25-Jul-2019 -- As I was in South Dakota for the South Dakota Geographic Information Systems conference, and as the conference was focused on geotechnologies, mapping, and location, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone. And so, teaching duties at the conference concluded for the day, and this being just 1 month after the summer solstice and nearly halfway to the North Pole, today there was still 2.5 hours of daylight left. And so, after walking back to my hotel from Mitchell Technical Institute to retrieve my vehicle, I was soon driving west from Mitchell on I-90. I had already been to the closest confluence point, that of 44 North 98 West, and the next closest that seemed doable was 1 degree west of that.
At Kimball, I drove north on South Dakota state highway 45. I wanted to stop at the tractor museum in Kimball, but the sun was sinking lower. The highway was wonderful, passing through fields of sunflowers and wheat and soybeans, and some livestock out on the land, too. Plus, it was my favorite time of day and favorite time of year, the setting sun making the whole landscape golden. At 43.9898 north, I stopped, although there was no good place to pull over, gathered my hat, and started walking west. Nearing a farmhouse, I realized I was too far south, and doubling back to the road, walked north to the next field edge. I can assure the reader that I was the only person walking in the heat on a state highway in the middle of summer. I could have driven to the edge of the field along the road, but I needed a walk in the country, even though, as I mentioned, it was blazing hot. I walked west, encountered no fence, just north of a large row of overgrown windbreak trees. After about 15 minutes, this trail jogged slightly south and then took a right hand turn to the north along the next field edge. It was here that I became just a wee bit nervous, as I left the trail and began walking through chest-high grasses; I was a little concerned that I would step on a snake or snag myself on some barbed wire. Fortunately, no snake or fence appeared, though it was slow going, and about 10 minutes later, huffing and puffing a little, I arrived on the confluence point.
The point lies on ground gradually sloping about 5 degrees off to the east, in a vast field, in which I was near the southeast corner. Due to the high amount of precipitation in the region this year, the grass was very high and almost green, even in July. A moderate breeze was blowing and it could have been hotter here in July, but it was hot enough, about 94 F (34 C). I saw no houses from the point, livestock, or birds. It was a wonderful spot although the slope of the land here meant for limited views. I had stood on 44 North Latitude a few times before, from South Dakota just west of here to Maine on the east. I had also stood on 99 West several times, from North Dakota at 48 N 99 W to Texas at 28 N 99 W. There was something special about being on a point with a double number in both the latitude and longitude, as this was -- 44 99. I spent about 15 minutes on site. Given the ease of this confluence, it was amazing to me that it had only been visited once before, nearly 20 years earlier.
I walked out the way I came in, with one stop at the northern end of an immense field of sunflowers, that stretched to the south. None of the flowers were flowering yet but they stood past waist-high already. To the north as I walked back east, was a long row of rolled hay. I could see a few trucks on the highway that I had walked along, and a large field of wheat to the east of that. After a round trip hiking time of about 90 minutes, I was pretty well windblown and roasted, but it was well worth the trip onto the landscape. I admire all who work hard out here tending the land. My adventure was not yet over, though, because I then stopped just north of here, in Gannvalley, where I visited the marker for the South Dakota center of population in 2000. As a geographer who works regularly with population data, this was an unexpected and wonderful find. I met with one of the town's 17 residents, who showed me the marker as well as the old county jail.
I then took Highway 34 through some wonderful fields and towns such as Woonsocket, back to Highway 37, and then south to Mitchell. The highway dropped off the Great Plains in the central part of South Dakota to the central lowlands, that stretch all the way to nearly the Mississippi River. As a geographer, I always prefer to travel in loops and circles, so I can see more terrain. Get out there and explore the Earth!