18-May-2002 -- My trip to the confluence of 49N and 98W began at 11:00 on the morning of May 18, 2002 as I hefted my travel companion, dog Kailley, into the car and left my home in the St. Paul area. As the 45th parallel north passes within a few feet of the end of my driveway, the journey’s destination was to be exactly four degrees north of its starting point. The east to west dimension of the traverse would be a few minutes more than five degrees. On the interstate, as the hours and miles sped by, the landscape changed from the undulating prairie and farm fields of east central Minnesota to the wide flatness of the eastern North Dakota plains.
At the 98th meridian west, the 49th parallel north forms the border between the U.S. and Canada. I decided to approach the confluence from the Canadian side because my maps showed roads reaching much closer from the north than from the south. Upon hearing the reason for my visit, the Canadian border guard warned me not to cross the border while I was photographing. She said that to do so would be illegal and that the U.S. had helicopters monitoring the border to catch infiltrators. This conversation left me wishing that I had a more accurate GPS and imagining the headlines that would describe an international incident of that sort. Just beyond the border, lies the Manitoba tourist information center where the staff, exemplifying the "Friendly Manitoba" motto, outfitted me with detailed maps, guidebooks, weather information and a Manitoba bison lapel pin.
After traveling at interstate speeds all day, the slower pace of the Canadian rural highways seemed plodding at first. However, before long, the architecture and animals along the way caught my attention. Among the farms I passed were Mennonite farms, recognizable by the characteristic style of the house, barn and stable all attached together. The pastures were newly green after winter; cattle and horses ambled about them. Deer, rabbits and ducks were visible in the fields.
The rural highway becomes a gravel road that is intersected by the 98th meridian. Although it is the closest road running parallel to the 49th parallel, it is 55 seconds from the destination and I had a large, bazooka-size tripod to carry once I started walking so I backtracked to drive south on a farm road. After about an eighth of a mile, the road passed some very old, abandoned farm buildings, at which point it degenerated to mere tire tracks.
Eventually the tire tracks ended and it was time to walk. The fields around me were sprouting the beginnings of a crop, maybe winter wheat, but the way directly south of where I was appeared to be the boundary between two fields, as it was not planted. It would have been more expedient to follow the GPS directly to the confluence at this point but instead I went south and then west so as to tread upon as little of the crop as possible. I ended up heading west before I actually reached the 49th parallel because I had to pass a few north-south oriented deciduous windbreaks that crossed the parallel before I reached the 98th meridian. Based on the till pattern of the fields and the northern extent of the windbreaks, it appears that at some time the 49th parallel was surveyed to be several, perhaps 30, yards north of where my GPS and the satellite photos show it to be. The alternative would be that a landowner’s holdings intentionally span the international boundary.
The GPS showed the 98th meridian to be along the east side of one of the windbreaks. I followed this windbreak south until my GPS read N49 00’ 00" W098 00’ 00" and was surprised to find no markers at the confluence or anywhere else that I could see. The time was approaching 8:00pm and the sun was about one hand above the horizon, causing the windbreak to my west to cast long shadows. A strong wind was blowing from the north and I was now glad for the heaviness of my tripod as I took my photos. Then Kailley and I spent a few minutes taking in the sights and sounds of the evening before heading back to the car to start the trip home.