The Quick 10: 10 Extreme Points in the United States

iStock
iStock

We're working on planning our annual Halloween trip to Disney, but we're thinking about veering a little bit off of our usual trip this year to spend a couple of days in Key West. I was researching the city when I discovered that it's the southernmost point in the United States ... or is it?! See #7 for that little debate. Anyway, it made me wonder what other far-flung spots lie in the U.S., and here is the answer:

1. Point Barrow, Alaska - Northernmost Point in the U.S. Named for geographer Sir John Barrow, Point Barrow is often the starting point for Arctic expeditions. Sadly, it was also the ending point for entertainer Will Rogers and his pilot in 1935. Their airplane crashed near there on their way from Fairbanks. Point Barrow was also the test point for sounding rockets between 1965 and 1972.

2. Ka Lae, Hawaii - Southernmost Point in the 50 states. It's also known, fittingly, as South Point. But it might as well be known as Hawaii's Windy City, because this place is blustery. Some of the trees have been blown sideways for so long that they just grow that way now.

3. Peacock Point, Wake Island - First sunrise in all U.S. territories. It's actually an entire day ahead of the 50 states, so of course it has the first sunrise.

4. Cape Wrangell, Attu Island, Alaska - Last sunset in all U.S. territories. Attu Island is special for a few reasons. There's the last sunset thing, obviously, but it's also the westernmost point on all land on earth according to the path of the International Date Line. Finally, it was the site of the only battle during WWII to take place on American soil - that's the peace memorial there in the picture.

5. Mount Whitney, California - Highest elevation in the 48 contiguous states. You might think the highest elevation would be somewhere in Colorado, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the highest elevation is just 76 miles from the lowest elevation ...

6. Badwater Basin, Death Valley, California - Lowest elevation in all U.S. territories. Yep, California has it all. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is actually the lowest point in all of North America, not just the U.S. You can't actually get to the lowest point because it's so hazardous to get there, so the sign commemorating the spot is located at a spring-fed pool next to the road.

7. Western Dry Rocks, Florida - Southernmost point in the 48 contiguous states. It's still a part of Key West, I believe, but the southernmost point in the states isn't that big buoy-looking thing tourists like to get their pictures by in the town that Hemingway used to haunt. It's really the Western Dry Rocks, but maybe it doesn't really count since it's not always above land (it depends on the tide). Even if we don't count it, that buoy still isn't the southernmost point - that title belongs to a bit of land on the Truman Annex of Key West, but because that land belongs to the Navy and isn't accessible to the public, the photo op was created at the next-most southern point. I guess it wouldn't be quite as impressive if the buoy read, "The Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S.A. that's always above land and is accessible to the public."

8. Ipnavik River, Alaska - Most remote point in all U.S. territory. It's more than 120 miles away from the nearest sign of civilization and has been called "the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States." And I thought my in-laws were remote when they lived an hour from the nearest Wal-Mart!

9. Smith County, Kansas - the center of the 48 contiguous states. It's near the city of Lebanon and is almost in Nebraska. And hey, if you're doing a road trip of extreme points, take a quick jaunt over to Osborne County, which is right next door: it's home to the geodetic center. I had to look that one up too: it's the reference point for all land survey measurements. Read more about it here.

10. Belle Fourche, South Dakota - the center of all 50 states. OK, it's actually about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, but it's close enough that the town claims it.

Meet the Exclusive Travel Club for People Who Have Been to 100 or More Countries

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

There are about 195 countries in the world—depending on how you define “country”—and most people have only visited a handful of them. However, for those with the means to travel far and wide, there’s one club that unites these wanderlust-stricken souls.

According to Lonely Planet, an exclusive organization called the Travelers’ Century Club only accepts members who have been to 100 or more countries and territories. The non-profit social club is headquartered in Los Angeles but has more than 20 chapters in the U.S., Canada, UK, Mediterranean, and Central Europe.

A few avid travelers founded the club back in 1954, and within six years it had attracted 43 members. Now, the club boasts about 1500 members, whose collective travels would put most casual vacationers to shame.

The club’s slogan is “World travel: the passport to peace through understanding,” and its mission falls in line with this ethos. Travelers’ Century Club board member Gloria McCoy tells Lonely Planet their members “seek to truly experience and appreciate the people and cultures around the world.”

By holding regular social events, inviting guest speakers, and offering presentations about different destinations, the club gives members the chance to learn about other parts of the world they might not have considered visiting. Members also have access to files containing “exclusive info” about far-flung and hard-to-visit destinations, all of which were written by club members who have personally been there and done that. Lastly, the club is a way for members to connect with like-minded people and perhaps even find new travel buddies.

The club’s official list of countries and territories visited totals 327. This is partly because it includes territories that aren’t always considered countries by the international community, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Palestine. To join, members must fill out an application form and select the countries they’ve been to—even if they were just short trips or layovers. There's a $100 initiation fee, plus yearly dues.

If you aren't quite there yet, travelers who have been to 50 countries and territories can qualify as provisional members. This gives them access to meetings and some of the “bragging rights” that Travelers’ Century Club members get to enjoy.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

Inside the Coldest City in the World, Where It Snows 270 Days a Year

iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets
iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets

In much of the Northern Hemisphere right now, it’s getting colder and darker and the winter blues are setting in. But few places get it quite as bad as Norilsk, Russia, where residents won’t see a sunrise until mid-January. Worse yet, it's arguably the coldest city in the world.

One of two Siberian cities built in the continuous permafrost zone, during the winter, the city of more than 175,000 people can see cold snaps as brutally low as -78°F. Overall, Norilsk boasts a yearlong average temperature of just 14°F. (Some will argue that the Siberian city of Yakutsk is colder, but that depends on how you want to slice it: Yakutsk is indisputably chillier in the winter—an average temperature of -42°F in January!—but it has much hotter summers and so, when measured by its yearly average, is warmer overall.)

Then there's the snow. Norilsk “is covered with snow for about 270 days a year,” Vincze Miklós writes for io9, “and the inhabitants must deal with snowstorms one day out of every three.”

It's also incredibly isolated. Of all the cities in the world with populations of 100,000 people or more, Norilsk is the farthest north. Despite its relatively large size, no roads lead to it. The city, located 1800 miles from Moscow, sits 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and can only be reached by plane or boat. Surrounded by thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, Norilsk is so cut off from the rest of the world that residents often refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.”

The city, we should stress, is on the mainland.

Despite it all, Norilsk is a relatively buzzing place. The city has public transportation, bars, cafes, churches, art galleries, a large theater, and plenty of modern amenities. And new people keep moving in.

The reason? Money.

Norilsk sits on one of the world’s biggest nickel, platinum, and palladium deposits, making it, according to the New York Times, Russia's richest city.

For much of the 20th century, those precious metals were mined by more than 600,000 prisoners detained in a nearby gulag. Today, the gulag is gone, and the people who work for the mines are paid rather handsomely for their work. With palladium selling for over $1000 an ounce, the metals extracted and smelted in the area—largely by one company, Norilsk Nickel—account for a whopping 2 percent of Russia’s entire GDP.

But there is a price to pay to live in Norilsk, and it has nothing to do with the cold. Mining has also made the city one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to National Geographic, “The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that vegetation in an almost 20-mile radius has died, and residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.” (That's a big deal, given that mushroom-hunting is one of Russia’s most beloved national pastimes.) Recently, mining activity caused the nearby Daldykan river to turn blood red. According to the Times, “At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France.”

Most residents are aware of the possible health consequences but don’t raise much of a fuss. "Norilsk Nickel feels like it owns the whole territory here," a citizen tells Victoria Fiore in her short documentary My Deadly Beautiful City, "so [people] are afraid to speak out against it." Their livelihood, after all, depends on the mine's success.

And besides, many people in Norilsk—a significant number of whom are descended from the prison laborers who helped build everything in this city—feel deeply connected to the isolated landscape they call home.

"It's beautiful and eternal," one man tells Fiore. "This is where I like to be."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER