14-May-2021 -- As the COVID situation precluded travel for so many months, and as a geographer I was longing to get into the field, I was glad when the opportunity finally arose. I trekked into the field in May 2021 to visit confluences, back roads, state lines, grain bins, railroad depots, city parks with metal slides, road signs, state parks, and other out of the way places that a geographer would love. The day before this visit, I left Colorado and visited two points on 38 North in Kansas, and one point on 37 North on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Today was Day 2 of my wanderings and I was truly looking forward to it.
I awoke at my campsite at Elk City State Park in the car and was surprised to find that it was already 8:00am. Nice! But that meant fewer confluence points today, which was fine - I wasn't on any schedule, other than the fact that my destination was at a state park a fair distance away in Missouri this evening. My revised plan today, greatly reduced from my overzealous map created back in Colorado, was to visit 4 points on 38 North - two in Kansas, and two in Missouri. First, I left Elk City State Park and drove through Independence, Kansas, a very pleasant community. Next, I drove to Fredonia Kansas, took a work call with one of my dearest colleagues at a university, and got some coffee.
Most folks were still wearing masks but we were just easing off a bit here in May 2021. After Fredonia, I drove up a series of wonderful roads north and northwest of Fredonia back up to the 38th Parallel, through tiny fascinating towns such as Coyville, Toronto, and Virgil. Most towns had no traffic lights. I admit that I had it pretty easy with turn-by-turn directions all connected to a map on the rental car's screen. But don't just follow blindly, which is what I am always advocating. Just south of Virgil, for example, the directions told me to follow what was little more than a path, up a hill, which I did not take. I drove north instead. North and east of Virgil, fortunately with roads decent for a rental car, owing to the dry conditions, I trekked on. Anticipation mounted as I reached my destination parking spot. I had previously selected this spot, on a 90 degree turn of the section line roads, because I suspected the creek to the west of the confluence would be not something I should try to wade. Hence my approach plans from the east. I parked and gathered GPS, hat, and other necessary supplies. A corral was straight ahead; nobody was there. As I had hoped, this spot was wonderfully remote.
I set out to the south along a fence line. It was marshy ground, slow going, maybe fed from a spring on the higher ground. I gradually wound down to traverse a small creek and then up on the Flint Hills on the other side. This would be my longest hike of the day and I had been looking forward to it. I kept an eye out for snakes. Some beautiful wildflowers were blooming. I went down another gully and to the uplands beyond. As I suspected, the view as I neared the confluence was spectacular, especially to the west. The view of the stream below confirmed my plan that it was wise to approach from the east. After a hike of about 30 minutes from the vehicle, I arrived at the spot. The temperature stood at about 75 F under breezy and sunny skies, mid-to-late spring, just about noon local time. I saw a few circling birds but no people. No cattle could be seen either.
I was wearing my Lost shirt. I pondered the Native Americans, bison, and settlers that have traversed these hills over the years. How many people, I wondered, had stood on this exact ridge? I thought about the only other confluence visit to this point, on a March day nearly 20 years prior. I had not stood on this confluence before, although I had over the years stood on this 38th parallel perhaps more than any other with the possible exceptions of 39 and 40. It was highly unlikely I would ever be here again so I treasured the moment. I had also stood on this meridian, numerous times, from a icy and muddy field in Minnesota on the north to someone's backyard in Texas. I now have a very respectable assortment of at
least 3/4 of all the points in the great state of Kansas. Rock Chalk! Kansas contains points along 37, 38, 39, and 40 North. By this afternoon, I would only be missing a few points along 37 North and along 40 north in the easternmost sections of those parallels here in Kansas. With one more point, I will have all of 38 and 39 North covered in this state. In fact, my run of 38 North will extend from Colorado into Missouri, and 39 North from Utah into Missouri, spanning 16 degrees of longitude. Maybe my goal should be to visit ALL the points in Kansas!
After spending about 15 minutes on site and taking photos, and videos (I have placed the video on my Our Earth channel, here: 38 North Latitude 96 West Longitude), I regrettably made my departure. On the hike back, I surprised a wild turkey which came flying out of a shrub, but actually I was the one who was probably more surprised. I largely went back the way I had come in, again, to avoid traversing the stream down below. To relive this hike, search my Our Earth channel for my "hiking through the Flint Hills" video. I stopped at the corral for 10 minutes to take some "wild west' videos and photos. It was a lonely and wonderful spot. Total time including the stop at the corral probably came to just under 2 hours. But, I was on a geographic adventure and blissfully not watching the clock.
My adventure here wasn't quite done yet: I drove on the gravel road to the north and then on another gravel road to the east, en route to 38 North 95 West, my last stop in Kansas. But not 8 minutes into the trip, I saw a brush fire, without anyone tending it that I could see, and about 1/2 mile east of the fire, saw a landowner out in front of his land. Hence, I stopped and told him about the fire, and he called his neighbor. I liked this man with his great flowing gray beard so much that I stopped, right there in the middle of the road, and we had about a 25 minute chat. He had 10 acres there and I met one of his two horses and two of his grandkids. The man told me he has visited every tree and fencepost in this part of the county. I could see some oil and gas infrastructure in this area as well. We took a photo together and made a great memory that day. Thanks folks! You really made my day. These confluence treks are so often solitary adventures, so you made this one very special.
Get out there and explore the world.