28-Jun-2007 -- I dedicate this confluence to my colleague Matt Engler, geographer at the US Census Bureau. Matt was the first geographer I met who showed me that geography is fun, a little nerdy, and fascinating. Matt taught me many things, including that it was possible to live out one's faith as a geographer. While Matt's life on Earth was cut short a few years ago, he touched many lives, including mine. Matt liked the "ordinary" places such as the country I was traveling through now. We shared a deep affection for the Midwest, and Kansas in particular. He also liked crazy place names, and would have loved the name "Zook". Therefore, I paid particular attention to Zook as I neared it. Yes, Matt would have liked it here at 38 North 99 West.
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 4 confluences by early afternoon. On my way to here, from 38 North 100 West, I traveled east to Larned along Kansas Highway 156. Larned was a pleasant town. I tried to buy gas from one station but the computers were down, and I was shooed away. Things like that make me wonder how we will function if there is a power outage and computers are down. However, it worked out just fine, because at the next gas station, I discovered a soda fountain with real vanilla syrup. I had no idea these things existed. Maybe I need to get out more.
So, armed with a diet Dr Pepper with vanilla syrup, I headed due south on Kansas Highway 19. I dumped a glass of water on my head as it was quite hot and my vehicle has no air conditioning. The previous visitors were disappointed that they didn't get to see Zook, Kansas. I looked very carefully for it, but at the intersection where it was supposed to exist, there wasn't even a house. So, Randy Eggert and Mike and Jean Conkling, I say: "You didn't miss anything." The trees were becoming more numerous now that I had passed the 100th meridian, here in the Arkansas River plain, and I turned east on a section line road very close to 38 North Latitude. It was quite sandy but passable, that is, until the second mile. There lay a huge expanse of standing water, and not wanting to become mired, I turned back to Highway 19. All of this detouring was costing me valuable time, and I wondered if this would be the last confluence of the day. Still, the countryside was beautiful and I enjoyed myself. I drove south for one more mile, then east again, north, and east, effectively skirting the water. I didn't know if the water was from recent rains, a high water table, or irrigation, but the confluence also turned out to be underwater.
In less than two minutes from the vehicle, I stood at the confluence. No fences stood in the way. The confluence lies on flat ground in the northern part of a field planted in the past with alfalfa and perhaps during another season with corn. The temperature stood at 95 F (35 C), the skies hazy, although some sun showed, with a moderate breeze. I saw no people during my confluence trek, no animals, but quite a few birds. The confluence is in a shallow basin guarded on the west by a magnificent tree and on the east by a bank of trees about 1/3 mile wide. I could see the Macksville grain elevators to the southeast, but even they were only a few miles away. This is such an easy confluence to visit that I marveled that few visitors had been here except, undoubtedly, the field owner and workers.
For a few minutes, I wondered if I should step a few paces into the water and zero out the GPS unit. My shoes had been wet earlier in the day from my visit to 38 North 103 West, and had taken two hours to dry. Not wanting to repeat that experience, I decided to stay put. I had been to the 38th parallel numerous times before, in California, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, and North Carolina. I had stood on the 99th Meridian West several times as well, in a Texas field on the south and a North Dakota lake on the north. I was behind schedule but could not resist spending 20 minutes at the confluence site.
This was the farthest from home that I would be during the day. My confluence quest would take me in a backwards "C", with the bottom of the C at 38 North. Next, I would travel up 99 West to two more confluences, and then, time permitting, travel back west along 40 North. I wondered, with it being mid-afternoon, how many more I would be able to squeeze in. I traveled due east along the section line road to St John, Kansas, which is also at 38 North Latitude. Then, I struck northward along US Highway 281 toward 39 North 99 West. The distances between the confluences thus far today had been shorter distances between the lines of longitude, due to the convergence of the longitude lines from the Equator to the North Pole. However, next I needed to traverse a whole line of latitude. Would the sun set before I made it?
Matt, this one's for you!