03-Aug-2014 -- As about 400 geography educators were gathered in Memphis for the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education, a confluence visit seemed inevitable. Extending back to 2002, I had visited a confluence point in just about every location near to where these conferences had been held. These visits included a memorable boat ride on Lake Tahoe, a trip to a golf course in New Jersey, a walk in a mosquito-infested field in Michigan, and a hike in the woods in Alabama, among several others. This week, my colleagues and I had given many presentations and workshops on the value of spatial thinking and the use of geotechnologies: Another reason to practice what we were preaching and to get into the field for a confluence visit, using geotechnologies as we did so. And, on the very first week that I met Kathrin, we visited a confluence near the beautiful city of Regensberg, Germany. Thus, this visit to Arkansas seemed the perfect capstone to our week.
I was in a rental car near downtown Memphis and verified with Kathrin that she was up for the trek to a field in the middle of Arkansas. Who else but geographers and maybe a few others would get excited about such a thing? I picked Kathrin up at the conference hotel and we were soon traveling west on Interstate Highway 40 across the mighty Mississippi River from Tennessee into Arkansas. Once there, we remained on the floodplain for the remainder of the trip, the wide floodplain of the Mississippi River, with some of the flattest and most fertile land in the USA. I was a bit nervous about what we might encounter. A confluence visit always had the potential for the unknown, and I wanted Kathrin's visit to the USA to end on a positive note. I asked her for some Deutsch lessons on the way, which she was very kind to oblige, and after about 40 minutes, neared our destination.
At the Palestine exit, we left the freeway behind and now were on the most interesting part of the trip, for here we passed slowly by farmhouses, trailers, and country mansions on gravel roads. We drove north on Highway 261 to Slonikers Mill Road, and then west-northwest. The weather was fine and sunny. I found myself wondering why the road did not travel due west, as Arkansas was a Public Land Survey System (PLSS) state, and the section line roads should have run in the cardinal directions. It wasn't until after I returned to the office and looked on an online map when I realized that this area was one in which the original survey lines for at least 8 miles north and south of us were all offset and "tilted". It could have been because the survey to the west was considered "correct" and these lines were the ones to "make up slack" or error in the survey to the east. At any rate, in 15 minutes we had turned south on Sfc Road 113 and parked along this north-south road. We could have driven further, but as geographers, we relished the time out in the field.
As it turned out, we did have about a 15 minute walk to the confluence, first south along the road in which we parked, then west to a trail adjacent to a drainage ditch, and then south to the confluence. During the first few dozen meters of our walk, we were accompanied by the largest swarm of dragonflies I had ever seen, which was odd, but thereafter it was just us and the fields, with no other people to be seen, and scarcely a farmhouse. We found the confluence on the western embankment of the trail, which was fortunate, as the ditch about 4 meters to the east was deep and at the bottom of a steep ravine. We would not have liked to brave the waters with whatever creatures might have been living there. Plus, I was wearing my work clothes. The field to the west was planted in some sort of bean plants, and the one to the north we decided was definitely rice. We were glad we did not have to step around any plants, and the confluence point was really quite easy. This was my first confluence point in Arkansas, and in my quest to attempt a point in each USA state, now I was only missing Alaska, South Carolina, West Virginia, and ... perhaps only those three states remained! I also had stood on 35 North quite a few times in the past, from California on the west to North Carolina on the east. I had stood on 91 West only twice before, in Wisconsin and in Missouri. This was my second confluence point with Kathrin, the other being near the abovementioned city of Regensberg, Germany. The temperature stood at approximately 88 degrees F (31 degrees C) under clear skies - a bit hazy - and light winds, and about 10:45am local time.
After 20 minutes or so of filming photos and videos, we left the scene. We hiked back to the vehicle. We saw some magnificent white birds in the field to the east and paused to take photographs. Now it felt a bit hot, and thus we stopped for some coffee, tea, and water at the Love's Travel Stop at the interstate highway interchange, where I had some spatial thinking challenges with matching cups with lids, and where I had a brief but interesting conversation with someone in the group that I consider in some ways some of the real geographers--a truck driver. Soon, we were on the highway once more. On the way back to the east, we passed in the opposite direction an enormous multi-mile traffic jam due in part to road construction, heading the way we had come a few hours earlier. If we had delayed our trip, we would be sitting in that jam for perhaps hours, which may have thwarted our trip. Thus, we felt fortunate that we had visited when we did. We sailed past the traffic jam and were soon on the bridge heading into Memphis.
I dropped Kathrin off at the wonderful riverfront park there under bright skies with hopes for safe travel and best wishes with her continued good work in geography education. As we waved goodbye I could not help but feel very fortunate to have such wonderful friends and colleagues. It was an excellent way to end the week filled with wonderful people and great landscapes.