07-May-2006 -- The most amazing thing about this confluence visit was not the surface trek, but rather, the flight over it. Approximately three hours before my ground visit, I was approaching the San Jose International Airport. Hoping that we would fly close to the confluence that I had planned to visit, imagine my enthusiasm when I found myself on the south side of the airplane as we cruised a few thousand feet above the surface. Directly underneath me was California Highway 152, and to the left (south), I could clearly see the powerlines, meadows, cows, all approaches to the confluence as well as the very hill that the confluence must surely lie upon. I could have taken some excellent oblique aerial photographs, but the crew had already called for "all electronic devices" to be turned off. I landed by 10am and made a brief stop at the US Geological Survey's offices in Menlo Park, where my colleagues were getting ready for an open house to be held in a few weeks. This open house would highlight the things the USGS does for the benefit of society, such as mapping, earthquake studies, and water quality monitoring, timed in part to commemorate the 1906 San Francisco earthquake of a century ago.
By 11:20am, I was driving south on US Highway 101. I exited at California State Highway 152 and drove to the Central Valley, seeing everything on the ground just as I had seen it from the airplane just a few hours before. This was a landscape that so typified All That Is California: The Massive Power Grid--powerlines everywhere. Channelized water for irrigation: The enormous California Aqueduct and San Luis Reservoir. Intensive agriculture. Grazing cattle. Rolling hills dotted with magnificent oaks. Geology twisted by movement along the Plate boundary. Sunny skies.
I had been wondering why no confluence visitor before me had approached this confluence from the north--Jasper Sears Road. I exited Highway 152 at Highway 33 and changed my clothes at the gas station there. I had ruined too many nice clothes in various thorny and muddy confluence treks, and for once, I had planned ahead. I bought some water as well as the day was quite hot already and I knew that there would be no shade on the confluence hike. I passed a throng of off-road motorcycle enthusiasts--children and adults--on Jasper Sears Road, but at 4.2 km to the confluence, the road was locked and gated.
I took a photograph of the wind turbines there and marked a waypoint in case this turned out to be the closest approach. I drove back to State Highway 152 and continued east, passed under Interstate Highway 5, and took Billy Wright Road toward the southwest. With about 1.9 kilometers to the confluence, this road also was locked and gated. As I was much closer than on the other road, I gathered my supplies, applied some sunblock, and set off on foot.
For about the first kilometer, I was able to follow four-wheel drive trails. I passed under one of the massive power lines and descended into a hollow where an old corral lay bleaching under the California sun. After a short rise, I skirted a very large boulder, which in the north-central USA might have been a glacial erratic, but its origin here was puzzling. After sliding under two gates, I slid under a barbed wire fence and set off on the southwest side of some large hills.
It was a privilege to be venturing toward a confluence that had been visited by Terje Mathisen, one of the confluence coordinators. As Terje observed, as soon as I walked on the open fields, hundreds of burr-like seeds attached themselves to my shoes and socks, and made walking quite uncomfortable. One of the things we teach in physical geography is many ways that seeds are transported. These extremely efficient seeds were hitching a ride on me, but I would spend an hour in the hotel room, picking them off as best I could, and not replanting them. I kept an eye on the cows to the west, every one of them looking at me. My estimate that the confluence would be on one of the large hills was wrong, and I made a loop that traversed the valley to the southwest, finding the confluence on the opposite side, at 1:38pm (my GPS is set to mountain time, one hour later than local time).
This was an amazing landscape--brown and blue, not a tree nor a single shrub on these grassy hills. The confluence lies on a slope of 15 degrees to the northeast. I could see one house to the east from the site. Although it was only the beginning of May, the temperature was a hot 91 F (33 C) under absolutely clear skies and moderate breezes. I saw numerous ground animals about the size of small prairie dogs, several magnificent birds--an eagle, and several crows, but no people.
I had been to 37 North several times, in California, Colorado, and Virginia. This was my first time on 121 West. As I stood there feeling centered, a lone cow appeared, no doubt being sent from the group to investigate. I took this as a hint to depart, this time heading west so that I could do my favorite thing--hike out a different way than hiking in. I made haste as I needed to set up to teach a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) workshop.
I encounted a watering hole to the west, surrounded by cattle, and found a trail to the north. This led to a four-wheel drive road, and after awhile, I was heading back along the route that I had taken in. I reached the vehicle after 90 minutes of hiking and took a long drink of water. Not far down the road, fruit trees appeared, which was interesting as I could detect no obvious means of irrigating them. A bit more to the east was a landfill. All of this symbolized the essence of California--it is at the same time a magnificent landscape and one under massive human impact. I drove west on State Highway 152 to US Highway 101, and north to San Jose, ready to set up for our GIS workshop at the National Water Quality Monitoring Conference. A perfect way to start the conference!