22-Apr-2004 -- I, Joseph Kerski, successfully visited 46 North, 109 West, during the Intermountain GIS Conference, an annual event that draws hundreds of
GIS professionals from tribal, federal, state, county, and municipal government, academia, business, and
nonprofit organizations throughout Montana and Idaho. This year's event was was held in Billings, the largest city in Montana. A confluence visit would be the perfect activity to complement such an event, thought I.
Being one month after the equinox, daylight lingers until after 8pm local time in these latitudes, and I had plans to visit two confluences before nightfall. I departed from the rental car company at 4:30pm and drove northwest along Montana Highway 302, climbing out of the Yellowstone River floodplain in a series of scenic cliffs. The nearest town to the confluence, Molt, featured a grain elevator alongside a railroad grade that had long been abandoned.
All of these confluences visits would be shorter if they weren't visited by a person who had never been there
before. In retrospect, had I turned north along Downer Road, and then west on Pleasant Valley Road, I might
have been able carry out my two-confluence plan. As it was, several times I drove down a section-line road only
to have it fade into a track that was suitable only for a tractor. This took up more than 40 minutes time. However, 'tis the journey that makes the
confluence project special, even more than the actual place itself. Therefore, the journey of over an hour was
quite lovely, with the lowering sun reflecting off of a combination of clouds, virga, and neatly-stacked hay.
After backtracking several times, I arrived at the farmhouse about 1.5 km to the southeast of the confluence and knocked on the door. Nobody answered, so I drove to the home directly to the west of the confluence, where the
previous visitor had stopped. Nobody was home there either, confirmed by a family passing in their car, who
told me that I needed to be there late at night or early in the day to catch the resident at home. After they
left, I set out. I walked across the field to the east for approximately 10 minutes and 350 meters, reaching
the confluence at approximately 6:05pm local time.
Once again, Big Sky Country, the nickname for Montana, lived up to its name. I had no problem whatsoever
zeroing out the GPS receiver and had a magnificent view, particularly to the south, west, and north. In the far
distance in each of those directions, snow-capped peaks glimmered in the sunlight. The confluence lies on a
west-facing slope of approximately 10 degrees, just 9 meters west of a barbed wire fence marking the edge of the
field. The elevation of the confluence is approximately 1280 meters. The confluence lies in a field of grass
grown most likely for cattle, although most of the terrain was bare dirt during this time of the year. In fact,
three cows were standing not far from me to the west of the barbed wire fence. I took the opportunity to play
harmonica for them, and they seemed interested. The temperature was a pleasant 15 C, the skies mostly sunny with a few spectacular thunderclouds in the distance, and, surprisingly, almost no wind.
This is high plains ranchland and farmland, dotted by intermittent lakes, few perennial streams except the
Yellowstone to the south, and two national wildlife refuges. Very few trees grow that haven't been planted by
farmers and ranchers except in intermittent river gullies. Stillwater County contained just over 8,000
residents in 2000. About one farm exists for each 20 or so square kilometers. To my north and northeast is
some of the least populated terrain in the continental United States, where even fewer people live than near the
confluence. I saw some human activity in the field to the northwest, and a few more cars passed my car that was
sitting in clear view to the west. To the southwest lay an intermittent body of water imaginatively named "Big
Lake," and beyond that, the Beartooth Range separating me from Yellowstone National Park. In the far west
glinted the Crazy Mountains, and to the northwest and north lay the Little Belt and Big Snowy Mountains. I
spent about 30 minutes at the site, enjoying the south central Montana countryside. I made repeated attempts at
a self-portrait photograph of myself with the confluence sign and the cow in the background before it came out
I had previously been to 46 North four times: A summer hike to 88 West in a Michigan forest, two frozen prairie
treks to 101 West and 103 West in North Dakota, and a Yellowstone bluffs Montana hike a week earlier. I
marveled at how different each of these spots along 46 North was. What a planet! I turned off the GPS unit and
walked back to the vehicle, where another person stopped and asked me if I needed anything. He confirmed that
the farmer I had seen to the northwest was indeed the homeowner I had been seeking, Ben. I took a few more photographs on my way back to
Billings, taking Pleasant Valley, Downer, and Molt Road back to Molt, and State Highway 302. Another wonderful
trek to a place I would not have ever seen had it not been for the Degree Confluence Project!