The South-Southwesternmost Point of the United States
San Diego, as anyone who’s ever been there can tell you, is a great place. It has about the nicest climate in America with no extremes on either end. Of course that’s a little disappointing to the Extreme Geographer, but San Diego does have a different type of “extreme” to offer, because it’s the south-southwesternmost place in America.
Above: After convincing (I think) my friends Troy and Carlye that San Diego was the south-southwesternmost point in the U.S. rather than the southwesternmost point, we got in their van and drove down to the U.S./Mexican border on the beach. It was an interesting adventure, to say the least.
As I’ve discussed before, when many people look at a map, they think San Diego is the southwesternmost point in America -- but they’re wrong. San Diego is not the southwesternmost point in the contiguous United States but rather the south-southwesternmost point. The southwesternmost point is a few hundred miles to the northwest near Jalama Beach, close to Santa Barbara, and I described my visit there in an earlier entry. Surprisingly, even Monterey, California is more southwestern than the city of San Diego but that doesn’t stop the misconception. If you Google the phrase “southwesternmost place in America,” you’ll see a number of newspaper articles claiming that the southwesternmost point is right here in San Diego, so it's hard to convince people otherwise.
And I had an equally hard time convincing Troy. That morning, Troy, Carlye and I sat around their breakfast table and I told them about the place I wanted to go, the south-southwesternmost point of America, which is on the beach south of San Diego, right on the Mexican border. At first Troy, like so many others, thought that San Diego was the southwesternmost point, not the south-southwesternmost point. But then I used my acute skills of persuasion and considerable knowledge of geography and surveying to persuade him – either that, or he just got tired of debating it. But after a lengthy discussion, I think I convinced them both. I also convinced them to join me on my visit.
Despite having lived in San Diego for most of their lives, neither had ever been to the Mexican fence on the ocean, so this would be an adventure for all of us. Having heard stories about all the problems on the Mexican border (drugs, killings, minor stuff like that), we were all, I think, a wee bit apprehensive, not knowing exactly what to expect. But my curiosity was stronger than any trepidations and, besides, this was point #7 of the 16 extreme compass points, so I was raring to go.
I’ve visited Troy and Carlye many times over the years and each visit ends up being its own little adventure. A few years ago, I flew down from Portland to see them for a few days and one chilly, foggy morning, Troy and I swam out in the ocean to look for leopard sharks near La Jolla – though Troy assured me they were docile. We never found the leopard sharks but apparently a few hours later, someone in that same cove spotted a Great White shark, which aren’t so docile. And on that same weekend trip, I watched every one of their daughter’s 35 soccer games, which was also a new experience for me, not having any kids. Yep, every visit with Troy and Carlye is an adventure and I had a feeling this trip to the border would be no different.
The three of us piled into their van and headed south on the Interstate, driving through San Diego, then Chula Vista, and then found Border Field State Park, which sits on the Mexican border at the Pacific Ocean. The unmanned gate here is open on weekends, but this being a Friday, the gate was closed to vehicles, so we parked there and walked a few miles into the park. There was a sign at the entrance welcoming everyone to the “southwesternmost point of the United States” so I figured I’d need to have another talk, this one with the California State Parks Department. But after taking a few pictures, we started walking down the deserted dirt road heading for the beach.
The first thing you notice when you get to Border Field State Park is the sound of buzzing helicopters. I glanced up and saw three or four Border Patrol helicopters flying around, looking for suspicious activity. Well, nothing defines suspicious activity more than three people walking down an empty dirt road towards the Mexican border. About a half-hour later, we reached the beach and turned south towards the border. I could barely make out the large fence on the beach about a mile away, which marked the south-southwesternmost point of the U.S., but my goal was to get as close to it as possible.
Border Field State Park
A Run to the Border
Border Field State Park is, frankly, really bizarre. Normally the southern California beaches are packed with folks, but the three of us – along with the four Border Patrol helicopters circling overhead and a few horseback riders – were the only ones out here. We continued walking down the beach until we got to the fence. Well, actually, we got close to the fence, about 10 yards from it, and then stopped at an ominous looking sign there saying “Restricted Area” in big letters.
I suppose I could’ve walked up to the fence if I’d wanted to, but I’d heard that you can get in trouble if you walk up to the fence, because folks on the other side can throw drugs over (or through) the fence. And in fact, a Border Patrol agent in a white truck with green stripes was sitting about 50 yards from us on a bluff checking us out, and I figured since I was carrying a big daypack (with all my camera gear) and taking lots of photos, I probably looked a tad suspicious. Or two tads. So given the big warning sign and the Border Patrol dude nearby, I thought it prudent to stay about 10 yards from the fence.
Speaking of which, the fence here is pretty impressive. It’s about 20 feet high and extends about a hundred yards out into the crashing surf, but there are slots through which you can see the Mexican side -- and theoretically could pass drugs, I suppose, if you were into that sort of thing.
There was no one on the U.S. side of the fence except the three of us and the Border Patrol agents in their trucks and helicopters, but on the Mexican side, it was crowded with families having picnics on the beach. This place was surreal and it definitely wins the award for Most Bizarre Beach in California, and at times I felt like I was in a James Bond movie with all the helicopters swirling around. But I was glad I came out here to see this interesting cauldron of geographic, cultural, and geopolitical oddities and I think Troy and Carlye were, too.
Above: The south-southwesternmost point of the United States, on the border of Mexico near San Diego. With all the Border Patrol helicopters flying overhead and a Border Patrol guy checking us out, this was truly a bizarre place. (1:57)
As usual for each of the 16 extreme points, I took a panorama photo and did a video interview, this one with Troy’s help. Troy’s in the panorama photo and the video clip, but Carlye had taken off a few minutes earlier to walk back to the car, so unfortunately I can’t put her name in the credits. She’d forgotten that I was going to take a panorama picture and later, when I told her about it, was disappointed not to be in it, so I promised Carlye that I’d Photoshop her in. And sure enough I did, as you'll notice if you look closely at the panorama. So years from now she can open the panorama photo and tell her grandkids about the time she walked to the fence with a goofy geographer guy from Oregon and nearly got thrown into a James Bond movie.
Finished with our interesting visit, Troy and I turned around and walked back up the beach, caught up with Carlye, and the three of us walked on the dirt road back to the van. The whole time I was walking I thought about the issue of borders and immigration. I’m really fortunate to be born in America, which is something I think about almost every day. And believe me, after dealing with people from all over the world during the three years I lived in Qatar, including folks from several poverty-stricken developing countries, I thought about it every day I was over there, too.
Back at the house, Troy and I had some grilled cheese sandwiches, then in the afternoon we drove out to a beautiful golf course in the hills east of town. He and I have played golf ever since junior high and, yes, he usually beats me. I didn’t bring my clubs with me to Qatar since there’s only one grass course in the entire country, the Doha Golf Club, and when I was living there, it cost over $200 to play a round. Sand courses are more plentiful in Qatar – and much cheaper, too – but the idea of playing on a sand course never appealed to me, so I never played any golf in Qatar. In fact, the last time I’d played was two years ago, the last time I’d visited Troy. He reminded me that we’d tied then, something I’d completely forgotten about (one of us is a bit more competitive than the other, let’s say).
So I went to the course with pretty low expectations. And I met them, so let’s not talk about my score, OK? I’ll just say that it was a beautiful afternoon and I had a good time, because I lost only nine golf balls. And to me, that was a victory.
Back From the Border -- And Then Some Golf