The first cluster existed near Black Mesa at the far northwestern corner of the Oklahoma panhandle. This small area may be unique in the state from a geographical perspective, with genuine mesas replacing more typical flat or rolling grasslands. One drives along ramrod-straight roads all day until the terrain changes completely without warning. It’s that stark.
There were three notable geo-oddities that I visited near Black Mesa. Thay are labeled on the embedded map as (A) the Colorado-New Mexico-Oklahoma tripoint; (B) the 37° north/103° south latitude-longitude confluence; and (C) the Oklahoma Highpoint trailhead.
I’ve driven a lot of dirt and gravel roads on this trip, gaining a new appreciation for the "dust" of the infamous Dust Bowl. It’s a very fine consistency reminiscent of powdered sugar, and it coats an automobile in light-brown grime on the back roads. Just about every road that wasn’t designated a primary route lacked pavement.
Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the road up to Black Masa was paved asphalt. Only the final mile-or-so turned to gravel gravel at a point where one turned west towards the CONMOK tripoint. There it switched from an Oklahoma road to a Colorado road. I suppose that accounts for the difference.
CONMOK was an easy capture and extremely obvious, complete with a convenient turnaround adjacent to the roadside. The lat/long confluence was only slightly more difficult. Starting from the tripoint, I followed the GPS back another quarter mile until it implied that I was perpendicular to the confluence. I got out of the car and walked maybe twenty paces north into the surrounding scrubland. There I found a small pile of rocks decorated with a few doodads and coins left by previous geo-geeks with the same strange fascination. That marked the confluence. The whole ordeal took all of about thirty seconds.
Backtracking further we reached the Black Mesa trailhead. I would have encountered the Oklahoma tripoint had I wished to hike four miles onto the mesa and return. My passenger had already completed four half-marathons in four days as part of the Dust Bowl series and was in no mood to add another eight miles to the total. We called it a day and decided that maybe we’d try this some other time assuming we’re ever in the area again.
We drove down from Black Mesa to find the next tripoint on our journey at the southwestern corner of Cimarron Co., OK, where New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas form the NMOKTX tripoint (Label A on the map).
This marker was the least remarkable of all the tripoints we visited during the trip. It was downright underwhelming. Nonetheless it signified a tripoint so it counted just as much as the others. I also promised that this would be the last dirt road we would have to travel during our journey.
We continued west another couple of miles to rejoin Route 54 on our way to our ultimate destination for the day at Clayton, NM. I had a final geo-oddity to capture, a landmark more obscure than all of the others combined because it’s fictional and I made it up. I called it the Thelma and Louise spot. I developed a Thelma and Louise Route Map about eighteen months ago. It’s been a very popular page, receiving several new visitors consistently every day since its publication.
Anyway the big finale of the Thelma and Louise movie depends upon a specific plot twist. Louise cannot enter Texas. I remarked on the geographical implications of that point in the previous article:
The shooting script includes a reference to Boise City, OK that did not appear in the movie. This makes sense as it’s the logical path between Oklahoma and their next destination, New Mexico. It also brings them within mere feet of Texas without crossing the border so Louise remains safe in that respect.
The photograph marks the spot where Louise comes within mere feet of Texas. The movie simply cannot work from a logical perspective without the characters passing down the paved road directly ahead. The paved road would be safe territory. The dirt road in the foreground would be unsafe. The movie wouldn’t work if the road had been constructed a few feet farther east.
An odd feature of my Dust Bowl trip is that I drive for hours with little or nothing to see beyond the awesome natural beauty of the Great Plains until it’s punctuated by a tightly-bound space overflowing with geographic anomalies and historical sites. One such place is Morton County in the far southwestern corner of Kansas.
I’ve marked my path in case anyone would ever wish to replicate it. Alphabetic markers on the embedded map correspond to sites listed below. It’s based largely on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sea of Grass brochure.
(A) Morton County Historical Society Museum
We began our afternoon at the Morton County Historical Society Museum in Elkhart. Apparently they don’t get a lot of foot traffic on random middle-of-the-week days in the late winter (imagine that). The docent, quite friendly and happy to see us, turned on the heat and all of the lights so we could walk through the surprisingly large facility. I’ve noticed on this trip that that citizens of these small communities seem to have an exceptional interested in preserving their heritage. Nearly every county, no matter how small has at least one museum. Many of them exhibit a level of quality befitting cities of much larger size. These museums have been a joy to visit. I’ve made sure to stuff a few extra dollars in their donation boxes to do my part.
Buffalo, well Bison actually and my older son would admonish if I uttered otherwise, once roamed the vast grasslands of the Great Plains. That’s a thing of the distant past now, largely relegated to specialty ranchers and museum exhibits. Farmers moved into this part of the plains in large numbers around the turn of the last century, then practiced poor soil management in an area generally receiving less than 16 inches of rain per year, and triggered the horrific 1930′s "Dust Bowl" disaster. The places I’ve driven through track closely with Ken Burn’s Dust Bowl documentary. The legacy runs deep out here.
The Federal government purchased depleted lands from many of the destitute farmers and restored grasslands in several locations. The Cimarron Grassland alone stretches more than a hundred thousand acres.
(B) Colorado – Kansas – Oklahoma Tripoint
I bagged the first tripoint of the trip at the edge of the Cimarron Grassland, at Eightmile Corner. The roads were rather descriptive here. From Elkhart I drove down Stateline Road, a route separating Kansas from Oklahoma, and arrived at the tripoint eight miles later. That’s the spot where Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma all join together, as marked by a 1903 windmill. Actually the true spot is found under a brass plate in the middle of the road. That’s not nearly as photogenic as a windmill so that’s what I’m posting.
Tripoints are usually abbreviated by their state initials represented alphabetically. That would make this one COKSOK, a rather unfortunate acronym that sounds more like a method to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Anyway I photographed COKSOK. We backtracked from there towards Elkhart, stopped briefly to examine a prairie dog village about a half-mile closer to town — lots of burrows visible although no cute or cuddly creatures saw fit to pop from the holes for our amusement — so we continued onward.
The windswept terrain seemed vast and empty. The situation changes just below the surface.
The mighty Ogallala Aquifer, more a shallow underground sea actually, hides directly below the High Plains all the way from South Dakota to Texas. Anyone flying over this feature can see the results, the thousands of lush green cropland circles watered by center-pivot irrigation systems in an otherwise semi-arid climate. Its presence can also be tracked through the ubiquitous windmills dotting the plains, dipping straws into the aquifer and pumping water to quench the thirst of grazing livestock. This particular specimen is known as the "Miracle Well" where the aquifer comes so close to the surface that it sometimes seeps from the ground naturally without a pump.
This might be the real Miracle Well. Oil pumps seem to sprout everywhere in the Dust Bowl more common than weeds, set amid farmland fields or in the middle of town or in all sorts of unexpected spots all pumping away. This one was located within the physical boundaries of the Grassland. Wells within the park are operated by private companies as concessions with royalty payments going to the government. A Federal law designates a portion of the proceeds to pertinent local governments. This well helps fund road maintenance and public education in the two Cimarron Grassland counties.
There are about 500 oil pumps on the Cimarron Grassland as opposed to 200 water windmills according to the Fish and Wildlife Service brochure, just to give one an appreciation of their frequency.
(D) Santa Fe Trail – Cimarron Route
The Cimarron Grassland contains history much older than the Dust Bowl. The Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail passed directly through the park. The trail traveled from Missouri to New Mexico, splitting into two options; one to the north through the mountains and the other to the south through the plains. They both terminated at Santa Fe. The Cimarron Route was the southern path, both shorter and flatter than the northern route. One might wonder why many people avoided the Cimarron Route since it was such a remarkable shortcut.
The Morton County museum described it as "Direct but Dangerous." The Cimarron Route had little water, and what existed was often intermittent or difficult to find. There were few natural landmarks so it was easy to get lost especially in the early years before wagon wheels cut ruts into the ground. Native Americans also weren’t thrilled with a constant, steady stream of travelers traipsing through their homeland. Finally, if that were not enough, both man and beast could break a leg stepping into prairie dog burrows while daydreaming along the tiresome trail.
The trail is clearly visible in a couple of different places in the Grassland. The best spot is probably on Route 16 (see wagon ruts in Satellite View). Notice the granite marker in the foreground and a limestone marker a little further back on this photograph.
(E) Point of Rocks
Point of Rocks was one of very few easily visible, completely recognizable natural features. It became important for all who lived in or traveled through the plains, from the time of the Plains Indians all the way through the Trail years. From the FWS brochure:
Native Americans possibly scouted for buffalo from this third-highest point in Kansas, and in 1541, Coronado’s expedition made not of the formation for future explorers. During the days of the Santa Fe Trail, Point of Rocks served as a major landmark.
Middle Spring was located nearby, the only reliable source of water for a 40-mile stretch along the trail. This made it a common, practically mandatory stopping point for any wagon train that rolled the dice by taking the Cimarron Route.
It’s difficult to imagine the hardships of early pioneer travelers as one zips along in an automobile, covering the entire feature in a couple of hours.
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.
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.
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.