Beyond the 100th Meridian

The 100th Meridian is a longitudinal line on a map and the traditional dividing line between the lower, more humid, and densely populated Midwest and the higher, drier, and lower populated High Plains. Where the West and East meet.

Jailhouse and Courthouse Rocks in Nebraska on the Oregon Trail. The start of the Wild Cat Hills and where the terrain became rough. At 103 degrees longitude. Looking East after climbing near the top of these formations, you can see the flatter and greener area of the Plains.

Driving from Atlanta through to the High Plains of New Mexico at the base of the mountains, makes a person realize this is not just a line on a map, but a definite boundary. An ecological one, but also a boundary of culture, too. The collectivism and community feel of back East gives way to our modern myth of the American West: The independent rancher with libertarian principles.

Famously noted by John Wesley Powell as the line of demarcation, this line still affects our country and culture. Written about by Wallace Stegner in the famous book that gave the title to this blog post as well.

Two of my favorite books (The Nine Nations of North America and An Empire Wilderness) cover these trends into contemporary times.

During my recent travels, I realized this line is not merely a line on a map for myself. Traveling from the lush East and passing by the end of the Appalachians and the Ouachitas of Arkansas and Oklahoma, I could see this change.

I made a stop in Oklahoma City on my way back West.   I found Oklahoma City to be an interesting place. At the tail end of the Midwest and just before the High Plains begin. A boundary city. More importantly for me, it is the where the 45th Infantry Division originated.  And the location of the 45th Infantry Division Museum.

My grandfather in Munich, 1945.

My grandfather served in the 45th Division during World War Two. The 45th (The Thunderbirds) served over 500 days in combat and fought their way through Italy, Southern France, and into Germany.  The 45th also liberated Dachau. My grandfather rarely talked about those days. I made a personal pilgrimage by going to this museum.

The gentleman working that day and I had a long conversation about World War II, the many Italian-Americans who fought in Italy with the 45th division, and other topics.  Photocopies of some of grandfather’s records are now in their archives. I think Pop would be pleased.

I made a pitstop in Ekhart, OK on this famous line. Alas, I found the museum closed.

Shortly after, I crossed into Texas. A rest stop gave some surprisingly scenic views towards the High Plains. No doubt which side of the line for the location where I stood!

I made my way to the Texas Panhandle where my Texas and Oklahoma recreation map showed the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument and the nearby Lake Meredith Recreation Area.  Federal public land and free camping in the Texas Panhandle. Who knew???

The inhabitants of the quarries fashioned tools with the highly prized flint of the area. Colorful and robust, the Alibate “flint” is unique.

Alibate Flint -From the NPS

 Trade goods went all over North America including to the Pueblo People and as far East to the Mound Builders. The national monument is not accessible all that much to the general public unless you go on a ranger-led tour.  Luckily, I arrived on the correct day!

I learned about the geology, natural history, and about the original inhabitants of the area. We hiked to the work sites and saw remnants of the tools, too.

A rock hammer.

In October, the rangers also lead a tour to the village and petroglyph site. The Pueblos strongly influenced the architecture of the site from what I understand.

Apparently the local museum in Canyon, TX also has many artifacts from this site, too. Alas, the museum is closed on Mondays. Next time I’m at Palo Duro Canyon!

Later that day I made my way to the Oklahoma highpoint on Black Mesa.

I found the hike to be surprisingly scenic. Cactus in bloom with beautiful views off to various buttes. And a sighting of Capulin Volcano on the horizon.  The highpoint itself is only 1299′ from the New Mexico line!

I later had a pleasant evening camping at the nearby Black Mesa State Park. Streamside camping, under some protective cottonwoods, and warm showers included.  Not bad!

The following day, the view from Black Mesa inspired me to swing by Capulin to check out the view from the other side. My second time visiting and still as stunning.

Later that evening I enjoyed a perk of being back West again: Lots of free dispersed camping!  I enjoyed the memorable sunset over the small lake. In the distance, I could see both the New Mexico and the Colorado Sangres.

Making my way through the New Mexico High Plains, I made a pit stop to the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.

A place I’ve been by many times, but never stopped at previously.  I enjoyed the two-mile round trip or so hike. A small canyon and some wetlands made a perfect place to stretch my legs a bit.

I then arrived at a logical bookend for my jaunt from the woodlands of the East through the Plains and to the Rockies.  The Pecos National Historical Park is where the High Plains meet the mountains just below the Sangres.  A wealthy Pueblo in the past, the Pecos Pueblo traded extensively. Location, water, and the natural defense due to geography made the Pecos inhabitants in an enviable position.  Alibate flints, bison furs, copper bells…  All trade goods from places I’ve recently seen. And no doubt they funneled through this very place.

The arrival of the Spanish, their practices, and the growth of nearby Santa Fe, made the Pueblo no longer viable.

An idea to backpack in the Pecos Wilderness just to the north had to be scrapped. Stage Three fire restrictions mean no access to the forest. No backpacking, no camping, not even driving along the FS Roads.

I made my way to Utah and to give a talk in Blanding, UT.

I am now ready to end the road trip portion of my sabbatical.

I’ll be guiding for Andrew next week. Then it is time to backpack.  My goal is to extend my sabbatical until September and make a full year off. I’ve enjoyed my road trip, but it is now backpacking season in full.

Where will I backpack? More to come…

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5 years ago

Welcome back to the West, God’s country!

Here’s hoping you can find a backpacking location that won’t be burning! Fire season has already started in eastern WA and OR, as well as points farther south and east. .

5 years ago

Wow, didn’t realize they would close the forest down for fire danger! I stopped by the Pecos historical site and spent two days in the wilderness area during the middle of May. There’s some awesome stuff there, so sorry you missed out on it this go ’round