Sunday, March 25, 2007
Nevada's Geographic Center
For years, I’ve seen the designation, Geographic Center of Nevada, indicated on various state maps and atlases. I wondered if the spot was marked by some kind of monument or sign. What does the geographic center of Nevada look like?
Checking the usual reference books wasn’t particularly enlightening as most simply referred to a spot that was “26 miles southeast of Austin.” On maps, it was shown to be somewhere in the northern part of the Monitor Valley.
While the precise definition of a geographic center is something usually debated by mathematicians, who don’t always agree on how it is determined, it is generally defined as the place that is the exact center of a geographic location, such as a state or country.
So recently I decided to take a trip to this hallowed ground with the crew of the Wild Nevada TV show. To find the exact coordinates, I checked various geologic web sites. On one, www.netstate.com, the geographic center was said to have a Longitude: W116° 55.9, Latitude: N39° 30.3.
However, another web site, www.americasroof.com, noted that the center was Longitude: W117.0667° and Latitude: N39.55°.
And the United States Geological Survey indicated that center was at W116° 38’ 13.3 and N39° 19’ 11.7 but the agency recently revised its data using technologies not available when the geologic center was first marked in 1962.
Now, according to the USGS, the geographic center is positioned at W116° 37’ 56.0, N39° 19’ 48.0.
With all this information in hand, I grabbed my hand GPS (Global Positioning System) unit, punched in the various coordinates and hit the road.
We headed east on U.S. 50 to a point about 37 miles east of Austin. Here, a dirt road, known variously as Nevada State Route 882 or the Old Belmont Road, heads south through the center of the Monitor Valley. This is a four-wheel-drive journey.
My GPS guided us south about 12 miles to a rough dirt road that headed east. We turned onto the road, which was fairly bumpy. After a couple of miles, we parked and walked another half-mile into the sagebrush, following the prompts on my GPS.
After stumbling around for a few minutes, we finally chanced upon a piece of rebar sticking up through the grass. A laminated sign at its base indicated that we had found the original geographic center (the 1962 version).
Apparently, a geocache enthusiast known as CmdrMark (he has a great web site, www.cmdrmark.com) made the same search for the center of Nevada in August 2003. After successfully finding the 1962 and 2003 USGS sites, he marked both with the rebar and signs (as well placing small geocaches beneath the signs).
According to CmdrMark’s web entry, the two sites are 3,900 yards apart (the newer site is northeast of the older site).
Unfortunately, the sun was beginning to set so, after wandering around for a few more minutes looking for the second site, we called off our search and decided to head back to Austin.
Before we departed, I took a moment to soak in the atmosphere. I smelled the sagebrush on my clothing and felt a slight breeze. The warm sun was drifting behind the Toquima Range, to the west, and the desert around me had taken on that special afternoon light that only seems to be found in remote parts of Nevada.
It might be the middle of nowhere, and the geographic center of the state, but it felt like home.