How significant are the crooked lines along Utah's borders?
Dave Cook, a cartographer with the Bureau of Land Management, believes they especially shortchange Utah's size along the Idaho and Colorado boundaries.That's ironic, considering the original state of Deseret as proposed by Brigham Young was whittled down dramatically by Congress before the apparently unintentional survey errors were made.
However, the mistake along the Arizona-Utah border actually gives Utah a little extra land. So, what's the net result?
"I'd hate to put a figure to it," Cook said of the overall land Utah may have lost or gained. "It's a tricky subject . . . a crap shoot."
Cook said the worst mistakes among the six lines that define the state are found in the Utah-Idaho line. Three different errors were made there by Daniel Major, a federal surveyor, during his 1870 expedition.
Cook has nothing good to say about Major's sloppy efforts.
In fact, those mistakes mean the small Idaho town of Strevell, located north of Park Valley, should definitely be in Utah. However, no one lives in Strevell anymore; the only thing left to mark its site is a road sign.
With the intended straight boundary line, Franklin, Idaho, would also move perilously close to the Utah border, though Cook believes it would likely still remain in the Gem State.
Major made a hump-shaped boundary line mistake just west of the Bear Lake Valley, and so a small portion of Utah there should really be in Idaho (No. 3 on B1 map).
Of the other two Idaho-Utah boundary mistakes, one involves a slanted line in the extreme northwest corner, above Grouse Creek (No. 1 on B1 map), and the other a jag-shaped deviation, located about two miles east of where I-15 leaves Utah (No. 2 on B1 map).
BLM cadastral supervisor Daniel Webb said his department is reviewing the northwest corner of the state. That's because a historical group wants to put a monument there, but the exact three-way corner for Utah, Idaho and Nevada can't be located for certain.
The original corner monument is missing, and a triangulation station has been erroneously used as the tentative marker.
Webb said solving that dispute may require a meeting of BLM representatives from Utah, Idaho and Nevada and private property owners, plus some congressional assistance. The true corner may never be found.
On the Colorado border, the state border contains two errors, one just east of Fisher Towers that shortchanges Utah's size by a width of about one-half mile (No. 5 on B1 map). The other is east of the LaSal Junction, where a meandering line goes about three-fourths of a mile askew (No. 6 on B1 map).
Rollinj Reeves surveyed the Utah-Colorado border in 1878, and a re-survey was made on a portion of the line in 1885 by Alan D. Wilson.
On the Arizona side, one jag-shaped mistake is south of Jacobs Monument on the Navajo Indian Reservation (No. 7 on B1 map).
Howard Carpenter surveyed the Arizona-Utah border, and that wasn't done until 1900-01.
The smallest boundary error of all is a one-quarter-mile deviation on the Wyoming south border, located north of China Meadows and the Bridger Lake Guard Station (No. 4 on B1 map). Once again, Utah is slightly downsized by the error. However, Cook feels Shadrack Richardson, who surveyed Utah's two notch sections in 1874, did a good job overall.
J.E. James surveyed the Nevada-Utah border, also in the 1870s. No mistakes are apparent there, and so he likely did the best job of all.
The early Utah surveyors relied on the sun or star charts to get their position. If they were off by as little as one second with a chronometer, that could translate to 500 feet off the mark. Also, readings of their magnetic compasses could be altered by surrounding terrain with heavy metal content.
In that light, it's amazing they were as accurate as they were.
Cook said the old U.S. Naval Observatory, located near Washington, D.C., was used as the starting point for Utah's border surveys. Greenwich, England, was not the standard meridian until at least 1885.
If Cook could get the latitude and longitude of that old observatory - now non-existent - he feels he could compute if Utah's actual boundaries, especially the Utah-Idaho line, are where they were intended to be.
Since Utah was gradually downsized by Congress so much, he's not convinced the overall boundary locations are themselves accurate. He's been trying unsuccessfully for several years to get the coordinates, but he said he won't give up - hoping a Washington, D.C., librarian can eventually find them.