Ignorance or Brilliance?

Is there an area with no time zone?

At first I dismissed the question when it landed on the Twelve Mile Circle in the form of a search engine query the other morning. I noticed it waiting in my user access logs although this random visitor never asked me personally. The algorithms of his search engine determined somehow that my obscure little portal could be his Magic 8 Ball. The mystery guest clicked a path to my doorstep.

It’s convenient to feel knowledgeable, even a little smug, and I plead guilty as charged. I need to work on my humility and try not to be so judgmental. However, I did not design the Twelve Mile Circle for the general public. If it were all about numbers I wouldn’t focus on geo-oddities and anomalies. I’m not surprised that one of my most frequently viewed articles features a monster truck photo, but that’s not my core audience and they never wander over to my other pages.

I admit somewhat sheepishly that I keep a file called "Stupid Searches" for occasions just like this. I was about to add this one to several other rather unfortunate search terms I’ve recorded in the past. Things like:

  • four most visited states in Alaska
  • does the east coast experience sunsets?
  • video of confederate soldiers crossing Potomac river

Then the brilliance of the question struck me. Is there an area with no time zone? Could this be the visible part of a profound metaphysical inquiry? Maybe akin to a Zen Buddhist koan like the the cliché: Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?. Yes, I’m also aware of the 1970 song by Chicago, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" so let’s put that one aside and not mention it again. And no, I’m not old enough to remember hearing that except on a Classic Rock station many years after the fact, but thanks for asking.

On second though, maybe the question wasn’t posed philosophically. I considered it literally and found some interesting results.

Today all nations follow standard time zones based on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Some large nations have multiple time zones. One large nation, China, has a single time zone. Some places differentiate their time from nearby zones by a half-hour or even a quarter-hour. However UTC rests at the core of each of these instances.

Nations have the power to track time however they wish. Solar time ruled the world until the last hundred and fifty years, give-or-take. Nonetheless it’s convenient and advantageous to standardize on UTC in the modern world, so logically it’s been adopted by all sovereign nations.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation

That only addresses the question partially. What about the poles where time zones converge? I can’t speak for the North Pole, but the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station follows New Zealand time. The United States operates the station and provisions it via New Zealand. It follows New Zealand time as a matter of convenience.

View Larger Map

What about ships at sea in international waters? They follow nautical time zones but can decide when it’s convenient to change from one zone to another aboard ship. Wikipedia’s take on this follows:

Internally on the ship, e.g. for work and meal hours, the ship may use a suitable time of its own choosing. The captain is permitted to change his ship’s clocks at a time of his choice following his ship’s entry into another time zone — he often chose midnight. Long distance going ships change time zone onboard at suitable times. Ships on short distance journeys do not change time zone at all, even if they go between different time zones, like between the UK and continental Europe. Passenger ships often use both time zones on signs.

Once again, they’re relying on UTC.

We’ve established that every nation uses UTC as a baseline, as does the South Pole station, as do ships at sea beyond international boundaries. That covers pretty much the entirety of the world where people normally congregate. Or does it?

View Larger Map

Uncontacted people still exist in the 21st Century. Places such as the many remote corners of Amazonia and New Guinea come to mind. The Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island, part of India’s Andaman Archipelago, provide an excellent case in point. They totally reject outside contact and "they are likely the most socially isolated people on Earth." Almost nothing is known about them. They probably neither know nor care that they are part of India. Most assuredly they follow solar time and have no concept of UTC.

North Sentinel Island has no time zone in any practical sense.

USA Time Zone Anomalies, Part II

I outlined a couple of odd time zone anomalies within the United States in Part I, and here I continue the effort with several more examples. While none of these are quite as extreme as the Idaho instance discussed in the last installment — although one of them comes pretty close — they all represent places where one can travel due East and have to turn a clock backwards rather than forward. In other words, exactly the opposite of what one would normally expect. The phenomenon is localized but it exists and can be experienced firsthand.

In the United States, responsibility for time zone definitions is reserved for the Federal government. States may chose to recognize Daylight Saving Time or not, but they cannot alter time zone boundaries. Those are defined by Title 49 of the United States Code which relate to matters of transportation. Specifically we look to Subtitle A, Part 71. I am going to quote directly from the USC below, so prepare yourself. It will either fascinate you or bore you to tears. You can always enjoy the pictures and ignore the text.

Anomaly in North Dakota

The situation appears in a couple of spots south of the Arnegard/Watford City/Mandaree area and near the northern unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Here the boundary between Mountain and Central Time follows the the Little Missouri River. No roads appear to cross the boundary at either anomaly so a visitor would have to conquer these on foot, or more properly, by kayak or canoe.

Time Zone Anomaly in North Dakota

Here’s the legal description:

..southerly along the Montana-North Dakota boundary to the Missouri River; thence southerly and easterly along the middle of that river to the midpoint of the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers; thence southerly and easterly along the middle of the Yellowstone River to the north boundary… [through a bunch of township grids points but I don’t have a good map to show any of that] … thence south to the middle of the Little Missouri; thence easterly and northerly along the middle of that river to the midpoint of its confluence with the Missouri River…

Anomaly in Michigan

A better example can be found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Focus on the town of Paulding which is right in the middle of it. Da Yoopers don’t think much of the rest of the state, in fact they often consider themselves a separate state It’s natural they might have more affinity with their Wisconsin neighbors in Central Time than someone hundreds of miles away in Detroit in Eastern Time. Indeed, a large slice of the southern Upper Peninsula follows Central Time. County borders provide a dividing line. A little jog in lower Ontonagon County creates the time conundrum. There are any number of roads in the southeastern part of the county where the phenomenon could be experienced, driving due east into neighboring Iron County.

Time Zone Anomaly in Michigan

In case you want the gory details:

…to the west line of Ontonagon County; thence south along the west line of Ontonagon County to the north line of Gogebic County; thence southerly and easterly along the north line of Gogebic County to the west line of Iron County; thence north along the west line of Iron County to the north line of Iron County…

Anomaly in Kentucky

Next we move onto Kentucky where once again the anomaly exists. Here the boundary between Central and Eastern Time also follows county lines. Taylor County swings down in a "V" shape, so a traveler driving through the lower part of the county into Adair County would be in for a surprise if she didn’t know the secret. Coburg, KY would be a good starting point, just south of this remarkable spot.

Time Zone Anomaly in Kentucky

This one’s pretty easy to describe:

…thence southeasterly along the west (southwest) lines of Taylor County and northeasterly along the east (southeast) line of Taylor County…

Anomaly in Florida

And now the best. The border between Central and Eastern Time gets really bizarre through the Florida Panhandle. A whole prong of Eastern Time exists west of Apalachicola and runs half way up to Panama City. It offers several opportunities to experience the anomaly first-hand. Notice the tiny spike north of Beacon Hill. There’s even a town located within the sliver and it’s called Overstreet. You can see the phenomenon pretty well in this satellite image (although the town is actually across the river to the LEFT of the star). Overstreet sits in Eastern Time but it’s hemmed-in tightly by Central Time on three sides! That’s because it’s wedged between the Intracoastal Waterway and the western edge of the Gulf County line which in combination defines the time zone border through this corner.

Time Zone Anomaly in Florida

More precisely:

…thence westerly along the center of the Jackson River to its intersection with the Intracoastal Waterway; thence westerly along the center of the Intracoastal Waterway to the west line of Gulf County; thence southerly along the west line of Gulf County to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m sure there are more examples but these were the obvious ones that jumped out during my quick survey.

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.

View Larger Map

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!