13-Mar-2013 -- As I had just arrived in the area to speak at the 44th Annual and longest running student-led geography convention at South Dakota State University, I thought that a (1) visit to the USGS Earth Resources Observation Data Center and (2) a confluence visit - might be the right 1-2 combination to begin my time in the glacial lands of eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota.
I had a wonderful visit with USGS colleagues who were former co-workers with me at the USGS Data Center, where I saw some excellent satellite imagery and even the computer room where the Landsat data for the planet is received. After bidding my colleagues farewell, I filmed a video about remote sensing at one of their large satellite dishes. Then, I exited the USGS grounds and drove north on a muddy and slippery road, but eventually ended up at 250th Street, an east-west road that took me all the way east into Minnesota. Turning north, I followed State Highway 23 into Pipestone. This was a fairly flat area and wind turbines were spinning quite well in the fields. At Pipestone, I would have loved to stop at the national monument, but turned east once more along State Highway 30. I saw less rural poverty than I have seen in many other places in the past, which was encouraging. Most of the farmsteads looked fairly prosperous or at least getting by. The north-south section line roads near the confluence skipped by tens, so 20th Avenue ran north-south one mile west of the confluence, and 30th Avenue ran north-south just a few hundred meters west of the confluence. Yet there was nothing between 20th and 30th but rows of corn and soybeans and wind turbines. But I did love the public land survey system for its regular and geographic grid. I turned north on 30th Avenue, and saw the sign "minimal maintenance road--travel at your own risk."
The road was indeed quite slippery, having just snowed not long ago, and I slowly crested the hill and stopped a few hundred meters beyond. I got out necessary supplies, including hat and gloves and winter coat. Despite the fact that we were near the Vernal Equinox, winter still had its grip here. The snow was just beginning to melt in places so I knew the trek would be muddy. Therefore, I also changed my shoes. Then, owing to the rental car having one of those keyless ignition systems, I then could not locate the key fob which I had just used to reach my destination, so I knew it was around somewhere. After 10 minutes with key fob in hand, I left the vehicle, walking north to the bottom of the valley ahead. I could not believe my good fortune: A State Trail sign was there and no fence barring my way to the confluence to the east. I couldn't find a trail anywhere, but it was still quite a good find. I trudged through the snow and mud along the edge of the trail, walking due east. With 100 meters to go, I veered toward the southeast, reaching the point about 5 minutes later and about 25 minutes after setting out from the vehicle.
The confluence lies on fairly level ground, in a field that had been planted most recently in corn. A few cobs and stalks were left, but largely the field was bare earth. I saw no people, animals, or birds. The longest view was to the east and the shortest about a mile to the west where the land rose. Amazingly, despite my over 200 confluence visits, I had only one successful visit to 44 North, in Maine, and one unsuccessful one, in Wisconsin, in the past. I had more often stood on 96 West, in Iowa and in Texas. The temperature was about 25 F under sunny skies but the brisk wind made it feel much colder. This was a fairly easy confluence, and so it was hard to believe that it had been nearly 10 years since the last visit. Despite getting my work pants muddy, I was glad to have done the honors!
The confluence jaunt was too short to count as my daily walk, so I walked back to the road to the west, and then to the next section line road to the north, then east, then south, west, and north back to the vehicle. This was a circumnavigation of the closest roads to the confluence, and my result was nearly a perfect square of 4 miles in length. This was the second time in a month that I have done exactly this type of circumnavigation, having done so in Kansas just a few weeks earlier. This trek required about 1 hour and 20 minutes down 3 dirt roads and 1 paved road. The only nervous part was along the northeast corner of this square, where a few dogs got a bit close. Near the southwest corner, I saw another State Trail. Perhaps they were snowmobile trails? By the end of the hike, windblown but happy, I was ready to call it "an adventure." I drove east to Lake Wilson, north on Highway 91 to US Highway 14, listening to a cassette tape of the group "Acappella." I then drove west to Brookings, South Dakota, where I would spend the next several days working with wonderful students and professors of geography. This confluence trek was indeed the perfect way to begin it all.