11 American Geographic Anomalies

Liberty Island surrounded by the New York Harbor
Although it's within the territorial jurisdiction of New York, Liberty Island is surrounded by the waters of New Jersey. Cavan Images / Getty Images

The squiggly lines that separate most U.S. states are evidence enough that the country was not formed in a cookie-cutter fashion. In fact, it's brimming with confounding points—an island that belongs to a different state than the waters surrounding it, arbitrary borders, and proprietary patches on Canada's side of the fence. Its abounding geographic anomalies have been stumping cartophiles for the past century and still, some are simply indescribable.

From the Southwest’s one-and-only quadripoint to a Manhattan neighborhood that isn’t even in Manhattan, here are 11 odd locales in the U.S. that will leave you scratching your head.

1
of 11

Four Corners Monument (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah)

The ground split into four states at Four Corners Monument

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

There exists a place in the U.S. where one can be in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah at the same time. The rare quadripoint, overseen by Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, is known as Four Corners Monument—it's the only point in the country at which four states meet at 90-degree angles. While most boundaries follow rivers and mountain ranges, this clean intersection came to be when Congress created new territories to discourage people from aligning with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Marked by the flags of all four states and a humble brass disk, the historical landmark is surrounded by some 25,000 square miles of indigenous land and is visited often by visitors of the Southwest.

2
of 11

Kentucky Bend (Kentucky)

View of Mississippi River with Kentucky Bend enclave in distance

Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

One of America’s most head scratch-inducing locales is a 17-square-mile peninsular exclave that juts into the Mississippi River like the tip of an outstretched thumb. Also called the New Madrid Bend, Bessie’s Ben, or Bubbleland, the Kentucky Bend is a chunk of Fulton County, Kentucky, that's completely isolated from the rest of the state. It sits in an oxbow loop of the Mississippi and shares a border with Tennessee.

This particularly curvaceous meander of the Big Muddy is thought to have formed by a series of powerful earthquakes that rocked the region in the early 1800s. The 27-square-mile pseudo-island is home to about 18 people. Residents must drive about 20 minutes through Tennessee to get to their Kentucky town, where they even have Tennessee mailing addresses.

3
of 11

Lake Okeechobee (Florida)

Overview of boat and vegetation on Lake Okeechobee
Kevin Fleming / Getty Images

The center of Florida's 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the state and one of the largest in the country, is shared by five counties: Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach. The anomalous quintipoint is sometimes referred to as the William Scott Vertex, named for the former Martin County state representative who made the call to divide the lake between five municipalities. Naturally, the point in question can be reached only by a very long boat ride, but the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (aka "LOST") leads hikers, bikers, and horseback riders through all five Lake Okeechobee counties.

4
of 11

Liberty Island (New York)

Aerial view of Liberty Island and NYC at sunset
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

It turns out Lady Liberty, although belonging officially to the state of New York, is kind of a Jersey girl. The federally owned 15-acre land mass she inhabits, previously known as Bedloe’s Island, sits in a portion of the Upper New York Bay owned by New Jersey—Jersey City, to be exact. So, in order to get to and from Liberty Island by water one must repeatedly cross state lines.

Both states have long vied to claim Liberty Island as their own both spiritually and legally. In 2015, New Jersey’s push to feature the Statue of Liberty and neighboring Ellis Island on a special Garden State-themed quarter to be released by the U.S. Mint in 2017 roused the ire of some New York lawmakers who urged New Jersey to "find something of their own."

5
of 11

Marble Hill (New York)

Map of Manhattan with Marble Hill neighborhood circled

Adapted by M.Minderhoud / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Diverse as they are, all but one of the idiosyncratic neighborhoods of Manhattan share one common denominator: They’re located on the 24-square-mile island that shares the borough’s name. Marble Hill, located on the mainland, in the Bronx, is the outlier. The neighborhood was once attached to the island, above present-day Inwood, but in 1895, the construction of the Harlem River Ship Canal effectively severed it from Manhattan and turned it into its own island. Less than 20 years later, in 1914, a section of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled and, as a result, Marble Hill became part of the mainland.

Today, the Bronx-wrapped neighborhood creates a mixed identity for residents—rightful Manhattanites with Bronx zip codes. Some want for Marble Hill to finally be handed over to the Bronx for good.

6
of 11

The McFarthest Spot (Nevada)

McDonald's facade at sunset
Anthony Devlin / Getty Images

With well over 13,000 McDonald’s locations, there are very few Big Mac-less places in the contiguous U.S. Happy Meals can be had in even the furthest-flung locations, yet one point in the high desert of far northwest Nevada, within the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge, has been named the McFarthest Spot because it's 115 miles from the nearest Golden Arches. The closest McDonald's locations are in Minnemucca, Nevada, and Klamath Falls and Hines, Oregon.

The "McFarthest Spot" used to be in Ziebach County, South Dakota, which was 107 miles from the nearest McDonald’s, but when a McDonald's in rural northern California closed, this remote Nevada location took over the title.

7
of 11

North American Pole of Inaccessibility (South Dakota)

Houses and snowy, barren land on Pine Ridge Reservation

Bob Rowan / Getty Images

Around the world, poles of inaccessibility signify geographical remoteness. There are north and south poles of inaccessibility—the real middles of nowhere—then, there are continental versions, which mark the furthest points from the ocean. In North America, that pole is located at coordinates 43.36°N 101.97°W, 1,024 miles from the nearest coastline in far south-central South Dakota.

The North American pole of inaccessibility is located between two small, census-designated places, Kyle and Allen, both on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Also in the vicinity is the rough-and-tumble ghost town of Swett, which reentered the real estate market in late 2015 for $250,000 (for the entire town).

8
of 11

Northwest Angle (Minnesota)

Sign marking the Minnesota state line in Canada

Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Northwest Angle, the northernmost point in the contiguous U.S. and the only U.S. territory (except Alaska) located north of the 49th parallel, looks to be a map-maker’s mistake. The Angle’s forest-covered mainland portion, part of Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, is most easily reached by private aircraft or by driving through Manitoba, Canada. It can also be reached by boat or ice road without crossing international borders, but those are seasonally sensitive options.

Considering about 100 people live on the Angle’s mainland and a scattered few populated islands in Lake of the Woods, the Manitoba-Minnesota border crossing is pretty casual. Those entering or leaving the exclave must pull over at an outhouse-esque structure located on the side of a gravel road. Inside the structure, dubbed Jim’s Corner, travelers chat with a customs official via videophone.

9
of 11

Point Roberts (Washington)

Aerial view of Point Roberts flanked by water and mountains

Madereugeneandrew / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Like the Northwest Angle, Point Roberts in Whatcom County, Washington, is a part of the U.S. that can only be reached by traveling through Canada. Located south of the 49th parallel on the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, “Point Bob,” as it's often called, is quite a bit more populous than the Northwest Angle, though. More than 1,000 people live in this nearly five-square-mile U.S.-owned suburb of Vancouver. Residents must cross the border just to go to school or visit the doctor.

Point Roberts is reportedly popular among those enlisted in the Federal Witness Protection Program because it's so heavily guarded. There’s a golf course, a marina, several stunning public beaches, and a Shell service center that serves as a gas station, package depot, grocery store, and coffee roastery.

10
of 11

Southwick Jog (Massachusetts, Connecticut)

Map showing the Southwick Jog on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border

Johnson, A. J., Johnson's New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas with Descriptions, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical (1862 A. J. Johnson & Ward edition) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Southwick Jog is a speck of south-central Massachusetts that deviates from the Bay State’s otherwise straight border with Connecticut, pilfering a two-square-mile parcel of land from Connecticut.

How exactly this notch—located within the Massachusetts town of Southwick, just north of the Connecticut town of Granby—came to be is a somewhat complicated tale involving 17th-century surveyors and long-running spats between the two then-colonies. Border tensions between the two New England states have largely cooled in modern times, but the many backyards that cross over borderlines is a daily reminder of historic conflict.

11
of 11

Twelve-Mile Circle (Delaware, Pennsylvania)

New Castle's courthouse, center of the 12-mile circle

Pknelson / Wikimedia Common / CC BY-SA 3.0

Delaware is the least square-shaped state. It's long and narrow, topped with a strange circular arc. The so-called Twelve-Mile Circle that separates northern Delaware and Pennsylvania dates back to 1682, when the Duke of York deeded the land "lying within the Compass or Circle of 12 Miles" to William Penn. In 1750, the center of the arc was fixed to the New Castle courthouse's cupola.

The Twelve-Mile Circle isn’t quite a perfect circle but rather a pieced-together circular arc. On the east, the arc claims the entire Delaware River, which forms the boundary between Delaware and New Jersey. This has been a point of heated contention—a couple of Supreme Court battles included—between the neighboring states for decades given that river boundaries are normally split down the middle.