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High Points

I’ve been working more or less around the clock lately and unable to keep up with the news, except for the highest priority items, like how the Twins are doing. So at the moment, I have nothing to say about the day’s political issues.

A few days ago I was driving through northwestern Iowa on business when I came across a sign that said I was approaching the highest point in the state–Hawkeye Hill, or Point, or something. Since the countryside had roughly the aspect of a billiard table, I was taken aback. Off to my left, I saw Hawkeye Mountain or Peak or whatever it goes by. It was less than a hill, possibly a knoll of the sort on which a farmhouse would likely be sited. Elevation: 1,670 feet above sea level.

This caused me to snicker–inaudibly, I hope, since I was alone in my car–but it wasn’t long before I started to wonder what the highest point in my own state, Minnesota, might be. I looked it up: Eagle Mountain, in the northeastern corner of the state north of Lake Superior, is 2,301 feet above sea level. That isn’t much of a mountain by Colorado standards, but it beats Iowa pretty comfortably. Can’t say I’ve ever been there.

I’m not sure which state has the lowest high point, but I checked a couple of obvious contenders. The highest point in Louisiana is “Driskill Mountain,” a mere 535 feet above sea level. Sorry, but that isn’t a mountain, it is barely a decent kids’ sled run. The highest point in Delaware is even lower, at 448 feet–something called “Ebright Azimuth.” “Azimuth” seems like a grand word for what would barely be a mogul in Colorado. That might be the lowest high point among the 50 states; I haven’t checked them all, but even Rhode Island has a higher mountain, or hill, or azimuth, or whatever.

I’ve spent much of my life traveling on business, and made many interesting observations, from Japan to Germany and from Alaska to Hawaii. So far, though, I haven’t found anything more noteworthy to report about Iowa. Sorry, Hawkeyes!

UPDATE: I didn’t enable comments on this post since I didn’t expect there would be any, but ten minutes hadn’t gone by before this came in on Facebook, from Tim McGuire:

To answer your PowerLine question, the state with the lowest high point is Florida — Britton Hill, a whopping 345 ft above sea level.

I recall reading that a fellow whose goal was to climb the highest points in all 50 states was nearly run over by a Greyhound bus while scaling Britton Hill. (And he was met by a jr. high band when “scaling” Mt. Sunflower in Kansas.)

FURTHER UPDATE: Nathaniel Zylstra scolds me for anti-Iowa bias and adds:

Here are a couple of interesting facts about Western Iowa (I grew up about 40 miles from Hawkeye Point).

Sergeant Charles Floyd is buried in Sioux City, Iowa. He was the only member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to die on the journey. He died of appendicitis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergeant_Floyd

The Loess Hills, on the east bank of the Missouri River, are a geographic feature that exist only only other place in the world, in China. The hills create a very deep layer of rich topsoil in Western Iowa, resulting in fabulous farmland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loess_Hills

Dafydd ab Hugh adds a broader (much broader) perspective:

I know you were looking for the lowest high point; but I can’t resist bragging that my own California has both the lowest low point in North America — Badwater, a depression within the depression of Death Valley (282′ below sea level) — and also the highest high point in the lower 48 — Mt. Whitney (14,505′); it’s 65′ taller than the tallest mountain in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains (Mt. Elbert, 14,440′). The only point in the United States that is taller is of course Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, a.k.a. Denali, at 20,320′… the highest mountain peak in North America.

The question, “what is the tallest mountain on Earth?” is interesting because of its essential ambiguity; depending on what the meaning of “highest” is, there are three possible answers:

1. Mt. Everest, which rises to 29,028′ above mean sea level (MSL).

2. Mount Chimborazo, in the Andes (Ecuador); although its summit is only 20,564′ above MSL, it happens to be the point on the Earth’s surface farthest from the Earth’s center (due to the equatorial bulge) — 3,968 miles.

3. Mauna Kea, the tallest peak on the Big Island (Hawaii), is the mountain that rises the farthest from the base on which it sits; but since Mauna Kea’s base is of course beneath the Pacific ocean, it doesn’t appear as tall, rising only 13,803′ above MSL. However, it rises 33,476′ (!) above its base.

But we’re being so geocentric… If we expand our search to the tallest known mountain in the solar system, that would be Olympus Mons on Mars, which soars a truly majestic 88,600′ (16.7 miles, yow!) above the mean surface level of Mars… the measurement that substitutes for MSL, as Mars hasn’t any “S.” (No liquid water, at least not aboveground, because the Martian atmosphere is so thin that the boiling temperature of water is below the freezing temperature; therefore water can only exist as ice or vapor on Mars.)

So the next time you go bragging about the looming mountains of Minnesota (highest elevation: Eagle Mountain, 2,301′ above MSL), look upon the Ozymandian Olympus Mons, ye Mighty, and despair.

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