04-Feb-2004 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Colorado USA, visited Latitude 46 degrees North, Longitude 101 degrees West on a midwinter's day in extreme southern North Dakota. As I
had been working with Standing Rock Sioux
tribal professionals who use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and GPS and conversing with faculty about GIS and GPS at nearby Sitting Bull College, I thought a confluence visit would be the perfect end to my trip there. The confluence is inside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is part of the Great Sioux Nation that includes the Hunkpapa and Blackfeet bands.
I left Fort Yates just after 9:10 am under gray skies, light snow, and a temperature of about -10 C. I traveled south on North Dakota State Highway 24, and onto Highway 6 to Selfridge. Selfridge is a typical town abandoned by the railroad; its grain elevators and Railway Street paralleling tracks that have been pulled out. Nevertheless, the town is far from gone--quite a few people and vehicles were moving along its main street. Traveling due west out of Selfridge, I passed the track that the previous visitor had driven down; it was nothing more than a white expanse in the snow. I knew it would be about a 10 km round trip walk from this point. Considering the fact that I nearly froze two days earlier in the same weather conditions on a confluence trek that was only 1/3 as long, I decided to try to find a closer approach. After driving several more miles and finding no acceptable road to the south, I doubled back into Selfridge. As previous visitors have noted, not many of the roads on the map actually are roads; most are just fences along section lines or a tractor track. I followed the road south of town, another to the west, to the south, to the west, and to the south again; upon which I was very pleased to find myself 1.7 km from the confluence.
I had not seen a No Tresspassing sign during this trek, but naturally, now spotted several on the west side of the road in the very field in which I wanted to hike. The nearest dwelling is a farmhouse about 1.7km to the northeast of the confluence. I took a photograph; it was not quite abandoned, but it appeared to be only used seasonally.
I drove south of this house about 300 meters and parked at the side of the road, but not too far as to avoid getting stuck in the snow. At 10:20am local time, I began my
hike. I walked due west for 1.6 km just south of one of the treelines planted as windbreaks. This is gently undulating terrain and I soon lost sight of the vehicle in
the gray morning. I sunk into the snow up to my shins with every step, making slow progress until, halfway to the 101st meridian, I came across a vehicle track. Judging
from the lack of snow that had blown into it, the track was recent, perhaps even from that very morning. It afforded much faster walking on compacted snow. My fingers were
starting to freeze, so I put my GPS away until nearing the west end of the current field. As I was near the 101st meridian but south of the 46th parallel, I crossed the
treeline, which was not difficult as many trees were dead, and no fence was present along the line. I headed north into the next field, narrower than the one I had been
in, but with the same east-west extent. I found the confluence about two-thirds of the way across this field. The lack of trees made it easy to zero out the GPS unit, and I arrived at the site at 10:55am local time.
The confluence lies on flat ground in a cultivated field, probably of alfalfa. Despite the gently rolling terrain, the farthest horizon I could see was only 5 km away due to the leaden skies and falling snow. I was amazed that the previous visitor had driven to the actual spot. Except for the occasional riparian cottonwood tree, the landscape was naturally treeless in this shortgrass prairie region. Numerous groups of trees exist, but these have all been planted by humans for fencelines and for shelterbelts around farmhouses. Nowadays, after decades of population loss on the Great Plains since 1930, trees surround long-abandoned farmhouse sites with no building left standing. I saw no animals, but saw rabbit tracks and numerous flocks of birds along the section-line roads. Occasionally, the sky would brighten, as though the snow would end and the sun would come out, but it never did.
A confluence visit is always exciting for me, particularly one near a state or national boundary. This one is only a few miles north of the North Dakota-South Dakota boundary. Indeed, the boundary was originally set on 46 degrees north, but this latitude turned out to be several miles north of the state line. I had been to 46 North about 6 months earlier in a forest in Michigan (88 West), and in southwestern North Dakota (103 West) two days earlier. I spent 20 minutes at the confluence, enjoying the wide open spaces until my hands began to freeze while taking the photographs and movie. It was difficult to take decent photographs, given the uniform gray-white color of both the snow and the sky. I exited the confluence site at 11:20am.
As most confluence visits have a bit of the unexpected, I was not totally surprised to find a truck pulling up behind my vehicle. It turned out to be Tony, a housing supervisor for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He did not know the homeowners in the house to the north, but said they showed up occasionally to work in the mechanical shed in the back. Tony knew several of the people I had been working with in the Tribal Government and at Sitting Bull College. I gave him a roll of local and regional topographic and shaded relief maps that I had brought for the workshops and left him my contact information should he need more maps in the future. We parted on very amiable terms and wished
each other well. I drove back through Selfridge and into South Dakota, toward Mobridge and the Missouri River.