From Death Valley to Mt. McKinley, North America is a land of extremes.
Count down the 10 weirdest, loneliest, windiest, snowiest, hottest, coldest, driest, wettest, highest and lowest places on the continent.
10. North America's Weirdest Place
North America fields many candidates for the weird category, but one that will surely make you wonder if you’ve been transported to an alien planet is Fly Geyser located in the westernmost county of Nevada.
This surrealistic structure got its start about a hundred years ago when well drilling opened up an underground reservoir that served as a fresh water source over several decades. During the 1960’s, geothermally heated water filled with minerals started spewing from the site and soon built up a cluster of wildly-colored terraces and mounds that are still growing.
Also known as the “Three Buddhas” after the group of the three largest and most-active cones, Fly Geyser sits on well protected private property but can be seen from a nearby state road.
9. North America's Loneliest Place
If you’re wondering where to find a spot in North America where you’re least likely to run into another human being you might want to try the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska.
Larger and more mountainous than Switzerland, this vast area also boasts a half dozen volcanoes and some of the world’s largest glaciers. All in a vast 13 million acre (53,320.57 km2) tract that has about as many roads and people as a small town!
8. North America's Windiest Place
During a wild storm in April 1934, a wind gust of 231 mph (372 km/h) was recorded by the observatory on the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire. This wind speed still stands as the all-time surface wind speed recorded in North America and second only to 408 km/h (253 mph) winds from Australia’s Tropical Cyclone Olivia in 1996.
By comparison, of the 35 Atlantic Ocean hurricanes officially considered to have reached Category 5 level, only 17 had wind speeds greater than 175 mph (282 km/h).
7. North America's Snowiest Place
The greatest annual snowfall level in North America is at Mount Rainier, Washington, where an average of 692 inches (1,757.68 cm) accumulates every year. The single year record was set during 1971-1972 with 1,122 inches (2849.8 cm) of snow.
The highest mountain in Washington’s Cascade Range, Rainier is also a dangerous stratovolcano that could erupt and set off massive mudflows fueled by the melting of the huge snowfields and glaciers that blanket its slopes.
6. North America's Coldest Place
The remote settlement of Snag in Canada’s Yukon Territory holds the title for the coldest officially-recorded spot in North America. On February 3, 1947, a government weather station at a small landing field recorded a temperature of -81.4° Fahrenheit (-63° Celsius) in dry, still conditions.
The weather observers at Snag that day reported that their breath froze and fell to the ground as a white powder. The staff could only venture out for 3 to 4 minutes without risking frozen noses, lungs and ears. Snag remains one of the coldest spots north of the equator and the only measurements outside the continent to beat this 1947 record come from Antarctic research stations.
5. North America's Hottest Place
On July 10, 1913, a record 134 °F (56.7 °C) was measured by a weather observation station at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California. The flat, barren valley floor and the surrounding mountains at this location have long created a “convection oven” effect that superheats the air at the surface of this scorched landscape.
This temperature has recently been reconfirmed as the highest surface air temperature ever recorded in the world. A competing measurement of 58 °C made in 1922 in the Libyan Desert south of Tripoli was invalidated in 2011 after a team of meteorological experts gained access to the original data in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.
4. North America's Wettest Place
Henderson Lake on Canada’s south-central Vancouver Island is the rainiest spot in North America with an average precipitation of 6,903 mm (271.8 in). In 1997 it received a record 9,307 mm (366.4 in) of rainfall, the wettest spot on the continent that year and an all-time record for Canada.
The temperate rainforest belt along the Pacific Northwest coast consistently receives more rainfall than any other North American region, although some limited areas within the Costa Rican rainforest may average up to 240 in. (6,100 mm).
3. North America's Driest Place
With four mountain ranges lying between Death Valley and the ocean, an extreme rain shadow effect makes the Death Valley region the driest spot in North America with only about 1.5 inches (38 mm) of rainfall annually. In some years there is no measurable rainfall at all.
But during the last ice age that ended about 10,000 years ago, glacial melt waters filled the basin of Death Valley with a huge lake that was nearly 100 miles long and 600 feet deep! Today, the ancient lake bed is a barren salt flat known as Badwater Basin.
2. North America's Highest Place
The summit of Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska is the highest point in North America at 6194 m (20,320 feet). Mount McKinley is the third most prominent summit on earth, but actually has a larger base-to-peak height than Mt. Everest because Everest sits on several thousand feet of the Tibetan plateau.
Native Americans have always called the mountain “Denali” meaning “great one.” This is also the official name used by the state of Alaska, but the Federal government and the National Park Service continue to use “McKinley” in honor of the American president assassinated in 1901.
1. North America's Lowest Place
Badwater Basin, in Death Valley National Park, is the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. This elevation is the result of geological forces that began stretching the western margin of North America about 16 million years ago and eventually deformed the Death Valley area into an alternating series of trough-like basins and towering ranges.
For the record, the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan, is the lowest spot on Earth at 1,371 feet (418 m) below sea level.