Determining which national park site is the farthest east is surprisingly complicated.
Where is the easternmost national park? I started pondering this question sometime after a National Parks magazine story about Acadia National Park stated that the summit of Cadillac Mountain is where one can observe the first sunrise in the United States from mid-September to mid-March. A reader challenged this claim, saying that honor actually belonged to Point Udall in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which, she said, was the “most eastern part of the U.S.A.”
A quick glance at the map seemed to validate her claim. The U.S. Virgin Islands are located quite a bit farther east than Maine, and, of course, the sun rises in the East.
A few weeks later, we received an email from another reader, who agreed that our statement about Cadillac Mountain was wrong. She added, however, that the first sunrise in the U.S. could be seen not from the U.S. Virgin Islands but from Guam — more than 9,500 miles away.
It seemed pretty clear at that point that Acadia National Park indeed is not the first place in the U.S. from which to view the sunrise, but then which is it? Is the easternmost part of the U.S in the Atlantic Ocean or in the Pacific?
It turns out that the answer is both. While “east” is an unambiguous direction, “easternmost” is a much murkier notion. After all, if you travel east from the East Coast across the Atlantic, Europe or Africa, Asia and the Pacific, you’ll end up on the West Coast. Which point along the way is the easternmost?
If you take the East End Road in Christiansted on St. Croix — the U.S. Virgin Islands’ easternmost island — and drive until you can’t drive anymore, a monument at the end of that road seems to answer that question unequivocally. It’s a 20-year-old sundial erected to commemorate the first sunrise over the United States in the new millennium. The sign near the monument reads “Point Udall, St. Croix, VI. Easternmost point of the United States of America.” The site was named after Stewart Lee Udall, who served as secretary of the Department of the Interior from 1961 to 1969. By that token, Buck Island Reef National Monument, located a few miles northwest of Point Udall, would be the easternmost park in the whole National Park System. Udall dedicated the park in 1961, performing the ribbon-cutting ceremony underwater in his swim trunks and snorkeling gear.
Interestingly — and somewhat confusingly — the location the U.S. government considers the country’s westernmost point is also named Point Udall. But that one, which is situated on Guam in the western Pacific Ocean, is named for Stewart Udall’s brother Mo, who served as a U.S. representative from Arizona from 1961 to 1991. When Mo Udall died in 1998, President Bill Clinton, apparently conflating both Udall brothers, said, “It is fitting that the easternmost point of the United States, in the Virgin Islands, and the westernmost point, in Guam, are both named ‘Udall Point.’ The sun will never set on the legacy of Mo Udall.” War in the Pacific National Historical Park is located about 20 minutes by car northeast of Point Udall, which would make it the westernmost national park site.
But, if Guam is the westernmost location in the U.S. (in other words, the last place in the U.S. to view the sunset), how can it be the first place in the country where one can watch the sunrise? That’s because while Guam is the U.S. territory farthest west when traveling from the West Coast, it is also the U.S. territory with the easternmost longitude.
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Every location on Earth can be defined by its latitude, which expresses a place’s relative distance to the equator in degrees, and its longitude, which conveys the distance — also expressed as an angle — from the Prime Meridian, an arbitrary north-south line that passes by Greenwich in England, where the Royal Observatory is located. Point Udall in the Virgin Islands and Buck Island Reef National Monument are actually located about 64 degrees west, and Guam is about 145 degrees east of the Prime Meridian.
In his poem, “The Ballad of East and West,” Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” but he might not have looked at that national park in Guam when he wrote that line. Because depending on how you look at it, War in the Pacific is either the westernmost or the easternmost national park site — and both of these attentive National Parks magazine readers are right.
About the author
Nicolas Brulliard Senior Editor
Nicolas is a journalist and former geologist who joined NPCA in November 2015. He writes and edits online content for NPCA and serves as senior editor of National Parks magazine.
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