14-Aug-2003 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Denver, Colorado USA and from the USGS , Roger Palmer, educational technologist with GIS Etc from Dallas, Texas USA, Carl and Gregory Woloszyn from Sammamish, Washington USA, and Alicia, Mary, and Greg Rigoni from Kingsford, Michigan USA, pilgrimaged to Latitude 46 degrees North, Longitude 88 degrees West in the northern peninsula of Michigan one fine summer evening. As Roger and I were teaching a week-long summer GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course for a group of 30 excellent K-12 teachers at the Dickinson Iron Mountain Independent School District not far away, we considered a confluence visit to be the perfect capstone to this training event. Field work is an important component of science and geography education!
After Day 4 of the GPS/GIS institute, we departed Kingsford Middle School at approximately 5:30pm. We drove north in two vehicles past the Pine Mountain Ski Jump. This is the world's largest wooden ski jump, and hosts a World Cup Ski Jumping competition each February. We then drove north along Michigan State Highway 95 through rolling woodland. We followed the Polloni family's wonderful yellow homemade dune buggy at first, but upon nearing Randville, they let us pass, because I had the GPS receiver. We traveled east from Randville for approximately three miles before reaching a rusty orange gate. Seeing the lock, I knew we would have to hike quite a bit longer than the previous confluence visitors. That was not a problem given the beautiful evening and amiable, knowledgeable companions. Gary Rigoni, a pharmacist, knew much of the local history and plants, while Roger Palmer, being a science teacher, was knowledgeable about all sorts of things. The Woloszyns were interested in cartography, geography, and meteorology. What better way to spend the evening than to seek a confluence with such a team?
The confluence, which I had entered as a waypoint in the GPS unit, lay .85 miles northeast. Mary Shelkey, of Seattle, Washington USA, aunt of Carl and Gregory, stayed behind to organize a search party in case we never returned. Being a nurse, I knew she would be able to help us should we require medical assistance. We hiked up the road beyond the gate to the east, then north, then curving around to a large quarry. This added distance to the hike, but resulted in the benefit of reducing the amount of slogging through underbrush, and yielded a bounty of wild raspberries. Despite the fact that this region lies between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and north of the coniferous-deciduous treeline, the weather was hot, over 32 degrees C. However, the insects were not as numerous as I thought they might be.
After skirting the southern edge of an abandoned quarry, we plunged into the forest. This area was logged in the past, and only now are hardwoods gradually replacing the softwood trees. The forest was lush and underbrush thick in most places, with raspberries, thistle, poplar, birch, clover, and goldenrod as the dominant species. The area is rich in history. Some of the world's most productive mines of iron and copper were quarried for over a century in this region. The Chapin Mine alone, which operated from 1879 to 1932, produced over 27 million tons of iron ore, and helped bring in immigrants from England, Italy, Sweden, and elsewhere. We emerged from the dense section of forest and hiked through a line of younger trees, reaching the confluence at 6:50pm local time, after a hike of one hour.
The confluence lies underneath a spruce tree between two small clearings of 15 meters each. The density of tree cover made it difficult to "zero out" the GPS receiver. We saw it happen for a fraction of a second, but, alas, we could not snap the photograph in time. After doing a 15 minute "confluence dance" in a further attempt to take the desired photograph, we hastily took other photographs and a movie, wishing to depart before nightfall arrived.
Being adventurous, we declined to return the way we had come, despite having available to us a dotted line indicating our route plainly visible on the GPS receiver. This was one of the few times in my life where I have truly depended on the GPS to navigate. I think we cured Alicia's assertion that north was always "straight ahead." Using the GPS, we cut directly southwest toward the vehicles through dense underbrush. Most of my companions were wearing shorts, but three of them were tough Michigan folks, real "U-pers" from the upper peninsula of the state, and Alicia in particular bore some nasty scratches. We passed beside several large anthills and an enormous mountain of boulders with what appeared to be abandoned historical mining and motorized equipment strewn about its sides.
After reaching the dirt road, we were treated to a magnificent golden Michigan sunset. We had been marveling how we had not seen any wildlife to that point during our hike, which is normally quite abundant in this region. Perhaps our boisterous conversation sprinkled with 1960s and 1970s songs sent all deer and bear in the area running for cover. Suddenly, we saw an enormous porcupine in a tree beside the road, not far from the destination gate and vehicles. We reached the vehicles and returned to Kingsford, discarding one wood tick that we found en route out the car window to the winds. Roger and I then joined Anita Palmer to prepare for teaching the final day of the GIS and GPS institute.