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Road Trip 2009: What time is it, anyway?

Why did two iPhones and a Garmin GPS device give me the time from a zone hundreds of miles away?

MISSOULA, Mont.--There were two points Sunday when I had absolutely no idea what time it was. It wasn't that I didn't have any timepieces. Rather, I had several, and they were all telling me different things.

The first time it happened, I was on my way up to the top of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in western Idaho at 7,400 feet above sea level, as part of Road Trip 2009. From high up there, it is possible to see four states: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Down below, in Riggins, Idaho, where I'd started my day, it was Mountain time, and, I was pretty sure, about 11:15 a.m. Off to the west, and to the north, it was Pacific time, or about 10:15 a.m. Yet, both iPhones I had in the car, as well as a dedicated Garmin GPS device, read 12:15 p.m. Which it would have been if I'd been in the Central time zone.

Utterly confused, but determined to believe the middle result, the Mountain time zone clock reading, I went on with my day. And indeed, before long, I saw that the iPhones--I didn't check the GPS device--had reverted to the proper time.

Driving around parts of Idaho and Montana on Sunday, CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman found both his iPhone and a dedicated GPS receiver confused by what time it was. Why did that happen? Daniel Terdiman/CNET

But hours later, not long after crossing the border into Montana and re-entering the Mountain time zone--parts of north-central Idaho are in the Pacific time zone--I glanced at the two iPhones and once again, they were reading a time that just had to be in the Central time zone.

At least I hoped so, as I really didn't want it to be that late. So, just to be sure, I checked one of those bank time displays you always pass on the road, and sure enough, I was right. It wasn't as late as the iPhones were saying it was. They were once again displaying a time that would be in the Central time zone.

So what happened? Do you have any idea why three different pieces of digital equipment--the two iPhones and my GPS device--were giving me the time from hundreds of miles to the east? I could accept it when I was on top of the world, at 7,400 feet and climbing. But later, I was down in the flats, and the devices were doing the same thing.

Any ideas? I'd love to hear them.

Geek Gestalt is on the tail end of Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'm now writing about and photographing the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.