The Great Park Time Zone Puzzle, Or...."What Time Is It, Anyway?"

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area occupies parts of Arizona and Utah, making it a piece in the great time zone puzzle. NPS photo by Bob Merrill.

In an ideal world, those of us on a trip to a park could take off our watches, never glance at the time on our electronic devices, and not even care what day of the week it is, much less the hour of the day. That's unfortunately not always the case, of course, so it's important to know there are some parks where the answer to "What time is it?" may not be what you expect.

As savvy travelers, we're aware of the need to adjust our timepieces when we cross one or more time zones, although many smart phones will do so automatically as we cross the boundaries. Those updates are after-the-fact, however, so if you're on a tight schedule, you may want to study a map before your trip to avoid being ambushed by an unexpected time change en route from one park to another.

Time Zone Boundaries Are Sometimes No Respecter of State Lines

There's actually a bit of logic to the system of time zones, but the boundaries between one zone and the next are often no respecters of state lines; the time lines can zig and zag across the map with more unexpected turns than Johnny Football on an October gridiron.

You'll find one example in west Texas, where two parks within the same section of one state—Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks—are in different time zones. At Big Bend, it's always an hour later than at Guadalupe Mountains.

The real fun for clock watchers involves Daylight Savings Time (DST). Like it or hate it, we're getting better about remembering to "spring ahead" or "fall back" twice a year for the arrival or departure of daylight time. If you're travelling in the Southwest, however, don't get too smug about being up-to-date, or right on time.

Exceptions to the Rule for Daylight Savings Time

There are parts of the country—and parks—that are exceptions to the overall rules for DST ... and that can thrown a serious wrinkle in your plans if you're trying to get to a park in time for a specific activity.

Want to pick up a backcountry permit, attend a special program, or check out the visitor center before it closes? In some areas, you'll need to do little advance planning—or risk finding yourself staring at a "closed" sign on the door because it's an hour later than you thought.

Perhaps nowhere in the country is this time warp potentially more bewildering to travelers than those visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and a pair of parks in northeastern Arizona: Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Navajo National Monument.

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Canyon de Chelly is located in both the state of Arizona and the Navajo Nation ...and that can create some confusion about the local time. NPS photo.

Your trusty map will show the latter two parks in the State of Arizona, which does not observe Daylight Savings Time (DST), but they are also found within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, which being presumably more progressive than the rest of Arizona, does observe DST.

The net result: during the months DST is in effect, it's an hour later at those parks and elsewhere in Navajo territory than in the rest of Arizona.

The park staff at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles the Arizona-Utah border and includes Lake Powell, has attempted to clear up any confusion for their visitors with the following information on the park website:

"Q: What time is it?

A: This gets a little complicated, so hang on. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area follows Arizona time, which is Mountain Standard Time year-round.

• The state of Arizona does not switch to Daylight Savings Time in summer.

• Within the state of Arizona, the Navajo Reservation does switch to Daylight Savings Time.

• Within the Navajo Reservation lies the Hopi Reservation. The Hopis do not switch to Daylight Savings Time.

• The state of Utah does switch to Daylight Savings Time.

• Exception: Dangling Rope Marina, which is in Utah does not switch to Daylight Savings Time. They run on Arizona time.

Simple, huh?"

The net result for visitors headed to Lake Powell: From early November until mid-March, all parts of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico—and the parks located therein—are on the same time. However, come DST in the spring, it's an hour earlier in most of Arizona, including Glen Canyon NRA and Grand Canyon National Park, than it is in other states in the Mountain Time Zone.

One Park, But Two States and Two Time Zones

Finally, for an untimely coupe de grace to meticulous trip planners, at least one other park includes land in both two states and two different time zones. One of those states is Arizona, which, as we've just learned, doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time.

That creates a potential time trap for visitors at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is divided roughly in half by the boundary between Arizona and Nevada ... and thus includes land and water in both the Pacific and Mountain time zones.

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Willow Beach, Arizona, is on the left bank, in Mountain Time. Nevada is on the opposite shore, in the Pacific Time Zone. Photo by Ken Lund via Creative Commons and flickr.

Let's say you've been vacationing in Arizona, your timepieces are correctly set to local time, and your final stop is at Willow Beach, Arizona. That site within Lake Mead N.R.A. is a favorite with anglers; some fish landed in that vicinity are in the national record books.

You've got a plane to catch that evening in Las Vegas to head home, but the fish are really biting. No problem, you might say. Willow Beach is in Arizona (Mountain Time) and Vegas is in Nevada (Pacific Time), so you'll gain an hour en route to the airport when you cross the state line. You factor that information into your schedule, and enjoy another hour on the water.

In such situations, don't forget to check the calendar as well as your watch. If it's DST season, Arizona and Nevada are on the same time, so the hour that would otherwise be gained upon crossing the border has vanished as quickly as a desert mirage.

Planning on that extra hour to catch your plane? You might discover that what happened in Vegas was you stayed in Vegas ... at least until you could reschedule your flight.

Comments

Hi Jim:

I think that the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP is in two time zones: Central and Mountain. The South Unit appears to be in the Mountain Time zone.

Mike

Great article! I drove straight from Nashville to Smoky Mountain NP and got there 1/2 hour early for a group tour only to find everyone already left. And then drove real fast from the Bourbon Trail near Lexington, KY to Mammoth Cave to barely catch the last tour to only find out I was an hour early. Good thing because I had been in other caves and spent 15 minutes following decontamination protocol (soaking boots in bucket and changing clothes).

MM - You're correct! Theodore Roosevelt NP is another park that spans two time zones.

Roseman2000 - glad the switch at least worked in your favor at Mammoth Cave :-)

Do not count on your smartphone to tell you what time it is at Glen Canyon. At least AT&T does not send out a time signal in that area. I suspect the same is true in other areas where the signal overlaps multiple time zones. Fortunately I was an hour early for the Rainbow Bridge excursion.

Robert - thanks for the good reminder that a lot of services associated with smart phones that people tend to take for granted - including GPS and other navigation aids, as well as the current time - aren't always available in parks, especially those in more remote locations.

Jim--This is something for which we should be thankful. I remember working at the Norris Ranger Museum in Yellowstone where there was no cell phone service. It was a blessing.

Rick

True indeed, Rick. For some folks, finding that they are "unplugged" can be unsettling, but for others of us, it can be a nice change of pace :-)

I tell the tourists heading out to the Dyea unit of the local park that they are going "where your cell phone will turn into a camera only".