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Map Geek

Sometimes you go to a place just to say you've been there, done that.

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Have you ever looked at a map of the U.S., noticed that there's one spot where four states come together, and thought to yourself, "Man, it would be great to stand on that spot"? If you have, then you might be a map geek.

A map geek is a person who would go to a place simply because it looks cool on a map or because it would be extremely easy to point at that spot in games of traveler one-upmanship and say, "See that spot on the map? I've been there. That exact spot."

My friend Craig is a definite map geek. We recently spent a week touring the Southwest. We saw Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, cliff dwellings, Arches National Park, the Petrified Forest, the Rocky Mountains with fresh snow and aspens in their fall gold -- and when it was over I asked Craig what his favorite part of the trip was. He said, "The Four Corners."

There is, indeed, only one spot in America where four states join. Other than its surveying significance, it's a highway rest area in a desolate land. You have to pay $3 to park there and what you find is a round patch of concrete with a small metal disc in the middle with lines separating Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Surrounding this spot are the same booths you see elsewhere in the area: Navajos and Utes selling their wares, including "Navajo Fry Bread," which at the Mid-South Fair we know as an elephant ear.

You also find map geeks. The Four Corners is not on the way to or from any place in particular, so if you're there, you're pretty much a map geek. At some point you said to yourself, "It would be cool to stand in four states at once." So there's an odd ritual of people having to wait their turn to do this. Some people stand right on the disc, some take a picture of it, some do this weird Twister thing to have a body part in all four states: "Left foot, Colorado!"

On a trip to British Columbia a few years back, Craig insisted we go to a place called Point Roberts. It's a true map-geek destination. There's a tiny peninsula that extends south from the mainland just far enough into the sea that it crosses the 49th Parallel and the boundary with the U.S. Therefore, the last few miles of the peninsula belong to the U.S. We had to see it.

The thing is, you get to these places and have a distinct Mount Rushmore Experience. You arrive, you see it, and you say, "Well, yeah, that's it." If you ever go to Mount Rushmore, you'll know what I mean. So we got to Point Roberts and realized that we had driven all this way to see, in essence, an army-base town. That's all Point Roberts is -- a tiny Millington -- except that it's out on this little point of land, see, and the last part of it is well, never mind.

I have to report, though, that when we crossed into the U.S. on that peninsula, the first building we saw was a liquor store.

Among map geeks, I suppose there are specialists. Ever met somebody who proudly said they had been to all 50 states? Total map geek. I'm sort of a road geek. I'll never forget driving up Cimmaron Canyon in New Mexico years ago -- a truly magical road which leaves the desert and arrives 25 winding, shaded miles later at a high mountain lake filled with trout and surrounded by snow peaks -- and I was thinking that the number of the highway seemed familiar. It was U.S. Highway 64.

Some time later I was driving down Union Avenue and saw the same sign: U.S. Highway 64! It just seemed like a wondrous thing to me, to think that Cimmaron Canyon and the Cupboard Restaurant were on the same road. It happens that on this last trip to the Four Corners area, I noticed that the western end of 64 was nearby, in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, so I dragged Craig there and made him take my picture standing by the sign. He made me do the same thing when we encountered U.S. Highway 666.

We're both road geeks. I happen to know that the eastern end of 64 -- of Union, if you will -- is at Whalebone Junction, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks just south of Nags Head. It's one of only a few places in the country where three -- count 'em, three! -- U.S. highways end. I must go there.

But I'm a guy who once drove three hours from Miami to Key Largo just to say I had had key lime pie in the Keys. It was terrible pie, too. But if you'd like, I can get out a map and show you exactly where I had it. n

You can e-mail Paul Gerald at letters@memphisflyer.com. You can also check out his new book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland (Oregon), published by Menasha Ridge Press.

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