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Four Corners monument not historically correct

By Alex Cabrero  |  Posted Apr 20th, 2009 @ 10:17pm



 

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a place where thousands of people a year come to have their picture taken. It's also the only place in America where you can stand in four states at once, or can you?

It turns out the Four Corners Monument isn't exactly where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona were supposed to meet.

"Congress established the 109th Western Meridian as the boundary between Colorado and Utah," said Utah Historian Craig Fuller.

In 1878, the surveyor commissioned to map the boundary line between Utah and Colorado from Four Corners to Wyoming recognized the lines where the four states meet happened to be on the top of a steep plateau.

"He thought it would be a lot easier to survey a point on the flatlands," explained Bill Case, a senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey. "They tried to get as close to 37 degrees latitude and 109 degrees longitude. That was where the corner of Utah was supposed to be."

However, because of the difficult terrain, the current spot recognized as the Four Corners was chosen. It's nearly 2 and a half miles west from the actual spot.

All four states, and the U.S. Congress, recognized the mistake but decided to allow the current boundary lines to be drawn. That means Utah lost some land, while Colorado gained some.

"What is legal is political, not scientific," Case said. "And it doesn't matter if you make a mistake or not."

Since all the states and the U.S. Congress agreed on the boundaries, it is now the official boundary, which means all those families who take their pictures at the monument are doing so in four states and don't have to climb that plateau to be in the historical spot.

"Yes. Legally, it counts," Case assured.

Recently, a survey done by the National Geodetic Survey found the mistake. The group recognized it using GPS technology and satellite imagine.

Chances are, all four states won't ask to have their boundaries changed, but Fuller says it is always possible.

For example, Fuller says in the past two years there was talk Wendover, Utah, would be ceded to Nevada. That way, West Wendover, Nev., could help solve economic problems and allow for more growth for the Utah city. However, because of money concerns, that deal never happened.

Fuller says it's likely Four Corners won't be moved either. The land in Utah is owned by the Navajo Nation, while the land in Colorado is owned by the Ute Mountain Indian Tribe.

"It's been that way for decades, and the current location where the monument is located is the acceptable spot to be in four states at once," Fuller said.

Case says another way to look at it is that now the old survey marker on top of the plateau is wrong.

"If all the states involved and the U.S. Congress get together and say the current recognized Four Corners is the actual Four Corners, then that's that." Case said. "And since they all did agree on it, the current location of the Four Corners National Monument is the correct location."

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

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