The Meanderthals

What time is it?

Roughly a year ago when my fancy Costco wristwatch stopped working, I gave up on the notion of carrying a timepiece. I came to rely on public clocks, the digital clock in my car, or on my Blackberry display to keep aware of the time and on schedule.

It has felt emancipating to not be wed to knowing what time it is, and a little rebellious, like growing my hair long and not shaving every day. And if I really needed to know what time it is I can simply ask Gabi, who is very time-conscious and packs the watch to prove it.

It was all like clockwork until yesterday, when we crossed the Idaho-Montana border and saw, to our horror, that we’d crossed into Mountain Time. We had something resembling the following exchange as we blasted along, marveling at the windy road, the small falling on mountains only a couple hundred feet above us, and dodging spray from the trucks that motored past us.

Me: “Mountain Time? Does that mean it’s an hour later?”

She: “I think so, but that means it’s six o’clock, not five. I hate the thought of losing an hour.”

“But wait, I thought there were only three time zones. Where did this one come from? I don’t remember Mountain time zone heading west. Will you look on Wikipedia to find out what’s going on?”

Gabi did so, and I felt reassured that my confusion would soon be resolved by our trusted information source, Wikipedia. Here’s what it told us:

The Mountain Time Zone of North America keeps time by subtracting seven hours from Coordinated Universal Time, sometimes called Greenwich Mean Time (UTC-7)) during the shortest days of autumn and winter, and by subtracting six hours during daylight saving time in the spring, summer, and early autumn (UTC-6)). The clock time in this zone is based on the mean solar time of the 105th meridian west of the Greenwich Observatory.

Huh? Gabi looked at me, equally baffled, and read on:

In the Unites States and Canada, this time zone is generically called Mountain Time (MT). Specifically, it is Mountain Standard Time (MST) when observing standard time (winter) (Winter), and Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) when observing daylight saving time. In Mexico this time is known as the Pacific Zone. In the USA, the exact specification for the location of time zones and the dividing line between zones is set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations at 49 CFR 71.

Clear as mud, as my buddy Ken likes to say.

But what does this mean?

The zone is one hour ahead of the Pacific Time Zone and one hour behind the Central Time Zone.

OK, got it. So it IS six, not five o’clock. But what states are affected?

In some areas, starting in 2007, the local time changes from MST to MDT at 02:00 LST to 03:00 LDT on the second Sunday in March and returns at 02:00 LDT to 01:00 LST on the first Sunday in November.

Most of Arizona does not observe daylight saving time, and during summer months is on the same time as Pacific Daylight Time, though it is still called Mountain Standard Time in Arizona. The Navajo Nation, most of which lies within Arizona, does observe daylight saving time, although the Hopi Nation (as well as some Arizona state offices) lying within the Navajo Nation do not.

TV broadcasting in the Mountain Time Zone is typically tape-delayed one hour, so that shows match the broadcast times of the Central Time Zone (i.e. prime time begins at 7:00 p.m. MT following the same order of programming as the other two time zones).

Arizona – no daylight saving time, always on MST, except in the Navajo Nation, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho – southern half, south of Salmon River, Oregon – northern three quarters of Malheur County, on Idaho border, North Dakota – southwestern quadrant, southwest of (Missouri River), South Dakota – western half, , – western third, Kansas – the seven counties along the Colorado border, Oklahoma – Although the entire state is legally on Central Time, the unincorporated community of Kenton, near the extreme western end of the Panhandle, unofficially observes Mountain Time., Texas – the two westernmost counties (Hudspeth, El Paso) and a portion of Culberson County, Nevada – the border towns of West Wendover (near Utah) and Jackpot (near Idaho).

Got it? Me, neither.

Well, to make matters more confusing, the guy behind the counter at the hotel where we stayed last night in Deer Lodge, Montana told us there is a 35-foot religious monument down the road a piece – “just at the E-quator” – where the time briefly slips back to Pacific Time, then abruptly back at some unnamed point to Mountain.

I’m not sure whether it was the blizzard we drove though that obliterated the monument, or the fact that we went southeast, or if the guy was just pulling our collective legs, but it all left us confused enough that while Gabi was waiting for me outside a post office earlier today she rolled down the window and inquired of a passerby:

“Excuse me, but can you tell me what time it is?”


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