Identifying the Southeasternmost Point

The main goal of my eight-month trip around America was to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme geographic compass points in the contiguous United States (i.e., the Lower 48 states).  Before I left on my trip, I did some research using my computer mapping software to help me identify the exact locations, and most of the 16 points had been easy to locate (see My Methodology).  I left Portland, Oregon in the spring of 2016 and visited my first extreme point, the westernmost point of the U.S. at Cape Alava in Washington state, on April 30.  By early November, I had reached Florida and, after driving over 20,000 miles around North America, I'd visited 13 of the 16 extreme points.  

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Above:  That's me being a total tourist at Key West in 1995, thinking I was at the southernmost point of the continental U.S.  This was before my "Extreme Geographer" days when I was blissfully unaware of the cold, hard truth -- har, har.

The final three extreme geographic compass points in the contiguous United States – the southernmost, southeasternmost, and south-southeasternmost points – were all in southern Florida but were more problematic.  Where exactly were they?  Identifying these three sites was more challenging than the others because much of southern Florida is a marsh or swamp, which gradually transitions into the ocean.  How do you tell where the land ends and the marshy swamp begins?  And what about all the islands, like Key West, which according to the Key West Chamber of Commerce is purportedly the “southernmost point of the continental U.S.”? Should I include islands in this quest?  Before I left on my trip, I had to identify precisely where these 16 points were, but the swamps and islands in Florida made it difficult.

Therefore before I started this trip, I created some rules so anyone could identify the exact same locations that I had (see My Rules), and my first rule was to not consider islands.  That’s because if you include islands, the task of visiting the 16 extreme compass points becomes virtually impossible, for me or anyone else.  Once you start including islands where do you stop?  How do you distinguish between an island and, say, a small rock that sits a little further out in the ocean?  And then maybe there’s a partially submerged rock that’s even farther out.  I may be stupid but I’m not crazy (or perhaps it’s the other way around), so I’m not going to paddle out in the ocean, whether it be in Florida, Washington, Maine, or California, just to set foot on some partially submerged rock three miles from the coast. 

That’s why I set up my rule about no islands, which thus limits my quest to the “mainland contiguous United States.”  And therefore, sorry to say, Key West was eliminated from contention in this quest.  I visited Key West in November 2016 but didn’t bother to visit the ridiculous concrete buoy that boastfully claims it’s the southernmost point of the continental U.S.  Heck, that buoy isn’t even the southernmost point of Key West.  And truth be told, Key West isn’t even the southernmost island in Florida.  Nope, that honor goes to the privately-owned Ballast Key, which is 10 miles west of Key West and about two miles south and is owned by a millionaire who made his money by, ironically, selling real estate in Key West. 

So again, I’m not considering islands, just the mainland part of the United States.  That solves the “island issue.”  And using that criteria, Cape Sable on the Florida mainland in Everglades National Park, and not Key West (or Ballast Key) is the southernmost point of the contiguous mainland United States.    

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Above:  During my trip to Florida in 2016, I took a ferry to the Dry Tortugas National Park.  On the way there, we passed by Ballast Key, the southernmost point in the continental United States, which is about 2 miles south of Key West.  It's also privately owned, so you can't visit it.

O.K., that covers the southernmost point of the U.S.  But where are the southeasternmost and south-southeasternmost points of the U.S.?  If you look at a map of Florida, you’ll probably agree that those points are somewhere in southern Florida, but where precisely?  This is where it gets difficult because there are lots of marshes in southern Florida that gradually transition into the ocean, so like I say, how do you tell where the mainland ends and the marsh or ocean starts? 

Months before I started this endeavor, while I was still in Qatar, I studied aerial photographs of southern Florida, trying to identify the southeasternmost and south-southeasternmost points of the mainland contiguous United States. I realized that identifying these sites depended on your definition, so given that, I decided to create another rule:  to be considered part of the mainland, you have to be able to walk there at the highest tide (even if it’s along a highway right-of-way).  Otherwise I don't consider it part of the mainland.  This is a pretty standard definition of a "mainland" that's used by many geographers, I suppose, but I still wanted to state it.  

Using that rule, I was able to locate the southeasternmost point of the mainland contiguous United States.  Looking at the satellite imagery, I identified a point at a place on Card Sound south of the city of Homestead just before you reach the first bridge that heads to Key Largo.  This is the southeasternmost point of the U.S. mainland that you can walk to during high tide.  Likewise, I determined that the south-southeasternmost point is on the right-of-way of Highway 1 south of Homestead and just before you encounter the first bridge, which crosses a narrow waterway to a place called Pelican Key. 

No doubt about it, identifying some of the 16 extreme compass points is subjective and depends on the definition and criteria you use.  That's why it's important to state your "rules" and methodology beforehand, which I've done.  So with these three locations identified – the southernmost point at Cape Sable, the southeasternmost point at the Card Sound bridge, and the south-southeasternmost point at the Pelican Key bridge – I was ready for Florida.

Visiting the Southeasternmost Point

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Above:  This is the southeasternmost point of the mainland contiguous United States.  It's at the Card Sound bridge in southern Florida just north of Key Largo (1:05)
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I spent several weeks in Florida in November 2016, camping in state parks.  I’d been thinking about spending the entire winter camping in Florida, but after about three weeks I was getting worn out from the constant wind and high humidity, so I decided to visit the three extreme points and then head back to the Northwest for Christmas.

I camped one night at Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.  My first memory of ever camping was at this same park in 1964 when I was four years old.  Our family had taken a spring break trip from Michigan to Florida and we camped at Pennekamp, which had opened the previous year.  My Dad rented a motor boat and we went scuba diving on the reef (well, I stayed in the boat with my Mom) and the next day, I taught myself how to swim -- that was in the freshwater pond here, which has since been covered by vegetation.  Camping again at Pennekamp brought back lots of good memories.

The next morning I headed north on Highway 1 to find the southeasternmost point of the mainland contiguous United States.  As I described above, I’d identified this site by using my computer mapping software and I knew it was at the northern terminus of the Card Sound bridge, north of Key Largo.  I drove over the bridge and then pulled over on the shoulder, got out of my truck, and took some pictures.  A family was fishing here, this being a Sunday afternoon.  Even though it was late November, it was very warm, close to 80 degrees -- not a bad place to spend a late November day, I figured.

Summary:

  • I visited this site on November 26, 2016.  
  • The coordinates of this point are: 25° 17.339' N, 80° 22.348' W. 
  • To see a Google Map of the southeasternmost point, click here.
  • To see the panorama photo I created at this site, click here.  

How to Get There:  

To get to this point, travel on U.S. Highway 1 south of Homestead, Florida until you see the turnoff for Card Sound Toll Bridge (don't worry; it costs only $1).  Take the Card Sound road and go through the toll booth, then about a half-mile farther south, pull over just before the bridge. 

The Southeasternmost Point

 

 

Above:  The southeasternmost point of the mainland contiguous U.S. is at the end of the causeway for the Card Sound bridge in southern Florida, just north of Key Largo.  I created the blue line, with a bearing of 45.0 degrees, to help me determine the southeasternmost point.