Vien R. Guenther
Four Corners Monument (Four Corners Tribal Park) - Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Another trip to California and more significant places to see along the way. This time we went to the Four Corners Monument and Grand Canyon National Park, staying the first night in the town of Cortez, located in the southwestern part of Colorado, in an area known as the “High Desert”.
The town of Cortez (named after the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés), was built in 1886 to provide housing for the men working on the water tunnels and irrigation ditches. These men diverted water out of the Dolores River and into Montezuma Valley. But they were not the first inhabitants in the Cortez area; before them, nomads lived here as far back as 10,000 BC, subsisting by hunting game and gathering food plants. Then the Puebloans came who developed a civilization throughout the four corners region between AD 1 to AD 1300. They left behind ruins and artifacts that we visit today, such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, for example.
The town of Cortez is a gateway to both the mountains and the desert. The town is an ideal stopping point for visitors to the Four Corners. From Cortez to the monument is just about 40 miles or so, less than an hour drive.
FOUR CORNERS MONUMENT
The Four Corners Monument, also known as Four Corners Tribal Park, is the only place in the United States where four states meet at a common point (southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico). The monument is located within the Colorado Plateau just to the west of U.S. Highway 160.
The monument is a political boundary between the four states, but it also serves as the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation and the Ute and the Ute Mountain Tribes Reservation.
In the 16th century, this area was claimed by Spain as part of "New Spain". When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico governed the area until being ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, following the United States' victory in the Mexican-American War.
The monument's location is remote and isolated but still a popular place to visit. As early as 1908, people traveled long distances here to take pictures. According to a vendor we talked to, there can be a long line of people waiting to be photographed in all four states at the same time, especially in summer. About 250,000 people a year come to this place. There is a fee to enter the monument.
No matter, we got to visit the monument early in the morning. An early start means a chilly morning and it was. A typical cold desert climate during wintertime can go down to -18 °F (summers can go up to 105 °F). We were the first visitors to arrive and the place was so quiet. We pretty much had the place to ourselves except for the native Americans (Navajo and Ute artisans) selling souvenirs at the stalls surrounding the monument.
Since there was no one waiting to take pictures with the monument, we took our time. "So, how do we do it?" I asked Hermann. "On all fours of course", he replied, "like this", he said, demonstrating. We have to do it right of course.
The Native Americans probably have seen all kinds of weird things and poses people do in the monument, so they wouldn't care. Standing on "all fours" is not weird. I could probably have lain down if not for the freezing pavement. Is it considered weird? Visiting the monument might not be on your bucket list, but if you are visiting the Southwest, you might as well visit here.
This park is run by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department. They maintain this monument as a tourist attraction.
How did the monument come about? The four state borders were surveyed in four different years: 1868 (Colorado & New Mexico), 1875 (Arizona & New Mexico), 1878 (Colorado & Utah), 1901 (Arizona & Utah).
A sandstone shaft which originally marked the two first intersections is where the Four Corners Monument stands today. The first marked stone was put in place by Ehud N. Darling, the first surveyor to establish the territorial boundary between Colorado and New Mexico. It was replaced by a 7-foot sandstone shaft marker, placed in 1875 by Chandler Robins, the second surveyor who established the border between Arizona and New Mexico. When the marker broke down, it was replaced with a new stone in 1899. This broke later on and was replaced with a brass marker in 1931, with the state border lines and names inscribed on it.
In 1992, the monument was completely rebuilt and the marker was replaced yet again, but with a disc-shaped aluminum-bronze plate set in granite. It hasn’t been replaced again since 2010 when the latest upgrade was constructed. On the granite it says:
"Here Meet in Freedom Under God Four States"
Imagine how surveying was done in those days? Today it's easy, with the help of digital technology you can get the exact location right on target. Back then it was probably painstakingly slow and inaccurate at some point. No wonder a controversy about the monument's exact location was debated, but it "fizzled out" when the Supreme Court ruled the original survey as the official borders.
According to the National Geodetic Survey, “A basic tenet of boundary surveying is that once a monument has been established and accepted by the parties involved, the location of the physical monument is the ultimate authority in delineating a boundary.”
SOUVENIRS TO TAKE HOME
What is there to do after taking pictures? Browse the gift stalls around the monument of course. Who can resist, with so many beautiful Native American handmade gift items and souvenirs spread out in front of you? From the cheapest to expensive ones, there are plenty of choices. That day, only a few stalls were occupied so we didn't linger much.
Visitors were starting to arrive as we left. It probably didn't get too crowded since it was out of season, but we were glad we were early.
With visiting the Four Corners done, we can say, “we’ve been there and done that". Next, it was on to the Grand Canyon National Park. We had been avoiding going to the Grand Canyon before due to the park's popularity and because it was never on our way to somewhere else, but we just had to see it this time.
If you are in the Four Corners area, there are other sites to visit nearby such as Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. We’ve been to Monument Valley, but the Canyon de Chelly is something to look forward to on our next drive through Arizona.