I began to consider confluences while pondering the Confluence Brewing Company during my recent Geo-BREWities exercise. Maybe I should credit Google Map’s auto-completion function for the suggestion after I typed the brewery name into an address bar. It noted that at least one town of Confluence existed. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered two more although the occurrences in Kentucky (map) and Alabama (map) barely registered as pinpricks.
By comparison, Pennsylvania’s Confluence was a veritable metropolis, and home to several hundred residents nestled in the hills of the southwestern corner. Confluence was even large enough to justify its own Tourism Association.
Confluence, the town, recognized a couple of distinct riverine confluences. First, Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman River. A few hundred feet later a slightly-enlarged Casselman River flowed into the Youghiogheny River. Truly this Confluence represented the facts on the ground. Abundant water descended from neighboring hillsides and joined near a common spot where a settlement sprouted.
The situation went beyond those literal confluences as I considered the surrounding landscape. Confluence, the village, offered a gateway to a confluence of interesting historic and geographic features within remarkably close proximity.
Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob
Fallingwater, photographed by Chun-Hung Eric Cheng on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Fallingwater (aka the Kaufmann Residence) — Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 architectural masterpiece — perched on a hillside nearby. This was arguably one of the most visually recognizable homes ever built, an iconic symbol certainly within the United States and perhaps beyond. The unusual cantilever design constructed over a natural waterfall has been hailed as a masterpiece.
Lesser known, Wright designed another home only seven miles (11 km) away, Kentuck Knob (aka the Hagan House). This property remains a private home, owned by Lord and Lady Palumbo of the United Kingdom who reside there part of the year. It has become available for limited tours only recently.
The Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail blazed directly through Confluence. This Rails-to-Trails project followed the path of several lines abandoned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and Western Maryland Railway. Someone could bike 150 miles (240 km) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland on the Great Allegheny Passage, and from there pick-up the C&O Canal Towpath all the way to Washington, DC, stretching the ride to more than 330 miles (530 km).
Government officials drew artificial lines all over the eastern side of the continent during Colonial times and tweaked those boundaries in the early years of the newly-independent United States. That resulted in a tripoint for the current states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia very near where Confluence later grew. The MDPAWV Tripoint should be a readily-approachable waypoint for those fascinated by borders and boundaries. It maintained additional historic significance as a marker along the famed Mason-Dixon Line.
As an added bonus, nearby Mount Davis marked the highest point of elevation for Pennsylvania at 3213 feet (979 m). Summit Post said,
Views from the top are nice, especially with the very tall observation tower, that allows for expansive views in all directions. You are surrounded by mountains, and you can also see modern wind turbines on a nearby ridge.
For a lazy highpointer such as myself, I noticed that a visitor could drive almost all the way to the very top and reach the summit with a short, easy hike.
Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience.
I once climbed to the top of the not-too-impressive highpoint of the District of Columbia, which in fact is subway accessible. I’m all about easy highpointing. The District highpoint is kind-of equivalent to a state highpoint — some lists include it and others do not — so that was a convenient loophole to add another location to my list. I thought about that recently and wondered whether it might be possible to replicate my feat in another nation with a similar capital district.
That required a mashup of two separate lists. There weren’t very many situations like DC although a few were included in Wikipedia’s List of Federal Capitals. I cross-referenced that to the peak lists available on Peakbagger.com. It was sort-of hit or miss since most nations did not have a separate list of state, provincial and/or territorial highpoints. The lists depended upon the good graces of individual contributors to develop them. For example Abuja, Nigeria was a Federal district although nobody posted a list of individual Nigerian states so I couldn’t feature it. I wouldn’t be able to do that for Russia either unless loyal 12MC reader "January First-of-May" just happened to have the highpoint coordinates available for the Federal City of Moscow. I don’t have the data to determine these places on my own.
I found online information about several places though and I’ll list them from lowest to highest elevation.
The summit of the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires might be a fair comparison to Washington’s highpoint at a diminutive 38 meters (125 feet) in an urban area. Buenos Aires had a much more impressive water tower, though. The summit was crowned by the impressive Palacio de Aguas Corrientes — the Palace of Flowing Waters — a garish structure that contained a pumping station, water company offices, and even a museum dedicated to water and sanitation. As described by Welcome Argentina,
Down Córdoba Avenue, those who catch a glimpse of this building realize at once that it belongs to another time. Extravagant and ridiculous for some, fascinating for others, the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes… has been a symbol of the pomp of the generation of 1880 and at the same time a key piece for the health of a developing city.
The Distrito Federal in Brazil included Brasília, and of course a highpoint summit which in this instance fell within a rural area of the northwest corner. Various online sources called it Pico do Roncador. Translation software told me that Roncador meant "Snorer." A little digging uncovered a species of fish called Umbrina Roncador or Yellowfin Croaker, and croakers do make a grunting noise that I guess might sound something like snoring (listen).
Was Pico do Roncador named for the fish or was it given the name because it was really boring to the point where it might put someone to sleep? Because I’m thinking the latter. The highpoint fell on a plateau at 1,341 meters (4,400 feet), hardly distinguishable from the surrounding terrain except for the presence of a communications tower visible in the distance on Google Street View.
I felt a little better when I noticed the summit of Bimberi Peak, the highpoint of the Australian Capital Territory. At least it resembled a mountain, and actually a pretty notable one for the area at 1,913 meters (6,276 feet). It’s part of the Brindabella Ranges and straddled the border between ACT and New South Wales in Namadgi National Park. The park’s website claims that the park covered "46 per cent of the Australian Capital Territory" which was an interesting point. Is there any other Federal district covered by national parkland to a greater degree?
Bimberi isn’t supposed to be a particularly technical climb although the peak does extend high enough to make vegetation sparse and it can be covered by snow in the winter.
ajusco en blanco by Señor Lebowski, on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
México won the 12MC award for most extreme federal capital summit, with Cerro Ajusco in the Distrito Federal rising to 3,937 meters (12,917 feet). Like many other mountains nearby, Ajusco had a volcanic origin and was formed as part of a lava dome. One might think the altitude would be daunting however Ajusco may be the most commonly climbed summit in the nation. Why? Because something like 20 million people live within the greater Mexico City metropolitan area, and the heart of the city is only like 40 kilometres away from Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco. Crazy!
… droves of Mexicans flock to its slopes on holidays and on weekends to escape the press of the most populated city on earth… I would suggest the best time to climb Ajusco would be early on a weekday morning so one could enjoy the peak with a degree of tranquility… it should take no more than 2-4 hours (depending on one’s level of fitness) roundtrip to complete.
That’s a little more complicated than the Washington, DC highpoint.
The first cluster existed near Black Mesa at the far northwestern corner of the Oklahoma panhandle. This small area may be unique in the state from a geographical perspective, with genuine mesas replacing more typical flat or rolling grasslands. One drives along ramrod-straight roads all day until the terrain changes completely without warning. It’s that stark.
There were three notable geo-oddities that I visited near Black Mesa. Thay are labeled on the embedded map as (A) the Colorado-New Mexico-Oklahoma tripoint; (B) the 37° north/103° south latitude-longitude confluence; and (C) the Oklahoma Highpoint trailhead.
I’ve driven a lot of dirt and gravel roads on this trip, gaining a new appreciation for the "dust" of the infamous Dust Bowl. It’s a very fine consistency reminiscent of powdered sugar, and it coats an automobile in light-brown grime on the back roads. Just about every road that wasn’t designated a primary route lacked pavement.
Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the road up to Black Masa was paved asphalt. Only the final mile-or-so turned to gravel gravel at a point where one turned west towards the CONMOK tripoint. There it switched from an Oklahoma road to a Colorado road. I suppose that accounts for the difference.
CONMOK was an easy capture and extremely obvious, complete with a convenient turnaround adjacent to the roadside. The lat/long confluence was only slightly more difficult. Starting from the tripoint, I followed the GPS back another quarter mile until it implied that I was perpendicular to the confluence. I got out of the car and walked maybe twenty paces north into the surrounding scrubland. There I found a small pile of rocks decorated with a few doodads and coins left by previous geo-geeks with the same strange fascination. That marked the confluence. The whole ordeal took all of about thirty seconds.
Backtracking further we reached the Black Mesa trailhead. I would have encountered the Oklahoma tripoint had I wished to hike four miles onto the mesa and return. My passenger had already completed four half-marathons in four days as part of the Dust Bowl series and was in no mood to add another eight miles to the total. We called it a day and decided that maybe we’d try this some other time assuming we’re ever in the area again.
We drove down from Black Mesa to find the next tripoint on our journey at the southwestern corner of Cimarron Co., OK, where New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas form the NMOKTX tripoint (Label A on the map).
This marker was the least remarkable of all the tripoints we visited during the trip. It was downright underwhelming. Nonetheless it signified a tripoint so it counted just as much as the others. I also promised that this would be the last dirt road we would have to travel during our journey.
We continued west another couple of miles to rejoin Route 54 on our way to our ultimate destination for the day at Clayton, NM. I had a final geo-oddity to capture, a landmark more obscure than all of the others combined because it’s fictional and I made it up. I called it the Thelma and Louise spot. I developed a Thelma and Louise Route Map about eighteen months ago. It’s been a very popular page, receiving several new visitors consistently every day since its publication.
Anyway the big finale of the Thelma and Louise movie depends upon a specific plot twist. Louise cannot enter Texas. I remarked on the geographical implications of that point in the previous article:
The shooting script includes a reference to Boise City, OK that did not appear in the movie. This makes sense as it’s the logical path between Oklahoma and their next destination, New Mexico. It also brings them within mere feet of Texas without crossing the border so Louise remains safe in that respect.
The photograph marks the spot where Louise comes within mere feet of Texas. The movie simply cannot work from a logical perspective without the characters passing down the paved road directly ahead. The paved road would be safe territory. The dirt road in the foreground would be unsafe. The movie wouldn’t work if the road had been constructed a few feet farther east.