17-Mar-2009 -- As I was in New Orleans for the annual conference of the National Science Teachers Association, and as we were promoting the use of GIS and GPS throughout science education, a confluence visit seemed like an appropriate way to begin. About a month before the conference, I eyed all of the closest points to New Orleans. I had already visited 30 North 90 West twice during two previous conferences (geography and curriculum development) in the city, and had also visited 31 North 89 West in Mississippi. That left 30 North 91 West, but as I only had a 3 hour window in which to visit, would I have enough time? Frankly, the tales of the previous attempt in the swamp had me a bit worried. What would someone like me from the Rocky Mountains do in a bayou in Louisiana? The pull became too strong, and I had to give it a try. The only issue was that I had a small window in which this could work, as I had a meeting at 4:00pm at Communities in Schools.
I landed at the New Orleans airport on time, fortunately, and by just after noon, I was in a rental car driving, although slowly, west on US Highway 61. At Interstate Highway 310, I drove southwest, across the Mississippi River, and soon left the city behind. I exited on Louisiana State Highway 3127, a magnificent road surrounded on both sides by tall trees, swamps, and occasional drained fields. This was definitely different terrain than what I am used to in Colorado, and the humidity was much higher as well. The few side roads led to chemical plants on the riverbanks. I had intended to drive toward the confluence on Interstate Highway 10, but this was much more scenic and probably even faster, as it was more direct. I followed this road until it ended at State Highway 70. Turning left, I followed 70 to a business route to Plattenville. I missed the turn, doubled back, and drove past some homes and a store, but most land was still primarily in fields. When I reached Highway 308, I turned left and followed the highway as it loops around a great curve in the bayou. I was looking for the turnoff to Bertha Road, which never came. The road straightened out and I knew I had missed it. I then double-backed, drove back toward Plattenville, and took an unnamed road to the east. I then turned on what surely must be Derrick Road, and became a bit mired in the mud there. I drove to where the GPS indicated Bertha Road must be.
Things now became interesting. I turned up what I thought to be Bertha Road, but less than 40 meters later, the car was indicating "low traction" due to the mud. As indicated by the previous visitor, this wasn't your everyday mud, but Louisiana mud, which kept building and building on anything coming into contact with it and was nearly impossible to shake off. As the lane was too narrow to turn around, I backed up the way I had come in, hoping I would not become stuck. There was nobody to be seen, and I would surely be laughed at by any passersby if there were any. I backed up all the way to a graveled lot, and parked then and there. Whew. I would have to walk. Would I have enough time?
I quickly gathered supplies and applied sunblock. The GPS gave over 2 km to the confluence but I knew it would be about 3 km due to the lack of straight-line route through the swamp that lay ahead. I walked alont the tracks that my vehicle had left, now gathering mud on my shoes. Luckily I had the foresight to not be wearing my work shoes, although I was wearing my work tie, pants, and shirt. I walked as fast as the mud would allow, which was admittedly slow, but it was grand to be walking in a Louisiana back lane. As I gazed on the track my GPS was making and compared it to the printed satellite image that I brought with me, I knew that this was indeed Bertha Road, which was welcome news. The weather was also not too hot, yet, and I made a beeline as far as Bertha Road would let me. I saw nobody in these fields as far as the eye could see, as my car receded behind me. A few hundred meters from the approaching field edge, the lane ended, and I struck out to the left on a trail alongside a drainage ditch. The water was tan in color; I wondered what was living in it. I took the trail to the field edge, and then turned 90 degrees to the right, following the edge of the field. The trees and swamp beyond looked impenetrable.
My spirits rose when I saw a narrow lane heading east beyond the field edge, to the first of what would be two lookout towers made out of wood. I am not sure what their purpose was, but they made the swamp passable. Not 10 meters on the lane, however, I walked through the first of many enormous pools of water. Fortunately, the pools were not too terribly deep if I attempted to walk along their edges. Now I was really in the thick of things. What would a Coloradan like me do if I encountered an alligator? I could also see that the vegetation beyond the lane on both sides was almost impenetrable--thorny, wet, and thick. I therefore had little hope of approaching within 100 meters of the confluence. However, my spirits rose when about 200 meters from the confluence, another lane led off to the southeast, in the very direction I wanted to go.
After 10 minutes on this new lane, I arrived at the confluence. I could not zero out the unit, as the confluence point lies about 2 meters to the east of the lane, in vegetation so thick that satellites were lost. My camera was acting strangely, closing the movies after only 15 seconds, and I had to try several times to get a decent movie. The confluence lies on level ground. I saw no people or animals, but a few birds, during my hike. The temperature was a humid 80 degrees F (27 C). I had stood on 30 North before in New Orleans and several times in Texas. I had stood on 91 West only once before, in Missouri.
With all due respect to the previous visitor in 1998, I do not believe that he stood within 100 meters of the confluence. Of course, he was operating in the days before Selective Availability was turned off. But the confluence is definitely not at the edge of a sugar cane field. It is definitely at least 400 meters beyond the edge of the tilled fields in the swamplands beyond. As it is actually not that difficult of a point to reach, considering the lanes that I found, I am surprised that I was only the second attempt at this point. There are not too many of those left in the continental USA.
Before departing, I made another scratchy attempt to zero out the GPS, and was successful! Then I made as hasty an exit as the terrain would allow, sloshing through the water and emerging in the field once more. No time for my favorite thing--a circular route back--so I walked back exactly the way I had come in. Never mind what I said about the temperature being fine--I now felt way too hot. But I'm sure it was much nicer now than in July. Gradually, my vehicle came into view and I was thankful to see it. I returned to the vehicle probably 90 minutes after I left it.
I was running out of time but stopped in Plattenville for some beverages. Next, I drove out on Highways 70 and 3127, to Interstate 310 again, stopping for gas before turning in the car at the airport. It was just past 3:00pm. I took the shuttle to the main terminal and then a taxi to Communities in Schools. The next 2 hours were spent with the wonderful folks there, discussing how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) could be used in their visionary work with At-Risk studnets. This visit proved to be the perfect start to the week with Communities in Schools and the National Science Teachers Association conference. It is indeed good to get out onto the landscape.