The Quick 10: 10 Extreme Points in the United States

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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.

9 Towns Around the World With Christmas-Themed Names

Marseas/iStock via Getty Images
Marseas/iStock via Getty Images

In some towns, Christmas is all year-round. From Santa Claus, Indiana, to Bethlehem, Wales, here are nine places where it's December 25 365 days a year.

1. Santa Claus, Indiana

A statue of Santa Claus stands above a ‘Welcome to Santa Claus, Indiana’ sign.
TENGRRL, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

There are actually several places in the U.S. named after St. Nick, but only one of them is famous for the Santa Claus postmark. That’s Santa Claus, Indiana, a city of just under 2500 people located in the southwest portion of the state. When settlers created the town in the mid-1800s, they were going to name it Santa Fe—but since another Indiana town already had that name, when the residents gathered one Christmas Eve to decide upon its permanent moniker, they went with the seasonally appropriate Santa Claus. Now, the city calls itself “America’s Christmas Hometown” and boasts Yuletide attractions like the Santa Claus Museum and Village, a hotel called Santa’s Lodge, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, and Santa’s Candy Castle, which claims the title of the first themed attraction in the U.S. Not to mention all the letters to Santa its post office receives each December.

2. Barra De Navidad, Mexico

A view from offshore of a beach in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
stockcam/iStock via Getty Images

Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, a beach town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is located along a sandbar—hence its name, which means Christmas Sandbar. The mellow town of about 5000 people was once a hub for Spanish ships. It was originally named Puerto de Navidad because the first Spanish explorers who landed there in the 1500s arrived on Christmas Day. The name was changed to Barra de Navidad once the town on the sandbar was built. Now, it's a fishing village and popular tourist destination whose picturesque beaches make it a perfect late-December getaway for those trying to flee cold weather.

3. Christmas, Michigan

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Christmas, Michigan.’
ehrlif/iStock via Getty Images

Christmas, Michigan, home to just 400 residents, was named for the holiday gift factory once located there. The town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is now a popular recreation area for snowmobile aficionados, and it takes full advantage of its Christmas legacy. With roadside Santa statues and its Santa-themed stores and signs, Christmas will never let you forget which holiday it’s named after.

4. Natal, Brazil

A view across the skyline of Natal, Brazil
nicolasdecorte/iStock via Getty Images

Natal, which means "Christmas" in Portuguese, is a state capital on the easternmost tip of Brazil, and serves as South America’s closest point to Africa. Built just outside a 16th-century Portuguese fort called the Fortress of the Three Wise Men (also called the Three Kings Fortress), the city was founded on December 25, 1599. It has since become a popular beach destination for Brazilian tourists.

5. North Pole, Oklahoma

An evelope that reads 'North Pole' sticks out from a red mailbox.
crysrob/iStock via Getty Images

Of all the places to name after the North Pole, you wouldn’t necessarily pick a tiny town in southeastern Oklahoma. Residents of the rural region aren’t sure how an Oklahoma town got an Arctic name. According to NewsOK, the late owner of the local North Pole Grocery thought it might have to do with the area being colder than other parts of the county, while other residents speculate that it could have been named for its out-of-the-way location, which might seem as far away as the North Pole for travelers.

6. Sint-Niklaas, Belgium

Neogothic Tower of Cityhall in St-Niklaas Belgium
krisdisk/iStock via Getty Images

The East Flanders city of Sint-Niklaas gets its name from the church founded there in the early 13th century, not the jolly bearer of Christmas presents, but the town definitely knows how to appreciate Santa Claus—or rather, his predecessor, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). There’s a statue of the holiday figure posted outside the city hall year-round, and between November 12 and December 6 (Saint Nicholas’s Day), the city’s fine arts museum turns into the Huis van de Sint, or the “House of the Saint,” where kids can tour Sinterklaas’s house and meet the big guy himself. Sinterklaas comes to visit the children of Sint-Niklaas on the weekend prior to December 6, and local elementary schools get a three-day weekend so that kids can play with their new toys afterward.

7. Noel, Missouri

A vintage postcard shows a highway leading into the town of Noel, Missouri.
OZARK POSTCARD PUBLISHERS, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The town of Noel wasn’t named after Christmas—the designation originally referred to local sawmill owners C.W. and W.J. Noel—but it has certainly embraced the association. In the 1930s, Noel’s post office began offering a Christmas postmark service, stamping cards and letters sent through the town with a Christmas-themed postmark that says “The Christmas City in the Ozark Vacation Land.” Each year, the post office receives thousands of pieces of mail from people all around the world asking for these stamps, and the local postmaster has to employ a team of volunteers to process them all in time for the holiday.

8. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

This Pennsylvania town owes the origin of its name to Christmas Eve. In 1741, a group of Moravians—a Protestant denomination founded in the 1400s—settled near the banks of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh River. These settlers had a patron, the German count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, and when he visited on Christmas Eve, 1741, he proclaimed that the town would be named Bethlehem. In 1937, Bethlehem’s chamber of commerce decided to make the most of the name, declaring it America’s Christmas City. It’s now known for its extensive annual Christmas market.

9. Bethlehem, Wales

A sign welcomes visitors to Bethlehem, Wales in both English and Welsh.

JOHN FINCH, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

Pennsylvania isn’t the only place to lay claim to the Bethlehem name. Its Welsh compatriot, though, owes even more to the Christmas spirit. Bethlehem, Wales is a tiny village that boasted just 150 people in 2012. It’s so small, in fact, that in the 1980s, its only post office got shut down by budget cuts. But the high demand for the Bethlehem postmark forced it to reopen in 2002. Though it’s typically only open a few hours a week, in order to cope with the high volume of mail people send in during the Christmas season the post office has longer hours during the holidays.

Can You Name the Capital City?

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