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.
- 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.