Grand Canyon 2014: Time Zone Math

I personally think that everyone should go on vacation to someplace in a different time zone, right smack in the middle of the change from standard to daylight savings (or vice versa – it doesn’t matter). To make it more interesting, you should drive through areas that have a different time zone than yours yet you should end up in… Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight savings. Oh, and you should pick a region where the network can’t update the time on your phone and then plan an activity where it really doesn’t matter what time it is (like hiking).

During our hikes, my husband would frequently ask me, the wearer of the watch, for a time check. I would usually answer “X o’clock central time” since that’s what my watch was set to, but every once in awhile I’d say “X o’clock local time.” All he wanted was a differential from the last time he asked anyway.

This drove Jane nuts.

“Why don’t you just change your watch to match local time?!”

We both answered her with the same reason: if I never change my watch, I always know for sure which time zone it is reading. Otherwise, I’m asking myself, “Did I already switch to mountain time or is this still central?”

Smart phones and other devices that are supposed to update the time automatically based on the time reported by the network they are connected to were supposed to make things easier for you. And as long as you keep it simple, I suppose they do. It can get complicated, though.

For instance, my daughter’s iPod updated automatically but not her phone, which she then changed manually. My phone, once we climbed out of Grand Canyon, informed me that the network was not providing a time so it was switching me to manual. Fine. So my phone is still Central. Good.

Except my phone – and my watch – were still set to Central STANDARD Time and the entire country (except Arizona) had switched to daylight savings the day we descended into the canyon – a fact that we conveniently ignored because it really didn’t matter at that time. Still, no problem at first: my watch (and phone) were an hour ahead of local time. Just like they should be for the way my head remembers the time zones.

But then we drove east – to Gallup, NM and got a hotel room. They, of course, had clocks in the room that reflected Mountain Daylight Savings Time, which, incidentally, happens to be the same time as Central Standard Time. Or, the time on my phone and watch. Even though I instinctively knew that they shouldn’t match.

So at some point in the evening, I noticed that the clock in the room said it was 10:00. If that were what time it really was, that’d be really bad because my kids were still awake watching the Disney Channel. So I checked my phone. 10:00. How can that be? My phone was on Central Time. This hotel room should be Mountain. Ohhh! Unless my phone updated for the network. I bet that’s what happened. I checked my watch to verify my theory. 10:00. What?! Maybe the hotel forgot to move the clocks forward last Sunday – I mean, they forgot to remove the large empty vodka bottle that we found on the floor behind the trash can, so I wouldn’t count on them remembering to reset all the clocks. But wait, if that was the case, the clock would show an hour earlier than I expected, not later. Oh, wait. We aren’t in Arizona anymore and… oh, yeah! I haven’t changed my watch yet and my phone gave up on automatically updating the time zone while we were in Arizona!

For awhile, I truly thought I might be going crazy.  In this age of technology, it was really disconcerting to me that I could have a half dozen time sources at my disposal and still not be sure what time it was.

1 thought on “Grand Canyon 2014: Time Zone Math

  1. I have experienced this sort of thing, too. And, like you, I now keep something set to my home time zone so I have a reference point. In my case, I nearly always travel by my own vehicle, and I cross from Eastern time to Central and, week or two later, I spend anywhere from three days to over a week in Mountain time. My vehicle’s dash clock stays in EDT so I always know what time it is; especially important around Pierre, SD, which is not only the capital (meaning I spend a lot of time there in the archives doing research) but also happens to sit exactly on top of the line between Central and Mountain time. The line is on a bridge over the Missouri River, and the city is divided: East River/West River. Really, so is the state! So, making an appointment for anything involves knowing where you will be in the city and therefore which zone that is in, as well. My phone goes bonkers the whole time, switching back and forth between zones, so the car-dash-clock method is my favorite coping mechanism.

    A few years ago, the very first time I drove all the way across Dakota, I gave myself very little time before I had to return to Western Minnesota for a gig. I had chosen Keystone as my western destination, and stayed too long in the town before heading back east. Thinking I needed 8 hours to get across, then sleep for a few hours in my hotel before having to get up and ready for the next day’s presentation, meant I’d be at the hotel around 1:30 am if I didn’t dawdle. I’d have to get up at 7:30, get dressed, (1890s full outfit takes a good hour) and then drive, corseted and wearing nearly 20 pounds of bulky clothing, another hour or so to my presentation. That hour drive in period clothing is never fun, and I usually avoid it these days, but at the time, I could think of no other way. Only other problem was, I’d forgotten about the time change midway, so I was actually going to arrive at the hotel at 2:30 am, leaving me hardly 5 hours to sleep. Not a good prospect!
    You’d better believe I dragged myself out of bed and got in the car–showered but in street clothes– downing coffee and a granola bar en route and calling the museum when I was half way there to ask if I might change in their back office.

    Luckily for me, they were more than accommodating, and at least one staff member was enjoying learning about all the layers of clothing and the order of operations while I dressed. (After the first layer, I am perfectly decent in the underwear alone, and have several more components to put on). It was a difficult 24 hours, but afterward at dinner the staff and I had a good laugh at the predicament I’d gotten myself into. Now, whenever I return to their location, they have a little place out back in the offices set up for me to dress. I love that Midwestern hospitality, in this case largely inspired by my naïveté of how to properly manage time zone switches after a lifetime of traveling up and down the east coast and no further west than Indiana.

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