17-Aug-2002 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer at the US Geological Survey, departed for 39 North 102 West following two days of teaching a Geographic Information Systems class at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Since a part of the class involved collecting field data and coordinates with GPS receivers, I already had the equipment in hand. Therefore, the adventure required only a detour on my route back to Denver, Colorado, where I work. The detour allowed me to travel a segment of US 83 that I had never before traversed--from Valentine, Nebraska, to Colby, Kansas, providing wonderful vistas of the famous Nebraska Sand Hills.
After a short night at the Super 8 Motel in Colby, run by two amiable recent immigrants from Poland, I traveled west to Goodland on I-70 and south on Kansas 27 into Wallace County to the turnoff for Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas. After several miles on gravel section-line roads, I parked at the house of the Pickard family and knocked on the door at 6:55 am. Without a sound, two friendly dogs and one cat greeted me. After explaining to them my mission, I waited for 15 minutes for a sign of human inhabitants. After considering the well-kept lawn and buildings, and noting signs that stated "Welcome To Our Home," I considered it unlikely that the Pickards were waiting for me with a shotgun. Therefore, I left my USGS business card in the door with the reason for my visit and set forth on my journey into a truly ferocious wind.
The temperature swings on the Great Plains are vast--a hot 70 kph wind the previous afternoon with 100 F heat had given way this morning to a chilling wind. I traversed fields that had been planted in years past in corn and sunflowers. Fortunately for me, they were currently uncultivated. A field filled with corn would have made for an even longer journey. As it was, sinking into the soft Kansas earth and causing a miniature dust storm at each step, the hike required one hour and 15 minutes. The ranch house was far out of sight after hiking down a depression and back out again. After crawling under only one barbed-wire fence, I arrived at the confluence at 8:38 am local time.
According to the GPS unit, I trekked at 5.1 kph, and therefore walked 6.4 km to reach the spot. I noted that the Kreger Ranch house was only 1 kilometer to the northwest of the confluence, and starting there would have drastically shortened my walk. But, no matter--I had fresh air coming in a gale and a wonderful wide open panorama to enjoy. Even after studying geography in Kansas, I was amazed by the low population density in this far western part of the state, only five miles from the Colorado state line. I could see only two houses, and a grain elevator at the community of Weskan in the distance (see photographs). The ground containing the confluence has not been plowed for quite some time, containing a few yucca and short grass. From the ample evidence, the field apparently had been used for grazing at some point in the past. Although the field containing the confluence was largely barren ground, I did keep an eye out for rattlesnakes hiding in the prairie dog holes. It was quite a challenge to ensure that the GPS receiver did not blow away. I tried to hold things down with the only thing I could find--cowpies. The constant wind and the care required to ensure that nothing blew away required more than 30 minutes to take all the photographs. I found renewed respect for the high plains ranchers and farmers--this windstorm was just another ordinary day for them.
I kept an eye on the windmill for steadying my course into the wind on the return hike. Streams of hot air began to be an increasing part of the windstorm. After reaching the ranch at 10 am, I noted that my business card had either been taken down or had blown away. After knocking once more, I said farewell to the dogs and drove off on an expedition to Mount Sunflower. En route, I spotted a beautiful large skunk and rattlesnake. This "mountain," the highest point in Kansas, is a few miles west of the 39/102 confluence and is marked by a picnic table, a sign, a flag, other assorted objects, and a low rise in the terrain. At the sign, up drove rancher Tom, who told me that he enjoys meeting the different people who visit the "mountain" from all over the world. His neighbor owns the land that Mount Sunflower (elevation 4,039 feet) occupies, and I told him I appreciated the fact that his neighbor opens it to visitors. After discussing the 2002 drought with Tom, I drove south on Road 3 to US 40, and then west to Denver, arriving at 2pm. At a mirror in a gas station in Limon, I noticed that I was completely covered in Kansas topsoil! What better way to spend a Saturday morning?
As a graduate of the University of Kansas Department of Geography , it was a great honor for me to tag this confluence, the last remaining untagged confluence in Kansas.