Four Corners monument marks 4 state border
Tourists from around the world gather to witnes the beauty of unique Ameriacn West spot

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

The Four Corners Monument located on the Colorado Plateau west of U. S. Highway 160 is noteworthy in that it is the only point in the United States shared by four states, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

In addition to the four states quadripoint, the monument also marks the boundary between two native American governments, the Navajo Nation, who maintains the monument as a tourist attraction, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation. Researching the site and its monument is an adventure over the vast unsettled land that was mapped out by early surveyors. It's a lesson in history if one perseveres through conflicting information and trails that weave in and out of mesas and canyon lands and prehistoric ruins.

Mexico, following their independence from Spain, until being ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 governed the area now called Four Corners. The Thirty-sixth United States Congress effectively set the location of the Four Corners Monument in 1861 as the southwest corner of the Colorado Territory. After the Civil War, efforts began to survey and create states from the earlier territories. According to one source, the first survey of the line was made by E. N. Darling in 1868, and marked with a sandstone marker. In 1875, a surveyor named Chandler Robbins was contacted by the U.S. General Land Office to survey the entire boundary between the territories of Arizona and New Mexico. Robbins was directed to base his survey on the geographic coordinates of Shiprock (a prominent northwestern New Mexico landform), which had been determined the previous year during the decade-long U. S. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian.

Shiprock, (Navajo: Ts'e Bit'a'i, "rock with wings") is a rock formation rising nearly 1800 feet above the high-desert plain on the Navajo Nation and in San Juan County, New Mexico. The Navajo name for the peak refers to the legend of the great bird that brought them from the north to their present lands. The name Shiprock Peak or Ship Rock derives from the peak's resemblance to an enormous 19th century clipper ship. The peak and surrounding land are of great religious and historical significance to the Navajo people. Foremost is the peak's role as the agent that brought the Navajo to the southwest. According to one legend, after being transported from another place, the Navajos lived on the monolith, "coming down only to plant their fields and get water". The idea of climbing Shiprock is repugnant to many Navajo people. Climbing is illegal.

Shiprock is composed of fractured volcanic breccia and black dikes of igneous rock called "minette". It is the erosional remnant of the throat of a volcano and the exposed rock probably was exposed after millions of years of erosion. Wall like sheets of minette, known as dikes, radiate away from the central formation. Radiometric age determinations of the minette establish that these volcanic rocks solidified about 27 million years ago.

According to The American Surveyor Magazine, "The location of New Mexico's west boundary is based on the geographic coordinates of Shiprock by the Wheeler survey of 1874. A year later Chandler Robbins, a Deputy Surveyor of the U. S. General Land Office, received a contract to locate and monument Four Corners and to survey and monument the state line to its intersection with the Mexican boundary for which he was to be paid $70 per mile."

To survey the state line Robbins was furnished the Greenwich coordinates of the southwest 'needlepoint" of Wilson's Peak as Shiprock was called at that time. Wilson's Peak could not be occupied and the distance from it was measured by triangulation. The originals of Robbin's field notes, in eight leather bound field books, along with his topographic plats and vertical profiles of the state line are in the archives of the New Mexico State Library in Santa Fe.

The physical monument marking the Four Corners has been rebuilt multiple times by the GLO and BLM over the years since Robbins installed a seven-foot-tall sandstone shaft to mark the spot. But the same location has been perpetuated now for more than a century and a quarter. The current monument complex was constructed in 1992 The Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department maintain the monument where "visitors can simultaneously straddle the territory of four states" as a tourist attraction. The monument consists of a granite disk embedded with a small bronze disk around the point, surrounded by smaller, appropriately located state seals and flags representing both the states and tribal nations of the area. Circling the point, with two words in each state, the disk reads, "Four states here meet in freedom under God".


Shiprock, marker for the New Mexico border, so-called beacuse of resemblance to a giant clipper ship, is holy ground for Navajo Native Americans. Climbing the peak is foridden by Navajo law.

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