Imagine loading up the family jalopy–Jimmy Buffett blasting from the tinny, tired speakers, the check engine light flickering only because it’s been on for years–and just rolling south. South, south, south, until you can’t south anymore without swimming. Where would you be? Would there be a marker there to prove your achievement, a good place to take a photo to commemorate it perhaps?
Well, let me tell you. There’s a monument, alright. As your jalopy smokes quietly at the street corner of Whitehead and South Streets in Key West, Florida, with the expanse of the endless Atlantic before you, there is an enormous painted buoy declaring your achievement to the world.
A buoy, you explain to your wife, is a marine navigation aid ships use to identify where the deep water is. Buoys float, so this one must’ve washed up during a storm.
‘Odd, then, how it looks and feels like concrete, isn’t it, Cletus?’
‘Well, Darlene, that’s so the buoys last longer and can withstand hurricanes,’ you confidently man-splain.
Since Darlene will undoubtedly ask more of her questions, here are some answers about the southern point of the US and the mislocated concrete buoy that may or may not represent or misrepresent it.
Pay attention, Cletus. You know how she gets.
If you are arriving by car, the farthest you can go in the US is to the southernmost point in Key West, Florida, marked by a now famous concrete buoy.
Well, sort of.
You see, the painted concrete buoy is located at a convenient intersection on the island’s south side, with a good view of the water. If you look at a map of Key West, you’ll notice a few spots on the island that are a tiny bit farther south than the buoy. Not much, but a little. If you go into Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and stand on the beach, you’ll actually be south of the southernmost marker. But the true southernmost point on the island is on Navy property and is inaccessible to civilians.
And then, what if you were in a boat? The island chain continues west of Key West. Just beyond the horizon, there is another set of islands. It just so happens that one of those islands, Ballast Key, is even farther south than any point in Key West. But you can’t get there to take selfies–it’s a private island.
Ah, you’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you? Alright, you got us. Key West is NOT the most southern point in the United States.
It IS the southernmost point in the contiguous North American states. There is no point farther south, not in Texas or California.
The southernmost point in Texas is the nearest to it, roughly 90 miles farther north than Key West’s southernmost point.
What if you include Hawaii and other distant US spots? The entire state of Hawaii is much closer to the equator. If you stand on the southernmost point of the Big Island, you’ll be almost 400 miles farther south than you are in Key West.
But man, what a long plane ride! The money you spent on that plane ticket would be better spent on margaritas in Key West, don’t you think?
There’s another point even farther south still. It’s not in a state but instead a US-controlled territory. In the Line Islands, near the equator in the middle of the Pacific, three islands are under US jurisdiction. Palmyra Atoll is the farthest south. It’s part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and overseen by the Department of the Interior.
And then we could talk about American Samoa, which is actually in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t get any south-er than that!
At any rate, there are many ways to measure what constitutes the “southernmost point.” Key West has one of them, so please, let us have this.
1400 Whitehead St, Key West, FL 33040…if your GPS needs to know.
If you don’t want to drive yourself, hop on a trolley, Conch Train, or any historic tour. The marker is a favorite stop on all of them.
When the first inhabitants of the island of Key West–the Calusa and Tequesta–decided to erect a monument to the southernmost point of the island, they built it from straw. But unfortunately, the hurricanes and the Spanish were brutal on that building material.
The Spanish attempted to build a marker from wood and sticks, which withstood the test of time better. However, several hurricanes huffed and puffed, and it too blew down.
It wasn’t until 1983 that the City of Key West, the capital of the Conch Republic, brought the marker up to code with concrete construction. After that, the big, bad hurricanes seem to have gotten the message.
In all seriousness, though, the spot has been a tourist attraction for a long time. As far back as 1970, a simple wooden sign marked “90 miles to Cuba.” Back then, locals sold their fresh catches and conch shells to visitors, and the only way to get to the spot was to walk uphill both ways. Oh, how times have changed.
These days, there are no vendors but plenty of sightseers. Selfies are the name of the game, and the southernmost point buoy is one of the most photographed spots in town.
Key West hired artist Danny Acosta to paint the concrete marker. He’s repainted it several times after bad hurricanes and one Christmas Tree fire. The marker has its own website and webcam. There’s a matching “northernmost” buoy now, Michigan, but remember, folks, our margaritas are betterer.
So, you’ve come all this way and contemplated the swim to Havana. Upon deciding that a fifth margarita would be a better idea, you wonder…what else is there to do in Key West?
Well, dear reader, prepare for enlightenment. To live the Keys-life like Jimmy and the rest, you need to get out on the water. Your jalopy got you here, now visit a local captain–like Captain Zak over at Casual Monday Charters–and he’ll take you out on his. It floats, does 40 miles an hour on smooth water, and takes you to some of the best snorkeling and most beautiful sandbars you’ve ever seen. BYOM (bring your own margaritas).
No. The famous Key West marker is there because Key West is the farthest south of any point in the continental United States. The Hawaiian islands are farther south than Key West.
The monument is made of painted concrete.
The famous southernmost point marker is located at the intersections of Whitehead and South Streets.
Key West is the southernmost island that is easily accessible, i.e., connected to Highway US 1. However, geographically speaking, a small private island off the coast of Key West lies slightly farther south called Ballast Key.
The southernmost point in the entire US is on the Big Island of Hawaii. The southernmost point inside the continental US is in the lower Florida Keys near Key West.
Man evolved from sludge-like proteins, microbes, amoebas, and, more recently, primates. Then, using his vast intelligence, he divided the planet into arbitrary sections so that he might lay claim to some and feel superior to others in different areas. Over the creation of these arbitrary and cosmically insignificant boundaries, Key West became the southernmost point in the United States.
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