21-May-2002 -- I departed the last confluence (44N 105W) around 3 in the afternoon. The trip planner software indicated it was 151 kilometers (94 miles) to this confluence, so I thought I would have plenty of time to make it to this location before dark.
As I entered Wyoming and the Black Hills, a storm appeared on the horizon and I hoped it would miss me. This worried me because I had to travel over 34 kilometers (21 miles) on gravel and dirt roads and then be able to make it back out. The wind was gusting up to 80 kph (50 mph) and lightning was flashing all around me. I was more than a little concerned for my safety. I knew if it rained hard, the dirt roads would turn to sloppy mud and I would be unable to traverse them. I decided that if it did that, I would camp and wait for the roads to dry.
I was well onto a two-track dirt road when the wind speed increased and the rain started. I truly didn’t think I would make it out that evening. The sideways blowing rain pelted my face painfully every time I got out to open a cattle gate.
About 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) from the confluence, I came to a cattle gap that had a thick, padlocked chain stretched across it. There was nothing I could do but try to find another route in, so I turned around and backtracked. The rain hadn’t saturated the dirt road enough to turn it into deep mud, but there was a slick layer of it on top that made me slip and slide a lot.
The first alternate route I tried was almost disastrous. The trip planner software indicated a road, but there wasn’t one. I ended up in the bottom of a canyon, driving beside a creek bed through tall sagebrush that hid holes and big rocks. It was so rough that my camping gear in the back of my Explorer was flying around everywhere. My adrenaline was pumping. I was afraid that if I stopped I would get stuck, so I plowed right through that stuff. In the back of my mind I was more afraid that if it started raining harder, it could cause a flash flood and I would be caught in it. After driving through the canyon for 30 minutes or so, I realized that there was no way out of it except for the way I came in. Along the way I passed a few dead cows and, not wanting to join their ranks, I found a place where I could turn around and began to work my way back out of there.
With much relief, I made it out of the canyon. I had been terrified that I would never make it out of there. I was on the verge of giving up this attempt, but I was very determined (or stupid), so I tried a different tack. It was still raining persistently, but not very hard.
I couldn’t believe the bad luck! I got to within 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) of the point and came to another chained and padlocked cattle gap! Dejectedly I decided that there was no way I was going to be able to make it. If the weather hadn’t been so bad, I would have hiked the rest of the way. I turned around and prayed that I would be able to make it back to the main gravel road without getting stuck. I saw a herd of antelope running and the "Home on the Range" song popped into my head. I was beginning to hate that song. I made it to the main road and I thought that whoever eventually made it to this confluence would deserve a medal.
I had given up. All I wanted to do was find a hotel, get some sleep and hope I didn’t have bad dreams about the day. But after driving west on the main gravel road well to the north of the confluence, I saw another possible route to the confluence. I’m extremely hardheaded and I hate to give up. Although the light was fading, I decided to give it one last try. I made up my mind that if I ran into any difficulties to camp for the night and give it a try in the morning. Even if I made it there, I didn’t think there would be enough light to take photos, so either way I figured I was going to camp out there that night in the Black Hills.
Success! I finally made it to the confluence! I was happily surprised to find that the roads along this route were considerably better than those I had been on earlier. Although it was almost dark, I was able to take the photos. After all I went through to get there, I wish the landscape had been more picturesque. But basically, there were just hills and a lot of sagebrush. How anticlimactic. So that made six confluences visited with 18 more to go this trip!
It was quite dark before I made it out to a main road and I drove to Buffalo, Wyoming where I camped for the night. It was almost midnight before I went to sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day. I would get up and proceed to the next confluence on my itinerary, 44N 107W. There was no way it would be as difficult as those today were, right? Oh yeah, right.
Coordinator's Note: The main combined image should have been split into separate photos: photo requirements.