The recent Highpoint to Lowpoint article generated some interest. I wanted to go into more detail when I wrote it and I didn’t get an opportunity due to various time constraints. The details would have required a lot of manual effort. Nonetheless, readers seemed to crave more so I bit the bullet and examined every state highpoint and lowpoint, the distances between them and their resulting slopes. I estimated these values in two major systems of measurement, feet per mile and metres per kilometre using a Great Circle distance calculator on the Movable Type Scripts website. The results may be examined in a shared Google Spreadsheet. Feel free to sort it any way you like. You won’t break it.
I’ll begin with a few caveats. The latitudes and longitudes for state highpoints were rather straightforward and easy to obtain from numerous sources, so no issues there. The same could not be said for lowpoints. What exact point along a seacoast should I use? Where within Death Valley’s Badwater Basin should I plant the flag? How far up a tidal estuary for several eastern states did the water remain at sea level? I made a lot of best guesses without complete precision so readers should view data as approximate and relative. Others might run the same exercise and come up with figures slightly different although general rankings should remain similar. That’s a long way of saying you shouldn’t get too hung up on the implied precision of the spreadsheet.
I took that same data from the spreadsheet and created a graph. I had to reduce the image to fit into the article, however. The actual image was larger. Readers can open it in another tab or window if it’s too difficult to read.
Hawaii (overwhelmingly) and Washington demonstrated the greatest slope between highpoint and lowpoint, as referenced by reader Michael. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was only about 17 miles (28 kilometers) from the ocean so it had an amazing downward slope of nearly 800 feet per mile (150 m/km) from mountaintop to sea. That more than doubled the result created by Washington’s Mount Rainer to Puget Sound. Reader Scott offered that Vermont probably came in third place and my calculations confirmed his suggestion. Mount Mansfield to Lake Champlain descended at 230 ft/mi (44 m/km).
Reader Jacob wondered about the farthest absolute distances between state highpoint and lowpoint, as well as the opposite of what was just discussed, the smallest slope between the two points. Both were easy to discern once I created the spreadsheet.
Black Mesa Trailhead — Leading to the Oklahoma Highpoint; my own photo
I calculated the farthest distances in Texas and Oklahoma. Both extended greater than 500 miles (800 km). Interestingly, or possibly of interest only to me, Texas was the second largest state and had the longest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. In the earlier article I discovered that Delaware, the second smallest state, had the smallest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. That was an odd coincidence, as if being in second place wasn’t good enough for either of them and they had to concoct different superlatives.
Nonetheless, I found Oklahoma more impressive than Texas for purposes of this exercise. The distances were nearly identical and yet Oklahoma was a much smaller state. Plus, I’ve actually been within close proximity to Oklahoma’s highpoint at Black Mesa when I undertook the Dust Bowl trip a couple of years ago so I had a nice photo to illustrate the point.
Fort Defiance — Illinois Lowpoint; my own photo
The smallest slope actually surprised me. Louisiana won. The angle was created by an unusual situation; the state’s lowpoint was below sea level in New Orleans so the regular method of drawing a line to the nearest seacoast wouldn’t work. Simultaneously the highpoint at Driskill Mountain wasn’t particularly high and it was located near the northwestern corner of the state, diagonally opposite of the lowpoint to maximized the distance. The downward slope equaled about 2.3 ft/mi (0.4 m/km). Two other states demonstrated slopes of less than 3 ft/mi: Illinois (I’ve been to that lowpoint) and Mississippi (been to that lowpoint too, it’s anywhere along its Gulf of Mexico shoreline).
Michigan came next at 3.5 ft/mi (0.7 m/km). I found that situation particularly fascinating in the context of the previous article where I noted the difference between the geographic placement of Minnesota and Michigan. Minnesota’s highpoint was located near Lake Superior, putting its highpoint and lowpoint in very close proximity. Michigan’s highpoint was also located near Lake Superior. However, the state of Michigan extended all the way down to Lake Erie, making the distance between high and low 400+ miles (650 km) and placing it near the bottom of the slope list.
Projects for Another Day
Other readers came up with great ideas too. Peter suggested that I run a similar analysis for nations of the world. Rob wondered about the highpoints of one state that appeared to fall in close proximity to the lowpoints of another state. I didn’t have time to explore either of these today although I might if time permits or people seem interested.
Thank you all for the thoughts and suggestions.
Twelve Mile Circle received an intriguing question from reader "Cary" a few days ago. Cary, a professional mapmaker, noticed something interesting while conducting research: the amazing proximity of Minnesota’s highest point of elevation to its lowest. This led to a natural question. Was this the shortest distance between a state highpoint and a lowpoint? I’d touched on something within a similar vein way back in 2008 in "Highest and Lowest, Oh So Close" However, I’d discussed only the curious case of California with its astounding elevation difference between Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet (4,418 meters) and Death Valley at -282 ft (-86 m). The two points were separated by only 88 miles (142 kilometers).
That earlier article didn’t answer anything to determine if those 88 miles represented the absolute shortest distance between highpoints and lowpoints; it simply noted that the distance was very small. Fortunately numerous sources existed on the Intertubes so I could steal — with proper attribution of course — wonderful items such as this map that had already been prepared to assist with such a quest.
State Highpoints and Lowpoints
Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License
My quick eyeball assessment created a few observations. The California distance was indeed very short. It wasn’t the shortest. Minnesota was shorter and a couple of east coast states might be viable too. There was also one other curious fact. With the exception of California and Louisiana with lowpoints below sea level, the lowest elevation in each state appeared to fall somewhere along its border where it abutted another state or a large body of water. I supposed that reflected water always seeking the lowest level as it flowed downhill.
Port of Duluth, Minnesota along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.
The Minnesota highpoint mentioned by Cary was Eagle Mountain (map) at 2,301 ft (701 m). The elevation certainly didn’t rival California’s Mt. Whitney, however the summit was only about 12.8 miles (20.6 km) from the state’s lowpoint on the shores of Lake Superior. The lake had a consistent elevation so it was only a matter of finding the closest line between mountain and shoreline.
I noticed that Michigan’s highpoint on its Upper Peninsula also fell remarkably close to Lake Superior. I felt a momentary sense of elation until I realized that Michigan touched several of the Great Lakes including Lake Erie way down at the southeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula. Lake Erie, being considerably downstream from Lake Superior, obviously had a lower elevation and thus the Michigan highpoint and lowpoint were separated by hundreds of miles.
Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)
Located along Rhode Island’s lowpoint
When checking for diminutives one should always examine the smallest of U.S. states, Rhode Island. Right? Little Rhody failed to reign supreme this time around. It’s highpoint was Jerimoth Hill (map). However that was located on the far western edge of the state almost all the way to Connecticut. That put it some distance from the nearest stretch of sea level elevation, which even in this very tiny state measured 19.2 miles (30.9 km) by my rough estimation.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in the Winter along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.
Then came the geo-oddity magnet that was Delaware. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I believe Delaware holds more geographic anomalies per square mile than any other place. The streak continues!
Delaware’s highpoint occurred at Ebright Azimuth (12MC’s visit). Its lowpoint was at sea level which I’ve experienced many times along its wonderful Atlantic Ocean beaches. However the highpoint (map) was certainly too far away from the Atlantic coast to make it a top contender. The Delaware River, conversely, flowed quite close to the azimuth. Could the Delaware River along that stretch have an elevation of zero? I figured it might be possible. I knew that the Potomac River at Washington, DC, in an area of similar terrain was only about six inches above sea level considerably farther inland.
I thought 12MC might have to call out to hydrologists in the audience to see if we could calculate the elevation of the Delaware River at the point closest to Ebright Azimuth. Then it dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything like that. I simply needed to learn if the Pennsylvania lowpoint located farther upstream had an elevation at sea level or not. Many sources listed that statistic so it should be easy. Bingo! Pennsylvania’s lowpoint was at sea level on the Delaware River at the Delaware border. Therefore the Delaware River flowing through Delaware, being downstream from Pennsylvania, had to have a sea level elevation by definition. That qualified it as part of the state’s lowpoint.
A rough measurement generated a Delaware highpoint-to-lowpoint distance of approximately 4.3 miles (6.9 km).
Thank you Cary for the suggestion.
I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.
Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Sunsphere (my own photo)
The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.
During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.
As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.
La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)
I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?
It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?
Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)
Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,
A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.
Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.
Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)
Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.
Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)
I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.
This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.
The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)
The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:
Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.
Pity the Skyneedle.