Colorado is Not a Square

The way we see Colorado on our maps is not entirely accurate. While a good approximation, the actual borders are far more jagged and inconsistent. (Photo: Noxeo)

Colorado is not a square. The maps you’ve been seeing since elementary school have fooled you.  They fooled us all.  In fact, the Centennial state has a whopping 697 sides.  That makes it a hexahectaenneacontakaiheptagon.  Now that’s a mouthful.

There are three states in the U.S. that appear to have all straight, rectangular borders on the map.  Those would be Utah, Wyoming, and of course Colorado. However, in reality, this is not the case for any of them.

There are two main reasons that our maps deceive us. One is the fact that the world is round, and the other being that surveyors back in the 1800s were not perfect in marking these borders.

Because the world is not round, longitudinal lines we use to mark border lines are inherently bent. (Photo: Time and Date)

State borders are defined with latitudinal and longitudinal lines.  While latitudes run parallel to one another, longitudinal lines converge at the poles, meaning that they are furthest apart at the equator and then grow closer as they move to the poles.  Thus, a “rectangular” states borders would be closer at the northern border than at the southern border.

(More: Colorado is Being Invaded by Migrating Tarantulas)

Furthermore, when state borders were first demarcated in 1879, the surveyors tasked with the job lacked any of the high-tech satellites and other measurement tools that we have today.  This made marking perfectly straight borderlines near impossible.

While we now have the ability to fix these imperfections in borderlines, we have decided to keep things as they are.  In 1925, the supreme court ruled that the borders as surveyed are the correct ones.

So while people from Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah plenty of things to take pride in, straight borders aren’t one of them. They can brag about Aspen, Alta, and Jackson Hole, all claim they have the best snow and tell you why their mountain range is better than yours.  But, if they try to hit you with the “perfect border” card, you can let them know that they are mistaken.