13-Jun-2002 -- Not long ago on dry land, this confluence was flooded by the rising pike-infested waters of Devils Lake. This closed drainage basin has increased from 46,400 acres to 130,000 acres in the past 20 years while its elevation has increased by 25 feet since 1993. Although most maps showed this confluence to be on dry land, a series of wet years in the northern plains would make finding this confluence a challenge. I knew we needed a boat.
I arrived in Grand Forks on 9 June to teach a week-long course on studying watersheds using geographic information systems (GIS). Showing teachers how to integrate GPS in their curriculum was an integral part of the course. One of the course participants, Reyne Krapp, science teacher Red River High School, introduced me to her spouse Ryan of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department . Ryan, along with colleague Mat Sorum, both students at the University of North Dakota , were in the midst of mapping the entire lake floor using a Trimble GPS unit and a Garmin SONAR unit. Taking transects that approach the shore every 200 meters, Ryan and Mat collect GPS readings every second. This seemed too perfect to be true--what better traveling companions could one ask for in the quest for 48 North 99 West than those who were mapping the entire area?
After class ended on 13 June 2002, I, geographer at the USGS , along with teaching companions Roger Palmer of GIS ETC and of Bishop Dunne High School, Dallas, Texas; AJ Torgerson of Shiloh Christian School in Bismarck; Ryan; Mat; and Ryan’s border collie - Labrador dog Hailey, traveled west on US Highway 2 for an hour and a half, from Grand Forks to the town of Devils Lake. After hitching up Ryan and Mat’s motorboat from the Game and Fish Department, we drove south of US Highway 2, passing submerged fences and grain storage bins that were eerie reminders of the flooded farms below. The road is supported along one flooded stretch by large boulders on either side, forming a causeway off of which people were fishing.
Reaching Graham Point State Park, we spotted two large deer before launching the boat into the beautiful glassy water of Devils Lake. Perhaps sensing that something grand was about to happen, Hailey, the dog, was a bit hesitant to get in the boat. We explained to two people bringing their boat ashore, the state park manager, and a gas station attendant the reason for our expedition, receiving slightly puzzled but polite and curious nods. The lowering sun in the sky along with the silhouette of standing trees in the lake, dead from the rising waters, made for a beautiful setting.
We journeyed east-northeast for three miles, crossing the 99-degree meridian and the Benson-Ramsey County line before turning south around a point of land. We headed south for four miles toward the obelisk that marks the tribal headquarters of the Fort Totten Indian Reservation. We had a plethora of equipment on board to increase the chances of success--the boat’s Trimble GPS unit, a Garmin XL12, a Garmin eTrex, and a Teletype GPS unit attached to a Compaq iPAQ handheld computer. A.J. had downloaded ArcPad 6.0 by ESRI onto the iPAQ to receive the GPS information and was able to display them upon a latitude and longitude grid. Also aboard were a Garmin Sonar unit, a video camera, and four digital still cameras.
As we neared the confluence, tension mounted while Mat and Ryan kept us posted as to the depth to the lake floor. We were in approximately 22 feet of water when we reached the confluence. Despite the fact that we were in a boat, we were able to achieve quite a few zeroes on all of our GPS units including the Trimble. In the northeast distance twinkled the lights of the Mystic Lake tribal casino and a few lights from Fort Totten, but otherwise, all nature was silent as the sun sunk toward the horizon. Approximately 12 meters west of the confluence, a row of submerged dead trees afforded us an excellent photo opportunity with Roger and then Joseph left stranded in the branches.
The fairly high latitude means that the sun, two weeks before the solstice, stayed out until 9:30pm local time. This allowed us to linger and document the confluence for 20 minutes. As the sun slipped below the horizon, we triumphantly returned north, skirted the point of land, and voyaged west to the state park’s boat dock. After a brief stop for gas in the city of Devils Lake, we parted ways, Mat and Ryan to the Game and Fish Department to set up for the next day’s lake survey, and Roger, A.J., and I to teach the final day of the watershed GIS institute. We traveled east on U.S. Highway 2, reaching Grand Forks at 12:30 am on Friday 14 June 2002, feeling centered.