Four Corners Monument and Tribal Park is the quadripoint for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The monument is managed by the Navajo Nation and is a waypoint along the Trails of the Ancients National Scenic Byway.
First erected in 1899 to honor the only geographic location in the U.S. where the boundaries of four states touch, Four Corners Monument is a cartographic curiosity with limited infrastructure and essentially one thing to do: to stand in a number of places simultaneously. Come prepared. There are waterless self-contained toilets, but the site has no running water, no electricity, no telephones or cell phone coverage.
The monument is something of a paradox. It is a small and limited attraction, surrounded by low lying, nondescript bluffs that aren't particularly photogenic. And yet "Four Corners" is a widely-applied label for all there are to do within a 200 to 500 mi (322 to 805 km) radius of where these four states intersect. When travellers speak of their "Four Corners" vacation, they may be headed for Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and to other points further afield. But they may never set foot inside the monument itself.
The monument seems to evoke strong emotions in people, as well. Visitors are either vastly underwhelmed by this attraction, even angry they drove so far out of their way to see so little, or they are inordinately pleased with running from state to state and having their picture taken. The novelty of these intersecting boundaries makes Four Corners a popular destination, with long lines in the summer months at both the food stalls and the bright red viewing platform for the photo-op.
The monument offers travellers a chance to learn more about Native Americans, their cultures and ways of life. There is a small visitor center, which is open year round (the park only closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). It features a Demonstration Center with Native American artisans. But the best way to learn about modern day Native Americans is to strike up a friendly and respectful conversation with the various Navajo vendors. Generally, the Navajo vendors are cheerful and open to questioning. (For more information on how to properly handle this, see the Respect section in this article).
The average visit to the monument lasts between 10 minutes and 2 hours, depending on whether or not people eat and thoroughly explore the Navajo stalls and visitor center.
Summer temperatures in the Monument can reach 110 ºF (43 ºC) and visitors should take extra precautions while visiting. To visit the park, you'll need to bring sunscreen, some kind of hand sanitizer, as well as something to drink. In the summer, blowing dust, flies and bugs are sometimes a problem. A word of caution: metal in the park during summer (including the aluminum bronze surveyor's mark) can be too hot to touch. Don't inadvertently burn yourself in your enthusiasm. The Navajo Nation is not responsible for any bodily injuries, accidents, thefts or losses that occur while on Navajo land.
The genesis of Four Corners as a novelty on a map dates back to 1846, when the U.S. Army invaded and defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War. With the Treaty of Guadalupe y Hidalgo, the U.S. gained control of California, Nevada, Utah, as well as portions of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.
22 years later, as Colorado prepared for statehood and admission into the Union, Four Corners was first surveyed by the U.S. Government Surveyors and Astronomers. This 1868 survey demarcated Colorado's southern boundary line. In 1878, New Mexico's west boundary and Utah's east boundary were surveyed and added. With the inclusion of the Arizona Territory boundary, the site became known as Four Corners.
The original survey monument, a sandstone marker, was erected in 1899, and was replaced with a small metal and cement marker in 1912. The northern boundary of the state of Arizona was surveyed in 1901.
Four Corners was declared by Congress at a different latitude and longitude, but an early surveying error misplaced the location. The U.S. Supreme Court had to wade into the bureaucratic mess, ruling that the current location was so popular, it should be recognized as the boundary between the four states.
For most of the 20th century, the monument was very simple, consisting of three steps up to a concrete pad, with a few posts and highway guard rails surrounding it. The monument received a facelift in 1992 and now includes a flat slab of granite embedded with an aluminum bronze marker, surrounding state flags, and state seals. The Navajo and Ute nation flags are represented, as well. An inscription in the granite reads, "Four states here meet in freedom under God." Just outside the monument, there are "welcome and goodbye" border signs for all four states.
In 1999, Congress appropriated money to Four Corners to improve the visitors center and build bathrooms with running water. The project became entangled in various state and federal agencies, and squabbling between the tribal councils of the Ute and Navajo nations. It remains unbuilt.
In May 2009, it was in correctly reported by the new media that a survey done by the National Geodetic Survey had discovered that the original survey done in 1878 was incorrect. The actual borders between Colorado and Utah were reported to be 2.5 miles to the west. Congress and the States involved agreed to change the original longitude and latitude to match the marker. (The 109th Western Meridian had been set as the boundary between Colorado and Utah.) Thus rendering the original survey invalid.
You may run into the occasional Native American who speaks only Navajo, but this should not present an insurmountable language barrier. The vast majority of the vendors speak English.
It would be impractical to make Four Corners Monument the sole focus of your trip. Combine it with a larger itinerary of the area. But no matter what, you're going to have to drive a car to get here. The monument is far from major airports, and commuter air service into Farmington and Gallup on the New Mexico side is marginal and leaves you a long way from the park. Rail service is similarly marginal and distant, although the Amtrak line  between Albuquerque and Flagstaff passes through Gallup and along the southern side of the Navajo reservation.
You enter the park from the New Mexico side on a short road called NM 597/ "4 Corners Monument Rd".
- From Cortez, Colorado - Follow US 160 South to New Mexico for 44 mi (71 km). Turn at "Four Corners Monument" sign, a short road called NM 597.
- From Farmington, New Mexico- Follow US 64 West for 10 mi (16 km). Turn right to stay on US 64 for 26 mi (42 km). Enter Arizona. Turn right (north) at US 160. Reenter New Mexico. Turn at "Four Corners Monument" sign, a short road called NM 597.
- From Blanding, Utah - Follow UT 191 South for 30 mi (48 km). Turn left to stay on US 191 for 16 mi (26 km). Enter Arizona. Follow US 160 through to Teec Nos Pos for 30 mi (48 km). Turn left (north) in Teec Nos Pos for another 5 to 10 mi (8 to 16 km). Enter New Mexico. Turn at "Four Corners Monument" sign, a short road called NM 597.
- From Flagstaff, Arizona - Follow US 160 for 221 mi (356 km) to Teec Nos Pos. In Teec Nos Pos, follow US 160 for another 5 to 10 mi (8 to 16 km). Enter New Mexico. Turn at "Four Corners Monument" sign, a short road called NM 597.
Fees and permitsEdit
The entry fee is $5 per person.
The park closes at 5PM, and although the fence is easy to walk around it is not recommended. Several dogs not tied up will greet any visitors entering the area after closing time. Most of them are friendly, but you may also want to consult the Wikivoyage article on how to handle aggressive dogs.
Outside of the quick photo and running around from state to state, there's not much else to do, although on a clear day, it is sometimes possible to see the ancient volcanic neck of Shiprock to the east of the monument.
- Interpretive signs - There is a bronze plaque in front of the steps along the New Mexico part of the granite slab. It reads:
- "In 1899, U.S. Surveyors Hubert Page and James Lentz found the four corners monument disturbed and broken. They marked and set a new stone at the original location. Everett Kimmell, General Land Office, re-monumented the Page-Lentz stone with a concrete and brass monument in 1931. The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs poured a concrete paving block around the Kimmell monument in 1962. In 1992, Cadastral Surveyors Darryl Wilson and Jack Eaves officially re-monumented the deteriorating Kimmell marker with an aluminum bronze disc. The structure that you see today was rebuilt by the Bureau of Land Management."
- "The four corners area is surrounded by Indian lands. The Navajo Nation lies in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The Ute Mountain Ute Nation is in Colorado. Respect the culture and traditions of the four corners area."
There is also a painted and peeling plywood map in front of the visitor's center with a schematic of the Monument (mostly the parking lot), as well as a map of the four states emblazoned with their respective state seals.
- Visitor center - This is a double wide pre-fab trailer with some brochures and the occasional summertime demonstration of Native American crafts.
- August 2016 - The improved public restrooms are nearly complete. Very modern and convenient within the parking lot. It is a much needed addition to this site.
- Visitors can get on their hands and knees so that their bodies are in all four states at the same time. There is a small elevated platform where someone else takes a picture of you as you touch four states. The platform is on the New Mexico and Arizona border.
- On busy days, be prepared to wait in line for your turn at the plaque. "Be courteous to other visitors and only take 3 pictures per group" - reads one sign.
A majority of the 50 or so plywood stalls lie vacant, except in the high summer season. Mostly, there are many stalls hawking the obligatory tourist souvenirs, t-shirts and post cards. But amidst all the dreck, a handful of vendors sell authentic Native American arts and crafts. Real Navajo designs incorporate a flaw for the Yei bichai, a holy people in Navajo lore, leaving a portion of the design unfinished so the Yei spirit can escape.
Beware of non-authentic imports from Mexico and overseas carried by unscrupulous "dealers" that have tried to capitalize on the market for Navajo work. A few items for sale include:
- Dreamcatchers - Hoops with woven screens adorned with feathers and beads. Although they originated with the Ojibwa Nation in Canada in the 1970s, dreamcatchers are now widely made and sold by a variety of Native American peoples.
- Kachina Dolls - Not a traditional Navajo craft. Most likely these painted wood carvings are the works of other Pueblo Peoples, such as the Hopi in New Mexico, or are cheap knockoffs from China.
- Navajo rugs - Also known as a Navajo Blanket. Brightly colored weavings with intricate patterns are standard features of this characteristic folk art of the Navajo. Each region of the reservation has its own style of weavings, with a few patterns that can be found reservation-wide. As with other folk art, quality and prices vary wildly. Look for authentic blankets from neighboring Teec Nos Pos, in Arizona. Teec Nos Pos blankets are known for their vivid colors and elaborate patterns.
- Navajo pottery - Earth colored, patterned, pitch covered, then fired in juniper wood kiln, if real.
- Navajo jewelry - Using semi-precious stones like lapis, hematite, onyx, amber and the classic turquoise set in beaten silver. You will most likely find rings, bracelets, earrings, buckles, bolo ties, hair ornaments and pins.
- Navajo sand painting - These are bastardizations or replicas of sacred ceremonial art (usually not seen by the general public), reproduced for the tourist trade. Usually glued to a board or piece of ceramic for viewing.
- Teec Nos Pos Trading Post, Teec Nos Pos Arizona (Just six miles from Four Corners Monument), ☎ . This turquoise colored building sells fuel, souvenirs and fast food. Closest to the monument. Gas up while you can.
There is no sit down restaurant within the park, but there are several "roach coach" or "burrito stand"-style food wagons. Picnic tables are also available. Due to the transitory nature of many of the food vendors within the Monument, it's impossible to write a list of permanent eateries. That said, here is some of the standard fare offered. It's fast food, Navajo-style:
- Fry bread - Flattened dough fried in oil or lard and served in a paper bowl or napkin with powdered sugar or honey. Similar to elephant ears served elsewhere in the U.S. or to beaver tails in Canada.
- Navajo burgers - Uses frybread instead of a bun, with lettuce, tomato, chopped onion, pickles and condiments. Held together in a tin foil wrapper.
- Navajo tacos - Savory frybread piled high with ground beef, beans, shredded cheese, and sometimes chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, homemade salsa, and sour cream. Served with plastic fork and styrofoam plate.
- Sno cones - Jumbo paper cups of crushed ice flavored with sweet syrups. A good way to cool off on a hot summer's day.
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited by law on the Navajo Reservation. The various food vendors at the monument offer cold sodas and bottled water to drink. But you are far better off to buy your water before you enter the park at the first available grocery store, gas station or trading post. Stop when you can; these are usually few and far between.
There are no hotels within the park, and camping is not allowed. For more information on where to spend the night, please see the surrounding communities.
- Teec Nos Pos Post Office, 100 State Hwy 64 north Teec Nos Pos, Arizona (at mile marker 466 on Hwy 64), ☎ . M-F 8:30-11AM, noon-5PM; Sa 10AM-noon; Su closed.
There is no access within the park. Many of the chain hotels outside the Monument have high speed Wireless (Wi-Fi) access.
While traveling on Navajo land, remember that you are on a sovereign, self-governing nation. Obey all the Navajo tribal laws and regulations.
Do not litter; place your refuse in trash containers.
Visitors should be respectful when it comes to photography. Remember, the Navajo at the Monument are people, not props in your photograph. When you do take photos of people, keep in mind that a gratuity is always appreciated. Special permits are required by the Navajo nation when photographing for commercial use.
Please be sure to practice appropriate sensitivity in your dealings with any Native Americans you encounter. While both the Navajo and Utes claim the Four Corners area as their ancestral homelands, both people were subjected to forced relocation, military incursions and internment on reservations by the U.S. government. This 19th and early 20th century history is understandably still a sore spot. Most importantly, treat Native Americans with the same respect and courtesy that you'd wish to receive.
- Trail of The Ancients National Scenic Byway - A tour of Ancestral Puebloan archeological ruins. Winds through Southeastern Utah's Canyon Country and Southwestern Colorado. Includes Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument and Utah's Valley of the Gods.
- Grand Circle Tour - A wider regional travel circuit of the Four Corners states, as well as Nevada. Includes all the famous National Parks, Monuments and state parks within this Southwestern region.
|Routes through Four Corners|
|END ←||W E||→ Farmington → Taos|
|Tuba City ← Kayenta ←||W E||→ Cortez → Durango|