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 totaled 7. Ever since, I had planned a similar excursion for 2008, but my summer schedule did 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, I awoke at 4:00am and had been driving since 4:25am except for a short break to hike to 40 North 103 West. As it was now 9:00am, I was looking forward to a break that would feature a bit longer hike.
Getting close, I encountered some fairly significant delay east of Yuma, Colorado, due to road construction. Then, I passed some buttes that I had not remembered on my earlier [visit] to Wray that were of surprising height. I entered Nebraska, driving southeast on US Highway 6. Just before the first Nebraska town, that of Haigler, I turned west on a gravel county road. It was being graded a little ways ahead, so I stopped for a moment, and reflected. I think that road grading would be an excellent job for a person who liked the solitude. It sort of reminded me of Glenn Campbell's song "Wichita Lineman" about the person who was out on the landscape everyday monitoring and repairing telephone lines. Starting onward again, I must state that I was a bit doubtful that I could in fact reach this confluence, due to the extensive planning by the previous visitor. I was hoping I could meet these same landowners, but I did not have their telephone number with me. I drove west until just before the river valley, selecting a driveway marked by a mailbox. As happens so often on these confluence treks when luck goes one's way, I could not have selected a better entry point.
The driveway was long, heading south-southwest, ending in a fairly steep uphill climb. Once at the top of the hill, I encountered three surprises: (1) The farmhouse was abandoned; (2) Incredibly, a truck was driving slowly on the other side of the farmhouse, out here where I least expected it; (3) A mid-to-large sized dog was bounding out of the truck, straight for me!
My first thought upon seeng the dog was that this would be my last confluence visit: Someone would find my body here someday adding another layer to the Nebraska topsoil. I did my best to approach the dog in a nonthreatening way. The dog’s owner was a man who was now standing near the truck, but the dog nipped at my ankles and continued circling and barking. I was a long way from any hospital. The dog’s owner called to the dog but it remained, well, "vigilant" I suppose is a good description. I would have been too, if I had been the dog. I could have been anyone, rather than simply a Geographer Seeking Center. After explaining to the dog’s owner my quest, he completely understood. In fact, he used to serve as a professor at Colorado State University in the Agronomy Department. Now he runs cattle here and on other properties of his. He granted permission and I was overjoyed.
I gathered supplies and put on some sunblock, walking due south on the road and then through the backyard. I scaled the fence and due to the tumbleweeds there and my own usual grace, I fell headlong down the other side. The landowner was off to my left now in his truck, and if he saw me, I’m sure he thought that I was a bumbling urbanite who didn’t know the first thing about climbing a fence. Once recovered from being head down in the tumbleweeds, I executed my plan, which was to head south over the hills to the confluence point. My GPS read about 2 km to the spot. Numerous cattle were eyeing me, and as I hiked along, they made a game of gathering in a large herd and running ahead of me, then stopping, then repeating. I took a video of all of this as I felt just like someone on the Chisholm Trail must have felt during the cattle drives of the late 1800s.
I climbed several low hills, keeping a watch for cactus (which was numerous) and snakes (which, fortunately, were not). I found a four-wheel drive trail and followed it until it veered off to the river valley to the west. I hiked southwest and crawled under one more fence, which may well have been the fence at the Nebraska-Kansas border. I descended into Kansas, into a valley about 300 meters wide and several kilometers long, populated by numerous cattle and a lone windmill and water tank. I found the confluence on the north side of this valley.
With no trees and a wide open sky, I had no trouble zeroing out the GPS receiver and found the confluence on the south-facing slope of about 10 degrees. An animal's den lay just one meter to the west. At least 50 cattle came over after a few minutes, and suddenly there was a 5-minute Moo Fest. They stopped, probably bored of me, and moved away. The temperature was a bit warm, about 85 F (29 C) under largely clear skies, though it was not as hot as it could have been. I spent about 20 minutes at the site, not wanting to leave, as it was a beautiful spot. I looked at my GPS track and decided to do my favorite thing--return a different way. I hiked back to the northeast, into Nebraska, and then northwest, and was rewarded with a pleasant view of the valley to the west and north.
Upon my return to the farmhouse, I found the owner and his dog on the west step. Now that I was an approved visitor, the dog did not want me to leave. He stood on his hind legs and held onto my leg with his front paws with surprising strength. This really was getting quite interesting. The owner and I chatted for quite awhile, perhaps 30 minutes. He told me that when his folks moved to this farmhouse, the valley to the west was completely devoid of trees. Like other areas on the Great Plains, the trees planted by early settlers have spread quite a bit in the past two to three generations. The Colorado-Kansas-Nebraska marker was a few kilometers to the west-northwest, but I lacked the time to visit it. This boundary corner was supposed to be at the point of 40 North 102 West, and it was amazing to think of the original surveyors, riding their horses and eating hardtack, being so close to the actual confluence. We chatted about surveying, agriculture, land use, geography, and much more, and I could have stayed longer, but needed to get to my destination and help prepare the computer lab for our GIS and GPS instruction.
I walked back to the vehicle baking in the sun and bid the landowner and dog (once the dog released me) farewell. I drove back down the driveway, then east. The road grader was still on the job. I drove into Haigler, and then east on US Highway 6. I saw a sign along the roadway that stated "In God We Trust, In Hillary, We Don't." I proceeded east to McCook and then north on US Highway 83 to North Platte. Yes, a perfect start to the Nebraska GIS/GPS institute!