30-Apr-2006 -- I hadn’t originally intended on visiting this site, my 22nd confluence, but my new hobby brought me too close to this point to pass it up. Since the virgin confluences in the 48 states are no more, and since I’m monolingual (i.e., American), I decided to tackle a new pursuit—visiting tri-state corners, the unique points where three states coincide. There are sixty-two of these points in the U.S., thirty-eight on land, and I’ve been to seven of them already just since May of 2005. I opted to visit the nearest tri-state corners to my nonagenarian grandmothers in western Kansas, and one of the nearest was the CO-NE-WY meeting point. This point is a mere 2.78 miles (4.47 km) from the confluence of 41ºN and 104ºW, an oft-visited confluence on the High Point Bison Ranch. Thanks to suggestions from prior visitors, I had no trouble tracking down the landowners, Jill and Glenn Klawonn. I never did get to talk to Glenn, but Jill couldn’t have been sweeter on the phone. She gave immaculate directions to their ranch, the confluence point, nearby Panorama Point (the highest point in Nebraska), and the tri-state corner. We also had a fabulous conversation about the flora, fauna, geology, and history of the area, which I’ll paraphrase below.
This journey began on Sunday, April 30, 2006, after successfully bagging my 21st confluence at (40ºN, 102ºW) and visiting the tri-state corner of Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. I was running a bit late leaving from Haigler, NE, but the good weather and empty highways helped me make up some time. From Haigler, I went west on Hwy 34 to Wray, CO, and then turned north on Hwy 385. After a short dogleg on I-76 east, I picked up I-80 westbound and put the gas pedal down. This may have been my first confluence adventure without a speeding ticket, for which I am grateful! Petrol was getting a bit scarce as I drove through Sidney and Kimball, so I decided to stop for gas. If I had known that nearby Wyoming had some of the cheapest gas in the nation, I would have held out. Oh, well, you can’t put a price on adventure, right?
Following Jill’s wonderful directions, I drove a few dozen miles on good dirt roads, finding the High Point Bison Ranch sign with little trouble. I was, however, nearly an hour behind schedule. Jill couldn’t have been sweeter when I knocked on her door, and she talked me through finding the confluence and tri-state corner, my top priorities. I decided (since I was essentially there) to hit Panorama Point as well, even though I really don’t “get” the allure of high-pointing (they probably think confluence hunters are crazy themselves!). High-pointing sounds like work to me; low-pointing sounds more my speed (just put pads on me and allow gravity to do the rest!). Anyway, she expertly directed me to the highest point in Nebraska, reminding me to watch my back since it is on an active buffalo ranch! Before tackling the confluence, I did snap a decent bison photo. Truly, these are magnificent creatures, even with their much-dwindled population.
Just north of the tree line at the edge of the Klawonn’s driveway, a pasture road led to a point less than 100 feet (30 meters) from the confluence. I parked the rented minivan and had little trouble attaining an all-zeroes photograph with high GPS accuracy. With about eight GPS satellites tracking (all differentially with WAAS), I obtained an accuracy of 8 feet (2.4 meters), and the average of all elevation measurements from multiple GPS photographs was 5335 feet (1626 meters), which is in excellent agreement with my best topographic map estimate of 5333 feet (1625 meters). The Mile-High City has nothing on this confluence!
I took the requisite N-E-S-W photographs from the confluence, and then took a close-up photo of the best scenery at the confluence point, a cute bovine family (they look genetically linked to my eye, anyway). Since the confluence took less time than allowed, I decided to quickly hit Panorama Point. I must admit, it was more of a thrill than I expected it to be, and the views in all directions were very nice (I guess by definition). The Nebraska high-point is a mere 1.72 miles (2.77 km) west of the confluence. I saw plenty of solidified evidence of a bison presence at the Panorama Point marker, but no animals were anywhere in sight. Buffalo temperament varies widely; they are mostly laid-back grazing animals, but they are also protective of property. As beautiful as they are, my photographic encounter mentioned above was good enough for me.
Despite still being a few tens of minutes behind schedule, I set off for the tri-state corner. I found it with little difficulty, and I naturally captured the moment with pixels. Can you fathom tracking down such a point and NOT putting your hand right on three states simultaneously? I cannot, of course! The degree confluence point at the High Point Bison Ranch was meant to be the tri-state corner (41ºN meets 104ºW), but surveying errors in the 1800’s led to the few-mile discrepancy seen today. After this brief stop, my last of this crazy weekend trip, I headed to Pine Bluffs, WY, on a paved road, picked up I-80 westbound, and headed towards Cheyenne. I caught some intermittent rainstorms through the state capital as I turned south on I-25. I was treated to a tremendous rainbow as the skies began to clear, approaching the Colorado border. A passing SUV gave me a chuckle in the Rocky Mountain state; its Colorado license plate read “VENISON”! I made excellent time on the tollway to the airport, boarded my too-crowded and overly steamy flight, and then passed out on the way back to LA.
According to Jill, well-known fauna of this area include deer, antelope, coyote, badger, fox, pheasant, prairie chicken, red-tailed hawk, lark bunting (the CO state bird), mountain bluebird, sparrow, migrating sand hill crane, shrike, meadowlark, sharp-shinned hawk, great horned owl, nighthawk, black widow, earwig, June bug, stinkbug, cabbage worm butterfly, cecropia moth, and golden eagle, just to mention a few species. Area flora include rabbit brush, yucca (on hilltops), buffalo grass, blue grama grass, crested wheat grass, sand lilies, western wallflower, primroses, and penstamin. The soil is primarily a heavy clay soil, with limestone rocks and rolling prairie hills. It is very near the U.S. Pawnee National Grasslands (which is integrated throughout private property), one of the few short-grass prairielands in the nation. Agriculture is typically dryland farming, ranching, with some irrigated crop circles. Jill and Glenn grow millet and winter wheat; others raise oats, barley, corn, and sunflowers. Beef cattle ranching is the most prevalent business in the area, though there are other bison ranches around (though the nearest to the Klawonn’s is 25 miles away!). The Klawonns raise both Black Angus beef and bison. Incidentally, the term bison and buffalo are now interchangeable, but historically the term “bison” was developed to avoid confusion with water buffalo meat, which used to be sold in the U.S.!
This area is a semi-arid desert, with only about 13” of rainfall per annum. Around Pine Bluffs, the nearby town of 1100 people, there are native pines in the hills. Most of this area is barren with respect to native trees, though. Elm trees were brought and planted by original settlers, though most now have Dutch Elm disease. Some old-timers remember “seeder” trees but most were chopped down to make lumber for railroad ties. Juniper, cedars, cottonwoods, and ponderosa pines have all been planted on the Klawonn’s property. Lilacs and wild yellow roses were seeded by the original settlers; they’re often visible around abandoned homes. Jill planted chokecherry and American plums years ago, and other ranches have apple, cherry, peach, and pear trees. Lightning strikes and subsequent brushfires are always a concern; some controlled burns on the Pawnee National Grasslands ameliorate these fears.
The land around the confluence was mostly settled in the early 1900’s, with homesteading of quarter sections (160 acres). The locale quickly filled with settlers (given the promise of free land), but most did not last, due to the difficulty in making a living on 160 acres. Most sold their land back to the government for seven cents an acre! Glenn’s grandfather, Carl, bought land from an original homesteader in 1927; it’s now about eight sections (5120 acres). After the government buy-back, many remaining farmers used draft horses to skid leftover structures to their property. The Klawonn’s chicken coop, brooder house, and half of the barn were obtained this way. This area is not known for mining, but there are some oil rigs in the area, though they typically tap out after 10-15 years. On a clear day, the best view is to the WSW, to Long’s Peak. This 14256-foot (4345-m) monster in the Rocky Mountains is but one of fifty-four pinnacles that top 14000 feet in the (aptly named) Rocky Mountain state. Also of interest, Native American artifacts have been found about 25 miles south of the confluence, including Pawnee teepee rings.
High Point Bison Ranch gets its name from Panorama Point, which sees hundreds of visitors per year! I imagine the tri-state corner and confluence see much fewer voyeurs. The Nebraska high point and tri-state corner may be visited without permission, but the Klawonn’s respectfully ask that you contact them for permission to visit the confluence. They also offer buffalo tours, sell buffalo meat, and allow deer and antelope hunters to access their property, with permission of course. I would like to thank Glenn and particularly Jill for their tremendous Midwestern hospitality, vast knowledge, and access to the confluence. Jill, it was a distinct pleasure making your acquaintance. You surely have found a slice of heaven where the buffalo roam.
Coordinator's Note: Please note this is a working ranch and the owners ask that you contact them to seek permission before making any plans to visit.