19-Oct-2004 -- The rivers that flow across the North American Great Plains--The Red River of the North, the Missouri, the Platte, the Mississippi, the Cimarron, the Arkansas, and others are oases of a different kind of life than the environments they flow through. Riparian zones, or the land adjacent to rivers, often include tree species, plants, and animals not found in the surrounding grassland prairies. Native peoples hunted and fished along these rivers, and the settlers of the 1800s followed rivers as they migrated westward. Settlements along rivers, such as Grand Forks, Omaha, St Louis, and Kansas City, grew to become the most important cities in the region. River bottomlands from repeated flooding and sedimentation form some of the most fertile lands in the region. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that I, Joseph Kerski, visited 39 North 95 West, in the bottomlands of one of the region's most important rivers--The Kansas. The Kansas River is born at Junction City, at 97 West, where the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers meet, flowing out of the western high plains and largely due east to its junction with the Missouri River at Kansas City, 50 km to the east of the confluence. It was also a special visit for me because I had attended graduate school in Geography at the University of Kansas, not far away.
I began the day early, in Salina at 5am, driving east along Interstate Highway 70 to the Kansas State Highway 7 exit in Wyandotte County. I should have taken the Lawrence exit, because I overshot the confluence by quite a distance, requiring me to double back to Leavenworth County at Bonner
Springs. From Bonner Springs, I traveled west to Linwood along State Highway 32, my anticipation rising partly because of the weather. To me, this was the ideal weather in which to explore--the visibility was extremely poor, the trees making eerie shapes in the gloom. At Linwood, a quiet and pleasant community, I turned on the GPS unit, navigated down county roads, and then drove east along
the road that follows the river and its parallel railroad track. Before crossing the 95th meridian, I noticed a railroad crossing to the west, but it was marked as private with a warning not to cross without permission. I drove about 1 kilometer east and parked on the side of the road at a point where the local farmer accesses the cornfield to the south. The GPS gave a reading of less than 600
meters to the confluence, to the southwest.
I walked south through the field and then west along the railroad track. The track crossed a feeder stream to the Kansas River and I heard the sounds of a large creature breaking branches nearby. I hoped this was an deer rather than a person, as this trek was starting to remind me of my eerie trek to 30 North 90 West during 2003 through a marshy area near a railroad in Louisiana. Near the 95th meridian, I ambled down a steep embankment to a cornfield that had not been harvested. I crossed through the field to the woods that lay to the south. After an extended confluence dance, due to the heavy tree canopy, I was able to zero out the GPS unit. I arrived at the confluence at 9:15am local
time (my GPS photo gives mountain time, 1 hour earlier). The confluence lies on flat ground in the riparian zone of woodland just north of the Kansas River. The sky was a dark gray, with no wind, and a temperature of 9 C (48 F). I became a bit itchy tromping around in the bushes, and I hoped I wasn't trekking through poison ivy. As I was
filming the movie at the confluence, a train passed by on the track that I had recently walked upon to the north.
I had been to 39 North several times, in Colorado and in Kansas, but this was my first visit to 95 West. After a 25 minute visit, I retraced my steps back through the woodland, cornfield A, railroad track, and cornfield B. I became quite muddy but thoroughly enjoyed my morning.