I noticed an anomaly when I researched Kansas Mountain Time for an article last January. Very little of Kansas remains in Mountain Time anymore and I suspect the entire state will flip eventually to Central Time. That hasn’t happened yet and the anomaly will remain in place until that occurs.
View Mountain Time in Kansas in a larger map
Notice the far northwestern corner of Kansas, just north of the Mountain Time counties. That’s Cheyenne County. Cheyenne switched to Central Time in approximately 1955 according to the Statoids website. Meanwhile, western Nebraska observes Mountain Time as does all of Colorado. That created a situation where Cheyenne County is surrounded by its neighboring time zone on three sides. Drive east from Cheyenne and one will remain in Central Time. Drive north, south or west, and one will enter Mountain Time upon passing the county border.
This can be observed more clearly in the image I created in the National Atlas of the United States’ Map Maker, one of the few online resources that allows one to create a map with time zones and county borders. I considered whether this might be an unusual situation, a rare instance of time zone herniation with a county completely protruding into its neighbors, or whether it was entirely more common. I went through the time/county overlay in Map Maker and found only one other example, well, four-fifths of an example actually. Cheyenne County is either unique or nearly unique, with a different time zone found completely on three sides.
The kind-of, maybe, sorta instance
This is Malheur County, Oregon. I’ve mentioned Malheur before. It’s the corner of Oregon in Mountain Time that allows the trick question about an Atlantic state and a Pacific state only one hour apart (and on the same time for a single hour each year when the clocks are turned back in autumn). However, look closely, and it’s apparently that a small portion of Malheur’s southern end observes Pacific Time like the rest of Oregon.
The separation is defined by Title 49, Section 71.9 of the US Code of Federal Regulations:
"thence southerly along the west line of Malheur County to the southwest corner of T. 35 S., R. 37 E.; thence east to the Idaho-Oregon boundary". It’s a matter of drawing a line along the designated township and range boundary which corresponds to a latitude at approximately 42.45° north. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere (map)
Most of Malheur observes Mountain Time because it’s so far removed from Oregon’s cities that it’s more aligned economically with places in Idaho. That doesn’t explain the lower one-fifth, though. I looked a little closer.
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Actually the southern portion accommodates residents of McDermitt, a town split by two states. The majority of McDermitt falls on the Nevada side of the border, on the left side of the Street View image. Nevada follows Pacific Time. Thus it makes sense for this small corner of Malheur to follow Pacific Time too. It makes even more sense when one considers that 75% of the population is associated with the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe.
Do we count Malheur as a second example in spite of it’s split personality, or do we consider Cheyenne a truly unique occurrence?
Random Unrelated Item
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This nondescript grass path in a generic housing development leads to the Historic Tucker Family Cemetery, which is the oldest African American cemetery in the former English colonies of North America. It dates back to the arrival of slavery in the Jamestown colony in 1619. The Hampton Rhodes (Virginia) Daily Press described how it was long neglected and focused on recent restoration efforts. It’s shocking how a place of such historic significance could have fallen into such disrepair for the past half-century. History lurks everywhere. Even in the suburbs.
Checkerboarding has nothing to do with the game of checkers other than bearing a striking resemblance to its playing surface. Nor is it some awful new interrogation technique invented to pry information from suspects under duress.
It is this.
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I discovered the anomaly on Google Maps in Oregon awhile ago while discussing Latitude Longitude Sequences and dismissed it as a probable error. Not so fast, replied a couple of contributors in the article comments. Reader Craig observed that the checkerboard phenomenon has been superimposed upon the physical terrain and reader Page noted correctly that it originated as a result of 19th Century railroading.
Simply explained, the government was rich in land but poor in cash, hoping to construct a transcontinental railroad while devoting significant resources to fighting a Civil War already underway. That railroad would finally stretch across the nation in 1869 when the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Utah’s Promontory Summit (my visit). The government dangled a carrot in front of the railroads to keep the construction going. It offering several miles of land on either side of the tracks (the amount varied over time), replicating a process that had been used further east with some success. It wouldn’t be a single, solid ribbon of land overlaying the tracks, however. It was a patchwork of every-other block of one square mile.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Notice the resulting pattern, akin to a checkerboard, and thus the name.
Why would a government create such an odd situation? It felt that railroads could sell the land to finance construction and underwrite future operations and maintenance. Undoubtedly the value of the land would rise over time because of its proximity to the emerging rail lines. Towns would form at transportation hubs. Farms would sprout around them. Everyone would be happy and prosper. The government wanted a piece of the windfall so it retained half of the squares, intending to sell its parcels as settlers moved west along the lines.
It didn’t turn out quite as expected. The land wasn’t all that great, settlers didn’t have much money and many of the parcels remained unsold. The government eventually doubled the land grants just to keep the railroads motivated. This resulted in huge 40-mile wide (64 km) checkerboard gashes criss-crossing the nation. The railroads sold much of their land over time, often to timber companies wherever routes snaked through the western mountains. The government also sold parcels when it could find a willing buyer, gave a bunch away to homesteaders for free, and allotted other portions to Indian reservations. Much of the rest of the government’s share remained public space eventually falling within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.
Amazingly, these railroad incentives created more than a century and a half ago continue to be visible upon the terrain today. That’s what I’d stumbled across accidentally in the earlier article.
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Observe the boundaries within the checkerboard patterns in the Siuslaw National Forest in satellite view. Feel free to toggle back-and-forth between map and satellite and notice how they match.
I found an even better example:
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This instance occurs near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. The square, characteristically one mile on each side, has been clear-cut logged. The lush green area surrounding it is National Forest. It’s that stark. Squares unsold by the government were protected. The others owned by railroads were either leased or sold to logging companies and were harvested.
SOURCE: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Native Americans got a pretty raw deal too. Imagine a reservation where every-other-parcel was owned by an outsider. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were one leading example of a checkerboarded tribal nation:
All even-numbered sections and all unsurveyed portions of Township 4 South, Ranges 4 and 5 East, and Township 5 South, Range 4 East, San Bernardino Meridian, were added to the Reservation, except Sections 16 and 36 and any tract the title to which had passed out of the U. S. Government. The Government had previously given the odd-numbered sections to the railroad in the early 1870s as an incentive to build a cross-country rail line… On a combined basis, the Tribe and its members currently represent Palm Springs’ largest single landowner.
At least it may have work out for them, eventually. I looked at maps of Palm Springs and noticed that many of the golf courses and resorts there are located on Agua Caliente property. I imagine they’d rather have a contiguous reservation along with that, though.
Environmentalist don’t much like checkerboarding. It makes it very difficult to protect swaths of sensitive land since people who own private parcels are guaranteed access to them across the public spaces. Hunters don’t much like the situation either. It causes lots of confusion as they try to remain on BLM parcels and wrestle with whether it’s legal to jump from corner-to-corner, staying on BLM land while avoiding private land. Apparently corner hopping is not allowed, a situation that seems to favor those who own private parcels (with guaranteed access) over those who wish to use public land (and cannot corner hop).
An incentive program failed in the 19th Century and the nation continues to deal with the mess.
A tip of the keyboard to the Basement Geographer who is taking a (hopefully brief) break from writing. The Basement Geographer is one of my personal favorites and I never miss an article. Thank you for all of your great work over the years, Kyle.
It started out as it often does through a chance encounter with a roadmap anomaly. I happened to be examining a stretch of highway online. Then I spied an uncharacteristically wide split between the westbound and eastbound lanes of Interstate 84 directly outside of Pendleton, Oregon.
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It seemed quite remarkable. A mountain ridge forced opposing lanes to split and separate by an unusual distance. I used mapping tools to measure a line directly across the opening to estimate the greatest separation, which I calculated at around 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers). This required a level of subjectivity. I attempted to measure between equivalent points on opposing lanes, measured almost horizontally in this instance. Obviously longer distances could be calculated by angling the line. That felt like cheating though. I decided to stick with my original estimate, giving or taking a small amount to account for eyeball-level accuracy, and wondered whether I could discover roads with greater separations.
Likely candidates went by different names such as
duel carriageway, freeway, motorway or divided highway, based upon linguistic variations of English-speaking nations. Likewise the separation between opposing lanes might be called a central reservation in the United Kingdom or a median strip in the United States, as examples. These terms could be mixed-and-matched to target online searches for better candidates.
Let’s dispel with the knee-jerk candidate right away.
Exibir mapa ampliado
An Intertubes mythology has coalesced around Brasília’s Monumental Axis ("Eixo Monumental"). This impressive roadway defined a core for Brazil’s capital city, a feat certainly worthy of recognition. This also created an uncorroborated notion that Monumental Axis was either the widest road or the widest central reservation on the planet. Clearly it is neither. I measured the median at 0.25 miles (0.4 km). That’s a wide spot for Brazil perhaps although completely unremarkable when compared to the Pendleton split.
I wasn’t the first to ponder this question. Others blazed a trail before me and recorded numerous instances, including the Pendleton example I felt so smug about "discovering" a few days ago. A roadfan discussion and an FAQ proved to be particularly helpful so I stole from those sources liberally. Examples going forward should be ascribed to people who mentioned them there. I was too lazy to find any other instances on my own.
My crude measurements suggested co-champions, one in Canada and one in México.
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The Trans-Canada Highway presented a paradox, a 2.6 mile (4.2 km) separation for no apparent geographic reason, located outside of Ernfold, Saskatchewan. There weren’t any mountains to bypass. Muskeg wouldn’t be an issue this far south. I did notice a number of small lakes and ponds within the vicinity although those should have been negotiated with ease by highway construction crews.
I may have found the answer. The original highway, now the westbound lanes, swung to the north and passed through Ernfold. The eastbound lanes came later. Those lanes took a more direct path, avoiding further traffic through a residential area while reducing construction costs.
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Down along the border between México and the United States, a common geographic formation created dueling companion instances with the more impressive one located in México.
I measured the Interstate 8 median strip east of San Diego, California at 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The distance between opposing lanes of Mexican Federal Highway 2D as it stretched from Tijuana to Mexicali came in at around 2.6 miles (4.2 km). That was the same as the Canadian example, once again within the margin of error of eyeball precision. I am sure one or the other occurrence could claim the crown with improved criteria and measurement.
One other United States location often surfaced in discussions, a stretch of Interstate 24 outside of Monteagle, Tennessee (map). I measured the width of the median at 1.7 miles (2.7 km), the same as Pendleton, so I’d call these a tie for the greatest US distance unless someone finds a better location.
Sometimes examples from the United Kingdom surfaced. They did not compare favorably.
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The M6 at Shap near Junction 39 received frequent attention. One source noted that " Junction 39 is the highest junction on the M6 being less than half a mile from Shap summit, the highest point on the M6." That would seem promising. I measured it at 0.2 miles (0.32 km) which was even as much as Brazil’s Monumental Axis. Others suggested the A611 at Annesley (map). The central reservation appeared to have a similar width. They were both noteworthy for the UK although neither contended for the world title.
Canadian and Mexican examples, both with 2.6 mile (4.2 km) median strips, were the best that I could find during my cursory search. Certainly we can do better.