20-Jul-2003 -- I decided to continue my confluence hunting odyssey in the South, having bagged 32°N, 86°W earlier in the day on Saturday, July 19, 2003. NASA business brought me to Huntsville, Alabama, for the 39th Joint Propulsion Conference, so I decided to arrive a few days before the conference to hunt some of the last remaining unvisited confluences in the South. There were three in the general vicinity-two in Alabama and one in Georgia. I made plans to visit all three, but was unsuccessful in obtaining permission to visit 31°N, 88°W in Alabama. After my harrowing experiences chasing down the intersection of 32°N and 86°W, I was ready for a nice "slam dunk" confluence visit. This one in south-central Georgia seemed to fit the bill nicely, only 400 yards off a dirt road near Milan, behind a chicken house on private property. I called up Telfair County to ascertain the landowner's contact information. The phone number I was given turned out to be for the chicken house itself, and I had a devil of a time understanding the strong accent of the gal who always picked up the phone there. Eventually, I obtained the home phone number of the owners. I talked to the lady of the house, and she told me (in a pretty thick drawl herself) that she has trouble understanding the gal at the chicken house, too!
Thanks to previous visit attempt (see visit #1), the owners were aware of the DCP and seemed amenable to a visit. When I found out the lady to whom I spoke was a teacher, I realized I could offer to give something back for the landowners' generosity. In fact, the owner's wife, sister, and niece are all teachers in the area. They were interested in confluence hunting as a scientific pursuit, perhaps one that could be brought into their classrooms. I also played the NASA "card," offering them cool space goodies for their students and email access for cosmic questions from the pupils. I thought this would be a good way to say thank you for access to the property. They seemed pleased but were disappointed I wouldn't be able to talk to their students directly, since a return visit to this area is unlikely anytime soon. With permission granted, I booked a room at the Magnolia Inn in McRae, Georgia, and prepared to snag the last virgin confluence in the state.
I left Montgomery, Alabama around 10 pm CDT on Saturday, July 19, 2003. This narrative picks up where the narrative for 32°N, 86°W leaves off. Unfortunately, especially given my fatigue, the route to McRae was a daunting 250 miles, with very little interstate highway. At least I had the CD player and A/C cranking, and the roads were dry. I took 85N towards Atlanta and stopped near Tuskegee for dinner and gasoline at a convenience store. I picked up a couple of sandwiches, some spicy potato chips only available in the South, and some good ole RC Cola! They didn't have Coke or Pepsi, but I didn't care after I checked the RC label and verified the presence of caffeine. I also had some Cajun-flavored boiled peanuts. It was self-serve, with Styrofoam bowls of different sizes. I asked the clerk how to do it (meaning the self-serving part) and she looked at me, quizzically, then spoke to me like a five-year-old, "You take a peanut, then you crack the shell, then you eat the nuts inside…." I beat a hasty retreat to the car to avoid further humiliation, pigged out, and hit the road.
I picked up Highway 280 around Opelika and headed southeast to Phenix City, Alabama, crossing the Georgia border at Columbus. Unfortunately, I was now on Eastern Time, so I lost a precious hour of much-needed sleep (given my already scheduled confluence appointment in the morning). I continued east on U.S. Highway 80 and State Highway 36, crossed I-75 south of Macon, and finally stopped in Bonaire to get my bearing. The gal at the convenience store was very nice, allowing me to view a Georgia state map without purchasing it. It was 2 am, and I was still 80 miles from McRae! I pressed on, finally enjoying about 20 miles of easy driving on I-16 S. I caught U.S. Highway 319 and drove 30 miles south to McRae, nearly comatose by this point. Luckily, I found the Magnolia Inn with little trouble. I checked in at 3:30 am EDT and took a much-needed shower before enjoying the great king-sized bed and A/C in the room. It was 4:30 am by the time I crashed out, which was unfortunate given my impending 6:30 am wake-up call!
Surprisingly, I felt quite refreshed in the morning. I showered, packed up, and checked out, enjoying a few complimentary pastries in the lobby of the inn. I called the landowners and said I would meet them by the chicken house. They seemed dubious that I knew exactly how to get there, but my internet directions did quite well. I was met by two parked trucks at the poultry building at 7:40 am EDT, Sunday, July 20, 1993. The owner and his wife, sister, and niece (i.e., the three teachers) were waiting for me. I showed the owners a printout of an aerial view, preparing to trek about 400 yards to the north. To my delight, they told me to pile in the truck so we could drive right to the confluence! As I mentioned, this was a welcome contrast from the struggles three degrees west of here. I rode shotgun and held the GPS by the window, as we bounced across grassland in air-conditioned comfort. The three gals actually rode on the tailgate! We drove right to a point where all zeroes displayed on the GPS. I took pictures in the four cardinal directions (after we moved the truck), and then we took a few pictures of the gang.
This area was quite beautiful and serene, having arrived about an hour after sunrise. That morning the weather was sticky and warm, but the grass was mostly dry and the sky was quite clear. The owner did keep a few cattle on this property, so we were dodging cow pies around the confluence. The black angus bulls and crossbred cows mooed at us loudly, since they weren't used to sharing their turf. The views in all four directions were distinctive, though the flora was pretty much identical, consisting of slash pines, water oaks, and coastal Bermuda grass. After snapping the perfunctory GPS photo, we erected a small monument at the confluence point. The owner offered to later upgrade my cheap wooden stake with a metal fencepost, and I graciously agreed. The view to the east includes hints of a metal scrap yard just southeast of the confluence point. It abounded with dozens of metal trailer homes and about fifty washers and dryers, a new feature of the landscape since the aerial views dated Valentine's Day, 1993. I was happy the views in the cardinal directions were generally of unspoiled nature in this most picturesque location. What a wonderful way to close out the virgin confluences in the fine state of Georgia!
We headed back to the south end of the chicken house, but not before challenging a bull for territory (from the safety of the truck, of course). He pawed in the dirt and tossed some our direction, but unfortunately those pictures didn't come out. Before I took off, we exchanged contact information and I showed them some NASA "show-and-tell" items, including a piece of aerogel (the least dense solid in the world), my iron meteorite, a space shuttle thermal protection tile (not from Columbia), and my 3D Mars poster. I was bummed that this visit was on a Sunday during the summer, precluding any chance to talk to these three teachers' students about my day job and about confluence hunting. The owner's dad drove up, so I was fortunate enough to meet him before bidding everyone farewell and starting my drive to Atlanta. I snapped a picture of the chicken house, quite similar to the image taken by the prior visitor, and then I was on my way. There were three chickens clucking about to the east of the chicken house. The prior visitor would hardly recognize the place now-all but a few stray chickens of the 230,000 there in 2001 are now gone. Unfortunately, these few strays (and a whiff of that distinctive chicken house odor) are all that remain-a tiny reminder of past hustle and bustle in this egg-producing community.
Along the way to Atlanta, I passed many fresh peach and pecan stands; I still regret not stopping. The most surreal experience on the drive to Atlanta was viewing a gargantuan, black, potbelly pig cross the road in front of me. He was at least seven feet long and weighed more than a ton, I'm quite sure. Fighting off my growing hunger for pork products, I pressed onward. I made great time to Atlanta until getting near the city. As a Southern Californian, I can say that we have nothing on the traffic in Atlanta! This caused me to be an hour late, but I did meet up with a friend of friend for a quick tour of this large jewel of the South. We hit Stone Mountain and the plantation there, before doing a quick drive-by tour of downtown Atlanta. I left town and drove I-20 westbound, just staying ahead of a forty-car pile-up! I set my clock back an hour after crossing the Alabama state line, and then I made excellent time to Birmingham and north to Huntsville. I arrived at my hotel at 8 pm, still in time to mooch at the Sunday evening reception for the 39th Joint Propulsion Conference! I regaled old friends with tales of confluence hunting before finally catching up on some much-needed shut-eye.
I would like to thank the landowners and their relatives for making this confluence adventure so memorable. It was a pleasure meeting you and visiting the final confluence to be documented in Georgia. I look forward to working with you and your students in the future, even if only from 2000 miles away