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Ranger Rich: Four Corners scam



There's been great controversy lately in the world of surveying and mapping and engineering about the exact location of the famous Four Corners area — the point at which the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Maine come together to form the "Bermuda Triangle."

The controversy has been splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in America except, of course, for the Gazette, which hasn't run the stories because they contained more than 12 words and would make the paper too big to read in 10 minutes and would therefore, according to editor Jeff Thomas, "ruin everything."

Nevertheless, today, after more than a week of furious debate among surveyors and scientists, we can now say unequivocally and without hesitation, "Who cares?"

Well, I'll tell you who cares: the Native Americans who own the land at the Four Corners, that's who. They charge tourists $3 each to stand there, tourists who then gleefully play a game not unlike Twister in which one foot is way over there and one foot is way over here and each hand is busy doing something else, although it's possible I'm thinking of that homemade Paris Hilton video.

The point is, the Four Corners is the subject of much talk these days over whether it's in the right spot. To understand this huge and important issue, we must explore some of the background, which we will do in a serious, scientific way.

The site was first surveyed in 1868 by a man with the actual name of E.N. Darling, who was not only a surveyor but was also involved in a lot of tavern brawls that began when a gun-slingin' cowboy or drunken gold miner would yell across the bar at a dancing girl, "Hey there, darling," and E.N. would turn toward the man and reply loudly, "What?"

(Footnote: Historians say the only man involved in more barroom fights than Darling during those days of the Wild West was a guy in Dodge City named Walter M. Sweetbuns.)

Anyway, the U.S. government put a marker on the Four Corners in 1912 and replaced it in 1992 with a granite marker and a huge bronze disk including state seals and flags. The Native Americans added a ticket booth and gift shop, and everyone was happy.

But on April 19, a shocking story appeared in a Mormon-owned newspaper named the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. In this story were the names of Mormon men who had recently been arrested by Salt Lake police while in possession of the four strict, Mormon-banned items: alcohol, tobacco, coffee and, of course, condoms.

No, really, the story said new measurements showed the Four Corners marker was off by a whopping 2.5 miles. It said workers at the National Geodetic Survey had made two stunning discoveries: Vinyl pocket protectors are worth their weight in gold, and on average each of them spends $34 per year for the white athletic tape that holds their eyeglasses together.

OK, what the story said was scientists had run new mathematical formulas through a computer and now believe the actual Four Corners area should be 2.5 miles to the east. Or west. Or south. Or something.

But just a few days later the same Deseret News published a story saying the first story was wrong and the marker was actually off, not by 2.5 miles, but by some 1,800 feet, which is about one-third of a mile, or 210 bushels. The story went on to say that "Demetrial Monson is no longer angry at his 14 wives and wishes they would come home because he is hungry and needs a foot rub."

Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen tried to clear up the whole thing in Sunday's paper by writing: "... the U.S. Capitol is at 77 0'27" west of Greenwich. Add 32 degrees to that, per our state constitution, and you're at 109 0'27," about a half mile from the 109 0'0" where some say the marker is supposed to be."

Frankly, I don't think you could put it any better than that.

Oh, and by the way, Maine is not the fourth state that forms the Four Corners, as I mentioned at the top of this story. I was just kidding. It's Oregon.

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