28-Mar-2009 -- As I was in Las Vegas for the world's largest gathering of geographers, for the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, a confluence visit seemed like an appropriate way to end the conference. I have made it an annual tradition to visit a confluence in each location where the AAG conference has been held, for the past 6 years. These include treks to a ship canal in Louisiana, a soybean field in Illinois, a wood in Pennsylvania, and a marsh in New Hampshire. This very morning, I had an extremely lovely hike in the desert to 36 North 116 West, and as it neared midday, I contemplated visiting the confluence closest to Las Vegas, that of 36 North 115 West, before heading to the airport. As I passed the airport en route from 116 West to 115 West, I considered turning in the rental car right there. Curiosity won out, however: I was interested to find out how close suburbanization had come to the confluence. In 2003, when I was last here during a trip to Las Vegas with my mom and dad, I made a quick trip to this confluence and found it to be about a mile from the suburbs. Would it now be in someone's back yard? I recall that the terrain was steep at the confluence, which I hoped would hold suburbanization at bay.
Just after noon, I exited Interstate Highway 515 at Horizon Drive. I drove south on Horizon Ridge Parkway and west on Mission Drive. I had no maps with me but remembered the area from my 2003 visit. I was prepared for the expansion of the urban area but the contrast between the city and the desert was still striking. I drove literally to the end of the road, which was the west end of Mission Drive, and parked. Every online mapping service is out of date here as the suburbanization is so recent. The sun was blazing away near its zenith as part of a lovely spring day. I gathered supplies and clambered down into the concrete-lined culvert at the west end of the housing development. What was odd, however, is that the culvert is perpendicular to the natural drainage pattern that comes out of the mountains to the west-southwest of here. Did the planners not pay attention to the terrain? Were any geographers on staff? These were the questions that plagued me as I hiked to the northwest, down into the next drainage, and up the steep embankment on the other side. I climbed up through the spring wildflowers that were poking through the boulders, and soon arrived at the familiar spot beside the large rock that many have dubbed "the confluence rock."
The confluence lies on loose boulders on a steep slope, on the south side of a large butte. It affords excellent views in every direction except north into the face of the butte. One can clearly see, in the visits to this site, the encroachment of suburbia to this confluence. It has made the hike up here easier than ever, but sadly, shows how rapidly the desert has been turned into houses, lawns, and streets. One has to wonder how long it can go on. Certainly the economic downturn has slowed this expansion--many hotels in Las Vegas have suspended construction, and the steel shells are baking in the sun. And the suburban expansion cannot come any closer to the confluence, because this ground was thankfully open space called Sloan Canyon. Beside the confluence this time I found two new things that I had not seen in 2003. First, there was a cluster of yellow wildflowers. Second, I found, under a pile of hand-placed rocks, a geocache. This was obviously placed by geocachers, not confluence hunters, as one of the core tenets of the confluence project was to "leave no trace." I looked in the geocache and filmed a video of myself doing so that I placed on YouTube. The confluence was noisy; three children were playing in the park far below, and their sounds drifted quite far in the still hot air. I saw hikers far below and to the south, but no animals or birds. The temperature was already 80 F (27 C) even though it was only March. Obviously, much energy was required to keep all of those homes below me cool. On the other hand, I could not blame these folks. This south side of Henderson is indeed a scenic spot, and one can leave one's house for a nice desert hike in Sloan Canyon's open spaces.
I had stood on 36 North in California, here in Nevada, attempted one in Arizona, stood on it again in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. This is the only time I have stood on 115 West. This confluence is one of the most beautiful I have visited; I love the desert, and the incredible views in three of four directions.
I stayed for about 25 minutes, filming and enjoying the view. Then I was more than ready to leave Las Vegas, and hiked down to the vehicle, drove out the way I came in, to the airport, and flew home. On the way, I reflected on my week at the AAG conference. I had given several presentations and workshops, attended presentations given by others, and helped operate an ESRI exhibit in the exhibit hall. It was an incredible week of learning about geography--the world around us. This confluence brought home the value of protecting what we have, and how vulnerable the planet is. The conference represented the largest gathering of geographers on the planet (about 6,000), and the confluence visit was indeed the perfect end note. I also thought about the last time I had been to this confluence, with my mom and dad, in 2003. Although I have had over 100 confluence visits since then, I would trade them all to have my dad back with me still.