23-Oct-2004 -- Communities on the American Great Plains sprung up along railroad tracks at regular intervals, serving as the point where local farmers transferred their wheat, corn, and other crops to the trains. At the base of the grain elevators, which can be seen for long distances in these lands of flat terrain and big skies, communities along US 40 and the Union Pacific Railroad in western Kansas appear every 11 kilometers or so--Oakley, Monument, Page City, and Winona. Many of these communities are shrunken from their original late 1800s size, as urbanization and agribusiness have reduced the population density on the high plains and the need for so many towns. Nevertheless, those who remain behind have the same work ethic and independent spirit as their ancestors who settled here a century earlier.
I turned south from one of these communities, Monument, Kansas, in Logan County, at 10:05am local time during one bright autumn day. The young man on the local radio station was quite excited about the resuming of beef exports to Japan, which was obviously of great importance to this cattle ranching region. I drove south for 16 kilometers along County Road 350. At the first east-west section line road to the south of 39 North Latitude, I drove east for 1.6 kilometers, then north along Road 360. At 39 North, I stopped and walked an easy 80 meters west to the confluence. As this was Great Plains country with almost no trees and obstructions, it was easy to zero out the unit.
No fences were in my way, but I took care not to tromp unnecessarily on the newly planted field of alfalfa or wheat. I arrived at the confluence at 10:20 am local (central) time (my GPS local time in the photographs is for mountain time) under a clear sky, a moderate wind, and a temperature of 18 degrees C (64 F). It was a beautiful high plains morning, quite mild for mid-October. Much of the Great Plains is not flat, contrary to popular opinion, but rather, contains outcrops, rolling hills, sand hills, and other features. However, this confluence epitomizes popular opinion of the Great Plains: It is one of the flattest confluences I have visited. It lies in the eastern part of one of the enormous fields that the region is noted for. Wonderful vistas were present in all directions, and I could clearly see the grain elevator of Monument to the north. I saw a few birds and a few cattle in the distance. As I noted above, the predominant land use in this area is farming and ranching, and has been for over 100 years, when settlers moved into the area to turn what was termed as the "Great American Desert" into the growing of food and to create a good life for their families. I could only see a few farmhouses from the confluence, and upon closer inspection later, many of these have been abandoned. The area is also dotted with tanks, pipes, and other structures for the drilling of oil and natural gas, which has long been important to the region.
I had been to 39 North several times, in Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. This visit completed a string of 7 consecutive confluences along this line of latitude, from 100 to 106 degrees longitude. Each definitely had its own unique character. As I drove north along Road 360, I saw a rancher stopping her truck to check on the cattle. I then drove back to Monument, arriving at 11 am local time. My confluence detour en route to Colorado had taken an hour from Monument, and about 2 hours total with the detour off of the main highways. Time well spent!