Center of the Universe

When Colonel William R. Wallace built his pioneering homestead within a narrow valley in the northern Idaho panhandle, he probably didn’t realize he’d settled at the Center of the Universe. All can be forgiven. In 1884 he couldn’t possibly have know he was sitting atop a billion ounces of silver either, or next to what would become the last link in a great transcontinental road for that matter. Also he wasn’t really a colonel. This was an auspicious start for a quirky little mining town.

Twelve Mile Circle dedicates itself to exploring offbeat geography, and this one may be the oddest yet. Wallace, Idaho declared itself the Center of the Universe and challenged anyone to prove otherwise.

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This is the Center of the Universe. Who knew?

Wallace chose to mark its spot of universal significance with a specially-designed commemorative manhole cover in 2004. Mayor Ron Garitone offered an explanation in an official proclamation (and I quote verbatim):

Thanks to the newly discovered science of “Probalism” – specifically probalistic modeling, pioneered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Welfare, and peer-reviewed by La Cosa Nostra and the Flat Earth Society – we were further able to pinpoint the exact center within the Center of the Universe; to wit: a sewer access cover slightly off-center from the intersection of Bank and Sixth Streets.

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Mayor Garitone doesn’t need a tinfoil hat. He merely conveyed his town’s frustrations with the Federal government over EPA Superfund cleanup efforts in the Silver Valley, in the wake of several decades of mining. The manhole cover served as a visible, permanent expression of free speech and a benevolent act of dissent. His actual reasoning came later in the proclamation,

The science of Probalism has its roots in the 2002 EPA Coeur d’Alene Basin Record of decision, and as a syllogism expresses itself thusly: if a thing cannot be disproven, it is thereby proven. Thus if the communities of the Silver Valley cannot absolutely prove themselves to the EPA’s satisfaction to be good and healthy places to live, then this is proof that they require the EPA’s continued meddling in their affairs.

The mayor believed Wallace had been saddled with an impossible burden of proof. He felt justified claiming the town’s position as the center of the universe since it could not be disproved otherwise, extending his interpretation of what the Federal government was doing to Wallace to its logical extreme.

Certainly there was a tourism benefit, at least with the oddball sorts of travelers who go out of their way to see goofy roadside attractions (e.g., someone such as myself if I ever found myself in the area), which has the dual benefit of letting the town press its case whenever curious visitors ask about it. It’s not a whole lot different than the District of Columbia appending "Taxation without Representation" to its license plates to highlight its ongoing disenfranchisement from the legislative branch of government. Stealthy protest has a long history in this country. Thus, what on its surface may appear purely as an offbeat attempt to attract tourist dollars to a remote mining town also serves a permanent act of lighthearted political defiance.

Tourism is still important though, and perhaps now eclipsing the original purpose. The manhole cover serves at the location of various civic events, wedding ceremonies, photo opportunities and even a Princess of the Center of the Universe Pageant. Funny thing however, the local Chamber of Commerce chooses to ignore the exalted claim, focusing instead on Wallace’s distinction as the Silver Capital of the World.

The stunt garnered it fair share of attention. A British comedian and writer named Danny Wallace, noting the name of the town coincided with his own, came to Wallace to investigate this one-of-a-kind manhole cover. His effort resulted in the 2006 publication of "Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe." I’ve not had an opportunity to read the book so I don’t know how he decided to interpreted events, but you can get a flavor from its page on Amazon. One of the comments includes an alternate yet entertaining set of reasons why Wallace should indeed be considered the Center of the Universe.

Not the Center of the Universe? Prove them wrong.

USA Time Zone Anomalies, Part I

Matthew of the prullmw blog[1] is a regular reader and commentator on the Twelve Mile Circle. Recently he wondered whether I might have an interest in time zone boundaries. Indeed I do!

I mentioned the whole Arizona, Navajo, Hopi complexity in my response, but I’d been unable to find a decent map to get the point across. Mapquest provides time zone boundaries at its higher-level views but those disappear just as I click-down to the proper level of detail. The other online mapping sites provide no help either, and the static maps are entirely hit-or-miss. It shouldn’t be this difficult to find a good time zone map but apparently that’s the case unless one wants coverage of the entire United States.

Finally I found a map that demonstrates my point. Actually, more specifically, I made a map. I went to the National Atlas of the United States, applied a time zone layer and dropped the resulting image into graphics software to affix the proper labels. Thanks goodness for taxpayer supported public-domain images. Here’s the result, as edited:

Time Zones in Northeastern Arizona

The boundaries of the Hopi Nation are enclosed entirely within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation has an exclave, Jeddito, within the primary Hopi territory. Likewise the Hopi Nation also has an exclave, Moenkopi, within the Navajo Nation. A major Navajo town with more than 8,000 inhabitants, Tuba City, sits just above Moenkopi north of the intersection of Routes 160 and 264. The Navajo Nation recognizes daylight saving time (DST). Arizona and the Hopi Nation do not. All is fine during the winter months when everyone observes Mountain Standard Time but it spirals into confusion when DST kicks-in.

Imagine someone traveling from Jeddito on Route 264 to Tuba City during the summer. This is not far-fetched. Undoubtedly this happens all the time. Our fictional traveler would start in DST (Jeddito, Navajo exclave), switch to standard time (Hopi), switch to DST (Navajo), switch to standard time (Moenkopi, Hopi exclave) and switch to DST (Navajo) at Tuba City. In reality our traveler wouldn’t actually change his watch four times along this 90 mile route but it’s still a fun set of circumstances to ponder. Plus the lines aren’t even as clean as suggested. For instance, many businesses in Tuba City observe standard time just like the rest of Arizona for commercial reasons and to avoid confusing tourists.

You can find more information about Arizona time zones on a couple of other places on my website if you’re interested:

Matthew brought another fun time zone anomaly to my attention and it’s definitely worth discussing. He suggested I check out the land just south of Grangeville, Idaho. This one is awesome!

Idaho's Time Zone Anomaly

Much of northern Idaho follows Pacific Time which makes sense from an affinity perspective. Residents of Coeur d’Alene are located over four hundred miles away from Boise, the state capital. However they’re only thirty miles away from Spokane, Washington. It’s natural that they would want to align with Pacific Time like their nearby neighbors and cohorts in Washington rather than the Mountain Time observed downstate, and indeed that’s the case.

The time zone boundary crossing Idaho doesn’t follow a straight path. Exact lines don’t make much sense in a rugged, wilderness area. Rather, the boundary snakes along natural features, primarily the Salmon River, as it courses between Oregon and Montana. Either you’re standing on one side of the river or the other. You know what time to expect. Easy.

Rivers, being what they are, follow underlying terrain in search of an outlet. This creates a little hernia of Mountain Time protruding into Pacific Time along the western edge of Idaho. Right here it’s possible to travel due east and move into a later time zone. Generally one has to turn the clock forward when crossing a time zone boundary heading east, but not here. For within this anomaly, this little knob created by the Salmon River, the exact opposite holds true. One turns the clock back.

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The Time Zone Bridge sits a couple of miles outside of Riggins, Idaho, a town found within the anomaly. Cross the little bridge heading northeast, and pay attention to the sign. You’ve transitioned into Pacific Time!

Thanks, Matthew, for that amazing fact. Also check out Part II for even more time zone anomalies in the United States.

[1]Currently in hibernation but I look forward to when he starts reporting on his Goals for 2009, some of which involve geography quests!