I mentioned Mathew Hargreaves’ achievement a few weeks ago. He was the reader who undertook a two-year effort to document a genuine West Coast Sunrise over Water. He described his efforts as they unfolded in a series of comments on that earlier article. We’d speculated that one might be able to witness this unusual geo-oddity somewhere along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula but we didn’t have any proof. There were places, we believed, where the line of sight over the Strait of Juan de Fuca might be long enough to produce a sunrise over water at certain times of the years.
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Mathew scoured maps and narrowed the possibilities down to an area near Sekiu on the west side of Clallam Bay. He returned a number of times — at a hundred miles per round trip — until conditions were just right. The path of the sun and the notoriously fickle Pacific Northwest weather had to align and cooperate. That was no easy task and should never be taken for granted.
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He struck paydirt on September 20, 2011 as the sun rose at 7:01 am, to prove that a sunrise over water exists in at least one place on the West Coast of the Lower 48 United States. He described the location as "the beach at the northwest end of the protective jetty" in Sekiu. I’m going to assume that the magic spot is somewhere in the vicinity of the satellite view I provided above.
Mathew has very kindly offered to let me display some of his photographs to the loyal readers of the Twelve Mile Circle. For the record: all photographs in this article are “© 2011 Mathew Hargreaves; all rights reserved. Used with Permission.”
I’ve reduced the size for display purposes so feel free to open any of them in another tab to see them in the larger format.
This is a great shot Mathew took as the sun began to rise and a container ship coincidentally came into view. I also like smaller boats that he captured as they left Sekiu harbor. I think this might be my favorite image in the series.
Notice that the sun has emerged completely above the horizon without any landforms beneath it whatsoever. This is definitive proof of a west coast sunrise over water. It is the image that we had postulated long ago and that Mathew had been stalking all that time.
Mathew explained that he took three photographs and stitched them together to form this panoramic view. You’ll want to open this one in another tab for sure. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You can see Canada very faintly on the left part of the image with the eastern end of Sekiu harbor very distinctly on the right. The original image (not the version I have on the website) prints out to an astounding 11 inches by 35 inches!
Finally, another interesting perspective is provided in an infrared image.
It appears that this condition exists from around September 10-30 (and a corresponding period in March) so there are a maximum of forty opportunities per year. Combine that with prevailing weather conditions and I’ll be there aren’t but a handful of chances per year to observe this phenomenon in person. AND it only last for 10 minutes! There can’t be more than a scattering of people who have observed this phenomenon and understood its significance. This has to be an exceedingly select group.
If you like these images, I will gladly forward your contact information to Mathew and the two of you can work out an arrangement. Images will be processed from uncompressed TIFF files and will be printed on Fuji Crystal Archival paper. They will be absolutely stunning as compared to these much smaller, compressed jpeg images that you see here on 12MC.
Thank you again, Mathew. This is amazing.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
We’ve been having great fun with comments posted on my recent entry, East Coast Sunsets over Water. Matthew kicked things off when he wondered whether the opposite condition might exist anywhere within the United States, a West Coast sunrise over water. Scott Schrantz, who has followed the Twelve Mile Circle for awhile, later solved the mystery by providing definitive evidence.
I’ve been out of town all week but now that I’m back I’ve been able to review the candidates and offer an assessment. First, lets take care of the obvious. Hawaii. Yes, it’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so there’s going to be lots of places where the sun rises over water. Also Alaska:
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Much of land along the western edge of the Gulf of Alaska — Kenai Peninsula, Alaska Peninsula and down to the Aleutian Islands — would have unobstructed eastern views. Some of the crags on the peninsulas along Alaska’s western coast and various nobs and bumps along the northern slope might also qualify when the water isn’t frozen.
Then things get difficult. There are two major geographic conditions with the western coast states of the Lower 48 (Washington, Oregon and California) that inhibit this phenomenon:
- There aren’t many significant peninsulas or other protrusions jutting from the mainland and there’s a distinct lack of barrier islands offshore.
- A series of tall mountains, the various Pacific Coastal Ranges, run all the way from Alaska to Mexico. Mountains extend the horizon considerably so that someone will have to be much further away over water to no longer see land.
Efforts focused on the the northwestern corner of Washington, the Olympic Peninsula. It’s the only sizable peninsula along the western coast so it seemed like a worthy candidate. However sunrises would definitely be impacted by the Cascades Range that rarely dips below 5,000 feet. Referring to Wikipedia’s horizon chart, a viewer would have to be at least a hundred miles west of the Cascades to no longer see a continuous ridge across the horizon in clear weather. This completely eliminated anything along the western shore of Puget Sound.
I thought, well perhaps the Strait of Georgia might hold promise. There’s little of the United States with an eastern view along the strait, but Point Roberts, one of my favorite geo-oddities does have the proper positioning. No dice, though. It’s still too close to the Northern Cascades. That was confirmed by a photo I found on Picasa. It’s a gorgeous sunrise and substantially over water but we’re looking for perfection here, 100% over water. Sorry, Point Roberts, you’re eliminated.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca became another likely candidate. This separates the Olympic Peninsula from Canada’s Vancouver Island. It’s long and broad, and held the promise of uninterrupted horizons. However it runs southeast so an overwater sunrise would likely be dependent upon both the positioning of the surrounding landmass and the time of the year. Scott Schrantz posed and confirmed the theory by finding conclusive evidence of a sunrise over water at Port Angeles on Flickr.
Here I’ve attempted to recreate a similar scene from the Port Angeles city dock using Google Earth. This image faces directly towards the eastern horizon at eye-level with 3D turned on. I’ve added the sun just south of east to approximate the date of the Flickr photo, March 6. From this I can deduce that while the headland is visible to the right, the shoreline plain forming Dungeness Bay must be below the horizon since otherwise the sun would be rising over it. We can speculate that sunrise over water would definitely occur between the vernal equinox (late March) and the autumnal equinox (late September) for sure, plus probably another month on either end. Theoretically the situation should only improve as one moves further along the top of Olympic Peninsula towards the Pacific Ocean since it takes a decidedly northwestern slant after Port Angeles.
I could find only one other spot along the coast where I positively identified a sunrise over water: the Channel Islands off of southern California. The mountains behind Los Angeles could be seen from the preponderance of on-line photographs from Catalina Island and its primary town, Avalon. However I did find this single example on Flickr. I think it’s probable that it occurs only during certain parts of the year when the angles line up just right, similar to what we discovered on the Olympic Peninsula.
Indeed there are west coast sunrises over water, however they are relatively rare compared to their reverse counterparts on the east coast. This was a fun entry to compile and I particularly enjoyed the group effort. If anyone has other topics to explore, please feel free to post them and we can get the discussion started again.
 Matthew writes the prullmw weblog. One of his interests is what he calls "concept travel" which seems to track pretty close to what I call "strange geography." For example, see his article on The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM).
 Scott Schrantz publishes several guides and blogs including AroundCarson.com and The Computer Vet. The latter one is his "miscellaneous" file where you’re more likely to see geo-weirdness or anything else that strikes him as offbeat. In that vein, he has a recent entry on Boulder City, Nevada, Las Vegas’ overlooked neighbor.