How ’bout that 40th parallel?

Panoramic photos of the 40th parallel in Rangely (top) at coordinates N 40° 00’ 00” by W 109° 00’ 00” and Meeker (bottom) at coordinates N 40° 00’ 00” by W 108° 00’ 00”. Bruce Myren Photos (used with permission)

RBC | Ask a surveyor about the 40th parallel and the answer might be a shrug and then: “It’s just line on a map.” Press further and you might get: It’s a circle of latitude that’s 40 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane (each degree of latitude is app. 69 miles).

If you’re still awake, you might get moderately interested by this: At this latitude the sun is visible for 15 hours, 1 minute during the summer solstice and 9 hours, 20 minutes during the winter solstice.

Want more? Well, on June 21, the maximum altitude of the sun at this latitude is 73.83 degrees and 26.17 degrees on December 21.

Uh oh, now you’re dozing off!

This subject is actually more interesting than all that technical stuff, at least a little.

The 40th, for example, divides Kansas and Nebraska. This border was created by the Kansas–Nebraska Act in May 1854 to define the two territories, each of which then had to determine whether to permit slavery, the crucial issue of the day, of course.

Have you ever been on Baseline Road in Boulder? The 40th parallel became the primary “baseline” for surveying the land in the eastern portion of the new territory, and the road was eventually cut along that baseline, which was simply the western extension of aforementioned the Kansas-Nebraska boundary.

And by the way, US 40 weaves in and around the parallel from New Jersey through Ohio and across the west to California.

That brings us to Meeker and Rangely, both of which are on the 40th parallel (40.0375 and 40.0875 respectively, to be exact). As Rio Blanco County Surveyor Leif Joy informs us, Meeker’s own “baseline” follows the due east-west portions of County Road 36 and County Road 4.

You might also be interested in the journey of artist and photographer Bruce Myren of Cambridge, Mass. Traveling the length of the 40th in the U.S. and using a panoramic camera, he photographed the view at the intersection of the 40th and each whole degree of longitude, including Meeker (108°) and Rangely (109°). The format he used, in fact, emulates a person’s field of vision. Check out his website at to see the whole collection.

So, you decide: Is the 40th parallel just a line on a map or is it new ammunition for your next trivia game night?

Trivia answer: Beijing

By Doc Watson | Special to the Herald Times