03-Apr-2016 -- As I had just arrived in the Great Falls area to give a keynote address at the Montana GIS Conference, and as the keynote and the workshops and papers I was presenting all focused on spatial thinking, fieldwork, education, and geotechnologies, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect beginning. There were four confluence points within reach of Great Falls. One, to the southeast of the city, was in the mountains and the season was too early; i.e. it would be too snowy, to attempt that one. The other was along Interstate Highway 15 southwest of the city, which had been visited fairly often. That left two points: 48 N 111 W and 48 N 112 W. This afternoon, I aimed for the former, and hoped to visit the latter on my way back to the airport, in a few days. I looked forward to some time out on the wide open grasslands, indeed, Big Sky Country, the Montana namesake. And the point beckoned for an additional reason: It had not been visited since 2003!
Once out of the airport, I wasted no time in driving through the city and out onto the grasslands, northeast along US Highway 87. The day was surprisingly mild for early April, and surprisingly calm. At Carter, I turned north on State Highway 564, a bit dismayed to find that it was not only gravel, but fairly thick so that I had to drive slowly to avoid slipping. But, not to worry: April sunsets are already quite late in the day, due to our northerly latitude here, and I had several hours of daylight left. I had woken up at 3:00 am that day to get my flight out of San Francisco, but felt new energy driving in an absolutely beautiful late afternoon. The hay bales were stacked occasionally, and some wildflowers bloomed, but mostly it was the grasses waving under a blue sky and what was shaping up to be a magnificent sunset. After about 55 minutes from Great Falls, a bit north of 48 North, I stopped, and turned the vehicle around, in a low part of the road. I gathered supplies and set out to the southwest.
The GPS showed about 1,100 meters to the confluence point, and the hike was up and over a series of low hills. I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes but saw none; nothing in the animal kingdom but a few birds. The cattle were absent today but I saw plenty of cattle trails. One crisscrossed in a large X which I thought was appropriate for so near to a confluence. In about 25 minutes, I was on the spot, which was covered in some grasses but bare soil abounded too. The view to the south was quite long, including some distant mountains far to the south-southeast. The temperature stood at 63 F (17 C) under only a moderate breeze, but enough to make photographing myself with my confluence sign a challenge. The view to the north was more limited with the rise in hills there. I was only 1 degree south of the USA-Canada border. This was my first time at this point and it had been years since I stood on 48 North. I had stood on 48 North in Washington state and in North Dakota. I had never before stood on 111 West and enjoyed the moment. I had no problem zeroing out the GPS receiver and re-took some photographs after the sun reappeared, as happens frequently to me at these confluence points. It was amazing to think that this point had not been visited since 2003, and yet it was pretty easy to find.
It was strange to think that I was now wandering the shortgrass prairie, when 24 hours before, I was walking on the Golden Gate Bridge at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in San Francisco. Such is our great planet and our 21st Century ability to traverse it at speeds not long ago thought impossible. I walked out on a slightly different route than I had come in, as I do highly favor a loop, as a geographer, and arrived back at the vehicle. On the way, I filmed some grassland videos, and a few more along the road and one at an abandoned building in Carter. The sunset turned out to be magnificent. I made it back to Great Falls by dusk, whereupon I began final preparation for the GIS conference. The conference and the participants turned out to be magnificent, as I knew they would be. I used the photograph of myself taken at 48 North 111 West as the introduction to my keynote address!