Marker off, but monument legit

April 23, 2009 4:21:50 AM PDT
Many a family touring the Southwest has made a stop in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado - all at the same time.

Or have they?

News reports this week that the site of the Four Corners monument was off by a whopping 2½ miles drummed up some concern that anyone who ever got down on their hands and knees to touch four states at once had lived a bit of a lie.

Not to worry, government officials say. The marker is indeed the only place where four U.S. states meet, even though surveyors were a little off when they set the marker in 1875.

The marker is 1,807.14 feet east of where it should have been placed, said Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey, which defines and manages a national coordinate system. That's about the length of six football fields, but Doyle calls the measurement a "home run" given the limited tools surveyors had to work with back then.

"Their ability to replicate that exact point - what they did was phenomenal, what they did was spot on," Doyle said. "(They) nailed it."

There would be about a 2.5-mile discrepancy had the monument been measured to the 109th meridian west of the Prime Meridian passing through Greenwich, England, but Doyle said that isn't what happened. The statute creating Colorado's western boundary mandated measurement from the Washington Meridian, which passes through the old Naval Observatory in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

In any case, the measurement differences don't matter anymore, Doyle said, because "the monument controls."

"Where the marker is now is accepted," Doyle said. "Even if it's 10 miles off, once it's adopted by the states, which it has been, the numerical errors are irrelevant. It becomes the legal definition" of the Four Corners.

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