About 250,000 people a year come to get a photo taken, sprawling awkwardly over the granite disk, with each limb in a different U.S. state. But are they awkwardly sprawling on the right spot?
The Four Corners Monument marks the point where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah all meet. It’s a rare geographical occurrence, and the only one of its kind in the U.S.: a quadripoint. As early as 1908 people came to take photos at the site, and the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department built a monument there. Yet there’s been confusion regarding the accuracy of the monument for almost as long as it’s been standing.
Just before the Civil War, some residents who felt New Mexico was too big, broke off to join the Confederacy as a new territory called Arizona. After the Union won the war, the General Land Office began its efforts to mark the borders between the territories. In 1868 surveyor Ehud Darling marked the border between Colorado and New Mexico, and in 1875 Chandler Robbins marked the border between Arizona and New Mexico. When he crossed Darling’s line he marked it with a piece of sandstone. In 1878, two years after Colorado became a state, a new surveyor marked the Colorado-Utah border starting from Robbins’ sandstone marker.
The Four Corners Monument is located where Robbins placed his sandstone so long ago, but modern GPS clearly shows it’s not quite right. According to today’s technology, it’s about two and a half miles off, but that’s not exactly correct either. Considering the intentions of the original survey, it only sits about 1,800 feet from where it should’ve been marked initially.
In 1925 the Supreme Court ruled to consider it the official border, and, according to the National Geodetic Survey, “once a monument has been established and accepted by the parties involved… the location of the physical monument is the ultimate authority.” Regardless of any deviation from the map, it can’t not be right; the monument trumps the scientific details.