23-Aug-2009 -- There is a reason why, out of 9 visits thus far to this confluence, that this was the first visit in August. Among my nearly 200 confluence visits, I recall many a cold trek; visits in North Dakota and Nebraska come to mind, but my hike to 33 North 115 West was definitely and undeniably the hottest.
One might be able to blame this visit on US Airways. After landing at the Palm Springs airport, I arrived with less than 5 passengers. Only a few bags showed up at the baggage claim. The neat thing about the Palm Springs airport is that it is small and easy to navigate, but that also meant that there was no US Airways baggage service counter. After navigating to the check-in counter and waiting in line, the agent closed the window when I was next to the front because she needed to help the next plane land. I considered my options, and since my meetings and hotel were in Redlands, did not want to drive all the way there and back. I could visit a confluence, and then come back to the airport in the hope that my bag would be here later. I checked out my rental car and was soon on my way--at this airport, once in your car, there is no further stop required to verify your identification.
I had already twice been to the closest confluence to this airport, that of 34 North 116 West. Besides, that was in the wrong direction. I had also been, with my colleague, Dr Tom Baker, to the second closest confluence to the airport, in Joshua Tree National Park. Therefore I drove east on Interstate Highway 10, intent on 33 North 115 West. I passed through the outskirts of Blythe and drove down State Highway 78 along the Arizona-California border. Blythe was often the site of the hottest temperature in the USA, and today seemed like no exception. I stopped to take photographs of the canals irrigating the fields, and nearly roasted. Therefore, a short confluence walk gathered force as the main objective. Passing some magnificent geologic formations, I spotted an enormous mine straight ahead and knew I was close to my goal. Turning left at Vista Mine Road, I slowly headed south for about 10 minutes, crossing the 33rd Parallel. I made a U-turn, looking for a place to pull over. The graders of the road had piled large berms on both sides, I presumed the reason was to discourage off-road driving. Indeed, signs had been posted prohibiting the practice. A short distance north, I found a place in a riverbed where the berm was shorter, and pulled off with minimal difficulty.
I quickly gathered supplies, wasting no time. With the temperature at a rather dangerous 110 F, one cannot afford to tarry. With the GPS reading 1.8 kilometers or just over 1 mile to the confluence, it seemed doable despite the heat. I obviously would not be encountering any people out here, but I sincerely hoped it was also too hot for any snakes to be wandering the desert floor. At first, I tried to head straight along the dry riverbed that I had parked on, but realized soon that it and the others here were aligned northeast-southwest, and therefore, I needed to cut at an angle along them. About 100 meters into my trek, I startled an enormous bird, and then noticed that many dead trees were dotted with very large nests. I passed some ocotillo and other plants, many of which were obviously dead, and would have enjoyed the hike a bit more except for the heat. Even the wind, when it blew, was breathlessly hot. I made as much haste as I could, stopping once for a drink. I had 3 liters of water with me. After 15 minutes, I crossed a north-south lane, but it would have been too sandy for my rental car to traverse. After about 25 minutes, I reached the confluence point under a wide open sky that gave me plenty of satellites.
The confluence lies adjacent to a very large tangle of thorns that was about 4 meters wide, 3 meters long, and 2 meters high. As soon as I arrived, I had a large drink and poured some precious water on my hat for some air conditioning. It evaporated astonishingly fast. I saw no animals and no birds at the site, although birds were in the area on the trek in. The ground was flat at the confluence, and the point was just north of one of the many wide braided intermittent stream beds. I felt much better after my drink and was at the site between 20 and 25 minutes, wandering over to the large dead tree for a few more interesting pictures. I could see the Imperial Sand Dunes to the west, and the mountains to the north, and far to the south as well. The view to the east was the least clear.
Despite my preference for circular hikes, I hiked out the way I had come in. Due to the heat, it was not wise to delay, although I did film a few movies on the way out, including Hiking in the Desert. I spotted a telephone line in the distance and sure enough, it was the one along Vista Mine Road, and it was not long before I saw my car baking in the sunshine. Fortunately, it started, although the interior must have been close to 140 F. I drove north along Vista Mine Road, reached Highway 78, and headed west. I could not find any convenient place to pull over once I crossed 115 West. I was therefore glad that I had started the trek from the gravel road, and hiked west to the point, rather than south from Highway 78.
I began to reflect on my nearly 200 confluence visits. Now that I had completed my hottest confluence point, I reflected on whether the hottest or the coldest had been more enjoyable. I concluded that the hottest one, this point, had been the more enjoyable. My hands were in misery for quite a few hours after the coldest trek to 41 North 100 West in Nebraska one bitter February morning, and while I was quite warm after 33 North 115 West, especially since the car had started, things were fine. I even stopped at the magnificent Imperial Sand Dunes a short distance to the west. The landscape looked like Saudi Arabia. I also made a short film at a wonderful sign not far from the Salton Sea with a notice Pavement Ends. In the movie, I discuss how geographers and others need to get out in the field beyond where the pavement ends! I felt like I had done my duty to do so today. I then drove north to the Palm Springs airport, waited in the ticket line, and am happy to report that my bag was retrieved by the ticket agent! Now complete, I headed to Redlands on Interstate Highway 10 and met my colleague, Dr Tom Baker. We finished a chapter for a book on science education using GIS.