Four Corners Monument: Unlocked!

Geekdad Passport: Four Corners Monument


I first learned about Four Corners in the United States—the quadripoint where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet—when I was in third grade. I was immediately fascinated by this plus-sign-shaped confluence of borders, the only spot in the United States where four states meet at a single point. This discovery ignited my long love affair with cartography, and I promised myself that one day I would visit this unusual spot.

Fast forward 40 years. Our family was undergoing a serious travel withdrawal. It had been two years since our last serious traveling adventure, and to combat this malaise, we had decided to spend three weeks traveling across the United States in a rented JUCY Trailblazer. As we planned out possible routes, Four Corners always remained high on my list of must-see destinations.

World Famous Four Corners Monument

A Monument at the Center of Almost Nowhere

Four Corners is not the easiest place to get to. It’s about 200 or so miles east of the Grand Canyon—roughly three hours by car—nestled between the Navajo and Ute Mountain Reservations. The nearest town is the sparsely populated Navajo village of Teec Nos Pos, and there are no metropolitan areas close by for at least an hour in any direction.

To get there, we drove across California and Arizona (where we made a few brief stops to admire the Grand Canyon) before heading down Highway 160 and into the Hopi and Navajo Reservations.

And this is where we realized our mistake.

As you may know, Arizona famously eschews daylight savings time (a decision I’m totally in support of). But you may not remember—as we certainly didn’t—that Native American nations, even those in Arizona, do observe daylight savings time. And, since the Four Corners Monument is managed by the Navajo Nation Department of Parks and Recreation, our arrival at Four Corners Monument was suddenly an hour later than we had thought.

This normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but it had been a long day of driving and sightseeing, and we were losing daylight fast. The Four Corners Monument closes at sunset (which was 7:50 PM the day we were visiting), and our Google directions projected us arriving at 7:40 PM. The schedule for our trip was pretty tight, and if we didn’t arrive at Four Corners before it closed, we would have to skip it. I really didn’t want to come this far and miss something I’d always wanted to see, so we pushed the speed limit by five miles per hour and hoped for the best.

Once we turned off Highway 160 onto Four Corners Road, we could see the walled-in compound that surrounded the monument and knew we were going to make it—we even had a little time to spare. Admission to the Four Corners Monument is a reasonable $5.00 per person, and after paying and parking the RV, we wandered toward the monument.

Four Corners Monument

Despite the late hour, the line to stand on the monument was sort of long—there were about 40 people in front of us. You’re only allowed three pictures at a time (which seems reasonable), so the line moved along quickly. Soon enough, we stepped up and took our three snaps before moving on and letting the people who’d queued up behind us get their shots.

Our famly photo at Four Corners Monument

A Brief History of Four Corners Monument

After we took our photos, we wandered around and looked at the various plaques on display explaining the history of the monument. The first monument was placed at this location in 1875 when Chandler Robbins surveyed the border between Arizona and New Mexico. After traveling north from Mexico, Robbins arrived at the 37th parallel and came across the border between New Mexico and Colorado, which had been surveyed by Ehud Darling in 1868. Robbins placed a sandstone shaft at this juncture. Eventually, in 1931, the first marker was replaced with a brass disc embedded in cement. That was replaced again in 1992 by another disc—and that one is still on display today.

Central disc at Four Corners Monument

From the various plaques placed around the monument, we also learned that Four Corners is not actually located at the junction of these four Southwestern states. Due to some inaccuracies in early surveying, the actual line is about 1,807 feet (a little more than a quarter-mile) to the east. So when you’re standing at the Four Corners, you’re not really in New Mexico—you’re still in Arizona.

But no one seems to care. I certainly didn’t. Considering the tools used by surveyors in the late 1800s weren’t as advanced as what we have today (when nearly everyone carries a GPS in their pocket), as well as the harsh terrain of this remote territory in that era, it’s pretty amazing they got as close as they did. Over the years, there have been a number of challenges to the location of the monument and the different state borders, but the original surveyed lines have always been declared to be the actual borders—most notably by the Supreme Court in 1925.

I did manage to take a quick latitude/longitude reading while I was standing on the marker. I got the coordinates of 36.998986111, -109.045202778, which is very close to the officially listed coordinates of 36.998976, -109.045172.

After 40 years, I’d unlocked an achievement first realized in my youth. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever return here (although I would like to plan a trip to more fully experience the majesty of the nearby Monument Valley), but if you’re a geography wonk like me, the Four Corners Monument is a destination worth visiting. Just be prepared for a long drive.

Thank you to our friends at JUCY for providing us a discount to make our journey possible. All opinions are our own.

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4 thoughts on “Geekdad Passport: Four Corners Monument

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m thrilled you got to unlock this achievement! Our family got to visit in 2014.

    I, too, am a serious geography/cartography geek.

    1. Thanks! I was really happy to have made it. And I’m glad to hear you were able to check it out as well. Such an interesting spot in a very remote place. It does take a little planning to get there.

  2. This was a delightful read, thank you for your effort and time. I really do appreciate it! The description was well written and felt like I experienced the trip. When I was about 7 or 8 years old I took a trip to Mexico from Las Vegas with my father to pick up my uncle. It was like a mini vacation do to we only stayed one night. On the way home I saw how close we were to the four corners and I begged my father to stop. Little did I know the a few inches on the map was really hunders of miles. I remember the conversation and now being an adult I realize now why my father had a big smile and slightly laughing trying to teach me just how far the inches on the map was. My uncle did not want to stop because he had to get to work the following morning, so we had stopped at a store and they bought a can of white spray paint and pulled over in the middle of the desert. As I was waiting in the car my intuition told me something wasn’t right. When they took me to the spot they painted I immediately knew this was not the four corners do to the fact there wasn’t a trash can or bathrooms. For some reason I incorporated a monument with not making a mess and being able to relive yourself, which in hindsight years latter I realize that even as a child I was insightful which brings a smile to my face.
    While standing there holding my dad’s hand I whispered to my father, “I know this isn’t the four corners dad, but let’s just pretend it is to make uncle Manuel happy cus he really wants to get home.” My father laughed and whispered back. “Ok son, I’m proud of you and I love.” I responded with a nod and a smile.
    I then “pretended” to stand on the four corners and in a small way I really was at the four corners. With an child’s faith and imagination I manifested the experience of being at a place I have always wanted to be with a $1 can of paint and love for my family.
    Hopefully one day I will be able to actually go and truly stand in four states at the same time. Until then I will always have this wonderful memory that I just shared.
    Once again thank you very much for your time and effort and detail for your story, I hope you enjoyed mine as well.
    I hope you have a wonderful life.

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