01-Sep-2003 -- My prior confluence visits have done little to satiate my appetite for this unusual hobby. I decided to continue my adventures by visiting a few of the last remaining virgin confluences in the western United States. This enabled me to partake of some of the most beautiful scenery in America on a truly Type-A tour of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska and South Dakota. It also offered a wonderful side benefit-I picked up states #44 and #45 in visiting Wyoming and South Dakota, respectively. Watch out Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Kentucky, and Louisiana-I'm gunning for you! This confluence hunting adventure began on Saturday, August 30, 2003, with a successful visit to 41°N, 105°W. I then toured western Nebraska and spent Saturday night in Hot Springs, SD. I had a wonderful day, except for the speeding ticket, hitting a skunk, and the endless downpours.
Sunday the 31st was action-packed and eventful. I visited Wind Cave, Crazy Horse, and Mt. Rushmore before mid-afternoon. I really enjoyed the lovely scenery in the Black Hills of South Dakota, but Mt. Rushmore affected me most profoundly. I was overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism and emotion; the lump in my throat would not subside during my hour-long visit. Next on the to-do list was a visit to Badlands National Park. The views were exquisite-the western U.S. has nothing on this surreal landscape in the middle of the country. I truly enjoyed the colorful vistas, wild turkeys, and abundant cottonwood trees before hitting I-90 westbound.
I made good time through Rapid City but decided to do a "drive-by" tour of Deadwood at sundown. Alas, there were no shoot-outs as the sun dipped below the horizon-I guess I'll have to be content with road rage in Southern California for gun-battle spectating. I also arrived too late to check out the gravesites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Oh, well, at least my driving tour precluded losing my shorts within the plethora of local casinos. I pressed on to Spearfish, stopping for dinner and gasoline. It was after dark and I was not looking forward to the long drive to Buffalo, Wyoming, particularly given the large of number of deer I spied along I-90. I hit a deer in my poor little Honda del Sol last year (at 80 mph!), so I'm probably more spooked about it than the average person. Largely, I tried to follow fairly closely behind someone in the right lane to avoid making "Bambiburgers" with my rented Dodge Durango. The nickname I came up for one of these good samaritans was "The Deer Hunter," since I was able to follow him for over 100 miles.
I stopped in Gillette for gas and water, road weary to be sure. However, the views of the southern summer Milky Way out my driver's window renewed my spirits greatly. I arrived at Buffalo around 11 pm and checked into the Comfort Inn. I didn't have to meet the landowner whose property contains 44°N, 107°W until 11 am the next morning, so I caught up on some much-needed sack time. I did have to set the alarm for 8:45 am, though, to just make the continental breakfast at the motel. Invigorated by vittles of cereal, oatmeal, juices, fruit, a bagel, and a yummy cinnamon roll, I packed up and prepared for my eighth confluence adventure.
Precisely at 11 am MDT, the landowner drove up in his pick-up. He immediately offered me water, Gatorade, and a snack before we set off on the hour-long journey to his property. We took Highway 16 to Hazelton Road and then drove by Dullknife Reservoir on the way to the confluence. We had very nice conversations along the away, including the exchange of jokes and laughter. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, with a beautiful azure sky, a few cumulus clouds, and warm temperatures. It was around 85°F in Buffalo, but probably no more than 72°F at the 8000-foot-elevation confluence point. What a wonderful contrast vs. the dismal and rainy confluence visit to 41°N, 105°W!
We arrived at the entrance to the property, and I couldn't help but chuckle at the "no trespassing sign" there. It was a black tire, hanging on a fencepost, with large painted-on white letters reading, "Nosy bastards keep out!" We pressed on via truly bumpy and rutted roads, through the domain of dozens of skittish Rambouillet and Columbia crossbred sheep. I had forgotten my most detailed map of the confluence, as had the landowner. Confident that the Garmin could easily guide us to the waypoint, we pressed on past the sheep herders' quarters. From my preparatory work, it looked like we would have to hike about 2.4 miles round-trip to visit this confluence, though the topography wasn't too bad. As it turned out, we were able to drive straight to the confluence! I enjoyed nice views of the Bighorn Mountains, endless sagebrush, tall prairie grass, and lodgepole pines along the way. The landowner would really like to rid the property of much of the choking sagebrush, but controlled burning is always a dicey prospect.
As expected from the aerial views, the confluence was at the boundary of an open field of prairie and sagebrush and a small lodgepole pine forest. The timber is occasionally harvested, but this area looked unchanged vs. the ten-year-old aerial photograph. We took the requisite digital pictures from the site in the four cardinal directions. I also brought along a throwaway camera for redundancy. As usual, obtaining the coveted "all zeroes" shot on the GPS was a challenge, but persistence eventually paid off. With only four satellites tracking, I still managed a GPS accuracy of 25 feet (8 meters). The altitude measurement at this location, again from the GPS, was 8044 feet (2452 meters). This agrees quite well with my estimate of 8007 feet (2441 meters), based on detailed topographic maps. In fact, this agreement is actually far better than I deserve, given that at least four GPS satellites are required to even get an altitude estimate.
I asked the landowner about other wildlife in the area, and he mentioned an abundance of deer, elk, grasshoppers (big yellowish ones), and mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus. Since forty cases of West Nile had been reported in the surrounding area, we didn't tarry too long outside the cab of the truck. We took some pictures of each other at the confluence point and were on our way back. Luckily, this confluence was less than 1000 feet from a steep canyon leading down to the North Fork of the Powder River. In the words of the landowner, I was "on my own" if the confluence turned out to be in the canyon. I think we were both thrilled this confluence was reachable by truck, especially given some of the dense, six-foot-high sagebrush in the area.
We stopped at the sheep herders' quarters and exchanged stories of confluence hunting and land transactions in the area. They graciously offered each of us a Busch Light, which we happily accepted. My cubicle in Pasadena felt about a million miles away as we talked about coyotes, massive rainstorms, and the sheep-herding business. I would have liked to stay longer, but I had many miles yet to travel that day, so the landowner drove me back to Buffalo. I arrived around 4 pm MDT and bid him a fond farewell. We really got along very well, and I plan to keep in touch (at least with an annual Christmas card). I offered him lodging and hospitality should he visit Southern California, but such a visit didn't seem to appeal to him too much. Witnessing the vistas and population density afforded in this part of country, I can't say I blame him a bit!
I closed out this great Labor Day weekend adventure by driving to Devil's Tower. I arrived about 6 pm and took a few pictures before backtracking clear to Buffalo. This journey was not without some drama as well. I ran out of windshield wiper fluid just before hitting a biblical-level plague of grasshoppers. Their remains covered nearly every square inch of my windshield, but I didn't dare turn on the wipers. Worse yet, I was on I-90 westbound, at sunset, with no gas station for twenty miles! Somehow I survived this severe driving test, arriving in Gillette around 7:30 pm. I gassed up, had dinner, and prepared the Durango for the 450-mile trek to Denver. I hit Buffalo around 8:30 pm and transitioned to I-25S. I think I passed through Casper around 10:10 pm, and it was deserted, so naturally I dubbed it "Casper the Friendly Ghost Town." After a quick stop in Wheatland, I arrived at Denver around 2:20 am. I had driven 1700 miles in only three days, but this was the first time my internet driving directions had failed me. I was trying to find the Motel 6 near the airport, but I circled endlessly, the victim of erroneous directions. I finally found Motel 6 around 2:45 am, checked in, showered, and hit the hay by 3:15 am. Unfortunately, my wake-up call was for 4:30 am. I did make it to the airport on time and enjoyed a nice (and slumber-filled!) flight back to LAX.
I would like to thank the landowners for enabling this enjoyable confluence adventure. They asked me to mention that future visits to this confluence are discouraged. I wish them well in this beautiful oasis in the great state of Wyoming. It was really nice meeting you and talking on the phone during the planning phases of this trip.