18-Mar-2011 -- As I was traveling to teach an intensive GIS-GPS workshop at Northeast Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, and as the focus would be on spatial analysis and skills, including GIS and GPS, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect beginning. Plus, I had never visited the Pawnee National Grasslands, and this was a good excuse to at least see part of them. I drove north on Interstate Highway 25 to Fort Collins, and once I began heading east on Colorado State Highway 14, things began to get interesting. The land was just beginning to awaken from winter, here only a few days before the vernal equinox, but slowly, as it had been one of the driest winters along the Front Range. I passed through a town with one of my favorite place names, Ault, and then the population density noticeably dropped off. The road curved toward the national grasslands, and I turned north at County Road 77. Then, as usual on these trips, the unexpected happened.
A curious traffic jam began to form. It was curious because this was one of the most remote parts of northeast Colorado. The traffic jam included a great many tanker trucks obviously related to the oil and gas industry, as well as two trucks hauling what appeared to be a derrick for a natural gas well. The amazing thing was that two trucks were hauling it, one at the top end and one at the bottom, with at least 100 feet between them where the middle of the derrick hung over the prairie. They turned a corner, and it was amazing to watch. They deftly maneuvered such that the derrick was not crushed, at the exact same speed. I had lost a great deal of time but there was no way to pass these vehicles. A bit further north, before the road turned to the east, I saw one of the installed derricks and that verified what it indeed was. In the distance, wind turbines turned, and therefore, this landscape is shaped by energy development, grazing, and crops. The towns, such as Hereford that I passed through, were tiny, lacking most services.
I continued east on County Road 136, when the road suddenly turned to dirt. It must have rained recently, despite the dry winter, because it was a bit difficult to maintain traction. Slowly I continued, eventually climbing the first side of the low buttes, atop which spun some of the wind turbines. Passing just south of the Wyoming-Nebraska-Colorado corner as well as the highest point in Nebraska, I continued until the road ended in a "T" intersection, at County Road 111. Turning north, I continued past the bison and cattle ranch, where the road curved slightly, marking the Nebraska state line. I parked at the long siding, gathered supplies, and set out. It was later than I wanted it to be, and I hastily set out to hike the 1100 meters indicated by my GPS. My route was due east, just north of the row of trees planted that divided the grassy field to the north and the outbuildings for the ranch to the south. I was glad that I did not have to trek through the ranch and disturb anyone, and fortunately heard no dogs. The trees ended and where the four-wheel drive road I was on jogged slightly to the southeast, I struck off toward the east-southeast, directly for the confluence. I reached it after five more minutes, with a minimal confluence dance, with a total hike time of about 25 minutes.
The confluence therefore lies on ground sloping at 5 percent to the east-southeast. The longest views were to the lower ground to the southeast, and the shortest view was to the west, where the land rose slightly. A large herd of cattle was grazing to the southeast, but otherwise I saw no animals. It was a fine late winter day, just before the equinox, about 55 degrees F, with a moderate wind, which was to be expected on the Great Plains. It does the soul good to be out here, and on the way back, I filmed an additional "hiking on the Nebraska-Colorado border" movie. The skies were mostly clear. I needed to get set up at the college in Sterling, so I only spent 10 minutes at the site. I still had a few confluence points left in Colorado, particularly on the southern border with New Mexico, but this was an important one to obtain.
After enjoying my hike back to the west, returning to the north-south road, I took a few more photographs of the wind turbines to the southwest and the farm equipment parked in the field. The ranch here seems more prosperous than any around it. I had a specific reason to return someday, because just a mile and a half to the west lies the highest point in Nebraska. This confluence is truly a magnificent spot.