15-Oct-2005 -- We were in Birmingham, Alabama, for the annual meeting of the National Council for
Geographic Education in Birmingham. As this was the 90th anniversary of the NCGE, an organization dedicated to promoting geographic education and literacy, a confluence visit seemed particularly appropriate. In addition, I wanted to continue my streak of visiting confluences in conjunction with the NCGE conferences to four years. In 2002, I visited 40 North 75 West in New Jersey with a geography teacher. The next year, Shannon White and I made a glorious but ill-fated attempt on 41 North 112 West in the marsh of Utah's Great Salt Lake. In 2004, I visited 5 confluences in Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri en route to the NCGE conference in Kansas City. This year would be extra special, because joining me was Shannon White once again, now Dr. Shannon White, as well as Tom Luther, Michael Chinneck, and Lilia Kerski. Most of us had trekked to confluences before, and Lilia had helped me set up a geocaching route in downtown Birmingham for conference attendees. We were happy to introduce Michael to the Degree Confluence Project, particularly because he would shortly become a full-time middle school teacher with an emphasis on social studies and geography.
We left the conference site in Birmingham at 930am and Tom soon had us clipping northward along Interstate Highway 65. We left the highway at Exit 299 and tacked to the southwest on State Highway 69. Just north of Bremen, we headed northwest along County Road 222, and then south along County Road 108. The countryside is rolling; one could even call it mountainous, here in the Southern Appalachians. Hardwoods, magnolia, and hickory predominate as the natural vegetation. Homes were quite neat and fairly prosperous. We passed interesting places of local culture including the "Cuttin' Up" hairstylist and a combination "Working 4 You Realty" and Taekwando emporium. We saw horses and cows grazing, and an occasional field of corn. This would be a wonderful bicycle ride, and interesting to visit Lewis Smith Lake just 6 km to the north.
We stopped just south of 34 North latitude, with a reading of about 850 meters to the confluence, at a gate fronting what was almost an abandoned road. A moderately dense forest lay ahead, playing tricks on the GPS receivers a bit, but we knew we had to cross this forest to our destination. The forest was filled with fairly young to middle-age trees. We walked up the abandoned road to the top of the hill, where a few outbuildings existed accompanied by, unfortunately, the sound of a dog barking. As we were, by that time, north of 34 North, we left the abandoned road and made a east-southeast beeline
toward our goal. We reached what appeared to be a new barbed wire fence about 2 meters high, and various members of our group traversed it by climbing over it or else slithering underneath it. Just 30 meters before the confluence, we broke free of the trees and located the spot after a hike of 25 minutes. Our arrival time was just after 11 am (my GPS receiver is set to mountain time).
The confluence of 34 North 87 West lies just a few meters to the north of a stream draining into Coon Creek that is about 1 meter wide and perhaps 10 cm deep. South of us lay a field that had was currently being grazed. Ample evidence told us that the cows had also been grazing in the forest, as well. The confluence ground is fairly level and is covered with branches, grasses, and bushes. It was a wonderful early autumn day, with summer reluctant to depart. The thermometer on my GPS bag showed 29 C (84 F).
I could not help but think of the other times I have visited 34 North, in North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. This was my first time to stand on 87 West. On the way out of the forest, we made for a direct route to the car, partly, in my mind, to avoid the dog we had heard. Not 50 meters west of the confluence, we found a wildlife observation platform made for hunting purposes. The rungs were made from an old "monkey bars" playground equipment. When we reached the barbed wire fence, Shannon spotted fur from an animal who had no doubt come from his or her own confluence trek. We reached the abandoned road and walked southwest to the vehicle. Lilia, sweet girl that she is, sported three new mosquito bites, one of which went right through her clothes. These were some of the finest confluence companions that anyone could wish for, and we had amiable conversations about geography.
We drove back to Birmingham, where we had a wonderful GIS meeting and I met two additional Alabama folks that I have a feeling I'll be friends with for a long time. Just four days before, I had arrived in Alabama for the first time, and now had my first Alabama confluence and some new Alabama friends. These were ingredients for an excellent week!