30-Apr-2006 -- I hadn’t originally intended on visiting this site, my 21st confluence, but my new hobby brought me too close to this point to pass it up. Since the virgin confluences in the 48 states are no more, and since I’m monolingual (i.e., American), I decided to tackle a new pursuit—visiting tri-state corners, the unique points where three states coincide. There are sixty-two of these points in the U.S., thirty-eight on land, and I’ve been to seven of them already just since May of 2005. I opted to visit the nearest tri-state corner to my nonagenarian grandmothers in western Kansas, and that was the KS-CO-NE meeting point. This point is a mere 2.74 miles (4.42 km) from the confluence of 40ºN and 102ºW, so I contacted the Cheyenne County Clerk’s office to find the confluence landowner. They were extremely helpful, faxing me the info within an hour. There was a note asking me to “please remit $2 for this service,” which is the first time I’ve ever been asked to pay anything! I sent them a check and contacted the landowner, a wonderful cattle rancher named Mark. He and his wife Karen were very helpful, and after reading a plethora of material I sent them, they agreed to my late April visit.
This journey began bright and early on Saturday, April 29, 2006, from my budget motel near the Denver airport. A confluence tradition, I opted for the cheapest rental car only to be upgraded (this time) to a baby-blue Dodge Caravan—with 17 miles on the odometer and a rate of $12/day! I was sorely disappointed in the gas mileage vs. my Honda del Sol, but gas prices in the Plains states were at levels not seen for months in California. I made good time on I-70, arriving in McCracken, KS, around 2:25 pm. My 93-year-old maternal gramma was waiting for me; she looked great, and we had a fantastic time getting caught up. I spent two of my three hours with her asking about her direct ancestors, furiously writing down everything I could. With my aunt, I even enjoyed a quick jaunt to the local cemetery, where I located many of my direct ancestors’ tombstones and photographed them. It was then off to WaKeeney, KS, to visit my paternal grandmother. I stopped at my dad’s childhood home in Brownell, and then every few miles for scenic photo ops, most especially the double rainbow between Brownell and Ogallah.
I had a lovely visit with Gramma at her home after checking into my cozy B&B in downtown WaKeeney. Despite my admonitions to not worry about feeding me, each granny offered up some tasty morsels during my brief visits (as grandmothers are wont to do). After dinner, I also queried this family matriarch about her parents, grandparents, etc. I learned so many things from these beautiful ladies, and relished every second together before retiring for the evening. I think the best moment, though, was showing Gramma our latest CD (I’m the boy singer in “Big Band Theory,” a group of swinging JPL musicians). She had tears in her eyes as this music from her youth rang out from my car stereo. We commented how much my grandpa (a wheat farmer by day and jazz guitarist at night) would have loved it. She was so inspired that she had me figure out how to operate her CD player, which had never been used. In short order, I had her “boombox” blasting out sounds reminiscent of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and so many more. What a special evening!
Sunday the 30th dawned bright and sunny, and I enjoyed a wonderful country breakfast at my B&B before taking off west on I-70. I made excellent time to Colby, gassed up, and then traveled north on Hwy 25 to Atwood, where I turned west on Hwy 36. After passing through St. Francis, I turned north on Hwy 27 towards Haigler, NE. I passed a historic marker and soaked up a bit of Native American history, since I was a solid half-hour ahead of schedule. After crossing the Nebraska line, I rolled into Haigler, stopped at the town’s only café, and called the landowners. They arrived in short order, along with their friends Heidi and Darcy. In two trucks, the five of us set off to the confluence, with the obligatory extremely bouncy passage through cow pastures. From the confluence photograph from the first incomplete visit, Mark was able to get me very close to the confluence just by dead reckoning. I did the last few meters myself on foot, obtaining an all-zeroes photograph with eleven GPS satellites tracking (all differentially with WAAS). The accuracy was good to 7 feet (2.1 meters), and the average of all elevation measurements from multiple GPS photographs was 3335 feet (1017 meters), which is in excellent agreement with my best topographic map estimate of 3333 feet (1016 meters).
I took the requisite N-E-S-W photographs from the confluence, and then took a close-up photo of the best scenery at the confluence point, the windmill to the southwest. Mark, Karen, Heidi, and Darcy seemed pleased when I asked to take their photograph for the website as well, also near the windmill. Confluence virgins no more, the five of us set off for the tri-state corner. We found it with little difficulty, and I naturally captured the moment with pixels. Can you fathom tracking down such a point and NOT putting your hand right on three states simultaneously? I cannot, of course! After this brief stop, we headed a few hundred feet south to the old tri-state corner marker. Mark and Karen seemed intrigued that the degree confluence point on their land was meant to be the tri-state corner (40ºN meets 102ºW), but surveying errors in the 1800’s led to the few-mile discrepancy seen today.
After the “second” tri-state corner stop, we beat a hasty retreat for Haigler. I offered to buy everyone lunch to celebrate our confluence adventure, but unfortunately the cute sisters Darcy and Heidi had their own lunch date with THEIR grandmother. We had a great Midwestern lunch in the café while I queried Mark and Karen about the flora, fauna, geology, and history of the confluence area. They were fantastically knowledgeable about all these things, and I’m happy to share their expertise here. Well-known fauna of this area include small scorpions, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, coyotes, jackrabbits, black-tail and white-tail deer, wild turkeys, meadowlark, doves, prairie chickens, hawks, grasshoppers, pheasants, monarch butterflies, badgers, opossums, and porcupines, just to mention a few species. Area flora include cottonwood, Russian olive trees, sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, pin cushion cactus, hackberry, and western red cedar. The soil is primarily a loam soil, with caprock (an ancient sandstone seabed) just southwest of the confluence. This location on the Central High Plains is semi-arid, with an average of about 14” of rainfall per annum, though they are now in the midst of a solid dozen-year drought. This area was devastated during the 1930’s Dust Bowl; area Siberian elms were planted after the dust subsided.
Mark and Karen themselves raise Black Angus cattle, but also do a bit of winter wheat, alfalfa, and cane (sorghum) farming. Cattle primarily feed on native grasses; there are variety of grasses in this prairie locale, including soapwood (Yucca glauca), buffalo grass, downy brome, western wheat grass, dropseed, and grama grass. Some corn is grown in the area, with heavy irrigation. The nearby Arikaree and Republican Rivers are the local water sources, but there is not enough water to go around. Kansas actually has pursued litigation against Colorado and Nebraska for their “fair share” of Republican River water. Mining is not prevalent in this area, though there are some natural gas wells to the southwest of the confluence. I asked Mark about the size of his ranch, and his eloquent response was “Too big to make the bills; not big enough to make a real living.”
Historic Native American tribes in the area include Arapaho, Pawnee, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arikara. One of the most famous nearby battles was Beecher's Island, the September 17th-19th 1868 battle fought between Colonel George A. Forsyth's scouts and a group of about 750 Native Americans from several Plains Indian tribes. Haigler itself used to be a thriving railroad town; like many Midwestern communities, its population has dwindled recently. Haigler currently sports 211 residents, four of whom are some of the nicest people on the planet. I would like to thank Mark, Karen, Heidi, and Darcy for their tremendous Midwestern hospitality, vast knowledge, and wonderful senses of humor. It was a distinct pleasure making your acquaintance.