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Four Corners Monument: Miles Off?

The Four Corners Monument, the only place in America where you can spread yourself into four states at one time, is in the wrong spot, if you believe the flurry of stories in the media  this week.

4 CornersModern techniques of geodetic survey and measurement are being used to nitpick the work of a surveyor in the 19th century, a time before Garmins and Google Earth. The report in Utah’s Deseret News, is that America’s most famous sprawl slab, “is approximately 2.5 miles west of where it should be.” Subsequent stories put the discrepancy at as little as 1,800 feet — and this argument has been going on for over a century among the maparati.

Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and especially New Mexico — which has the access road to the monument — needn’t get worked up about this. The monument is, in fact, exactly where it should be: on the spot where the four states meet. That spot, however, is in the wrong place.

In other words, this is a problem for survey purists, not for tourists who want the geographic thrill of standing in four states at one time. This can still be done, right where the monument is now. To fix the error, someone would have to move legally codified borders, not merely the monument — and that’s not going to happen.

Spot-on-the-map photo-ops have always been fudgeable, anyway. Belle Fourche, South Dakota, knows that accessibility is more important than accuracy, as does Rugby, North Dakota. Before the Deseret News stirs up any more traveler angst, it should realize that precision comes at a price. Just look at the poor (but precise) line-straddling bi-polar post office in Texarkana, Arkansas — or is it Texas?

We think Native Americans who own and operate Four Corners can benefit from the controversy. They can charge extra for a special tour to the exact spot, perhaps marked with a cattle skull.

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Four Corners USA

4 Corners Monument Rd, Shiprock, NM
US Hwy 160, turn at the sign, then drive two-thirds of a mile to the monument.
Supposedly open until 5 PM, but it sometimes closes hours earlier. Reminder: time zone change. (Call to verify)
$5. Cash only.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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