Difference between revisions of "Four Corners"
Revision as of 22:55, 4 October 2009
Four Corners Monument and Tribal Park  is where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. The site is managed by the Navajo Nation and is a stopping point along the Trails of the Ancients National Scenic Byway .
First erected in 1899 to honor the only geographic location in the U.S. where the boundaries of four states touch, Four Corners Monument is a cartographic curiosity with limited infrastructure and essentially one thing to do: to stand in a number of places simultaneously. Come prepared. There are waterless self-contained toilets, but the site has no running water, no electricity, no telephones or cell phone coverage.
The Monument is something of a paradox. It is a small and limited attraction, surrounded by low lying, nondescript bluffs that aren't particularly photogenic. And yet "Four Corners" is a widely-applied label for all there are to do within a 200 to 500 mi (322 to 805 km) radius of where these four states intersect. When travelers speak of their "Four Corners" vacation, they may be headed for Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and to other points further afield. But they may never set foot inside the Monument itself.
The Monument seems to evoke strong emotions in people, as well. Visitors are either vastly underwhelmed by this attraction, even angry they drove so far out of their way to see so little, or they are inordinately pleased with running from state to state and having their picture taken. The novelty of these intersecting boundaries makes Four Corners a popular destination, with long lines in the summer months at both the food stalls and the bright red viewing platform for the photo-op.
The Monument offers travelers a chance to learn more about Native Americans, their cultures and ways of life. There is a small visitor center, which is open year round (the park only closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). It features a Demonstration Center with Native American artisans. But the best way to learn about modern day Native Americans is to strike up a friendly and respectful conversation with the various Navajo vendors. Generally, the Navajo vendors are cheerful and open to questioning. (For more information on how to properly handle this, see the Respect section in this article).
The average visit to the Monument lasts between 10 minutes and 2 hours, depending on whether or not people eat and thoroughly explore the Navajo stalls and visitor center.
Summer temperatures in the Monument can reach 110 ºF (43 ºC) and visitors should take extra precautions while visiting. To visit the park, you'll need to bring sunscreen, some kind of hand sanitizer, as well as something to drink. In the summer, blowing dust, flies and bugs are sometimes a problem. A word of caution: metal in the park during summer (including the aluminum bronze surveyor's mark) can be too hot to touch. Don't inadvertently burn yourself in your enthusiasm. The Navajo Nation is not responsible for any bodily injuries, accidents, thefts or losses that occur while on Navajo land.
The genesis of Four Corners as a novelty on a map dates back to 1846, when the U.S. Army invaded and defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War. With the Treaty of Guadalupe y Hidalgo, the U.S. gained control of California, Nevada, Utah, as well as portions of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Twenty-two years later, as Colorado prepared for statehood and admission into the Union, Four Corners was first surveyed by the U.S. Government Surveyors and Astronomers. This initial 1868 survey demarcated Colorado's southern boundary line. In 1878, New Mexico's west boundary and Utah's east boundary were surveyed and added. With the inclusion of the Arizona Territory boundary, the site became known as Four Corners.
The original survey monument, a sandstone marker, was erected in 1899, and was replaced with a small metal and cement marker in 1912. The northern boundary of the state of Arizona was surveyed in 1901.
Four Corners was originally declared by Congress at a different latitude and longitude, but an early surveying error misplaced the location. The U.S. Supreme had to wade into the bureaucratic mess, ruling that the current location was so popular, it should be recognized as the boundary between the four states.
For most of the 20th century, the Monument was very simple, consisting of three steps up to a concrete pad, with a few posts and highway guard rails surrounding it. The Monument received a facelift in 1992 and now includes a flat slab of granite embedded with an aluminum bronze marker, as well as surrounding state flags and state seals. The Navajo and Ute nation flags are represented, as well. An inscription in the granite reads, "Four states here meet in freedom under God." Just outside the monument, there are "welcome and goodbye" border signs for all four states.
In 1999, Congress appropriated money to Four Corners to improve the visitors center and build bathrooms with running water. Unfortunately, the project became entangled in various state and federal agencies, as well as squabbling between the tribal councils of the Ute and Navajo nations. It still remains unbuilt.
In May 2009, it was in correctly reported by the new media that a survey done by the National Geodetic Survey  had discovered that the original survey done in 1878 was in correct. The actual borders between Colorado and Utah were reported to be 2.5 miles to the west. Congress and the States involved agreed to change the original longitude and latitude to match the marker. (The 109th Western Meridian was originally set as the boundary between Colorado and Utah.) Thus rendering the original survey invalid.
You may run into the occasional Native American who speaks only Navajo, but this should not present a insurmountable language barrier. The vast majority of the vendors speak English.
It would be impractical to make Four Corners Monument the sole focus of your trip. Combine it with a larger itinerary of the area. But no matter what, you're going to have to drive a car to get here. The Monument is far from major airports, and commuter air service into Farmington and Gallup on the New Mexico side is marginal and leaves you a long way from the park. Rail service is similarly marginal and distant, although the Amtrak line  between Albuquerque and Flagstaff passes through Gallup and along the southern side of the Navajo reservation.
You enter the park from the New Mexico side on a short road called NM 597/ "4 Corners Monument Rd".
The entry fee is $3.00 per person.
The park closes at 5PM, and although the fence is easy to walk around it is not recommended. Several dogs not tied up will greet any visitors entering the area after closing time. Most of them are friendly, but you may also want to consult the Wikitravel article on how to handle aggressive dogs.
Outside of the quick photo and running around from state to state, there's not much else to do, although on a clear day, it is sometimes possible to see the ancient volcanic neck of Shiprock to the east of the Monument.
There is also a painted and peeling plywood map in front of the visitor's center with a schematic of the Monument (mostly the parking lot), as well as a map of the four states emblazoned with their respective state seals.
A majority of the 50 or so plywood stalls lie vacant, except in the high summer season. Mostly, there are many stalls hawking the obligatory tourist souvenirs, t-shirts and post cards. But amidst all the dreck, a handful of vendors sell authentic Native American arts and crafts. Real Navajo designs incorporate a flaw for the Yei bichai, a holy people in Navajo lore, leaving a portion of the design unfinished so the Yei spirit can escape.
Beware of non-authentic imports from Mexico and overseas carried by unscrupulous "dealers" that have tried to capitalize on the market for Navajo work. A few items for sale include:
There is no sit down restaurant within the park, but there are several "roach coach" or "burrito stand"-style food wagons. Picnic tables are also available. Due to the transitory nature of many of the food vendors within the Monument, it's impossible to write a list of permanent eateries. That said, here is some of the standard fare offered. It's fast food, Navajo-style:
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited by law on the Navajo Reservation. The various food vendors at the Monument offer cold sodas and bottled water to drink. But you are far better off to buy your water before you enter the park at the first available grocery store, gas station or trading post. Stop when you can; these are usually few and far between.
There are no hotels within the park, and camping is not allowed. For more information of where to spend the night, please see the surrounding communities. Look for hotels in Farmington, New Mexico, Bluff, Utah, Blanding, Utah, and Cortez, Colorado.
There is no access within the park. Many of the chain hotels outside the Monument have high speed Wireless (Wi-Fi) access.
While traveling on Navajo land, remember that you are on a sovereign, self-governing nation. Obey all the Navajo tribal laws and regulations.
Do not litter; place your refuse in trash containers.
Visitors should be respectful when it comes to photography. Remember, the Navajo at the Monument are people, not props in your photograph. When you do take photos of people, keep in mind that a gratuity is always appreciated. Special permits are required by the Navajo nation when photographing for commercial use.
Please be sure to practice appropriate sensitivity in your dealings with any Native Americans you encounter. While both the Navajo and Utes claim the Four Corners area as their ancestral homelands, both people were subjected to forced relocation, military incursions and internment on reservations by the U.S. government. This 19th and early 20th century history is understandably still a sore spot. Most importantly, treat Native Americans with the same respect and courtesy that you'd wish to receive.