Jalisco’s Ghostly Hand and Bony Fingers

My efforts to update each one of hundreds of customized maps to the current version of Google Maps has been an ongoing chore. Not every aspect has been without benefit though. For instance it allowed me to ponder my complete index of places featured on the Twelve Mile Circle in more detail than I’ve done in a long time. I felt pretty satisfied with my five-year effort until I noticed the wasteland of 12MC content "South of the Border." Then my obsessive-compulsive nature began to drive me. Must… add… pushpins… to… México.

That could be challenging. I didn’t have anything for México in my backlog of potential topics. Maybe I could stare at a map for awhile in desperation and hope that something might appear. Eventually and much longer than I would care to admit, I noticed a strangely-shaped object, an odd protrusion sprouting from the northern end of Jalisco. Officially Jalisco is the "Estado Libre y Soberano de Jalisco" which translates to a very prestigious-sounding Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco. This Mexican state included noteworthy cities such as Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta although those won’t be mentioned again. That’s just for reference.

Check this out:

Municipalities map of Jalisco
Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license

Behold the magnificence of what looks like a ghostly hand, or maybe more accurately a paw, with three primary fingers and a couple of small gnarly stubs sprouting from the main body of Jalisco. Each of the sub-units is a separate municipality, a second-level division of government in México somewhat analogous to a county in the United States. There are 2,438 municipalities in México with 125 of them found in Jalisco. Plenty of people count counties in the United States. I wonder if anyone counts municipalities in México? Sadly my lack of Spanish linguistic skills precluded finding out.

I dug a little further to identify the specific municipalities within Jalisco’s hand.

  • Wrist: San Martín de Bolaños
  • Palm: Bolaños; Chimaltitán; Villa Guerrero; Totatiche
  • Palm and Middle Finger: Mezquitic
  • Left Finger: Huejuquilla el Alto
  • Right Finger: Colotlán; Santa María de los Ángeles; Huejúcar

Totatiche en canícula
palabrista on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

This image from Flickr provided a nice overview of the terrain within Jalisco’s paw. It was taken within the municipality of Totatiche, part of what would be the palm in my twisted Rorschach interpretation of the shape.

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I honed-in on a narrow neck that connected the unusual protrusion to the rest of Jalisco. The width narrowed-down to approximately 2.9 miles (4.7 kilometres) in a couple of different places, almost pinched completely through by the neighboring states of Zacatecas and Nayarit. The fingers abutted Zacatecas primarily, and in turn defined a Zacatecas "claw."

The constriction reminded me of a similar situation in the U.S. state of Maryland which narrows to 1.4 miles (2.3 km). The primary difference, though, is that the northern hand of Jalisco appeared to be a practical exclave. I could not detect any signs of a road or a track or a path that remained within the state to provide transit through the full length of the constriction. Anyone wishing to travel to the northern part of Jalisco overland other than by foot would need to cut through one of its neighboring states.

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I wish I could discover how the shape came into existence. It didn’t appear to follow a riverbed or specific land contour. I know it’s old. The layout existed at least as early as the Viceroyalty of New Spain (1786-1821) according to a map in the Perry-Castañeda Library collection.

Tangentially related

Come to think of it, the shape of neighboring Zacatecas was odd too (map). It reminded me of a troll hunched over, hands folded behind him, stomping through central México and about to crush the city of San Luis Potosí.

The Zacatecas claw was also a practical exclave.

Feel free to provide your best interpretations for the shapes of Zacatecas or the Jalisco protrusion.

5 Replies to “Jalisco’s Ghostly Hand and Bony Fingers”

  1. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that the shapes of these states have something to do with the landholdings of the early Spanish caballeros. When New Spain was being organized, it would seem logical to subdivide along the lines of the vast estates as it would minimize the number of administrators the landholders would have to deal with.

    Another possibility could be the states borders were related to Catholic parish or diocesan boundaries in effect at the time.

  2. Another oddly-shaped Mexican state with a practical exclave is Tabasco, where you can drive across the eastern panhandle but not through to it. Essentially, one-quarter of the state is completely severed from the main portion.

  3. Also Tamaulipas, which has a long finger extending along the Rio Grande, leaving Nuevo Leon with just a narrow corridor to the river.

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