18-Mar-2008 -- As we were in New Orleans for the annual conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, speaking with the 10,000 educators attending the event about spatial thinking, GIS, and GPS, we felt a calling to practice what we preach, namely, to get out onto the landscape. Hence, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone for the conference. In addition, Barbaree and I needed to discuss the upcoming training for the My Community Our Earth GIS and GPS training events around the world, and rather than holing ourselves up in a building, we conducted our meeting on the road. After reviewing all of the confluence points in the area, we decided that the easiest would be to visit 31 North 89 West in a National Forest in southern Mississippi. Departing the convention center around 8am, Barbaree drove north and east through neighborhoods that had fallen upon hard times before Hurricane Katrina, and now seemed in even worse shape.
Since we were in the vicinity of 30 North 90 West, we decided to tag it onto the beginning of our trip. During a conference of the Association of American Geographers in 2003, Sophia Linn and I visited this confluence, but couldn’t quite stand on "the spot," as we thought it was in a swamp. So, we called it a success with less than 100 meters to go. Ever since, I have had an interest in seeing if a person could indeed stand on the spot by approaching from the south, rather than the north. During the previous day in our ESRI exhibit booth at the conference, I used our ArcGIS Explorer 3D virtual globe software and discovered that the spot might actually be on the north side of the north levee of the Intracoastal Waterway. Barbaree, as always, was amenable to make the attempt, despite my tale of the place as being rather forlorn and a bit creepy. As we had done many times in the past five years, we discussed All Things Geography along the way and had a jolly time doing so.
The trickiest part about visiting this confluence is how to wind one’s way through the industrial complexes, shipyards, and warehouses after crossing the bridge over one of the now-famous canal-and-levee systems leading to Lake Ponchartrain and finding Almonaster Avenue. Barbaree deftly did so, threading her car dwarfed by the semi trucks in the area. We drove east past shipping companies, landfills, and other by-products of the industrial landscape. We found the turnoff to Elaine Street, which was no more than a lane accessing the Intracoastal Waterway, heading south. As a trucking company was located on the right hand road, we slowly drove to the end of the left hand lane where we parked just north of a dock.
As we walked, we observed where Sophia and I had walked five years earlier but aimed south, through the dock gate, and along the north retaining wall of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Intracoastal Waterway runs for an astounding 4,800km along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the USA. It includes natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, sounds, and human-built canals. The weather was hazy but quite windy, and unlike 2003, did not foster a spooky feeling. As we walked in the wind, we couldn’t help but think of what it would have been like here during Hurricane Katrina. Our GPS reading gave us an elevation of only a few meters above sea level. We crouched low to cross under a railroad trestle and suddenly we were up onto the levee. I could see the spot north of the swampy land where Sophia and I had "called it good enough" during the last visit. I thought at first that the confluence point was going to be in the swamp, but we found it just south of the swamp after scampering down the levee slope. We had reached the grand prize—no ordinary 1-degree confluence, although no confluence is truly ordinary—but a 30-degree confluence, one that appears on a standard world map showing the 30-degree grid.
I had been to 30 North several times, to this confluence, and also in Texas, and I visited 90 West not long ago in Illinois. I’d still like to visit 45 North 90 West someday, in Wisconsin. The temperature was 70 F (21 C) and the ground cover was grass that was cut regularly here on the levee. Before humans arrived here, all of this land was swampy, inundated regularly by rains and hurricane winds, open to the sea before the levee was built. We saw no animals or birds, not surprising, as no right-minded creature would probably find any food in this landscape. The only person we saw was the driver of a truck meandering slowly through the trucking complex. Fortunately for us, the confluence lies about 8 meters south of the marshy area, a few meters above sea level. We spent only ten minutes at the site, because of a combination of the wind, because we weren’t exactly certain who actually owned the levee ground, and because we had a full schedule that day. We hiked back the way we came, and total round trip hiking time came in at just under 50 minutes.
We then drove northeast to attempt 31 North 89 West. Crossing over the bridges spanning the entrance to Lake Ponchartrain, we were reminded how water nearly encircles the city of New Orleans. We passed an eerie, abandoned amusement park. We fell into a silence, thinking: Would the city still be here in 100 years? In 50 years?