09-Jun-2008 -- As I was en route to teach GIS and GPS at Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte, Nebraska, I decided to combine the drive there with my planned Great Plains confluence trek of 2008. It was about this time in 2007 when I finally answered my longstanding question about how many confluences I could visit in one day. The answer ended up to be 7. Ever since, I had planned a similar excursion for 2008, to find out if I could in fact achieve 8 in one day, but my summer schedule would not allow for it this year. Therefore, I would have to settle for gathering a few while en route to Nebraska. With a bit of careful planning and execution, today I hoped to visit 40 North 103 West in Colorado, and 40 North 102 West at the corner where Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska meet. All it would require would be some state and US Highway driving, which most geographers prefer over interstate highways because it allows us to really see the landscape. Try getting off the interstate highway sometime! It will do you good.
It would also mean an early morning start. I awoke at 4:00am and was appreciative that I have a spouse who does not mind these still-dark alarm clock settings. By 4:25am, I was pulling out of the neighborhood, as I had everything but a few snacks packed the night before. Second only to 41 North 105 West, this is the closest confluence to my home that I had not yet visited. Without a purposeful trek to the spot, it is easy to miss, though, falling midway between US Highway 6 and US Highway 36. I confess that I did drive the interstate highway (70) to get out of Denver, but at Byers, I exited, heading due east on US Highway 36. On the Great Plains, things were magnificent. The sun rose a bit off to my left, owing to our proximity to the Summer Solstice. At Anton, I turned north on State Highway 63 until I reached the road closest to 40 North. As anyone familiar with the American Public Land Survey system knows, roads in this area are spaced every mile in regular intervals from Ohio to California, except where the population density is too low or the terrain does not allow it. Here, the road along 40 North was a fairly prominent gravel road, as it falls on an adjustment to the section lines, and even forms county boundaries elsewhere in the state. To the east, it forms the Kansas-Nebraska border, although the state boundary is actually several hundred meters north of 40 North, as I would discover in a few hours.
It was grand to be driving due east just about on a major parallel. I saw a building ahead, near where I wanted to stop. I was hoping it was not a farmhouse. Not wanting to bother residents at this early hour (7:00am), I was relieved when it turned out to be an outbuilding. There was a stone foundation of an earlier home here, a reminder of the days when smaller farms were the norm, before the agribusinesses of today.
I parked close to the 103rd Meridian, but as there were newly planted corn rows just to the south of me, I wanted to avoid trampling any crops. With rising food prices, some may think that these are good times for farmers, but their fuel and other costs have risen, and so it remains a tough business. I walked along the road to the house foundation, thinking about the residents who used to live here, and what the house looked like. I trekked through the "corner" of the section that was not covered by the giant circle of center pivot irrigation, and therefore not covered in corn, but weeds. Anyone who has seen these great circles from an airplane or from a satellite image knows that they are the norm, not only here in the central USA, but also appear in such places as Saudi Arabia. I then entered the giant circle, taking care not to damage any corn plants, which ranged from 10 to 30cm in height. I passed under the center pivot irrigation structure, and 5 minutes later, I arrived at the confluence.
On the Great Plains under a wide open sky and no trees, I locked on plenty of satellites and had no trouble zeroing out the receiver. I saw no animals but several birds. The confluence is on flat ground but the ground slopes off to the southwest, affording the best view from the site. The temperature was 75 F (24 C) under blue early morning skies with scarcely a wisp of cloud. I now have quite a few Colorado confluences—at least 10. I have visited 40 North numerous times before—from California on the west to New Jersey on the east. I have visited 103 West in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Colorado. It was a peaceful morning and I hated to leave, but the GIS/GPS institute was calling. I spent 15 minutes at the site. From the confluence, about 6 distant farmhouses are visible, but a few might be vacant. I thought of the Native American tribes such as the Cheyenne and Arapaho crossing this area, and the pioneer settlers in their wagons. The Pony Express passed not far away to the south, near the route of US 36.
I hiked out the way I had come in, noting that nobody had passed on the road close to 40 North during the time I had stood in the field. I continued driving east on County Road 30, north on County Road RR to Otis, and then east on US 6 in a quest for 40 North 102 West. I marveled that nobody had been here since 1999, except for the landowner, no doubt, traversing these fields to plant and harvest. A perfect beginning to the Nebraska GIS/GPS institute!