26-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 conference, on my way to the Sioux Falls airport from Mitchell, I set out to visit 43 North 97 West. I drove on some new roads, for me, and a new town as well, Yankton, past lovely fields and farmsteads.
At Yankton I drove northeast on Whiting Drive, 309th to 451st Street, north to Volin, 306th St to Frog Creek Road, north to 304th, east to Norwegian Road, which was a dirt road, and I parked at the intersection of Norwegian and 303rd Street. The neighborhood of the confluence was already quite a bit more "wild" than I had expected. The satellite imagery makes it seem quite a bit easier than it really is. For starters, a sign stood at this intersection that said "Road Closed." I could see, though, that it was walkable, at least here, and so I donned hat and set out. About halfway between the starting point and the bridge that I could see to the east, I spotted a reflection on the bridge. Could it be that someone else was here? Sure enough, there was a vehicle parked in the middle of the bridge. What were the odds of someone being out here out in the rural area in the middle of a hot day? My two hypotheses were either a bridge inspector, or a hydrologist measuring the river depth. Neither proved correct, for as I walked up, I clearly saw two fishing poles draped over the side of the bridge, and had a very nice chat with the fisherman there. He lived not too far away and this was one of his favorite sites for catfish. I told him about my quest and we parted ways, he staying put and me continuing east.
This was the Vermillion River, and while it wasn't as high as it had been a few days before, it was still in flood stage. The surrounding terrain was under water. Nevertheless, the road I was walking on, really no more than a trail, was dry. A few deep divots ahead prohibited even a four-wheel drive vehicle to pass over, but I gingerly went through the pits and over large fallen trees, to 97 West. From here, I struck out overland, through a saturated portion of an arm of the river, and through some chest-high grass, hoping there were no snakes. I kept walking north and could see a broad lake ahead, over where a field once stood, but fortunately, just before the lake, I reached the confluence point. I was standing up to my ankles in water, but I had achieved my goal.
The confluence therefore lies on flat ground, and what was now a wetland, just east of the Vermillion River. The origin of the river name is Waséoyuze Lakota for "place where Vermilion is obtained" (Wikipedia). It was still late morning but as it was July, already the temperature stood at 88 degrees F (31 C). I saw no people, a few birds, and no animals. It was a magnificent summer late morning with almost no clouds. Only a light breeze was blowing. It was amazing to me how long it had been since this point was last visited. Though, as I have mentioned, some effort is required to reach this point. I had stood on 43 North during many memorable moments over the past 20 years on these treks, from a hillside in remote Idaho on the west to a marshy New Hampshire field on the east. I had also stood on 97 West numerous times over the past 20 years, from 45 North 97 West in South Dakota on the north end (during a very cold trek, which seemed almost impossible today, during the middle of the summer) to 28 North 97 West off the coast of Texas on the south end, on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. This was my first time on this point. I now have a nice tidy collection of at least 8 or so confluence points in South Dakota. This was my last day in the state for probably quite awhile and I would miss it.
I hiked out a bit west of the way I came in, avoiding the highest of the grasses. I then walked west on the trail.
When I arrived back at the bridge, the fisherman was just packing up to depart. True to his word, the fisherman showed me his cooler, where at least six fish were swimming. Quite impressive, and decent sized, too! As he drove by me, he held out a water bottle for me to take, but I thanked him and declined. Such nice folks out here in South Dakota! My round trip distance came in at 2.08 miles (3.34 km).
My adventure was not quite finished, though, because only a 20 minute drive from here was Spirit Mound, which I had always wanted to visit. It was a bit challenging to depart this area because several roads were closed due to the flood stage of the river. Once there, however, I had a very nice hike to the Mound, all by myself. Spirit Mound is a hill important to Native Peoples here for centuries and also visited by Lewis and Clark. From the top, you can see the hills of Nebraska and on the eastern horizon, Iowa. I saw thousands of butterflies there in the prairie and filmed a slow-motion butterfly video for my YouTube Channel Our Earth. I walked a few of the country roads in the area as well, though it was quite hot by then, but worth doing. Then I departed for the Sioux Falls airport. Get out there and explore the world!