24-Jul-2019 -- As I was in South Dakota for the South Dakota Geographic Information Systems conference, and as the conference was focused on geotechnologies, mapping, and location, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone. And so, teaching duties at the conference concluded for the day, and this being just 1 month after the summer solstice and nearly halfway to the North Pole, there was still 2.5 hours of daylight left. And so, after walking back to my hotel from Mitchell Technical Institute to retrieve my vehicle, I was soon driving north from Mitchell on South Dakota State Highway 37. The road ran almost straight toward the confluence point, lying in a north-south path just a few miles west of the 98th Meridian. Though improved and four-laned, some old treasures still existed near the roadsides, such as the old Star Lite Drive-In Theatre (now closed) and a very swollen flooded James River. After only 25 minutes, I turned east on 234th Street, which was a one lane gravel road, but in decent condition. I proceeded east to the 98th Meridian, where I tried to turn around, but due to the narrowness of the road, abandoned this effort, and proceeded to the next intersection to the east. I took a picture of a marvelous sign proclaiming "No Travel Advised" and then drove back to the west. I parked very close to the 98th Meridian in the widest place I could find, hoping no large combine or other agricultural machine needed to pass by during the next hour.
Anticipation mounted as I parked. This was my first confluence attempt since my trek to the woods in Germany this past February, and I had been missing the adventures. As I have written in other narratives, though, there is always an element of the unknown, for though I knew it would be only a half mile to the point, would I make it? The only thing that made me nervous, trekking through the tall grass, was the possibility of stepping on a snake. Once through it and into the fields, I marveled at the size of the hay bales. Due to the wet weather that the state has experienced, the fields were very soggy. At first I thought that it was the Field of Mice, but one finally slowed down enough for me to identify it. Ah! It was actually the Field of Frogs. I had never seen so many, and with dire reports of the decline of amphibians over the past few decades that I had been reading, it was very good to see them so healthy and thriving.
It wasn't until this time when I had confidence that I would reach the point. It was amazing that this point had not been visited since 2001, but admittedly, unless someone were visiting or living in Mitchell, it was a bit out of the way. I love these kinds of places. I admired the farmers and ranchers who lived out here, caring for the land.
Just about 50 meters south of the point lay a decent sized pond, and there was no choice but to wade through it, there in my work shoes and clothes. But soon after, and still standing up to my ankles in water, I reached the point. The wind was modest, out here on the Great Plains, and the temperature stood at about 80 F (27 C) under cloudy skies. The sunset was starting to be magnificent and I took many photos. It had been 5 years since my last South Dakota confluence points, a frozen dawn trek to the cornfields in the northeast, and during the same year but a few months later, a summertime trek to the side of a road in the southwest part of the state. I had stood on 44 North in the past, from western South Dakota on the west to Maine on the east. I had also stood on 98 West several times in the past 20 years, from Texas on the south to Kansas on the north. This was my furthest north point along 98 West. I now have a nice set of points in South Dakota, in just about all corners of the state, this being the farthest one to the southeast.
I was reluctant to depart but needed to get some work done for the next day's conference sessions, so I walked back the way I had come in, through the water and through the frogs. But I had one more unexpected treat: About 50 meters north of the vehicle a whole group of birds had gathered on the fence, with beautiful orange-peach colored underfeathers. I checked with my colleagues at the conference the next day from the state game and parks department, who told me that these birds were female bobolinks. Lovely.
Get out there and explore the world!