Scoring a geographic Grand Slam

Georges and I are thinking of starting a new club. It might be called the Grand Slam Four Points Club, or GSFPC for short.

To be a member you must have visited all four of the contiguous U.S. furthest-most points – north, south, east and west. And you must have done it in a single year.

(Maybe such a club already exists? We haven’t received any membership invitations, so we’re going the DIY route. Let us know if you’d like to join….)

Attentive readers of this blog know we made it to the northernmost point last month, without sparking an international crisis. Here’s how that expedition went.

In April, we visited the southernmost point.

In July, we scored the easternmost point – though our joy was overshadowed by our horrific experience at the Canadian border the next day.

And just this week, we bagged the westernmost point, Cape Alava in Washington state, the only point that requires a hike to get to. It’s also the only one of the four points that is unmarked by any official designation at the site.

(And, as promised in yesterday’s post, I’ve included the answers to the Geography Quiz at the bottom of this post. How did you do?)

It was misting when we left our campsite on Lake Ozette, a non-contiguous extension of Olympic National Park which is about an hour’s drive east and then south and then west from Washington State’s northwestern-most tip at Cape Flattery.

The lake, lovely even in the drizzling rain, is the largest unaltered natural lake in the state. It was 45 degrees and cloudy at 9:38 a.m. It didn’t take internet service (which we didn’t have) to tell us that we wouldn’t see much sun on this day.

There are two ways to see Cape Alava. One is to hike out to the cape and back the same way for a round trip of just over six miles. The other is to do the “triangle” hike, which is roughly three miles through the forest out to the cape, three miles south along the beach to Sand Point and then three miles back through the forest to the start.

We’d already decided to do the isosceles thing.

The first third was delightful, much of it on a hand-hewn boardwalk through a jungle of dense underbrush and huge red and twisted cedar trees. It was dark and mysterious – all the more so on this overcast day.

An hour in, we passed through a more open wooded area, still on the boardwalk. This is Ahlstrom’s Prairie, a huge soggy meadow once farmed by two Swedish immigrants. Sheep and cattle reportedly grazed here then, but that’s hard to believe as the bog has long since been taken back by native plant and animal life.

There is absolutely no way you could get from Lake Ozette to the coast without the NPS-built boardwalk. The forest is too soggy and too dense, with vines, bushes and tree branches all gnarled together to form a six-foot “wall” on both sides of the slippery-in-places boardwalk. We were listening in the car the other day to the audio book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey about the former president’s 1913-14 expedition through the Amazon jungles and I wondered how that jungle could possibly be any denser than this one.

By 11 a.m. we crested a small bluff, burst out of the forest and found ourselves at Cape Alava on the Pacific coast.

Our arrival felt a little anti-climatic. With no official marker, we had nothing to embrace as evidence of our accomplishment – nothing to pose next to for that all-important documentary photo shoot.

The tide was out so there was plenty of kelp and seaweed on the beach. The sun was still hiding and the mist had turned to a light rain. The view, frankly, was more bleak than beautiful.

We shared a tuna sandwich and a Clif Bar to celebrate.

Austin snapped that photo of us to document our official arrival at the cape. A resident of Washington state, the 18-year-old was camping on the beach for a few nights, with an NPS wilderness permit, and revisiting the site of his childhood camping memories. We chatted a bit, snapped a picture of him for his record books, and resumed our hike along the beach.

This part wasn’t fun. Picking our way amid the rocks, boulders and marshy piles of flea-infested kelp was difficult. But there’s no alternative – the bluffs inland are too steep to climb and too densely forested to hike. Now I understood why we’d been advised to time our hike to low tide, otherwise we’d be pounded by the waves crashing on downed trees and sharp rocks at the foot of the cliffs.

It was slow going. I was terrified one of us would twist our ankle and have to carry the other one out. Whose bright idea was it to do this hike in the first place? (Ahem … mine.) It took us nearly twice as long to do this segment of the hike as the first.

But there were interesting sights along the way. Check out the root ball of this fallen tree.

In fact, there was almost as much wood as rocks on the beach.

G loved the geology of the area. Here’s a granite-and-olivine pebble that caught his eye.

And what about this lovely conglomerate?

And then there was this unique embedded combo. (The lighter is ours; added to the photo for scale.)

The drizzle stopped. We marveled at this tiny crab struggling to survive in the tidewaters…

… and this fragile, near-perfect, abandoned shell.

We passed maybe a half dozen other people picking their way along the beach, heading in the opposite direction. We all looked for the famed 400-year-old “wedding rocks” petroglyphs in the area and commiserated that they seem to have faded to invisibility.

Suddenly, I heard a loud honking noise. I looked around. What could that be?

Is that a seal way out on that rock?

I got out my binoculars and sure enough, there were 4-5 white-speckled harbor seals sunbathing (cloudbathing?) on the rocks about 50 yards out from the shore. They conversed in a series of barks and honks.

That was cool.

We finally reached the Sand Point trailhead a little after 1:30 p.m. It was a welcome sight. The trail back through the forest, much of it via another boardwalk, was beautiful.

We walked through acres and acres of red cedar trees, licorice ferns and serviceberry bushes. Parts of the boardwalk are elevated several feet off the marshy ground. The photo leading this blog post is from this segment of the hike.

Here’s a shot G took of looking up at an especially gnarled and knobby forest sentinel.

We were back at our campsite before 3 p.m., enjoying a drink, watching a couple of otters pursue their fish aperitif in the lake and basking in the only 30 minutes of sunshine of the day.

And then there was this.

Welcome to the charter meeting of the GSFPC.

***

Answers to the quiz in the previous blog post entitled How Well Do You Know U.S. Geography:

1. The furthest north point is Angle Inlet, Minnesota. (In the summer, you actually have to drive into Canada to get there – unless you prefer to swim or fly.)

2. The furthest south is Key West, Florida. (Yes, you can get there without getting your feet wet.)

3. The furthest east point is West Quoddy Head State Park, Maine. (Why is it called West Quoddy Head when it’s marking the eastern-most point? Because its companion rock formation, East Quoddy Head, is in Canada.)

4. The furthest west is Cape Alava, Washington. (It beat out the better-known and frequently misidentified Cape Flattery at the northwestern tip of the state by just a few meters.)

5. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement.

6. Maine is the only state that borders only one other state – New Hampshire.

7. Canada is the country south of Detroit, Michigan.

8. You can drive east in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (near the Wisconsin border) and move from the Eastern time zone into the Central time zone.

9. Duluth is the westernmost Atlantic port in the United States, thanks to the navigable Great Lakes.

10. The Rainy River. It separates Minnesota from Ontario, Canada.

11. Glacier National Park in Montana (from Triple Divide Peak).

12. Rugby, North Dakota.

14 thoughts on “Scoring a geographic Grand Slam

  1. I’m four years late finding this blog, so I don’t know if my comment will get noticed. But for what it’s worth, as a geography dilettante, I love this. I’ve only been to one of the four corners, West Quoddy Head (I too appreciate the irony of the easternmost point of the country having “West” in its name), but I’ve been collecting maps and soaking up geographic trivia since I was a kid (long ago, I’m in my 70s now).

    However, I dispute your answer to question 12, the geographic center of the United States. North Dakota seemed too far north, so I thought that maybe you had mistakenly included Alaska and Hawaii in the calculation. After all, your “rules” for this quiz specifically state that the questions are only about the Lower 48. Per Wikipedia, which cites some seemingly authoritative sources, the correct answer to question 12 is a point near Lebanon, Kansas. A monument was established in Lebanon decades ago, although it is some distance away from the supposed exact point, in order to make it accessible by road and to discourage tourists from trespassing on the private land where the actual point is.

    But even including all 50 states, the answer would not be as far north as North Dakota, but rather at a point near Belle Fourche, South Dakota. It seems that the claim of Rugby, North Dakota, is as the geographic center of North America, not of the United States. And even that is a disputed claim; a more modern, computerized calculation indicates a point near the town of Center (no kidding), North Dakota. It apparently was named long before anyone thought about finding the center of the continent, simply because it was in the middle of its county.

    I shouldn’t belabor all of this, because it seems there really isn’t one simple, definitive answer to the question. While looking up all the above, I learned that determining the center of a given land area is much more difficult and open to interpretation than determining extremes of northness, southness, eastness, and westness. There are issues of definition: Are bodies of water entirely within the country or continent included? Are boundary waters (Great Lakes) and coastal waters included? How to adjust for representing the curved earth on a flat map? Does North America include Central America, and how about adjacent islands (most notably, Greenland)?

    Then there are issues of actually carrying out the calculation. The 1918 method that led to the designation of Lebanon, Kansas, was to make a big cardboard cutout in the shape of the country and find where it balanced on a pin. Computers can make that calculation more exact, but even then there are apparently issues: For example, I read that there are mathematical arguments to be made for using the square of the distance from the center of the model in determining the “weight” of each point, rather than weighting them linearly.

    Anyway, as I said, I’ve very much enjoyed reading about your adventures. I found my way here when I Google’d for information about carrying bear spray across the USA-Canada border for an upcoming trip. I’ll try to avoid your $500 fine. Was it any consolation that it was cheaper Canadian dollars?

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    1. Hi Stephen, we are so glad to have you as a reader of our blog no matter when! Thank you for your kind note; it’s nice to know Google still refers to us and that we have a new travel and geography compatriot! Re your concerns about #12: The question I asked in the previous post was specific to North America (not the US) so Rugby at least should be in the running. I was interested to learn about Center from your post, however, as well as the differing interpretations and difficulty in calculations. Thank you for sharing all that information here, and I agree that Rugby doesn’t seem to hold exclusive claim to this title…. So are you a full-time traveler? Hope you have a great time in Canada — just don’t take any pepper spray or bear spray! And re the cheaper Canadian dollars: Not really. The whole episode was upsetting, scary and seemingly mean-spirited. But we have many dear Canadian friends so we don’t hold their government against them. 😊

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  2. Congratulations on reaching your four-corners milestone! I think you saved the best for last. Love the PNW.
    So sorry about your bikes…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Virginia. We are on our new cheapo bikes today, touring Astoria, Oregon….

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  3. Many thanks! Would love to try!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, you two! This was one of my favorite posts since I have never been anywhere near the Northwest! Thanks for taking me along! And sadly, I only got numbers 5, 6, and 7 correct on your quiz😂😂 and I was a geography minor in college! I will give this quiz to my student (named Kevin 😊) as a project of sorts – thank you very much! Take care – looking forward to seeing Oregon! ❤️❤️😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cath! You would love it here. So glad you liked the post. I hope Kevin does too.

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  5. Congratulations on your four corners milestone! And another wonderful blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Madeleine! Wanna join the club?

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  6. Congratulations on getting to Cape Alava. The Washington Pacific coast is probably the wildest in the lower 48. You have to earn access to much of it by hiking as you did. Fog and rain is part of the coast experience and is one of the reasons the rocks and tides pools have so many creatures. They can’t tell if the tide is in or out.

    Hope you have drier days ahead, maybe in California?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bob. We’ve used the rain today to huddle closely in the Casita – listening to good music via Pandora, pay bills, settle insurance claims, read books, etc. Tomorrow is a new day! Love hearing from you. (Thanks for the tuna.)

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  7. Thank you so much for taking us along in your trip. I love the Pacific Northwest and would move there is a heartbeat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mike. We have had a great time in Washington, but we’re into Day Three of non-stop rain and I have to confess we’re a little tired of it. Tomorrow we are off to Oregon, hoping for a peek of sunshine.

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