Locating Nevada’s geographic center
Anyone who has looked at a Nevada state map, such as those provided by the Nevada Department of Transportation, has seen the words, “Geographic Center of Nevada,” alongside a point in the middle of nowhere, somewhere east of Austin.
But what’s the geographic center actually look like? Is there some kind of sign marking the place? Does it have a big obelisk or other such monument letting you know you are at the exact middle of the state?
Of course, finding the exact location of the geographic center is the first challenge. Most reference books simply state it’s 26 miles southeast of Austin. On some maps, it’s shown to be 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 a few years ago, I decided to take a trip to this hallowed ground. To find the exact coordinates, I checked various geologic web sites.
And it turns out there are several geographic center locations.
On one site, http://www.netstate.com, the geographic center was said to have a Longitude: W116° 55.9, Latitude: N39° 30.3.
Another, http://www.americasroof.com, noted that the center was W117.0667° and N39.55°.
Yet another, nevada-landmarks.com, insisted it was W116° 38´18.9 and N39 19´15.0.
And the United States Geological Survey indicated that center was at W116° 38’ 13.3 and N39° 19’ 11.7.
The USGS, however, also pointed out that location was marked in 1962, when positioning technology was fairly primitive. Now, according to the USGS, which recalibrated the location with newer technology in 2003, the geographic center is W116° 37’ 56.0, N39° 19’ 48.0.
So, with all that conflicting information in hand, I grabbed a portable GPS (Global Positioning System) unit, punched in the various coordinates and hit the road.
I 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 pretty much a four-wheel-drive journey.
My GPS guided me south about 12 miles to a rough dirt road that headed east. I turned onto the road, which was fairly bumpy. After a couple of miles, I decided to park and walk the rest of the way, following my GPS.
After stumbling around in the sagebrush for about a half-mile, I 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, http://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 starting to set so, after wandering around for a few more minutes looking for the second site, I decided to head back to Austin without checking out the other sites.
But before I went, I took a moment to soak in the atmosphere. I smelled the sagebrush on the air 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 is only found in rural Nevada.
It might be the middle of nowhere—and quite possibly the geographic center of the state—but somehow that didn’t matter because it just felt like home.
Rich Moreno writes about Nevada’s people and history.