02-Mar-2011 -- As I was in the area for the Utah Coalition for Educational Technology, and as my focus at the conference would be on geotechnologies in education, a confluence visit seemed an appropriate way to begin. I awoke very early on 2 March, and, as it turned out, it may have been a bit too early. However, everything worked out and I had some nice moments in the country waiting for the sun to rise. The lateness of the sunrise I owed to the fact that Utah lies on the western edge of the mountain time zone.
By 4:30 a.m. I was driving south from Sandy, Utah, site of the conference on a magnificent road (State Highway 68) that soon followed the western shore of Utah Lake. I looked forward to some nice views later in the morning. For now, though, it was pitch dark, and remained so all the way into the town of Elberta. It was so dark that I missed my turn onto the side road, but realized my error when I came to the intersection with U.S. Highway 6. Turning on my phone, I verified my current position and turned on the maps, so that I could find the road to the northwest. I turned around there as a school bus was idling nearby. Surely its occupants must have been amused by my U-turn here. I drove back north, and back where the Elberta city limits sign existed was Elberta Slant Road. It was not labeled as such, but rather, West 14600 South, but its diagonal slant straight to the northwest was unmistakable, even in the darkness. As I turned onto the road, a hint of predawn light was now emerging over the mountains to the east.
Elberta Slant Road was in much worse condition than I had anticipated, and it was slow going to avoid the deep ruts and rough cattle guard crossings. I could see that in snow or rain, this would have been impassable in the rental car I was in, so I was fortunate that the weather was dry. Near the top of the gradual slope, just before the foothills, the road curved more to the west, and here I looked in the darkness for the side road that I had spotted on the satellite image. Sure enough, there it was, and I drove slowly up the road for 200 feet or so, through an open gate, and up a narrow lane, with sagebrush on both sides. After only 30 feet, I decided it was not to be attempted in a standard car, and I gingerly backed up and turned around in about an 8-point turn. I parked in the grassy area just before the main road, gathered supplies, and strode off to the north down the lane.
Immediately I was delighted: I could see that it would be a great morning for a hike in the high desert. Before me lay Utah Lake, in the distance and still largely in the darkness, with foothills to the left, or west, and a few snowcapped peaks to the northwest and beyond the lake, the Wasatch Range stood against the eastern horizon. After about 10 minutes, when the lane curved to the west, I started hiking cross country, descending first into the hollow near the dry stream bed, and then walking along a wire fence for several hundred meters to the east. When the fence bowed a bit with age, I stepped over it, and climbed the embankment to the north. I kept an eye out for snakes but saw none; not even a rabbit or a field mouse. After finding a four-wheel drive road on the top of the higher ground after the embankment, and finding that one way along the road was in the direction of the confluence, I took it, making even better time now. I arrived at the confluence before dawn, and therefore spent at least 20 minutes here. But I was productive, filming a promotional movie for the book I had written, The Essentials of the Environment. I had my book with me and the beautiful sunrise provided a magnificent backdrop for the movie. I walked back to the confluence point and decided that for now, owing to clouds in the east, the sun was not going to make an appearance. Therefore, I filmed the movie and took the confluence pictures.
The confluence therefore lies about 5 meters south of the four-wheel drive trail. The terrain here slopes to the east and is about half covered primarily by sage and the other half is bare dirt. I saw and heard numerous large birds but no animals. I had been to 40 north numerous times across North America, from New Jersey on the east, through Pennsylvania and Ohio, across Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and out west on the California-Nevada border. This latitude was probably my second-most visited latitude, right behind 39 North. This was my first Utah confluence at 40 North. I had stood on 112 West once before in Utah, with 2 more attempts in Utah and Arizona. This turned out to be an easier hike than I expected; I arrived here in about 25 minutes from the vehicle, and one of the more scenic of the over 200 points I had visited. The temperature in the early morning here was about 49 F (9 C) under largely cloudy skies. I spent over 45 minutes at the confluence point, largely because I had arrived too early for photographs, but I didn't mind because it was a beautiful spot.
But, I needed to go to work and had a school visit to make later in the morning, so I took my leave. I hiked out the way I had come in, but enjoyed seeing what I had missed earlier in the semi-darkness. I arrived at the vehicle, which fortunately was undisturbed, though a bit dirty, and took off listening to Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66. I drove slowly down Elberta Slant Road with the valley before me. It was now light enough to see the powerlines, under which lay the road that my colleague Shawn Fleming must have taken to the point in 2005. I then drove north on State Highway 68, and now had lovely views of Utah Lake, plus one more adventure. There must have been a landfill on the southwest corner of the lake, or something else behind a fence that attracted them, because I passed the most enormous flocks of birds I had ever seen, gathered at this one spot. Ther must have been tens of thousands. It was indeed a great way to begin the preparations for the Utah Coalition of Educational Technology conference. Those who do not like these semiarid lands truly do not know what they are missing.