28-Jun-2007 -- How many confluences could a person visit in a single day? I was on an intensive journey to find out. I had begun the day at 2:22am in Colorado, and had achieved 5 confluences by midafternoon. However, all of these were on the same line of latitude and fairly easy to reach. Now, with the sun sinking, I was traveling north to a different line of latitude, and the distance to the next confluence was a fair amount more. While it was roughly 47 miles (76 km) between the longitude lines, it was over 69 miles (111 km) between the latitude lines, and that was as the crow flies. US Highway 281 jogged a fair amount, but was as direct a route as possible. Could I reach 39 North 99 West before sundown?
I was becoming a bit sleepy but was determined to press on. From St John, Kansas, I drove north along US Highway 281. I had never been on this highway on its Kansas stretch before, and I enjoyed driving through the cities of Great Bend and Hoisington, the latter with a real brick main street. However, the slow speed limits through the towns meant that it was after 5pm by the time I passed over Interstate Highway 70 and through Russell, Kansas.
Out here, one has to admire the homesteaders of the 19th and early 20th Century, and those who remain behind today to feed all of us with the grain they grow and livestock they raise. After coming out of the Arkansas River plains, the terrain is fairly hilly here in north central Kansas. Russell city and county were named in memory of Avrah P. Russell, Captain, Company K, Second Kansas Cavalry, who died 12 December 1862 in field hospital near Prairie Grove, Arkansas, of wounds that he received in a Civil War battle of 7 December 1862 there at Prairie Grove.
I decided to drive north a bit more along US 281 and then strike west along some country roads to reach 39 North 99 West. In retrospect, it would have saved about 25 minutes to drive west on I-70 and then north on a paved road that runs just west of the 99th Meridian. Still, I couldn't complain, because my route took me over some magnificent chalk hills with views of the Saline River. River bottomlands are some of my favorite terrains of all time. I wound around for quite some time on some dirt roads until I was on the 99th Meridian paved road. I stopped on the road just north of 39 North Latitude. There was no shoulder to speak of and I hoped a large truck wouldn't need to get around me. It was nearly 6:00pm.
After gathering supplies and slithering under one fence, I hiked east, and then south, and in less than 10 minutes from the vehicle, I stood at the confluence. The confluence lies on ground sloping 10 degrees to the Saline River to the northeast, about 1.5 miles away. It is a field that has been grazed in the past but now did not seem so. It was covered in a mixture of native and planted high plains grasses, here quite high--over 1 meter. The temperature, after a high of 95 F (35 C), was now down to about 88 F, still hot, but nearing my favorite time of day and season--summer evenings. The skies were hazy, although some sun showed, with a fairly strong breeze. I saw no people during my confluence trek, no animals, but quite a few birds. In fact, during my Kansas trek today, I had seen many birds, large and small, over the entire route. The longest vista is to the northeast to the Saline River, but the land rose to the west and restricted the view to the roadway only, a few hundred meters away.
I stood for some moments and reflected on the day. This was my 6th and probably last confluence, it being nearly 6:30pm. In fact, looking at my self portrait, my eyes are looking pretty tired and wrinkly. Still, I comforted myself with the fact that I had on the confluence shirt that my sister had custom-made for me, with a photograph of a bull and me from 46 North 109 West in Montana. I had been to the 39th parallel many times before, from California on the west to Maryland on the east. I had probably visited the 39th Parallel more than any other. I had also stood on the 99th Meridian West several times as well, in Kansas, Texas, and North Dakota. I had not been to this part of Kansas since returning from the National Council for Geographic Education conference in 2004, when I picked up a few confluences in this region as well.
After a total confluence trek of less than a half hour, I arrived back at the vehicle. Despite the lateness of the day, it was only a week after the summer solstice, and I had about 2 more hours of sunlight. Hence, I set my sights on one more, sticking to my original plan: 40 North, 99 West. Would the sun set before I made it?