06-Dec-2005 -- As I was en route to teach a GIS and GPS workshop for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, a confluence visit seemed like an excellent way to start off the trip. After 4 years and nearly 100 confluence visits, I realized with a start that this visit was my very first one in the month of December. When it was complete, I would have visited a confluence during every month of the year. If that's not Geographer's Heaven, then I don't know what is.
I departed Denver, Colorado, at 4am, on the day following the most ferocious windstorm we have had along the Front Range since the 1980s, with some gusts of 160 kilometers per hour. I was thankful that on the day after, although bitter cold, the winds had died down. The sun rose as I drove up Interstate Highway 76 toward Julesburg, Colorado, and snow began to fall. By the time I turned south from Interstate Highway 80 at 8:30am, at Hershey, Nebraska, the snow had stopped. I drove south on the Hershey-Dickens Road until I reached 41 degrees north, after about 20 kilometers. The road climbs out of the South Platte River Valley not far from its confluence with the North Platte River to the sand hills to the south. The Platte Valley, 200 years ago and still today, serves as the main east-west route across the state. These sand hills are some of the southernmost sand hills of Nebraska. Two vehicles passed me going the opposite direction. As other parts of the Great Plains, this section, once out of the river valley, was very sparsely populated indeed.
I passed 41 north and continued until I found a relatively safe place to pull off the road. I quickly gathered my GPS unit, batteries, sign, and camera. Despite donning my hat and gloves, I was cold by the time I crossed the road. The ice-covered snow made it easy to slither under the barbed wire fence, and after 10 minutes, I had covered the few hundred meters to the northeast to the confluence. I had renewed respect for the Native Americans, the first farmers of this land, and the present-day ranchers and farmers. I clearly would not be able to live or work here. What if I lived here and a calf needed help, or a fence needed mending? In a matter of minutes, I would be a frozen carcass, clutching my GPS unit. As it was, after a few minutes out in the 10 F (-12 C) windy weather, my hands could barely hold the camera. This was the second-coldest confluence trip I have been on, second only to the trip I made to 46 North 103 West in North Dakota in 2004.
The confluence lies on land sloping 10 degrees to the northwest, on a field that may have been planted in the past, but was now used for cattle grazing. The top three agricultural commodities of Nebraska are cattle, corn, and soybeans. I saw no birds, animals, or people. The wide open Great Plains vistas made for a clear view of the power plant at Sutherland, 27 km to the northwest. Due to the weather, I made haste with the photographs and the movie, spending only 10 minutes at the confluence. This was the 8th time I had stood on 41 degrees north latitude, but only the 5th time I had stood on 101 west longitude. This was my 8th confluence listed in Nebraska, although one of the confluences ended up actually being 100 meters inside South Dakota, not in Nebraska. Some people from the West often disparage the Great Plains, but not me: Each of the Nebraska confluences had been a varied, wonderful adventure in the making.
I drove back the way I came, pausing to photograph the nearest farmhouse and some of the center-pivot irrigation systems. My hands hurt for a good half hour until they sufficiently thawed. The sun broke through the stratus clouds. I had left Interstate Highway 80 at 8:30am and returned to it by 9:50am. A 120-minute detour to see some of the wonderful Great Plains was indeed a fine way to begin this trip.