11-Aug-2001 -- What a trip! Greg and I knew from the topos this was going to be fairly rugged country. The confluence is located on the west slope of Pine Mountain, deep in the heart of southeastern Kentucky's coal country.
We wanted to wait for cooler weather to attempt this. Between the terrain, the humidity, the copperheads and the timber rattlers, this was not the ideal time to bushwhack our way to the confluence of 37N and 83W. But the number of unattempted confluences in our state was down to two, so we knew it was time to make our move.
The trip to the location was an experience in itself. We drove from my farm in Kenton County (named for Kentucky's other famous pioneer) in Northern Kentucky, through the Bluegrass horse country of Bourbon County (namesake of Kentucky's other famous spirit), and on into the hills.
Passing through Hazard we witnessed reminders of the culture and history of Appalachia: proud people, coal mining, poverty and incredibly beautiful scenery.
As we drove through Viper, Greg recollected the story of his grandfather passing over these mountains as a young boy: coming from Tennessee, travelling by wagon over rough roads, crossing the Kentucky River, and settling in this small community.
We climbed the road up Pine Mountain to Hurricane Gap and took a left onto the Little Shepherd Trail. This one lane black top road took us along the crest of Pine Mountain to the Kingdom Come State Park. The park and trail take their names from the classic novel The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr., published in 1903. The story is set in these mountains during the time of the Civil War.
The overlooks in the park are spectacular, with views of Black Mountain, the highest in Kentucky at 4,139 feet to the east, and the escarpments, folds and valleys of the Kentucky River drainage to the west.
The girl in the park’s gift shop told about the bear problem they've been having recently as she shared pictures of a recent relocation attempt by the state wildlife people. They caught the mama and one of her two cubs. But they had to let them go, because they could not lure the other cub in. Wow, bears in Kentucky! While the rest of the country is wrestling with urban sprawl, this place is getting wilder.
We parked the truck off the road, less than a mile from the confluence. In a slight drizzle, we headed along the spine of the mountain zeroing in on the longitude. We were at an elevation of about 2650 feet, and we knew we would need to drop down about 1000 feet to get close to the target. So we kept our eyes peeled for a draw we could work our way down without getting rim-rocked.
We also kept our eyes peeled for snakes. Not 25 yards from the truck, Greg spied one poised on a branch right in our path. Fortunately, this one looked fairly benign and timid. Perhaps a garter or something like that. He scurried off in one direction and we in the other.
At 87.00.00 we found our gap and headed down the slope. Normally this pitch would be easy to traverse. The scree or rubble, like the talus slopes in the Rockies, made the going treacherous. Loose, slippery rock and a steep incline made every step a potential ankle buster.
We got down to a bench, where we could relax. We got our bearings and took a few minutes to observe the beautiful forest we found ourselves in. The oak, beech and poplar were straight and tall rising unbroken to the canopy. There was an occasional black walnut looking fat, gnarled and slightly out of place in this land of giants. The persimmon, magnolia, dogwood, and other trees filled in the understory. The ubiquitous rhododendron, the bane of all Kentucky bushwackers were nowhere to be found. Too steep? Too dry? Except for the occasional razor-wire vine called greenbriar, and patches of chest-high stinging nettle, moving through the vegetation was not at all difficult.
Greg found an orange salamander with black spots down either side of his back. We saw a couple more as we kicked over the rocks and detritus under which they were hiding. They appeared to be like chameleons, in that they changed colors to match their surroundings. Salamanders. Harbingers of the health of these mountains. What biological path did they come down? More species of these amphibians live in the Appalachian Mountains than anywhere on earth.
Working our way further down the slope, we stumbled upon a logging road. Was this mountainside clear-cut once upon a time, like so many other mountainsides in this state? The only evidence of logging was the road and the occasional obviously cut stump. Maybe these were remnants of the majestic chestnut trees that fueled the ecosystem and the economy of these mountains before the blight decimated the species and reduced them to suckers growing out of the still living root systems.
There were no signs of recent activity on the road, not even footprints, but the track was worn. Probably it is now used by four-wheelers and hunters, when the weather is more conducive to these activities. Today the temperate forest was a rain forest. The woods were like a tropical jungle.
We moved quickly along the road. The proximity alarm went off indicating we were within 500 feet of the confluence. We came and went past the longitude, but needed to drop down a bit more to get to the latitude.
We circled back around and the proximity alarm went off again indicating we were within 100 feet. We moved up and down and back and forth trying to get the fix we were looking for. We'd have the number, then we'd be off by a second. We'd move, get the number then lose it again. The distance indicator on the GPS was within 50 ft. It dropped to 15, back to 45, down to 10, then 7, back to 50. It finally seemed to lock in around 50.
So this was the place. We congratulated ourselves with a couple of warm, but refreshing pale ales, took the obligatory photographs, and reveled in the moment in this arbitrary space where two imaginary lines intersect. While this specific location surely has no historical, geopolitical, or cosmic significance, it does represent much that is important to us as men born on the cusp of the information age.
Using our alkaline battery powered, non-renewable energy-sourced, microprogrammed silicon-wafered liquid crystal war machine death star spy satellite receiver compass, we successfully achieved our goal to discover a peaceful woodland setting, where we could reflect on the resilience of the earth and its ability to renew a magnificent forest in a few generations, and to heal the scars of man's intrusion into the wilderness.
No, the confluence was no different a place than the intersection of 83.00.01 and 36.59.59. It was simply a place in the Kentucky woods.