The confluence of two rivers: homeschool lessons at the edge of a flood

I woke Thursday morning to the news that floodwaters were pouring out of the mountains. It was clear that the place I consider my home away from home, Estes Park was under water in places and got cut off as waters ate up the road in the Big Thompson Canyon. Other areas such as Boulder, Lyons, Loveland, and Longmont were also being hit. I have friends in all of these communities and it was so hard to watch this unfold.

Then we waited, waited as that water slowly made its way to us. I knew it was coming, I know my local geography and I understand why rivers are so important to my own community.

Map of the flooding surrounding Greeley, Colorado

Map of the flooding surrounding Greeley, Colorado

Unlike many places in Colorado, Greeley did not come about because it was a strategic place to build a fort or because minerals had been found in a local mine. In 1870, the agricultural editor of the New York Tribune, Nathan Meeker gathered a group of like-minded individuals (mostly New Yorkers) to build the Union Colony. You could almost see it as an attempt to create a utopian agrarian society based on the best farming practices and a moral code built around themes such as temperance. However, where do you put such a place?

Meeker was in search of the Fertile Crescent- an American equivalent to the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley. He sought the confluence of two rivers.  The rivers he chose were what we now call the Poudre and South Platte rivers. The Poudre River wraps around Greeley to the north and the South Platte wraps around to our south. They both meet right to the east of Greeley on the expansive Colorado plain and continue to flow east.

This is why I found myself on dry land but completely surrounded by floodwater on Friday. The anxiety in the air was almost measurable across town.  Water bottles were snatched up from the grocery stores and some of those to the south were being evacuated. Clearly homeschooling was out. Neither the kids nor I were in the mood to focus.

My picture of the flooded South Platte River

My picture of the flooded South Platte River

So, I did what any good albeit adventurous mother would do. I packed the kids in the car and headed for the confluence of two rivers. However, the roads were completely blocked off on that end of town. So, I instead grabbed a north/south bound road right in the middle of town. First we drove north to experience the Poudre River flooding. Then, we drove south to experience the massive flooding of the South Platte River.

The Platte River had expanded by about half a mile on either side of the river.  We stared open mouth at a huge tract of water that was land the day before. We don’t usually think about these rivers. I don’t even know if my children really understood how those rivers circled around us and played a part in our history. But, they are aware of them now – aware of how much a river and water can shape and mold our community and will continue to do so in the days to come. I know for me, I connected with the choice Nathan Meeker made so many years ago in an entirely different way.

Scenes from the confluence point – east of Greeley (

Source for map (

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