For hundreds of years, mariners have been navigating the seas by using the 16 points of the compass. One of my main goals for this road trip, therefore, was to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme compass points in the contiguous United States. Why, you might ask? Well, because no one else had ever done it. And as Sir Edmund Hillary would've said, because it's there. Yep, me and Eddie have something in common. Not much but something...
The 16 points of the compass include the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), the ordinal directions (e.g., northeast and southwest), and the inter-ordinals (north-northwest, east-southeast, etc.)
Above: That's me (on the right with my shoes untied) in Key West when I was four. You can tell by my frown and crossed arms that I was upset, even at that young age, with the popular misconception that Key West was the southernmost point in the U.S. Someday I was determined to set people straight!
I'd already been to a couple of these extreme places on previous road trips, but before this trip I'd never been to all of them -- and from the research I've done, apparently neither had anyone else. Not only that, but it seemed that hardly anyone even knew where these 16 places were. For instance, a number of newspaper articles claim that San Diego, California is the southwesternmost place in the United States. I'm not sure how they determined that other than looking at a map and saying, "Yep, looks like the southwesternmost place." But in fact, the southwesternmost point is over a hundred miles away, up near Santa Barbara.
Probably the most famous of these extreme points, though, is Key West, Florida, which many people mistakenly think is the southernmost point in the United States. There's even a huge concrete marker there shaped like a buoy that says in big letters, "Southernmost Point of the Continental United States." And there's a guy there who makes a decent living just taking pictures of tourists (like me) who sit by that marker and give him a tip.
Now, I absolutely love the island of Key West, having visited there numerous times since I was four years old. But it's not the southernmost point of anything. If you're talking about the continental United States, there's a small island near Key West called Ballast Key, Florida that's actually the southernmost point. And if you're talking about the contiguous U.S. mainland, then Cape Sable, near the Everglades, is the southernmost point. The only notable geographic claim that Key West can make -- other than being a great place to hang out -- is it's as far south as you can drive in the mainland United States.
My point is that there's a lot of confusion about these extreme places. One of my goals for this website and this road trip, therefore, was to identify where exactly these 16 places were. And another goal was to be the first person to visit all of them.
I visited my 16th and final extreme compass point on November 28, 2016 near Cape Sable, Florida. Going counterclockwise around the country, these 16 extreme compass points are below. I've written stories so far about the ones in blue:
Here's a map of the 16 extreme points in the contiguous United States:
In this section on the 16 Extreme Compass Points, I posted stories, photos and videos of my visits to the these places as I traveled around the country.
As I describe on my page about The Rules, I considered only the contiguous United States mainland (i.e., the Lower 48 states). No Alaska, no Hawaii and no islands -- otherwise, the quest was virtually impossible, for me or anyone else.
Yes, I made up my own rules for this endeavor. But as the 1960's song put it, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to."