21-Apr-2007 -- Imagine the largest gathering of geographers ever assembled in one place, over 6,000, and not one of them visiting a confluence. The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers had been taking place all week in San Francisco, and, determined not to let the occasion slip by without a confluence visit, I, Joseph Kerski, considered it my duty to do so. Moreover, it was Earth Day, and it was only proper that I get out and explore the planet. Finally, I created a geography lesson on the oft-asked question, "Is California Splitting Off Into the Ocean?", and needed some photographs to improve the lesson.
And why choose this confluence to improve this lesson? This confluence is near the tip of Point Reyes, a fascinating piece of land on the Pacific Plate. Over time, the land over the San Andreas Fault, which separates the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate, has sunk to below sea level. The Pacific Ocean has flooded it, making the land to the west appear that it is indeed "splitting off" from the rest of California. So, at a certain scale, yes, the splitting is occurring. After years of teaching this lesson using maps and satellite imagery, I was looking forward to seeing Point Reyes in person.
I always tell myself when the alarm rings very early that a confluence visit is always worth losing sleep over. The alarm rang at 3:20am, and I checked out of my hotel, taking a cab driven by a very interesting San Francisco musician. I rented a car at the San Francisco airport, and by 4:45 was winding my way north, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I exited US Highway 101 and slowly wound toward the Coast on the famous Pacific Coast Highway 1. Slowly was the operative word, as this road winds every few dozen meters, it seems, and I also didn't want to run into a deer. Even so, the sky was still pitch dark when I made the turn on Sir Francis Drake Road into Point Reyes. I was beginning to wonder whether I would have to sit in the vehicle for awhile until I had enough light for the photographs. However, this national seashore road is quite long, and I was treated to a beautiful misty dawn as I passed the historical ranches that are still working.
While moving through the last ranch, the GPS said 38 North. I didn't like the idea of walking right through the ranch and disturbing the occupants and animals, so I continued on. The road made a bend to the west, climbed a hill, and I stopped at a location where ranchers had driven off road to the north. With the GPS stating that the confluence was a few hundred meters to the north, I set out, crossing no fences. The grasses were about a half-meter high and within a short time I was soaked from the knees down. However, it was a beautiful and forlorn spot, with the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach less than 1 km to the west, and absolutely nobody around. I skirted a large watering pond for cattle and a knoll, arriving at the confluence around 7am local time.
The confluence is on the north side of the knoll, on a slope of 30 degrees to the north. At the bottom of the slope was a small reservoir probably maintained for cattle, and the clearest views were to the north and east. The temperature stood at 52 F (11 C) under misty skies. The grass was interspersed with lovely flowers. I saw some cattle in the distance and a few seagulls but no people and no other animals. This was my first time to stand on the 123rd Meridian. I had stood on the 38th Parallel numerous times before, in Virginia, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, and in California. This was my 5th confluence in central California. I spent about 15 minutes at the confluence, climbing the knoll for an even better view of the ranch to the east, the "mainland" of California further east, and the coast to the north. The south view was blocked by a higher point of land south of the road.
I hiked back to the road and drove to the lighthouse at Point Reyes, about 1.5 km west. I walked to the lookout amid a herd of about 10 deer, taking photographs of them and a large crow with the crashing surf behind it. Truly the setting of this confluence is one of the most beautiful I have encountered, rivaled by one that came to mind on the New Zealand coast. This is the last confluence on the North American continent at 123 West. From here, there is no landfall until Antarctica!
Before I left the area, I took several photographs of the place where the ocean has encroached upon the San Andreas Fault for my lesson. By then, it was nearly 8:30am and I pondered whether to make a run for the confluence 1 degree to the north. Point Reyes was truly an excellent way to end a week of geography education and to celebrate Earth Day 2007!