As I had arrived in central Arizona for the conference of the University Consortium of Geographic Information Science, and as the conference themes revolved around space, place, and geographic information systems, and as Shawn had a day off and was anxious to see if he could return to 34 North 112 West via his Polaris RZR off-road vehicle, it was natural that we meet again with the purpose of visiting a point together. And so, the day had arrived: I flew to Phoenix airport, Shawn graciously picked me up in a vehicle proudly displaying "Degree Confluence Project" magnetic signs on its doors, and towing his Polaris vehicle. After months of planning, we were off!
As we drove north along I-17, we talked about our previous visits together one year in southeast Colorado and another year in southwest Colorado. We also mentioned amazing visits by Rainer Mautz and reflected upon our own solo treks. Mine were definitely on the more modest scale than that of Shawn and Rainer, but we do all feel bonded in some way to the Degree Confluence Project treks and to the love of exploration. The day was clear and by Arizona late-May standards, not too hot, about 85 F (29 C). Late May is about the latest time of the year that one should visit this point until summer has ended, due to its desert conditions.
We exited at the New River turnoff, Shawn displayed his Arizona parks pass which was required here, and prepared the Polaris vehicle. We were about ready to depart when another Polaris driver came up and chatted with us for awhile. We followed him to the east on my first ever ride on one of these off road vehicles. It was a unique experience for me but Shawn is about the most well prepared and experienced person to be with in the backcountry that I can think of, so I felt quite safe. The road was extremely rough in places with sharp boulders, and I was amazed that Shawn had brought his Tahoe vehicle here last time, on his last confluence visit, and others had reported bringing similar vehicles on prior visits. Indeed, after 20 minutes we passed a regular pickup truck with its passengers climbing on the large boulders. It was amazing that they could bring a regular truck in on a road that seemed impassable except for in a Polaris, or on foot, or perhaps on a mountain bike.
The road wound higher than I expected and then descended into the valley adjacent to the intermittent stream. Shawn pointed to the north and with my GPS showing that we were closing in on the point, I thought with dismay that we were going to have to climb the tall mountain to the north. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, and we came to a stop in the low part of the valley, where I could see our true destination. Yes, we would have to climb a ridge, but it was about 800 feet in elevation gain, and definitely doable.
After we had gathered supplies and set off across the streambed, which was actually filled with many pools and many tadpoles, I immediately wished I had brought my hiking boots. I had declined to do so, not wanting to drag them onto the airplane earlier that day. I only hoped that my thin tennis shoes would not experience a piercing by one of the thousands of cacti that we were stepping gingerly over. After the scramble up slope amongst the boulders and through a magnificent saguaro forest, I thought the difficult part was over. However, once we reached the less steep grade beyond the ridgeline, we encountered short grasses that were laden with short pointed burrs. In just a few meters, my socks and pant legs had collected approximately 75,000 of these, making walking uncomfortable. For the next several days, some of my time was spent picking these burrs out of my clothing. But no matter--we were enjoying the hike and about 10 minutes after the last ridge, we descended partway into the valley beyond and found the point.
The point lies on ground sloping about 15 degrees to the east. We found, given the exposure, that zeroing out the GPS was no great challenge. The point was covered with rocks, cacti, and shrubs, with a large dead tree about 15 meters to the southwest of the point. We found a large cairn on the site that Shawn later calculated to be 11.386 meters bearing 222 from the confluence point. It was late May and just after 1300 (1:00 pm) local time. We stayed on the site about 25 minutes, recording the moment and checking all of our devices. And as I commented at our point in Colorado, I regard Shawn as the "king of gadgets". It was great to see how many instruments we had at our disposal. This was my first Arizona confluence point in a few years; Shawn had been here once before. I had stood on 112 West from Montana on the north to Arizona on the south, and on 34 North from California on the west to North Carolina on the east. The views were excellent, but especially to the south, across the valley to the ridge beyond, and even beyond that, almost to the north side of Phoenix.
We decided to take the side of the ravine to our southeast on the way down, for variety. Once we had set out, the cool breeze ceased as we picked our way down the loose rocks, cactus, and thorns. The steep part was tricky in places but we were watched over by the stately saguaros at this stage. Overall, it was definitely easier on the way down, even though by the time I made it to the stream bed, I was even more keenly aware of the thorns that were in my shoes. Shawn commented that he had felt something sticking him in his leg most of the journey, and when we returned to the Off Road Vehicle, sure enough, he pulled out a decent sized cactus needle. Overall though, we emerged unscathed, and were thankful we didn't impale ourselves the way our colleague Ross Finlayson had done here on a barrel cactus. We reached the vehicle with about 2:30 elapsing for our total hike time. We then set out back to the west, down the road. We were halfway back to the towing vehicle when we spotted the person we had encountered several hours before, this time with his Polaris sitting in about 3 feet of water. Fortunately, Shawn had a lock and a cable which was not ideal, but he was able to pull the man and his vehicle out quickly. We made it back to the towing vehicle without further incident. Then, we drove back to Scottsdale, where my conference was to be held, and as I was feeling a bit stiff, I had Shawn drop me off about 2.5 miles from the conference site. I thus had a nice walk along the Central Arizona Canal for part of the way in the late afternoon sun. This visit was indeed a great day and I am indebted to Shawn for this amazing adventure! It proved to be an excellent way to begin the week at the University Consortium of Geographic Information Science.