14-Nov-2003 -- Confluences anonymous. That is what my friend and colleague, Anita Palmer, of GIS ETC says I need: A support group for those of us with the confluence obsession. I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Colorado USA, co-taught a workshop on mapping and GPS, and operated an information exhibit with my colleagues from the US Geological Survey all week in Reno, Nevada USA. The workshop and exhibit were for over 1,100 attendees at the annual conference of the National Interpretive Association. As I had been working all week with people who interpret the landscape, people, history, and other aspects of the Earth, I thought a confluence visit would be the perfect addition to the week. Before I left the airport for Denver, Colorado USA, I rented a vehicle and made plans to trek to the confluence. And not just any confluence, mind you, but rather a 40-degree confluence--40 North, 120 West. This would be my first confluence where both numbers were divisible by 40, and therefore topped the visit to 30 North, 90 West, that I had made 8 months earlier.
After a brief three-hour rest, the alarm awakened me at 4:30am. By 5:00am local time, I was driving north on US 395, crossing the border into California and reaching the ranching community of Doyle by 6:00am. I was treated to a spectacular moonless view of the Pleiades, Cassiopaeia, and Orion setting over the Sierra Nevada. In Doyle, I turned east on Hickstaff Road and southeast on Homestead Road, as the previous visitor had done. At least a dozen
jackrabbits and one mouse crossed the road into my headlights, but those were to be the only animals I spotted on the pilgrimage. However, instead of continuing to the Nevada state line and climbing to the confluence from the southeast, I decided to turn up a ranch road and approach from the southwest. At first, the darkness made me think that the sudden appearance of vehicles ahead of me were gathered for a family reunion or a construction project. However, as the dawn advanced, I noted that very few were in operating order. The road continued up an arroyo, but sported some huge crevasses from past runoff, at times over
1 meter deep. I parked next to one of the junked vehicles, a large abandoned bus, hoping that my car would blend into the surroundings. However, I was not too nervous, as the sign at the start of the ranch road indicated that public lands were reachable this way. I began walking with 2.91 kilometers to the destination at 6:15am local time. Sure enough, I spotted a Bureau of Land Management sign indicating public lands about 100 meters up the road.
My route took me northeast up the road on sandy soil for about .65 kilometers, until the road bent to the south. I continued up the arroyo and noted two forces continually shaping this landscape. First, the vegetation and scour marks made it evident that recently and repeatedly, flash floods occur in this canyon. Second, the hillsides were scorched from wildfires. With 1.85 kilometers left to the confluence, I left the arroyo and struck a course due east, straight up the steep slope to continue on the ridgeline above. The soft soil, perhaps made so in part by ash from volcanic activity, made climbing rather arduous. Even as I trekked along the rocky ridge, I could hear my every breath. I tried to gain inspiration by reminding myself of the book I had finished the day before, No Horizon Too
Far, by Ann Bancroft and Liv Arneson. These two had skied and towed 100-kilogram sleds all the way across Antarctica, including through the most famous confluence of all, 90 degrees south. I met Ms Bancroft at a geography education conference in Dallas several years ago, and she made a big impression on me. I left the ridge and sidestepped up an east-facing slope for a rather prominent volcanic outcrop. On both sides of the outcrop, I walked frequently on loose blocks of lava blocks. As the sun rose, the temperature climbed, but remained cool at 8 degrees C with a steady east wind. The dark clouds over the Sierra Nevada broke up toward the east, and the sun made a wonderful patchwork of colors on the landscape below. I enjoyed the vista spreading out before me as I walked down a short saddle on the north side of the volcanic outcrop--tied with 41°S 175°E as the most
scenic vista of any of the confluences I have visited. Nevada was straight ahead and on my right a few hundred meters away, the Long Valley behind me, and the Sage Mountains looming to my left. I arrived at the confluence at 7:35am local time, following a hike of 1 hour
and 20 minutes.
The confluence lies on a south-southeast-facing slope of 25 degrees, just south of one of the scorched juniper trees. Besides juniper, pinon trees and high desert grasses were the predominant vegetation, although the vegetation on this leeward side of the Sierra Nevada is sparse. About 1/3 of the ground in the immediate vicinity was covered by volcanic blocks and some large granite boulders. As I took photographs, I reflected that the approach had been one of the more difficult of my confluence treks, with a 600 meter elevation gain. However, I realized this was nothing compared to the treks other visitors to other sites
have made. I compared 40 N 120 W to the two other confluences I have visited at 40 degrees north--at 105 W (suburban encroachment in Colorado), and 75 W (New Jersey golf course). At 120 W, I was pleased to find that some open space exists at 40 North! However, there was
some evidence of human impact--I could see places where campfires had burned. On the way up, I found some evidence of deer, including a fine set of antlers, but saw no birds or ground animals during the hike. From time to time, I could hear a train in the valley below, but mostly, the only sound was the wind in the burned branches and dry grasses.
I remained at the confluence for 25 minutes, until 8am local time, descending largely the way I had ascended. The initial lava boulders and the soft soil that followed made the descent a bit difficult, requiring a full hour. As I approached the car, I photographed the ranch house and made a hasty exit, as the vehicle's sound had roused two dogs, who probably weren't used to seeing many visitors. It was interesting to see Doyle in the daylight, and I stopped several times on US 395 to photograph the mountain where the confluence lies, one of which I have included here. I turned in the vehicle and arrived at the Reno airport,
where I am currently typing this narrative in a telephone booth adjacent to my departure gate for Denver. The confluence visit was a wonderful way to end the interpretive conference and my time in the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin.