One knock on Americans is that we don’t know world affairs or geography, and to that we say, “hell, we live on a huge continent–we’ve got plenty to keep us busy.” Nothing more so than our weather, ranging as it does from the perfection of San Diego and Arizona to the brutal extremes of Alaska, and well, Arizona. Bill Streever has written about both extremes around the world in his bestselling books, “Cold,” and “Heat,” and like the rest of the planet it’s not just temperatures that vary in America. Here are seven places you might want to either visit, if enduring aggressive climates is your thing, or avoid, if comfort supersedes all.
Hottest: Death Valley, California
If you insist on taking a trip through Death Valley in eastern California, make sure you’ve got plenty of gas in your vehicle and turn off your GPS. Part of the Mojave Desert west of the resort town of Palm Springs, in the past 15 years at least 12 people have died in Death Valley (GPS units are notoriously unreliable here, leading to a syndrome now called “Death by GPS,” as naive drivers are led astray along obscure roads). Also, you’ll need a lot of water: Temperatures in Death Valley regularly reach well into the 100s, and even once (in 1913) it reached 134 degrees, a record for the entire planet. If none of this puts you off, thenFodor’s California National Parks will help you enjoy Death Valley National Park and others (including Joshua Tree and Yosemite).
Coldest: Prospect Creek, Alaska
Ah, Alaska: home of Sarah Palin, grizzly bears, and temperatures so brutal they’ll freeze your fingers off. The record cold here defies belief–the coldest temperature ever recorded was at Prospect Creek, about 180 miles north of Fairbanks, where in 1971 the temperature bottomed out at a cool -80 degrees Fahrenheit. Who knows if that’ll ever be bettered, given that the planet is warming–the “Frommer’s Alaska” guide includes chapters on both the Alaskan interior and the bush, though you might be better off visiting in the brief but beautiful summertime (there are 22 hours of sunlight in Fairbanks on June 21 each year).
Wettest: Holt, Missouri
Everyone knows Seattle is the wettest city in America, right? Sorry to disappoint you, Seattle haters, but it’s not even close: On June 22, 1947, the town of Holt, Missouri, saw a foot of rain fall in 47 minutes–a record accumulation for the planet. In fact, Seattle can be oddly dry–in the last few years there have even been record droughts (the summer of 2012 saw 82 consecutive days without significant rainfall). So if you time it right, it’s a great place to visit, especially as it boasts the world-famous Pike Place Market, the dominating Space Needle, and Mount Rainier, at just over 14,000 feet the most “topologically prominent” mountain in the US (basically, it sticks up higher from what surrounds it than anything else in America). Insight’s “Seattle City Guide” has all the information you’ll need to make your visit successful, and (hopefully) dry.
Driest: Las Vegas, Nevada
If Holt, Missouri, is your idea of hell, then we recommend a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Regularly checking in as the driest big city in America, Las Vegas manages, on average, about 4 inches of rain per year. That said, it could be cats and dogs outside and few would care, given that the casinos work hard to make you happy to stay gambling indoors. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Las Vegas features trademark white pages and inviting photos, as well as plenty of information on where to roll the dice.
Snowiest: Georgetown, Colorado
If the white stuff is your bag, why not strap on some snowshoes and head to Georgetown, CO? Perched at 8,550 feet in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Georgetown was previously famous for its silver rush in the 19th century, and then on December 4, 1913, 63 inches–more than five feet!–fell on the town in one day, giving it a new claim to fame. Since then, it’s become a summer destination in Colorado, given its easy access from Denver, 45 miles to the east on I-70. “The Moon Handbook Guide to Colorado” should help you concentrate ifyour lips turn blue at the lofty altitude.
Windiest: Mount Washington, New Hampshire
You ever see those bumper stickers that read, “This Car Climbed Mount Washington”? Well, if you do drive to the top, you might want to be in a vehicle with a low center of gravity. In 1934, the 6,288-foot peak of that mountain in New Hampshire recorded a wind gust of 231 mph, plenty enough to blow your hat, and you, off (it’s the highest wind gust ever recorded at the Earth’s surface). But New Hampshire is more than just the home of the East coast’s most extreme mountain–come the fall, there’s probably nowhere better on earth to witness the glory that is autumn’s changing foliage. “New Hampshire Off the Beaten Path” will ensure you’re not stuck in some heinous traffic jam, but don’t read it on the top of Mount Washington on a windy day–otherwise someone in neighboring Vermont might end up reading it, too.
Sunniest: Yuma, Arizona
The dream is 75 degree days all year round, right? Well, if that’s your hope, you might want to consider moving to Yuma, Arizona. For sheer daily climatic perfection Yuma can’t be beat–even though its average July temperature is 107 degrees, imagine averages of 69 and 70 degrees in December and January respectively (the yearly average high is 88, the low just 62–yum for Yuma). In 1950, Yuma’s population was 9,000–there are 10 times as many people there now, and surely the weather has a lot to do with it. As many of them are probably “of an age,” the “Creaky Knees Guide Arizona” details lots of gentle hikes so that everyone can enjoy the perfect weather.