13-Sep-2003 -- I decided to continue my adventures by visiting a few more of the last remaining virgin confluences in the western United States. This enabled me to partake of some of the most beautiful scenery in America during a truly Type-A tour of Craters of the Moon, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks. It also offered a wonderful side benefit-I picked up states #46 and #47 in visiting Montana and Idaho, respectively. Watch out North Dakota, Kentucky, and Louisiana-I'm gunning for you! This confluence hunting adventure began on Friday, September 12, 2003, with an abbreviated day at work, replete with Friday morning donuts at the otherwise unpalatable Cassini spacecraft weekly status meeting. I drove to LAX and then started panicking as my departure time to Denver began slipping. I commiserated with a very cute brunette seated next to me in the lounge. She wished me luck in making my challenging 49-minute connection to Billings, but it didn't look good. We finally left, over an hour late, and I prepared for the inevitable overnight stay in the Mile High City. Hoping to appease the air travel gods, I reluctantly gave up my relatively comfy aisle seat for the hell of a sandwiched middle chair. This enabled a mother and her young son to sit together, which I hoped would earn me karma points for making my connection. The sunset views of Bryce and Zion Canyons from the plane to Denver were stunning, by the way, though I was a bit too agitated to enjoy them.
The pilot made up a bit of time, and the Billings flight was slated to depart from an adjacent gate! However, it was six minutes before departure to Billings by the time we taxied to our arrival gate. I did my best O.J. Simpson and sprinted to the Billings departure gate. They held the flight for me-kudos to United Airlines on this one! The next flight to Billings was at 11:30 am the next day, so I was beyond relieved. I settled in for the short flight to Montana, chatted up the friendly gentleman next to me, and prepared for more confluence hunting in the great state of Montana. It was really breezy and cool in Billings, a welcome respite from the late summer heat of Southern California. I procured my surprisingly affordable rental car, with a complimentary upgrade to a maroon Suzuki Grand Vitara. I called it the "Grand Viagra" to the rental car agent, and he said that's the name they use, too! I caught a bit of CNN on the way out, shocked and saddened to hear of the deaths of John Ritter and Johnny Cash.
After buying some water and snagging some dinner, I took off on the long journey to Dillon, Montana. It was after 10:30 pm and I was not looking forward to the long drive, particularly given the large of number of deer I spied along I-90. I hit a deer in my poor little Honda del Sol last year (at 80 mph!), so I'm probably more spooked about it than the average person. Largely, I tried to follow fairly closely behind someone in the right lane to avoid making "Bambiburgers" with my rented Vitara. A rabbit bolted across the road at one point, causing me to lock up the brakes and fishtail a bit. I also dodged pockets of rain, tons of road construction, and pretty rugged country, especially for an interstate.
I finally turned south on I-15 as the sky cleared. The views of the moon, Mars, and Orion to the east were truly spectacular, even from the confines of my SUV. I finally pulled into Dillon around 2:40 am, finding the Super 8 Motel with little trouble. My reservation was there and waiting, thankfully, so I checked in and hit the hay by 3:30 am MDT, requesting a wake-up call for 7 am. I really could have used more sleep, but the intersection of 45°N and 113°W was beckoning! I got up at 7 am on Saturday the 13th and enjoyed a nice continental breakfast, sticking with juices, mini-bagels, and mini-muffins (blueberry, banana nut, and lemon poppyseed). After gassing up, it was time to drive 25 short miles to the confluence. Well over a month in advance, I contacted the landowner and secured permission to visit the site. This part of confluence hunting is always a challenge, but this particular landowner had already heard of the DCP project. In fact, another of Montana's confluences also lies on property he owns! Apparently, this gentleman owns quite a bit of big sky country!
I took I-15 south to State Highway 324, which I then followed west for about nine miles. It was truly beautiful country, and the weather could not have been better. I parked at a driveway just beyond the "Mile 9" marker, a mere 0.35 miles southwest of the confluence. The fence was too difficult to climb, so I decided to crawl beneath it, though that too was a challenge given my protruding midriff. I set off towards my target, essentially hacking cross-country in a straight line. I traversed a few areas with tall prairie grass, but this land is largely a hay meadow cultivated for livestock. The heads of cattle were moved from the site a few weeks earlier, but naturally some evidence of their handiwork remained.
As I closed in on the 113th parallel, I realized that I would have to cross a small stream, since the confluence point was still a few hundred feet to the north. I knew this from the topographic maps, but I expected the creek to be dry, as is typical. This area received quite a bit of rain shortly before my visit, however, so my stream crossing was far from routine. After I startled a large paddling of wading ducks, I tried to muster up the courage to cross the watery barrier. I finally decided to try to jump the creek, since I thought I could make it. I did not, though I was close. As with a prior confluence visit, I sunk down pretty deeply in the muck, but this time my wool socks and hiking shoes performed swimmingly. Relieved to be across, I easily navigated the last few hundred feet to the confluence.
As expected from the aerial views, the confluence was in the middle of a hay meadow, quite a bit east of a large field of sage. I took the requisite digital pictures from the site in the four cardinal and four diagonal directions, both in normal mode and with my 3x digital zoom. My Nikon CoolPix 3500 worked like a champ, though I did have a cheap, throwaway camera for redundancy. As usual, obtaining the coveted "all zeroes" shot on the GPS using a digital camera (by myself) was a challenge, but persistence eventually paid off. I remained at this site for some time, so my Garmin etrex Legend settled down quite nicely. With eleven satellites tracking, I managed a GPS accuracy of 8 feet (2.4 meters). The altitude measurement at this location, again from the GPS, was 5700 feet (1737 meters). This agrees quite well with estimates based on detailed topographic maps.
I decided to trek back straight west, across the hay meadow, to return to the Suzuki. The ranch road at the gate where I parked, running north, presumably crossed the creek I unsuccessfully broad-jumped earlier. Sure enough, the return journey couldn't have been easier. I turned left after reaching the ranch road, crossed a small gravel bridge across the small stream, and found my SUV without incident. Before heading out, I changed shoes and socks and snapped a picture at the gate, looking north along the ranch road. This was truly beautiful country, with a gorgeous blue sky above the surrounding mountains. The cattle ranch that contains this confluence includes strayfield hay meadows, with buckthrush and tall sage plants. I didn't see much wildlife in the area, which was unfortunate. However, I think the interesting history of the area makes up for my lack of found fauna. Just a few miles from this confluence, a couple of fellows named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent the night, on August 10, 1805. I couldn't help but feel swept up in history as I trudged around this area, some 198 years later.
From this confluence, I drove to Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho, stopping twice in the town of Arco. I fueled up my car and my body, bought more water, and then took state highways to Idaho Falls. I enjoyed viewing the lovely Mormon temple there during my drive-by tour of the town. From there, I took the scenic route to Jackson, Wyoming, with wonderful views of the Grand Tetons. I took many pictures along the way, made pretty good time, and then headed into Yellowstone National Park. I was shocked at the wind and fire damage to the trees in the southern part of Yellowstone, but I did manage to snag a nice sunset photo over Lewis Lake. I pressed on to Old Faithful, just missing the hourly eruption. I sped a little through the park, until a ranger coming the other direction lit me up. Thank goodness I wasn't pulled over, given my speeding ticket less than two weeks earlier (on another confluence adventure, no less). I finally arrived at my motel in West Yellowstone, Montana, around 9:15 pm. Exhausted, I hit the hay before 10:30 pm, ready for an even bigger day of sightseeing and confluence hunting on Sunday.
I would like to thank the landowner for enabling this enjoyable confluence adventure. Given another's successful visit to the confluence seven degrees straight east of here a few days earlier, I guess this confluence visit has some significance, being the last unvisited primary confluence in the great state of Montana. It was an honor and a privilege documenting this site.