09-Dec-2005 -- As I had spent the past few days teaching a GIS and GPS workshop for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, a confluence visit seemed like an excellent way to end the trip. I departed Valentine, Nebraska, at 8:30am, and at 11am, I arrived at Carhenge. Carhenge, where Jim Reinders with a big imagination and 38 automobiles sought to replicate Stonehenge, lies about 9 miles (14.5 km) northeast of the confluence of 42 North 103 West. Next, I passed through the town of Alliance, Nebraska, turned south on US Highway 385, and west on the southernmost east-west road in Box Butte County. The book I was listening to on tape, "The Piano Tuner," had just finished as I neared the confluence site.
I scanned the fields to the south of the road, choosing to stop along a line of planted trees midway between the two nearest farmhouses. With the GPS indicating 1.5 kilometers to the confluence, I gathered a few supplies and set off to the south along the trail at the edge of a cornfield. The previous few days while I had been teaching had been bitterly cold, down to -19 F (-28 C), and I was therefore a bit overdressed today as the temperature neared 25 F (-4 C). After a few hundred meters and one barbed-wire gate, I switched to the west side of a fence and stepped over the fence lying on the ground between the cultivated and uncultivated sections of the famous Nebraska Sand Hills. These unique grass-covered hills cover an area of 61,100 square kilometers, and are one of my favorite ecosystems.
The sand hills were covered with windblown snow, up to about 7 inches (18 cm) deep in places, making for a bit of a slippery walk. However, those who have spent any time in these sand hills will understand me when I say how enjoyable it was, hiking up and down, and receiving wonderful vistas upon every crest. It does the soul good to see wide open spaces, uncluttered by houses or stores. I aimed toward the southwest. At one of the fences, I crossed from Box Butte to Morrill County.
After 50 minutes from the start of my hike, I came upon the confluence site. Not surprisingly, I found it on the side of one of the hills, sloping 30 degrees to the west, on one of the curious third-meter-wide terraces that characterize the hills. I saw no birds, animals, or people, but plenty of evidence of field mice and rabbits. The skies were clear, and not surprisingly, it was moderately windy. I spent 15 minutes at the confluence, including a hike to the top of the hill on which the confluence was located. This was one of the tallest hills in the immediate vicinity. As I was on the northern edge of this part of the sand hills, I could see at least 25 kilometers to the north, and about 10 km to the south. This was my 9th confluence in Nebraska, which might be my record for any state, topping even my own, Colorado. I had stood on 42 degrees north latitude several times before, in Nebraska, Illinois, and Wyoming, and I had previously stood on 103 west in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.
Those who know me know how much I like "circle" hikes, where the return route is different from the route to the destination. I hiked northeast from the confluence hill, a route that took me to the southeast from the way I had entered the sand hills. Descending the hills, I hiked north along the field edge once again. I returned to the vehicle just before 1pm, about 95 minutes after I began the trek. I then drove east on the county road and south on US Highway 385 toward Colorado, pausing to examine the area of the confluence from the highway as I passed due east of it. I love the sand hills.