08-Feb-2004 -- The state of Colorado, which joined the Union in 1876, was drawn up with boundaries that followed latitude and longitude lines. The southern and northern boundaries were fixed at 37 and 41 North, respectively, while the eastern and western boundaries were fixed at 102 and 109 West, respectively. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that my visit to 41 degrees North and 102 degrees West took me to the northeast corner of Colorado.
I finally had the opportunity to visit the site on a midwinter's day, on my way back home to Colorado following a week of conducting Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and GPS workshops with Native Americans and primary and secondary school educators in North and South Dakota. I thought a confluence visit would be the perfect capstone on a trip where geographic information had been so emphasized.
I left Interstate Highway 80 at Brule, Exit 117, driving south and west along county roads. Eventually I found County Road West 10 along the Keith and Perkins County line. I drove west until I passed Road West N. Due to increasing wind and blowing snow, I was hesitant about pulling too much off of the gravel road and becoming stuck in a drift. I walked through a double row of planted evergreen trees on my trek to the south, passing over flat terrain to the confluence. I arrived at the confluence after a 15-minute walk, about 2:30pm local time.
The confluence lies on flat ground that was left in high plains grasses about 45 cm high, but with some up to chest-high. The field had probably been cultivated at one time in the past and used for cattle grazing as well. On the horizons were numerous examples of trees planted as windbreaks near farmhouses, many of which had been abandoned during the population loss that much of this region had been experiencing since the 1930s. About 15 cm of snow lay on most of the ground, and as I took the photographs, more snow began falling. I saw no animals, and the birds I had seen earlier seemed to anticipate the approaching blizzard, for none were in the sky. The temperature was approximately –10 degrees C.
I spent 20 minutes at the confluence, enjoying the wide open spaces and the sky that changed with each passing minute. I had been to 102 West before, about 18 months earlier, in Kansas, 2 degrees to the south. I had also been close to 41 North during the previous autumn, at 112 West, but the salt marsh and darkness thwarted my attempt.
A confluence visit is always exciting for me, particularly one near a state or national boundary. Because the original surveys of Colorado’s boundaries were a bit off of the true lines of latitude and longitude, this confluence does not coincide with the actual northeast corner of the state. Rather, the confluence is in Nebraska. Interestingly, the confluence lies almost due east of this corner, indicating that the original surveyed latitude line of 41 North was closer to true 41 North than surveyed 102 West was to true 102 West.
The confluence lies about 4.3 km due east of the northeast corner of Colorado. After my trek to the confluence, I drove west to find the marker that I knew had been erected at this corner. However, about 1 km to the west, the ground blizzard began to obscure the road. A kind rancher passed me and shouted over the wind to ask if I was okay. He mentioned that it wasn’t the safest thing to be out and about during a ground blizzard. The photograph shows what a ground blizzard looks like. I took the advice of the man who had obviously been living out on the plains for over 70 years, gingerly turning around to the more well-traveled roads to the east. The trek to the corner could wait for another day.
Before passing the parking spot for the confluence again, I saw one No Trespassing sign to the south, marking the entrance to an evergreen-lined driveway that probably led to an abandoned farmhouse. I enjoyed my drive east and north along county roads, wishing I could drive the whole way home along these peaceful roads. However, I rejoined the Interstate Highway westbound at Big Springs, Exit 107 because I missed my family and because of the snowstorm.