30-Aug-2003 -- Clearly, my six prior confluence visits have done little to satiate my appetite for this unusual hobby. I decided to continue my adventures by visiting a few of the last remaining virgin confluences in the western United States. This enabled me to partake of some of the most beautiful scenery in America on a truly Type-A tour of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska and South Dakota. It also offered a wonderful side benefit-I picked up states #44 and #45 in visiting Wyoming and South Dakota, respectively. Watch out Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Kentucky, and Louisiana-I'm gunning for you!
Anyway, I flew to Denver on Friday, August 29, 2003, at the beginning of Labor Day weekend. I planned this trip at least a month in advance, obtaining permission to visit these confluence points, all of which were on private property. My first target was 41°N and 105°W, just north of the Colorado border and a mere dozen or so miles southwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming. This confluence is only about 650 feet north of the Colorado state line, strongly hinting that the 41st parallel was the intended border between these two western states. Inaccuracies in early surveying surely explain this minor discrepancy, but they don't explain why my Garmin mapping software showed this confluence point to be in Colorado!
After arriving in the Mile-High City, I moseyed up to the counter of a well-known rental car company (which shall remain nameless) to procure my reserved compact car, ever the frugal engineer. They asked me where I would be traveling, and I told them. When I mentioned South Dakota, this caused some brows to furrow. Apparently, this company has no locations in South Dakota, so they "forced" me to upgrade to a low-mileage vehicle, which happened to be a gray Dodge Durango. Since this would cost me over $13 extra per day, I decided to ask around at other counters. No one could really match the deal I had, even with the price increase, so I went back. However, my juices were charged up because another fellow told me I could not be forced to pay more. Apparently, it wasn't my fault they had no low-mileage compact cars, so I asked to speak to the manager (I hate doing that). It did produce results, though-I was able to keep the brand-new Dodge Durango (with two miles!) at the compact rate. I still wasn't too happy, however, because this behemoth was twice the size of my Honda del Sol and guzzled the juice like a binge drinker!
I snarfed down some Chinese food at airport and then took off for Ft. Collins around 8 pm MDT. It hadn't been the best day, though I was enjoying the passing cold front and some light rain. It was certainly a nice contrast to the dry August heat of Southern California. I had some snafus with my luggage earlier in the day-the telescoping handle for my large carry-on bag had a structural failure. Since it would not retract, I eventually decided to just bend and twist the metal and plastic until it broke. That worked just fine, though I was then forced to carry a 50-pound suitcase the old-fashioned way. I've become soft using these nifty luggage wheel designs (and living out my couch potato existence, with occasional breaks from this lifestyle through confluence hunting).
The rain picked up as I finally arrived at the Days Inn in Ft. Collins. I caught the Weather Channel forecast; my prospects for a dry confluence hunt the next day did not look good. On the bright side (again, as a penny-pinching engineer), a complimentary continental breakfast was included in my room rate. I unpacked and prepared for a Saturday filled with confluence hunting and sightseeing. It was difficult getting to sleep before about midnight, because my adrenaline was flowing from watching "Apollo 13" on cable and getting psyched up for the confluence. I did sleep well, though, after setting the alarm for 7:30 am MDT. I did enjoy a very nice breakfast of English muffins, bagels, and fruit juice before checking out. The rain had stopped, too! Renewed, I popped on I-25 northbound and headed into Wyoming. The weather quickly deteriorated, however. It was in the mid 40's Fahrenheit (in August?), rainy, and foggy. I decided to wait out the weather a bit, so I blew past my exit and loitered in a parking lot in Cheyenne. Since the weather never did improve, I decided to return south for my confluence run. I exited I-25S at Exit 2, Terry Ranch Road, the last exit in Wyoming, and followed the immaculate directions of the ranch manager.
I took a pretty good dirt road heading essentially straight west from I-25, paralleling the Colorado/Wyoming border just on the Wyoming side. This property all belongs to a grazing association, though the confluence itself does lie at the boundary of state of Wyoming property. It was certainly easiest to get permission from the landowners and drive to a point within 1000 feet of the confluence. I passed two cattle guards and some overhead power lines along the way, just as the ranch manager told me I would. The roads were a bit slippery in the drizzle, but the Durango had little trouble in this terrain. As the main road started cutting to the southwest (right at the Colorado border, coincidentally, though it wasn't marked), I took a right turn and then a fairly quick left. This was the slickest part of the journey, as I started losing traction above 10 mph. My Garmin (etrex Legend) and digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 3500) were performing well, though, and my spirits were high despite the poor visibility.
I navigated on this road to a closed barbed-wire gate, my first impediment other than weather and terrain. At this point, the confluence was only 0.2 miles to the SSE. It was still foggy, with light rain and a temperature in the high 40's °F. I loaded up my backpack and set off south on foot, just east of the barbed-wire fence. There was a gentle increase in elevation, but this was the only impediment other than numerous cow pies (I'm starting to feel like the king of the slick-road and cow-pie confluences!). This is cattle-grazing country, though all livestock were moved out of this area a week or two earlier. Only mounds of their gastronomic handiwork remained, along with low brush, prairie grass, and many species of cacti. This fence-hugging route brought me well within 200 feet of the confluence, at which point I turned left and crossed the pasture essentially straight east.
I noticed rock outcroppings and a large hill ahead of me and to the right, confirming my expectations from the topo maps. The aerial views, in fact, suggested an abrupt change in terrain right at the confluence point. This turned out to be a rock outcropping, the boundary of a hill that stretched south into Colorado. It's a shame the visibility was so limited, because I could tell this was quite a beautiful area. I took digital pictures in the four cardinal directions and then struggled to take a GPS snapshot with all zeroes, largely due to the light rain that collected on Garmin's glass. I was also trying to keep water off the Coolpix lens, a daunting task at best. In case I had later trouble with the digital camera, I took the same pictures with a backup, throwaway camera. My Garmin Legend did settle down for the coveted all-zeroes shot, with seven satellites tracking to an accuracy of 16 feet (5 meters). Unfortunately, mist obscures the altitude reading in this GPS image, but averaging the altitude estimates from the other GPS shots captured via digital camera, I estimate the altitude at this confluence to be 6498 feet (1981 meters). This is pretty close to expectations based on the topo maps.
Since the view straight east of the confluence was a bit obscured by the small rock face, I decided to scale it and take a picture. The most scenic direction was to the northeast, though it too offered quite limited visibility. I saw surprisingly little wildlife during this visit, only some small songbirds. Antelope, deer, golden eagles, and hawks are quite prevalent in this area, but apparently they all had the good sense to stay out of the rain (Mom, I guess you were right about me). I scrambled down the rock outcropping and walked west to the barbed-wire fence, turning right for the short walk to the Durango. I didn't know it would be so easy to retrace my steps when I first started, so I did mark a waypoint at the SUV just in case, particularly given the limited visibility. I decided to take a last picture to the SSE, looking back towards the confluence. I invested in some hiking shoes and wool socks for this trip, but I was in shorts and was starting to feel the elements a bit. The accumulated drizzle during this 45-minute outing had soaked me pretty thoroughly. I was quite relieved to see my Dodge appear out of the mist, and then I was more relieved that I was able to navigate back to I-25 without getting stuck hopelessly (the SUV did lose traction a few times on the return trip).
The rest of the day was quite eventful as well. I checked out the largest steam locomotive in the world ("Big Boy"), the old governor's mansion, and the state capital, all in Cheyenne. From there I traveled to Scotts Bluff National Monument, Chimney Rock, and Courthouse and Jail Rocks in western Nebraska. On the way from Bridgeport to Carhenge, I was nailed for 75 mph on a 65-mph Nebraska state highway. I swear I was only doing 72 mph, and I thought I might get off with a warning. However, the officer was positively salivating after seeing my Colorado plates, so I was doomed. It only became worse when I had to produce my California driver's license. He could hardly contain his glee at tracking down such "big game" in the middle of nowhere. I pressed on (as the rains returned) to Toadstool Geological Park, poor dirt roads, and some nice views of Eastern cottontails. As I finally returned to pavement in Ardmore, South Dakota, life really started to stink, literally, after I accidentally mowed down a skunk with my urban assault vehicle. Well, I wanted more encounters with wildlife! I finally checked into my motel in Hot Springs, South Dakota after a wonderful, home-cooked meal downtown.
I would like to thank the landowners for enabling this enjoyable confluence adventure. They asked me to mention that future visits to this confluence are discouraged. Perhaps they'll allow one return visit someday, though, given the poor visibility and inclement weather during this outing. I would love to document this confluence in its full beauty and solace.