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Extreme America

A nation of extremes

January 2022


This video is part of our Kite & Key Shorts series—easy to understand...but hard to forget.


Towering mountains. Ancient forests. Biblical weather.

It may sound like the makings of a fantasy novel ... but it can all be found right here in the United States.

There’s Denali, America’s highest mountain.i At 20,310 feet, the Alaska peak is the highest point on the continent.ii Due to the shifting of tectonic plates, Denali is still growing half a millimeter each year.iii

At the other end of the spectrum is Badwater Basin.iv Located 282 feet below sea level, this sprawling salt flat occupies nearly 200 square miles of Death Valley.v The site was an ancient lake that evaporatedvi centuries ago, leaving behind a combination of salt and minerals that make the valley look snow-covered.

Some of America’s other extremes:

California is home to a bristlecone pine treevii named Methuselah, believed to be the oldest living organism on the planet.viii At 4,765 years old, Methuselah is older than the great pyramids of Egypt.ix One catch: you can’t actually find Methuselah. Its location is kept secret. The reason?x Because, in 1964, a nearby tree that was even older was cut down by a doctoral student for research.xi

For extreme weather, start with New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.xii One of the windiest spots on earth, Mt. Washington once clocked winds at 231 miles per hour.xiii

Fairbanks, Alaska has some of the country’s coldest temperatures (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) — while Death Valley has some of the hottest (over 125 degrees Fahrenheit).xiv

America leads the world in a lot of categories ... but being boring isn’t one of them.



  1. At 20,310 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest point in North America.
  2. The Methuselah tree in California is believed to be the world’s oldest living organism.
  3. One of the windiest places on the planet, New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington once had 231 mph winds.


  1. "Denali" — National Geographic Society
  2. Ibid.
  3. "The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny" — National Park Service 
  4. "Badwater Basin" — National Park Service
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. "Bristlecone Pine" — National Park Service 
  8. Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine is Thought to be the Oldest Living Organism on Earth” (Robert Hudson Westover) — U.S. Department of Agriculture
  9. “Pyramids at Giza” (Brian Handwerk) — National Geographic 
  10. “Hiking to ‘See’ Methuselah, the World’s Oldest Tree” (Mary Anne Potts) — National Geographic
  11. "How One Man Accidentally Killed the Oldest Tree Ever" (Rose Eveleth) — Smithsonian Magazine
  12. "Extreme Mount Washington" — Mount Washington Observatory 
  13. "World Record Wind" — Mount Washington Observatory 
  14. "Where to Get Extreme in the USA" (Jordan Rane) — CNN


SOUND: "Cold Case" (Mouth Party)

FOOTAGE: Bob Bowie (Unsplash)



  1. National Geographic Society
  2. National Park Service
    "The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny" 
  3. National Park Service
    "Badwater Basin" 
  4. National Park Service
    "Bristlecone Pine" 
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine is Thought to be the Oldest Living Organism on Earth” (Robert Hudson Westover) 
  6. National Geographic
    “Pyramids at Giza” (Brian Handwerk) 
  7. National Geographic
    “Hiking to ‘See’ Methuselah, the World’s Oldest Tree” (Mary Anne Potts) 
  8. Smithsonian Magazine
    "How One Man Accidentally Killed the Oldest Tree Ever" (Rose Eveleth) 
  9. Mount Washington Observatory
    "Extreme Mount Washington"
  10. Mount Washington Observatory
    "World Record Wind"
  11. CNN
    "Where to Get Extreme in the USA" (Jordan Rane) 

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