13-Sep-2003 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Denver, Colorado, USA, pilgrimaged to 39 North 106 West on a late summer Saturday. Earlier in the day, I and six others explored an interesting chunk of the Earth's crust, Fulford Cave, Colorado. Even though we were quite muddy from caving, my favorite confluence partners, Emily and Lilia Kerski, were ready for one more adventure for the day. Therefore, we traveled east from the cave at Eagle to Minturn, and south on US Highway 24 through Leadville, a town over 10,000 feet in elevation. We passed in the shadow of the two tallest Colorado mountains, Mt Elbert and Mt Massive, both of which were receiving some late summer snow showers. After traveling through Buena Vista, we left US 24 and headed north along US Highway 285 for 8 kilometers.
We opened an iron gate and left the highway on a Pike National Forest service road that first passed through a section of private land. We traveled west approximately 5 km before deciding that the road had become a true four-wheel drive road, parking the Toyota Corolla just before the road traversed its first gully. Emily and Lilia opted to remain in the vehicle and read while I set off
under a darkening sky toward the northwest. I promised them at 4:57pm local time that I would only be gone one hour, and I was determined to meet that goal. As the confluence trek would be over 8 km round trip, I knew I needed to jog most of the way.
First, I stayed in the Buffalo Creek drainage on the four-wheel drive roads, crossing several side gullies by leaping over the water on the ample rocks. After about 15 minutes, I made the mistake of taking the right-hand forest service road at a fork. While this led me to 39 North, it required that I then run up and down several ridges without the benefit of a trail due west toward the confluence, adding about 10 minutes to the journey. The terrain was dotted with ponderosa pines, aspen, sagebrush, and Douglas Fir. As the previous visitors noted, I found the confluence about 40 meters from the original forest service road that I had been on.
I have never jogged to a confluence before, but it made for an interesting trek. One might hear my labored breathing during the movie I filmed. The confluence lies on a gentle south-facing slope, in a field of bare dirt, sagebrush, and a few wildflowers, just south of a grove of young aspen trees. The temperature was dropping from 10 degrees C, and a light snow was beginning to fall, signaling that autumn was only a week away. Conscious of the time, I spent only 12 minutes at the site. I had no time to make a proper confluence sign, so I modified one that we had used one week earlier. I saw no animals or birds during the journey, perhaps because of the approaching snowstorm. On my return trip, three motorcyclists passed me traveling
in the opposite direction.
During my return jog, I reflected that this was the fourth confluence I had the privilege of visiting at Latitude 39 Degrees North. I had been to two sites on the Great Plains, and most recently, in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. This confluence, at 39 N 106 W, is the confluence that lies closest to the geographic center of Colorado. Did the confluence reflect the character of
Colorado? In many ways, yes. Colorado is a big state, and the confluence lies in one of the state's largest counties, Park County. Within Park County are two national wilderness areas, two state parks, twelve state wildlife areas, and more territory above 9,000 feet altitude than any other county in Colorado. I was jogging on federal land. Federal lands comprise 51 percent of Park County. Park County is ringed by several mountain ranges; to my west was the Mosquito Range above Fairplay and Alma, which accounts for four of Colorado's peaks higher than 14,000 feet, as well as 25 named summits above 13,000 feet. The confluence's vegetation of montane trees, grassland, and sagebrush is indicative of much of the state. The sparseness of the vegetation, though, reflects Colorado's lack of rainfall. In Colorado, high mountain meadows are called "parks." The confluence lies on the western edge of South Park, a 2333-square kilometer park with an average elevation of 2743 meters. The park's short grass prairie supports herds of elk, deer, bighorn sheep, antelope, beaver, raccoon, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, and waterfowl. Colorado's human population is increasing rapidly, and Park County reflects this as well, doubling in size between 1990 and 2000 to over 14,000. Therefore, one might make the case that Colorado's central confluence contains much about what characterizes Colorado.
When I rounded the last bend and could see the vehicle, I began waving my confluence sign. Upon reaching the vehicle, I noted the local time was 5:57pm. I had made my goal with two minutes to spare! I was thankful to see the children safe and sound, although they had a bit of an adventure too. They told me a bit nervously about a herd of wild horses that had passed less than 1 meter of the
vehicle a short while earlier. We traveled back to US 285 and northeast to Denver, reaching home just after 8pm local time, and were treated to some varied Colorado weather and scenery along the way--snow, fog, and sun.