August 01, 2007

Why the Roads Run Straight on the Plains

Strange Maps link explains the Land Ordinance of 1785, which is why one Colorado blog is called Square State.

Actually, it is rectangular, not square, and a little narrower on the north side due to converging lines of longitude. But why quibble?

According to Thomas Jefferson-impersonator Clay Jenkinson, President Jefferson imagined a West full of rectangular states. Jenkinson once solicited names for these imaginary states: I suggested that at least one of them should be called Artemisia, for Artemisia tridentata. (Just look at the distribution maps.)

Once I was on a London-to-Denver flight sitting ahead of two English guys who had booked a ski trip in Breckenridge, their first visit to Colorado. The airplane began its slow descent towards DIA, and somewhere over Sterling I heard one of them exclaim. I turned around, and he was staring down at some road, maybe Colorado 71 north of Stoneham, as it ran ruler-straight towards Wyoming. Miles of straight road--not a common sight in the UK.

You can blame the mapping of the American West on the post-revolutionary French, with their mania for straight lines and "reason." France itself almost ended up looking like this.

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