28-Mar-2023 -- As I was in the state of South Dakota for a series of college and university visits to support the use of geotechnologies, and as the focus of the degree confluence project was on examining the Earth's physical and cultural systems enabled by GPS and mapping geotechnologies, I considered that a confluence visit was the perfect addition to such a week. Furthermore, my trek from Southeastern Tech College in Sioux Falls today to Northern State University in Aberdeen would take me close to 44 North 97 West. I had planned to visit this point back in 2013 during my trip here, but ended up at a few other points at 43 North instead. I have wanted to visit this point for another reason: It had not been visited in 23 years--not since the year 2000!
Even though it was technically the spring season, with the Vernal Equinox about a week before, the temperature today stood at 25 F with a steady wind of about 20 mph. Thus, the most important question was, could I visit the point without becoming dangerously cold or frostbitten? Being on the Great Plains when the wind was blowing and the temperature was below freezing was not something to trifle with. As a precautionary measure, I had brought hat and gloves and a raincoat and sweater, but not a heavy coat or boots. As I drove north and west toward the point, I could see all around me that the ground lay frozen under drifts from this season's accumulated snowfalls, which looked to be substantial. Fortunately, the roads, which turned to travel, were frozen enough not to be too muddy, as I turned off of State Highway 34 north onto 460th Road. However, about a mile southwest of the point, this road became a "minimum maintenance road", and I almost stopped right there. Before me lay very deep ruts, but fortunately I was renting a Toyota 4-Runner: Hence I soldiered on slowly. But when I came to a meltwater pond of uncertain depth underneath the railroad bridge, I stopped before moving into it. I decided to walk from there. I quickly gathered GPS receiver, camera, hat, and gloves, and set out.
My first goal was to visit the house which I suspected was that of the landowner for the desired point, just north of the railroad and east of the north-south road. I became a bit muddy but soon approached the house, where I encountered two large dogs. Fortunately they were friendly and at least part Golden Retriever; one even had a tennis ball in its mouth. I petted them to assure them that I meant no harm and knocked on both front doors. I also saw the house cat, outside. Nobody answered, so I walked back down the driveway to the road, and back to the south. On the north side of the railroad, I cut cross-country to the east. I made as much haste as I could, as I knew the trek would be a half-mile, and my goal was to reach the point before my fingers or feet would freeze. I had no boots, but did have, fortunately, a sweater and a raincoat which served today as wind-breaker.
The single thing that saved this trek was the fact that it was below freezing, which enabled me to only sink a bit into the snow at each step. At a few points I sank up to my knees, and if the temperature had been warmer, I don't think I could have made it all the way to the point. As it was, I covered the ground in about 20 minutes, though the conditions made it feel like longer than that. A few fences were almost completely buried in the snow.
The confluence point lies a stone's throw north of the railroad, on fairly level ground. The farthest views were to the northwest, but really the vistas were fine from all directions. The landscape was gently rolling. Given the proximity to the road, it was difficult to believe that I was only the point's second visitor! It was late afternoon and early spring. I saw no birds, animals, or people. it was partly sunny and windy: Classic Great Plains. I had visited 44° north latitude many times in the past, here in the Midwest in Minnesota and Wisconsin, over to New England on the east, and over to Wyoming and points west from there. I had also stood on 97° west longitude many times, from South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and down to Texas. Given my schedule, I only lingered long enough to take photographs and to film my video which I have posted here. I did stand at the site for a moment to reflect on my footprints which made for a nice record of the confluence dance that I made to zero out the unit.
I reflected through a few moments on the Native Americans that have lived here for hundreds of years and the European settlers that traversed the land over the past 200, with great respect for them all. It is blazing hot here in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. It was even cold into the spring time as it was right now. As a geographer, I always like to make a loop if possible: In this case I decided to walk on the return trip next to the railroad track. It did make for a bit of an easier hike but not much as it was still quite slippery. Obviously I kept looking for trains obviously in both directions as it is an active line. It had been plowed and great blocks of plowed snow were on either side of me, making for a tunnel effect.
As I neared the railroad bridge, a track led to the south side of the railroad, which led down to the road. In retrospect, this would have been a faster way to the point, in the opposite direction, than the way I had chosen on the north side of the tracks, in the field. I then started walking back to the house to the north in the hopes that the landowner would have returned. However, as I approached, the dogs were now barking: I wondered, would they remember me? Would they now consider me a foe? Therefore, I doubled back and returned to the vehicle. I then made about a 12 point U-turn, not wanting to get stuck in the snow and mud, and drove back to the south, fortunately following the ruts, returning to Highway 34 without incident. It had been a great time under the open skies of South Dakota! Get out there and explore.