05-Nov-2003 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Colorado USA, Shannon White, education and geographic information sciences researcher from North Carolina USA, and Tom Luther, mechanical engineer from North Carolina USA, pilgrimaged to Latitude 36 degrees North, Longitude 79 degrees West on a misty, warm autumn morning. During the previous day, I taught a workshop on mapping, geography, and GPS at the annual conference of the National Indian Education Association , and Shannon White had taught a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class for middle school teachers. Therefore, a confluence visit was the perfect companion to these geographic activities. Furthermore, it would help alleviate the disappointment that Ms White and I had a month earlier from our five hour, slow-motion tromp through a salt marsh in Utah USA in a failed confluence attempt.
I departed my hotel in Greensboro at 4:45 am local time, driving east on Interstate Highway 40 and then Interstate 85 to Exit 170 in Durham. I then drove east to Highway 751, south on 751 to Kerley Road, and stopped to turn on the car light to get my bearings at a nursing home parking lot at the intersection. I headed east along Mt Sinai Road to Mt Sinai Baptist Church. During the class at the middle school the previous afternoon, we had agreed to meet at the church at 6:45am. I must have overestimated the time required for me to drive the 112 kilometers from Greensboro to Durham, because I arrived at the church at 5:45am, a full hour before our meeting time. I took the opportunity to relish early morning conditions that we almost never have in my home state of Colorado--extremely humid, warm, and foggy; shirt-sleeve weather on a November morning. I walked northeast along Mt Sinai Road to Taproot Drive and to the gully where I knew we would be heading into the forest. On the way back, I found an inviting path behind the stately homes that led to a beautiful pond, and spent time walking along a trail southwest of the church leading into the Duke Forest, where I met one jogger, two walkers, and three dogs. This land is managed by Duke University to study forest ecosystems. The black sky turned to a foggy gray as Ms White and Mr Luther drove up.
The GPS reading gave 1.12 km directly to the confluence, but we chose to retrace my steps from an hour before, taking a longer route by following Taproot Lane. The housing development was comprised of large homes on secluded, forested lots. At a gully just north of the path to the pond, we headed east with .57 km left to hike according to the GPS, descending a small creek into the forest. After crossing a larger stream, we hiked northeastward for about 10 minutes until we reached the confluence at 7:20 am local time, completing our 35 minute hike. I should say we reached the "vicinity" of the confluence, as the heavy tree cover made zeroing out the GPS unit rather challenging. Mr Luther, our resident mechanical engineer, quipped that the unit should include a feature allowing the user to manually adjust the GPS reading! We did the confluence dance for a full half hour, nearly conceding several times, but our tenacity prevailed, and we were able to achieve one decent photograph among a pile of "98's" and "01's."
The confluence lies on a gently eastward-sloping hillside of approximately 15 degrees. The fallen logs and bushes were completely blanketed by a variety of damp autumn leaves, cushioning our voices like a thick carpet. This area of Orange County, despite its close proximity to the city of Durham, retains a semi-rural character in part because of the protected Duke Forest. The forest at the confluence was comprised of tall White Pine, maple, sycamore, and oak. The calm morning was approximately 30 degrees C, and the fog and humidity had not abated since the dawn. After my dismay three days earlier upon finding much urban growth in the vicinity of 36 North 80 West, it was refreshing to find a 36 North 79 West in the forest. Even though much of this forest was cultivated in prior centuries, the trees and shrubs are a welcome sight. This marks the fourth confluence at 36 degrees North that I have visited. The others, at 79 West, 80 West, 105 West, and 115 West, each have their own unique character although they share the same latitude. Ah, the diversity of our planet!
Because of the difficulty of zeroing out the GPS unit, we had spent more time than we had planned at the confluence site. I had to catch an airplane to Colorado in less than two hours, and Ms White had class at North Carolina State University. Hence, we made a hasty exit, although Ms White paused once to take excellent photographs of some spectacular mushrooms growing in a fallen log. We unintentionally did exactly what the previous visitors did--we took a different route out, and found ourselves in a driveway of one of the large homes on Taproot Drive. Upon reaching the road, we found that we were only 25 meters north of the gully where we had begun our descent. We arrived back at the vehicles parked at Mt Sinai Church at 8:20 am local time and bade each other farewell. I arrived at the airplane's gate with a full 5 minutes to spare. The confluence visit was a wonderful way to end my visit to beautiful North Carolina.