in the photograph. Some grasses were over a meter high, but most were about 15 cm. The farthest horizon we could see was about 10 km away to the west. We could see one ranch house and outbuildings clearly to the northwest, but that was the only dwelling. We saw a few birds but no animals except the cattle. The temperature was quite warm, 31 C, and only a slight breeze was blowing. The sky was cloudless; a perfect late summer day. We spent about 10 minutes at the site, enjoying the wide open spaces and the sand hills. I reflected at how different a summer visit is than the winter visit I had made to 42 North 101 West in February. Any season is a good one for getting out there and exploring the planet.
As we were leaving the site, in the distance we saw a truck stop at our vehicle. My heart sank as I realized that I had neglected to print the access request letter for the landowner. I hoped that all was going well with the conversation that was obviously taking place. After a few minutes, the vehicle left. When we arrived back at the vehicle, Janell mentioned that the landowner was not overly pleased, and thought that "that spot had already been surveyed." Janell tried assuring him of our benevolent and harmless intentions. Our mission accomplished, we turned around and drove back to Highway 2, on to 41 North 103 West on the Colorado-Nebraska border.