12 Most Extreme Places in America
In a country known for extremes, it's more than merely impressive to stand out from the crowd. From the tiniest town imaginable to one of the hottest places on earth, these twelve places embody our nation's capacity for wonder.
The United States has always been a land of extremes. European explorers were staggered by the sheer vastness of the land, and generations of immigrants have arrived here with the biggest dreams imaginable. We decided to dig in and explore America's highest highs, lowest lows, and a number of other extremes (quick: how many people live in America's smallest town?). Here, a dozen of our favorite points that embody our nation's capacity for wonder—plus tips for actually getting to these amazing destinations, some of which can require a plane trip and a rental car.
Hottest Community: Lake Havasu City, AZ
Death Valley may be the most scorching spot in America, with temperatures that can reach 130 degrees F, but Lake Havasu City in Arizona earns the gold star for the hottest place where lots of people actually live. The town is home to more than 50,000 residents, all of whom have found a way to survive summer temperatures that regularly top 100 degrees F and can reach as high as the 120s. What keeps folks here is what also draws thousands of visitors, including 45 miles of lakefront for boating, fishing (blue gill and crappie are anglers' favorites here), and hiking amid volcanic rock, sparkling geodes, and other desert formations. Lake Havasu also boasts two unexpected attractions: It is home to more than a dozen 1/3 scale miniature lighthouses that dot the lake's shores, and London Bridge, purchased in 1968 from the City of London for more than $2 million, shipped more than 5,000 miles, and reassembled in Arizona. The bridge is now the second-most-popular tourist site in the state, after the Grand Canyon.
Get there: Las Vegas is the nearest major airport, about 150 miles from Lake Havasu City; round-trip flights on Delta from New York City start at $338. London Bridge Resort offers condo-style suites, three restaurants, a beach bar, and a pool (1477 Queens Bay, Lake Havasu City, londonbridgeresort.com, doubles from $95).
Easternmost point: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
United States territories are surprisingly globe-spanning, and the nod for easternmost point goes not to the Maine coast but to tiny St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That means that, without a passport, you can immerse yourself in a culture that blends Caribbean, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and Danish influences all in a package less than 23 miles long and eight miles wide. With all the expected to-dos you associate with an island paradise (swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, fine dining, and golf), St. Croix also offers the old-world architecture of Christiansted, with homes dating back to the 18th century, and a "rain forest" near the western shore. (It's not technically a rain forest, but private land open to visitors, with a bounty of tropical flora and colorful hummingbirds, warblers, and other birds.)
Get there: Round-trip flights on American Airlines from New York City start at $359. Hotel Caravelle is near Christiansted's historical sites and has a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool, and spa onsite (44A Queen Cross St., Christiansted, hotelcaravelle.com, doubles from $136).
Coldest community: Fairbanks, AK
With average winter temperatures below -5 and highs only in the mid-40s, you may wonder what draws visitors to Fairbanks. Sure, the city's population is warm and welcoming and its gold rush history is still tangible in sites such as the Pioneer Museum, with its dioramas and murals. But most tourists are here to see the Aurora Borealis. Also known as the Northern Lights, the aurora will be at its peak in 2013 due to heavy sunspot activity at the end of an 11-year cycle, producing the appearance of crackling skies filled with bright blue, green, and red patterns for more than 200 nights over the course of the year. August through April is primetime for aurora-viewing, and if you spend three nights in Fairbanks you have about an 80 percent chance of a clear night. Ask your hotel if it offers middle-of-the-night wake-up calls to rouse you in time to see a display.
Get there: Round-trip flights on Alaska Airlines from San Francisco start at $937. When you're ready to warm up in the "great indoors," the Hampton Inn and Suites offers welcome amenities like Cloud Nine beds, complimentary breakfast, and a pool and fitness center (433 Harold Bentley Ave., hamptoninn.hilton.com, doubles from $104).