Most Californians have some idea that 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the state. But how many people, in any state, know that the 4,039-foot summit of Kansas is a flat spot near the Colorado border called Mt. Sunflower, marked by a giant metal sculpture of a sunflower?
Or that you reach the 1,670-foot high point of Iowa by walking through the barnyard to the livestock feed trough at Merrill and Donna Sterler's farm in the northwest corner of the state? There, the Sterlers maintain a cache of souvenir key chains in a bucket bearing a notice: "Iowa's High Point, Elev 1670 ft, Merrill Sterler Farm." Visitors are asked to leave a donation if they take more than one chain.
Or that you can drive to the 13,796-foot summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea, where it snows from time to time. Or that the lowest high point in the nation is in Florida, 345-foot Britton Hill, at Lakewood Park in the state's panhandle. Smile when you say "hill," because it's not much of one.
We learned all this by skimming through "Highpoint Adventures: The Complete Guide to the 50 State Highpoints," by veteran hikers Charlie and Diane Winger. We also learn that some people go on a quest to visit all 50 state summits and that there is a Highpointers Club with more than 2,500 members. Barely 100 have attained all 50 summits, however.
The high point of the nation, of course, is Alaska's Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 feet above sea level, followed by the high points of California, Colorado, Washington state and Wyoming. The lowest, starting at the bottom, are Florida, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi and Rhode Island.
The highest 15 are all west of the Mississippi. No. 16 is North Carolina, 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell, named for scientist Elisha Mitchell, who died in 1857 "in an attempt to prove this mountain highest in eastern U.S.," according to the state historical marker. "Grave is at the summit. 285 yds S."
The guide tells us that 14 of the high points can be reached by auto and 16 by hiking suitable for all the family. Seven require some mountaineering skills, with McKinley leading the list. The guide has thorough directions, with maps and lots of tips for those treks that require strenuous hiking or climbing. Alas, the book does not explain just how Mitchell died while trying to prove that his mountain was the highest in the East.