24-Nov-2004 -- My last confluence adventure ( 47°N 97°W ) in May of 2004 left a little to be desired. It was enabled by the most unfortunate of circumstances, the Minnesota funeral of my dear childhood friend, Bill Wegerer. In addition, it occurred at dusk, in freezing temperatures, with failing batteries, through relentless rain, and in a miserably muddy field. I fear my partner in that misadventure ( link ) has been turned off to this pursuit for life, unfortunately! My unsuccessful attempts (so far) to obtain permission to visit (43ºN, 109ºW) and (27ºN, 98ºW) have stymied any confluence hunting for me during the last six months. Therefore, during a recent Thanksgiving trip to my hometown of Wichita, Kansas, I was eager to make a happier DCP memory with my best friend since 6th grade, Steve Adams. He introduced me to this insanely wonderful hobby, and we hit four virgin confluences during Memorial Day weekend, 2003 in his new MINI Cooper.
Steve has since traded in the MINI for a black 2004 BMW 330Ci, so we thought it was time to indoctrinate his new wheels with a confluence adventure. We teased Steve about upgrading vehicles so frequently, but he reminded us it was much cheaper than cycling through wives. Since our two-day, 1500-mile, four-confluence odyssey 18 months ago, I have been to ten more confluences in the U.S., eight of them virgin sites, nine of them by myself. Steve’s map looks far more impressive than mine, though, spanning the globe thanks to a successful visit in Zimbabwe during September of 2003. This trip would be our first confluence together in nearly a year and a half, so I was very much looking forward to the adventure.
After an early snowstorm during the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, I awoke at 10:30 am CST on Wednesday, November 24, 2004 to a vista of white through my parents’ picture window. We only received about 0.5” of snow in Wichita, with much greater amounts to the northwest. Hutchinson, the large town very near this confluence, was blanketed with 6” of wonderfully wet and thus packable snow. However, we knew it wasn’t destined to last too long, with a sunny day on tap and high temperatures forecast to be in the 40’s (ºF). I called Steve and we decided to have lunch with his wife, LeAnn, at a nice little German place in downtown Wichita, the Imbiss Grille. My bratwurst, kraut, spetzle, and bread with garlic butter were quite nice, but the shared apfel strüdel with warm vanilla sauce was certainly the highlight for me. After caffeinating up on Dr. Peppers, I was ready for some adventure before my grandmothers arrived in Wichita from western Kansas.
We headed back to Steve’s and plotted our afternoon’s activities, enabled by Steve knocking off a bit early before the holiday weekend. I suggested hitting a nearby confluence, and Steve seemed amenable to a spur-of-the-moment roadtrip. LeAnn opted to take a long nap rather than join us; she likely had her fill of confluence hunting while anticipating bullets in Zimbabwe! Anyway, Steve and I looked at the nearest four confluences to Wichita and there was one clear winner. The DCP at (38ºN, 97ºW) had been visited a few times and was on private property, quite near the landowner’s home. Straight south of this point, (37ºN, 97ºW) straddles the Oklahoma border, but it too lies on private property. The prior visitor was not successful in visiting the exact confluence, given the reticence of the landowners, so this DCP also seemed less than desirable. We also thought about (37ºN, 98ºW), along the Oklahoma border as well, but it would have required a lot of driving on unpaved roads. This realization finally led us to (38ºN, 98ºW), which had only been visited once before, seemed trivially easy to snag, and was surrounded by interesting history and culture. Besides, I thought it was high time I visited a confluence in my home state!
We packed up the BMW with its sleek 18-inch sport wheels around 2 pm, taking printouts from the DCP website, Steve’s Garmin GPS and Sony DSC P-92 digital camera, and a Marc Cohn CD. I had never heard of him, but this is not surprising, since I’m stuck in the 1970’s as far as music is concerned. Anyway, we departed central Wichita around 2:10 pm CST, making good time thanks to Steve’s trusty Valentine-1 radar detector. It squelched with many false positives in the city, but otherwise we had few complaints. Steve reminded me his lease placed a limit on his accumulated miles, which already tipped the odometer at 1830 miles at the start of our journey. With sunny skies, a temperature of 35ºF (1.5ºC), and brisk northwest winds to 25 mph (11 m/s), we headed west on Central towards I-135N.
The journey north was pretty uneventful as we headed to KS 96W just north of Wichita. The radar detector did save our butts a couple of times during the journey. I took notes during the drive, enjoying the occasional splash of late autumn color on intermittent maples. The cottonwoods and hay bales looked nice as we crossed the Little Arkansas River, too. A note for non-Kansas natives—the proper pronunciation of the river while in Kansas is Ar-KAN-sas (like “Our Kansas”!), with apologies to the state of Arkansas. We generally drove about 85 mph (137 km/hr) in the 70-mph (113-km/hr) zone, and we noticed the snow depths on the roadside increase as we approached Hutchinson. The snow was generally completely gone, except in permanently shaded areas, at least until we neared the confluence.
This area of Kansas is dominated by farmland, not surprisingly, with the main crops being winter wheat, grain sorghum (or milo), and soybeans. I knew I was in a “red state” when I saw a sign for the “Sunflower Gun Club.” Steve and I passed grain elevators, the skyscrapers of the Midwest. They always remind me of childhood trips to western Kansas to see my grandparents. We eventually drove by the town of Mt. Hope on our left, and then were shocked to see an 18-wheeler pass us! Steve said he doesn’t get passed too often in the BMW, and I didn’t doubt him. We finally crossed the Reno County line at 2:38 pm CST, with the town of Haven on our right. There were cows all about in the fields adjacent to KS 96, another Kansas staple. Just after Haven, we spotted a Doppler radar tower on the right, purportedly the most advanced private one in the world ( http://www.ksn.com/weather/radar_about.html ). It owned by KSN, the Wichita-area NBC affiliate. Dorothy jokes notwithstanding, this part of the U.S. is right in the middle of “Tornado Alley,” so Doppler radar is very important, indeed.
As we approached the town of Yoder and our eventual turn onto US-50 westbound, we noticed that our path to the northwest was generally running next to and parallel to the Missouri-Pacific Railroad ( http://www.rra.dst.tx.us/c_t/railroad/MISSOURI%20PACIFIC%20SYSTEM.cfm ). This added to the ambience, though no trains were seen during the roadtrip. We finally arrived at US-50 and zeroed in on the confluence. This state highway has the distinction of being the deadliest highway in Kansas ( http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/10235497.htm ), with almost 100 lives lost between 1999 and 2003. Steve navigated it expertly, though, getting us to our left turn on Mohawk Road. As we narrowed in on the confluence, I was still taking notes. I asked Steve if he could describe Mohawk Road to me, and he deadpanned, “Dirt.” I dutifully wrote down his pithy insight as we traveled one mile south to our right turn at W. Morgan Ave. We drove west for about 0.2 miles, paralleling a natural gas pipeline just north of the road, until the GPS showed our closest approach possible by automobile at 311 feet (95 meters). I guess we could have met the DCP accuracy requirement without trespassing, but where’s the fun in that? This is particularly true given a lack of posted signs, no fence, and especially the fact the field to our north was already harvested.
We set off north into the mystery crop, having little trouble with the journey, despite a few inches of residual snow in the furrows. Predictably, I was again sporting boat shoes, a most inappropriate choice in confluence-hunting footwear. I’ve already lost two pair to the confluence gods, but I guess the third time was the charm here. We had no problems obtaining all zeroes on the GPS, thanks to the level landscape and lack of trees. Along the journey, we snapped a zoomed picture of a remaining, unharvested stalk, hopeful my father could identify the crop from the photo (Steve and I are hopeless city slickers for sure). As always, we struggled taking the perfect GPS photo, even with ten attempts or so. Our best picture showed all zeroes with a GPS error of 14 feet (4.3 meters), but the best accuracy we attained was actually 13 feet (4.0 meters). I forget to check the altitude estimate from the GPS; it didn’t display on Steve’s Garmin unit as a default (unlike my Garmin). From a topographic map, I can state the elevation was about 1570 feet (479 meters) with little change in any direction.
Steve took the requisite digital pictures from the DCP in the four cardinal and four diagonal directions, both in normal mode and with a digital zoom. The Sony DSC P-92 digital camera worked like a champ, though we were sweating battery life a bit. He took a nice picture of his new confluence cruiser, sitting in the late autumn sun on Morgan Ave. We could easily spy the relatively light holiday traffic on US-50, and then a train appeared from the east. I prodded Steve into taking pictures of the freight train to our north, and as it zipped through the tiny town of Whiteside, less than a mile to our northwest. This small community is little more than a grain elevator, as may be seen in the first photograph posted here.
Our views from the DCP point were, not surprisingly, quite similar to the views from the prior visit. However, one apparent change was a crop rotation at the DCP point itself. The prior visitor reported small, green shoots at the DCP point in January, which was likely winter wheat. Steve guessed the current crop was milo, or grain sorghum ( http://www.ksgrains.com/sorghum/ ), and my dad verified this was correct later from our pictures. About 40% of the nation’s milo is grown in Kansas (and you thought we were just the wheat state!), largely for livestock feed. However, milo is also used to make gasohol, or, more correctly, the ethanol that comprises 10% of gasohol. Milo is harvested in September or October, so Steve and I were relieved to not have adversely affected the crop with our traverse of the field.
We traipsed back to the car with little trouble, and I had Steve check the temperature on the BMW’s dashboard. It was 39ºF (4ºC) and the wind was still gusting above 20 mph (9 m/s). The windiest reasonably large city in the U.S. is Dodge City, Kansas, and other towns in Kansas are nearly as windy. Chicago, the “Windy City,” isn’t even in the top ten in the U.S. Of course, a few Kansas tornadoes coming through certainly might skew the average a bit! Steve and I backtracked our driving route for some post-confluence sightseeing in this most interesting area. We blew by a state historical marker on US-50 in favor of more interesting targets. My curiosity got the better of me, though, so I looked on the web for information about what we missed. It turned out to be a discussion of the famous salt mines of Hutchinson and South Hutchinson. Some details on the historical marker are available here ( http://www.southhutch.com/ ).
An underground salt mining museum ( http://www.lasr.net/pages/city.php?City_ID=KS0207024&VA=Y&Attraction_ID=KS0207024a003 ) has just been built to explore the interesting history of this region, once home to a vast inland sea. The most interesting thing about the Hutch salt mines is probably the archiving of many important documents and other pieces of history, including the original copies of many famous Hollywood films such as “Gone with the Wind” and (appropriately enough) “The Wizard of Oz.” These underground salt mines are apparently the ideal storage facility for these irreplaceable gems. I guess Dorothy and Toto did get back to Kansas, after all!
Steve and I headed into eastern Hutchinson for our next destination, the longest grain elevator in the world (or at least the U.S.). At 2573 feet (784 meters, or 0.49 miles!), it was quite the impressive sight, though I’ve seen it many times before. On the way to our quick photo of this monster, we checked out a Wichita-area classic rock station, KKRD 107.3. Fittingly, the tune on the radio was “The Wall” by the rock group “Kansas,” one of my all-time favorite songs. We definitely had good “Kansas karma” on this half-day trip! I snagged a mediocre photo of the elevator, and then it was off to the Kansas Cosmosphere, the second-largest aerospace museum in the country after the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I’ve been there before as a patron and guest NASA speaker, so we did the “Chevy Chase” (from the Grand Canyon visit in “Vacation”) to snag a few quick photos. This museum ( http://www.cosmo.org/ ) is absolutely unreal, with an SR-71 spy plane and T-38 astronaut training jet in the lobby, 1960’s rockets and engines out front, and the actual Apollo 13 command module and a flown Vostok spacecraft inside. It’s only six miles northeast of the confluence, too!
After a quick snowball toss, we left the Cosmosphere for our last stop, the quaint Mennonite community of Yoder, Kansas ( http://www.yoderkansas.com/ ), a mere 8.3 miles (13.3 km) from the confluence. I’m still not sure why a Mennonite community with horses and buggies has a website, but I’m not a philosopher. I’ve been to Yoder a few times, and I absolutely love it. They have the best cinnamon rolls in the world, bar none. I was also hoping for some nice photos of Mennonite life during our brief visit. We had to backtrack a bit in Hutchinson thanks to a road closure, but Steve navigated to the small town with no trouble. We stopped at the Dutch Mill Bakery around 4:20 pm CST, but they had closed at 4 pm. I was crestfallen, but perked up when reading their note about being able to purchase their products at Yoder Meats. Steve and I headed there next, procuring cinnamon rolls and pullapart for LeAnn and my grandmothers. Steve, aka “Atkins Boy” also picked up a summer sausage. We then headed south from Yoder because I was itching for a horse and buggy photo. Eagle-eyed Steve spotted one and then snagged an excellent action photo as we were passed. Nice job panning, Steve! I then took a cattle shot in the late afternoon sun, with some residual snow blanketing the hillside adjacent to the road. I particularly enjoyed Steve’s photo of the horse and buggy in front of us with his radar detector in the lower right corner—what a wonderful clash of cultures!
As sunset approached, it was time to head back to Wichita. We popped on K96 eastbound and had to stop to snag a photo of the horse-and-buggy crossing sign. I was a bit in the doghouse for being careless with my ballpoint pen inside Steve’s new (and leased) BMW. Luckily, I didn’t mark on any of the interior upholstery, though there were a few close calls. We stopped in the wee town of Maize, Kansas, at Maize Rd. and 53rd St. North for petrol. I footed the bill, since it was the least I could do for Steve’s many indulgences that day. Even with premium gasoline, I paid $1.93 per gallon and smiled all the time, since regular unleaded was running about $2.30 back in LA. From there, it was a short trip back to Steve’s place, followed by a wonderful dinner with friends and a later reunion with my grandmothers, parents, sister, niece, and nephew back at home.
It was great bagging another confluence with my best buddy Steve, especially since he introduced me to the hobby eighteen months ago. We would like to thank Steve’s wife, LeAnn, whose tryptophan-free lethargy the day before Thanksgiving enabled this wonderful confluence adventure.