Sunrise and Sunset over Water

On February 21, 2010 · 13 Comments

I posted an article on east coast sunsets over water nearly a lifetime ago in Internet time, way back in November 2008. I described peculiar instances where observers could experience sunsets totally over water on the eastern coast of the United States.

Think about it. People on the eastern side of any landmass don’t have many opportunities to view sunsets over water. Sure, they’re offered opportunities to observe sunrises over water just about anywhere but sunsets are another matter entirely. Those places do exist in a few lucky spots under optimal geographic conditions, and we had lots of fun exploring them vicariously.

Next we flipped the concept over to its opposite side and searched for west coast sunrises totally over water. We proved that it sometimes happens in the United States. However it occurs much less frequently than their eastern counterparts due to coastal mountains interfering with the line of sight and other factors. Once again we had a great time in the process.

Port Angeles Eastern Horizon
Theoretical west coast sunrise over water at Port Angeles, Washington, created in Google Earth

This has entertained me ever since. I’ve searched maps for variations on these phenomena, not obsessively but from occasionally as the notion struck me. I’ve been trying to discover spots – anywhere, not just the United States – where it should be possible to observe both a sunrise and a sunset totally over water from the same position each day.

This requires an alignment of somewhat unusual and specific conditions. The landform needs to be extremely narrow, maybe a needle-like peninsula, a razor-thin isthmus, the sandspit of a tombolo or something of that nature. This geographic feature needs to be aligned roughly North-South and with consideration to axial tilt. Finally any other landform either east or west needs to be at least several kilometres away to remain beyond the sight horizon.

Under these ideal conditions, hypothetically, I should be able to observe the rising sun float from the waters each morning as I sipped my coffee and follow the setting sun as it dipped back into the sea in the evening while I enjoyed a cocktail, all from the lovely deck of my fictional beach home that I’d construct specifically for this purpose. This will take place after I win the lotto of course.

I’ve found many places where this phenomenon might exist, at least theoretically. Squiggly shorelines with lots of peninsulas are a good bet. I’ve compiled a few promising spots.

My most promising candidate, however, is Point Pelee in Ontario, Canada. Does that place sound familiar? Why yes, of course, it’s the southernmost point on mainland Canada. It also represents a rare double geo-anomaly, which means that I really need to add this feature to my travel wish list.

View Larger Map

Let’s bounce Point Pelee against the criteria: Needle-like peninsula; north-south configuration; and distant landforms well beyond the horizon both east and west. Point Pelee matches these perfectly, almost like someone designed it for this purpose. It’s an amazingly triangular landform jutting directly into Lake Erie due south from mainland Ontario with nothing else close enough nearby to obscure the daily path of the sun at any time of the year.

Let’s double check with an image. Street View doesn’t enter the park currently but it does go right up to the entrance. I see nothing but water due west. The eastern shore of Lake Erie is even further away.

View Larger Map

Ample evidence also exists on the various photo sharing websites. Here’s a recent example from the tip of the point looking north on Flickr. Set a house right at the base of the treeline and it will be perfectly situated to experience daily sunrises and sunsets over water.

Perfect. I’ve found no other place on the planet better situated geographically to take advantage of a sunrise and sunset over water from the same spot. There’s only one problem: it’s a National Park. I don’t think they’ll let me build my beach house here. Also biting flies live here. Lots of them. I take heed when the second item on the Park’s Frequently Asked Questions page says, "What are those biting flies?"

They are called stable flies and they look a lot like a housefly in size and colour. In order for the females to lay eggs, they feed on the blood of animals and humans. Since insect repellent is not effective against stable flies because they hunt by sight versus by smell like mosquitoes, to protect yourself and still have an enjoyable experience at the park, wear loose light-coloured clothing, long pants and closed toed shoes.

Lovely. That plus the mosquitoes would definitely put a damper on cocktail hour.

Post a comment with lat/long coordinates or a Google Map link if you know of a similarly-situated spot. You might even see it turned into an article on the Twelve Mile Circle!

Meanwhile, the search continues.

Sometimes North is South

On October 15, 2009 · 7 Comments

Canada occupies such an amazingly large swath of upper North American that, understandably, one can overlook exactly how far south the country actually extends. The Province of Ontario contains its most southerly extremes: on the mainland at Point Pelee; on solid land at the edge of Middle Island; and on open water at an international boundary upon Lake Erie just south of Middle Island. I may have more to say about Point Pelee and Middle Island someday in the future, but for now I’d like to focus on that line of latitude that happens to nick Canada’s absolute southernmost reach, that portion of the boundary running through Lake Erie.

View Canada South of the United States in a larger map

It’s an easy enough line to draw. I’ve simply extended the endpoints straight along the latitude corresponding to the furthest dip in the international boundary. It’s not particularly remarkable in its own right and you’re probably not too impressed at the moment either. It’s not even a round number, rather it correlates to 41° 40′ 35.47″ (or 41.676519 in decimal notation) according to the International Boundary Commission. However, let’s fly up towards the inner fringes of space and take another look.

View Canada South of the United States in a larger map

Now this is impressive. What this tells me is that there are places in Canada that are further south than territory associated with twenty six twenty seven of fifty United States. Let that sink in: you can remain on the Canadian side of the border and locate yourself at a lower latitude than at least some points in more than half of the states forming the USA. Wow. I had no idea.

Assuming I’ve drawn the line correctly, and with my lack of mapmaking skills that’s always a possibility, then this is how it breaks down:

  • The southernmost point in Canada is completely south of Alaska (duh!); Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
  • It is south of substantial portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut
  • It is south of (generally small) slices of California, Nevada, Utah, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Hey, readers in Chicago, did you know that Canada extends further south than your city? Same for you, Providence and Hartford. Steve, my blogger friend (he would say "bliend") from Connecticut Museum Quest — Canada extends further south than your home too. Crescent City, California… California! for crying out loud, readers there live further north than a portion of Canada.

How’s that for messing with a few paradigms?

The Erie Triangle

On October 4, 2008 · 1 Comments

If one ponders a map of the United State’s and focuses on one of its four Commonwealths, specifically Pennsylvania, one will notice something a bit odd with its borders. The northern, southern and western borders all form straight lines of exact longitude or latitude except for a little notch at the far northwestern corner. That is the Erie Triangle, which I’ve marked in blue on the map, below.

View Larger Map

The reason is the obvious, and exactly as one would expect: Pennsylvania wouldn’t have a seacoast (OK, technically a "lakecoast") without it.

When the United States gained its independence, Pennsylvania was a very large and powerful entity. However, it had a problem. As this detail from a 1789 map shows (below), Pennsylvania was solidly landlocked. This might harm the Commonwealth’s long-term economic and political power in an era when waterways provided the most reliable means of transportation and trade. A weak Pennsylvania would not benefit the new Nation either. Pennsylvania needed a port city but direct access to the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t possible. Settlements had already begun to move westward towards the continental interior and attention soon drew to the freshwater coasts of the Great Lakes.

Northwest Pennsylvania in 1789
SOURCE: Detail of a map from "American Geography" by Jedidiah Morse (1789). I have circled the area of the current Erie Triangle. A complete copy of the original map is available on the Historical Maps of Pennsylvania website.

New York’s western border had been established at 20 miles east of Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Peninsula in its original charter. Pennsylvania’s northern border had also been established by charter, and it ran along the 42nd Parallel. This created an anomaly at the dawn of the new nation, a no-man’s-land aside Lake Erie known as the Triangle Lands, neither in New York nor Pennsylvania, within the United States but outside of any specific state.

New York would seem to be the most obvious claimant. Just extend its western border another twenty miles to the shores of Lake Erie. However, Massachusetts and Connecticut countered that they also had legitimate claims to the area because of colonial era charters that granted lands forever westward, from sea-to-sea. Rightfully, lands not specifically carved out for New York should belong to them, or so they claimed. Draw a line of latitude due west from the Massachusetts/Connecticut border and guess where it goes? You guessed it, right through the Erie Triangle.

What was a new government to do? Multiple states felt they either deserved or required the Triangle Lands. However only one of those states was landlocked, and it would be detrimental for Keystone State to become economically isolated. The fledgling government exerted its persuasive authority and pressed all four states to relinquish their claims to the Erie Triangle. Thus, the Federal government and no individual State became its rightful owner. It then turned straight around and sold the land to Pennsylvania for a little more than $150,000 (quite a bargain at 75 cents an acre!) in 1792. Pennsylvania got its freshwater port and named it Erie.

Pennsylvania Lighthouse

I’ve been lucky enough to visit this geographic anomaly. A few years ago I traveled through the area and recorded my visit to Presque Isle State Park, the peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie from the Triangle Lands. It’s actually quite lovely and serves a remarkable contrast to the nearby industrial port city. One doesn’t normally equate Pennsylvania with sandy beaches and lighthouses, but the historic events of the Erie Triangle made this possible.

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