I’m not sure the title adequately conveyed what I’m trying to describe, although I can’t think of a better concise title to replace it either. Conceptually, I wanted to know the northernmost and southernmost places in the world and in the United States where one could cross an international border by automobile via a road connected to the larger grid. There are plenty of places farther north where a crossing could be accomplished on foot, perhaps after a long ship voyage or an airline flight, but not by a motorized vehicle on an established road. Those road crossings would be cardinal direction border extremes for the average tourist as opposed to the adventurous explorer. You know, ones that I might actually experience someday.
These were the best examples I could find. I’d love see improvements.
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The absolutely farthest northern road that crossed an international border that I found occurred between Polmak, Norway and Nuorgam, Finland at an astounding 70 degrees north of the equator. By contrast the Arctic Circle is at about 66.56 degrees north. Barrow, Alaska — about as far north as one can get in the United States — is only slightly farther north (71 degrees) and it’s not connected to anything by road, much less internationally. This is crazy far north.
Both nations are part of the Schengen Area so one could cross the border freely. It looked like a former border station had been converted into shops in the Street View image.
NORTHERNMOST UNITED STATES (AND CANADA)
Flickr by jimmywayne via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License
The United States and Canada share the same northernmost international border crossing at Poker Creek, Alaska / Little Gold Creek, Yukon (map) along the Top of the World Highway. It’s located at about 64 degrees north.
This also demonstrated how few roads crossed this rugged, isolated terrain because the border extended another 380 miles (612 kilometres) due north without a single other road crossing it. This border station closes in the winter so I’m willing to concede that purists may wish to look farther south to the Alaska-Canadian Highway for a more complete example, one that remains open 24X7 all year long (map).
What about the Lower 48 states? I think the northernmost crossing would be the place where the border jogs around to form the Northwest Angle (map). Weekend Roady visited this one in person and I won’t try to improve upon his first-hand description.
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The record wasn’t clear-cut at the southern end, nor was it quite as extreme. I think it may be a spot on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego around 54 degrees south, although it’s not even as far south as Ushuaia (featured on 12MC previously), the southernmost town of significance in Argentina. There may also be an error on the Google Map too. Google seems to have issues with borderlines, a condition I’ve observed before. Notice the vertical fence line about 100 metres west of Google’s line. Could that be the true boundary?
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I thought perhaps there might be a car ferry between Ushuaia, Argentina and Puerto Williams, Chile. It seemed natural and I’d be willing to bend the "road" rule to accommodate a ferry. It wouldn’t violate the spirit, right? Nonetheless, Wikipedia said of Puerto Williams, "There is no regular link with Argentina and connection to Ushuaia is restricted." Puerto Williams exists primarily for the Chilean navy to assert national sovereignty at the farthest tip of South America. It was once a rather sensitive military area although tourism has begun to creep in.
Another source said it was possible to travel between the two places albeit not very conveniently, "Ushuaia Boating in Ushuaia, Argentina, has regular zodiac service to Isla Navarino October-March or April. The trajectory is boat from Ushuaia to Puerto Navarino (40 minutes, immigration), then minibus to Puerto Williams." However that wouldn’t qualify as an automobile crossing by any stretch of the imagination so I’m not going to count it.
SOUTHERNMOST SOUTHMOST USA
Eyeball estimates led me to believe that the southernmost border crossing in the United States would be found at Brownsville, Texas where it provided access to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México. That was located at about 25.9 degrees north. A whole bunch of the world can be found farther south than that.
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That’s not what I enjoyed the most, though. I was amused by Southmost Boulevard. That’s southmost not southernmost. A shorter word with the same meaning. It sounded a little odd. Maybe I could get used to it?
Does México have a quadripoint? That’s not intended as a trick question. Ideally this should have an easily verifiable solution. Either four Mexican states touch at a common spot — a quadripoint — or they do not. The answer however is considerably more elusive. I remain at a loss as I attempt to uncover whether someone should reasonably conclude one way or the other.
There are a couple of candidates, and the Mexican states of San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas are common denominators.
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Notice the relative proximity of the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. A small notch of Zacatecas protrudes just far enough south to prevent Jalisco and San Luis Potosí from sharing a common border according to Google Maps, with all of the usual caveats about the accuracy of Google Maps. The situation seemingly separates the two states by about 1.88 kilometres (1.17 miles) according to my quick calculation.
This is an agricultural area farmed and ranched fairly intensively judging by satellite mode and confirmed by proximal Street View availability (sample image). There’s even a ranchero within the Zacatecas notch, which would be an interesting geo-oddity homestead for the lucky resident: a click east to San Luis Potosí; a click south to Guanajuato; a click west to Jalisco. It’s easily accessible from the nearest town, Ojuelos de Jalisco, less than 12km down a road called Deportiva (which translates to "sports" and runs by the town’s athletic fields as it departs town). A driver would also cross the border between Jalisco and Zacatecas a couple of times for good measure too (map).
This happy confluence of multiple borders didn’t seem to be controversial. It did in fact appear to represent two tripoints falling in very close proximity to each other. A cube of Zacatecas less than 2km on a side blocked a rare opportunity for a quadripoint.
The other potential Mexican quadripoint takes place in the vicinity of Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas either where they all join together or where they all nearly do so, depending on the evidence one chooses to accept.
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Google Maps sides clearly with the camp that believes in two tripoints in close proximity to each other rather than a single quadripoint, once again considering that Google isn’t the arbiter of all things geographic. However, notice the distance between to two tripoints: 12.17 km (7.56 mi). It would hardly seem to be a question with such a sizable gap. Yet, other maps are much less clear including some published by the Mexican government. The Yahoo! Group "boundarypointpoint" which specializes in just these types of situation appeared to have reached a consensus that a quadripoint did not exist, after lengthy discussions and earlier research.
However, a monument exists at what many would call the northern of the two tripoints, the "Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados" (Marker of the Four States). There are various photographs of the marker posted on the Intertubes although none that I could find with Creative Commons licensing so I couldn’t embed them here. Feel free to open a photo from Panoramio or from Flickr in another tab and observe the results. The marker would be readily accessible albeit after enduring a jarring 8.1 km (5.0 mi) ride down a rough road. I think the guy in the Flickr image with the mountain bike had the right idea.
Wikipedia bought into the idea of a Mexican quadripoint, for what that’s worth. It was presented as fact without citing any evidence, and was immediately flagged as such. Wikipedia attempted to weasel-word around the issue by stating that this is the place where the four states "effectively" meet. Right. I’m not sure de facto or close-enough provides a decent standard for a concept that implies precision. Even the contributors on boundarypointpoint seemed conflicted after the revelation of the Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados.
Examining the Mexican Geological Service website, Servicio Geológico Mexicano, provided nothing definitive and Internet searches using the Spanish-language term "Cuadripunto" yielded no better results either.
Was it a situation created by imprecise surveying techniques like the Delaware Wedge? Is it so rural and effects so few people that the governments involved simply don’t consider it enough of a priority to figure it out? Or has it been overtaken by events with a named boundary stone, the Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados, converting a close-enough approximation to an exact declaration?
In my mind, the elusive Quadripoint of México remains a mystery.
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:
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
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.
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.