01-Apr-2007 -- As I had been in St Louis for 4 days teaching at the National Science Teachers Association conference, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect way to end the trip. We at ESRI operated a large geospatial zone in the exhibit hall, promoting spatial technologies for the over 8,000 teachers who attended, as well as in our three Geographic Information Systems-based workshops. Upon the conclusion of these events, I rented a car while it was still dark, and visited 38 North 89 West when the sun rose. On my way back to St Louis from south central Illinois, my goal was to make a quick stop at 38 North 90 West.
With confluence hunting, however, there is seldom a "quick stop." To begin with, I had no map to navigate from 38 North 89 West to 38 North 90 West. I used the general maps in my GPS unit and those that came with the rental car, and ended up having a wonderful morning. I passed through DuQuoin with its old-fashioned fairgrounds, then west on Illinois State Highway 154 at Pinkneyville, then west-southwest on Highway 150, when things became even more interesting. First, early spring brought an ocean of dandelion color to the fields and a bright green to the treetops, and the day was sunny and glorious. Second, I found an alternative radio station from St Louis that played acappella music, and then old-tyme western music, and it was delightful to tool along listening to "Rattlesnake Blues." Third, I was in some of my favorite terrain as I neared the confluence--river bottomlands. These areas are seldom in the news, except during flood events, and they were peacefully quiet this Sunday morning.
I drove north on Highway 3, west on Highway 7, and crossed the Kaskaskia River. I passed a road that I thought was the Lock and Dam Road, turned around, and traveled south on it. It was a 2 tire track that followed the river's levee. I was driving a rental car with a low clearance, and so I drove on the side of this track to avoid scraping bottom. As I came to the railroad crossing, I could see the road was becoming worse. However, there was no space to turn around. Well, there is usually an adventure to be had in each of these confluence journeys, and this was certainly it. As I continued south, I realized that Lock and Dam Road was really in the river bottomlands to my right (west), and that up ahead, I could reach it. Once I did so, I drove northwest on it, and then southwest on Flinton Station Road.
I turned left on the road that crossed the combination drainage ditch and bayou, passing the farming outbuildings, and recognized the site from those who had journeyed here before me. I exited the vehicle, expecting it to be the end of the adventure. My second surprise of the trip now began. I was not on the confluence! I realized that it would be over the embankment toward the bayou. Expecting to lose signal, I took a few photographs from my current position before plunging over the edge. It was a bit thorny but not too difficult. Now I was in another world, away from the fields, and except for the field in the distance, it looked similar to what it could have looked like hundreds of years ago. The sun reflected off the water, making it a lovely spot. To the southeast I startled a beautiful heron, and to the northwest, something large was moving in the water. I stood for awhile, trying to capture it with the camera's zoom. It was definitely not a fish, perhaps a river otter. I ambled around and determined that the confluence was less than a meter from a medium-sized tree. I was surprised to actually zero out the unit and manage to photograph the moment, but the early season when the trees were not in full leaf undoubtedly helped.
I gazed about me. I was on the meridian. Not just any meridian, but halfway between the Prime Meridian and the International Data Line! The confluence lies on fairly steep ground, in the Mississippi River floodplain, sloping 30 degrees to the northeast, about 7 meters from the bayou's waterline, and 4 meters from the road above. The temperature was 65 F (18 C) under clear skies with an ever-so-slight breeze; a beautiful spring morning. I could see a few farmhouses to the northeast. I saw no people or vehicles. The confluence is not far from St Genevieve, Missouri's oldest European settlement, dating from around 1730. It is refreshing to be out in the country.
I had been to 38 North several times before, in Virginia, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, and California. I had been to 90 West twice before, in Illinois and in Louisiana. This was my 6th Illinois confluence! I took some movies and photographs, and lingered a bit, hoping that the otter would surface. Finally, I scrambled back up the embankment, turned around the vehicle, and drove to the car ferry at the Mississippi River, a few kilometers away. Apparently the ferry was not running, verified 10 minutes later by a couple coming for a look at the water who said had seen a "ferry out" sign. This lack of ferry would add to my journey time back to St Louis, but I took a few photographs and then had a truly marvelous time meandering back up the floodplain's back roads. Another fascinating landscape revealed through a confluence journey!