What is the 45th parallel?

May 31, 2009 

  • Alpena

    45th parallel acknowledgement: Michigan Department of Transportation sign on M-23 just south of town at Squaw Bay. The town's Latitudes Bar is a reference to the 45th degree latitude of the city.

    Attraction: The National Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a splendid museum containing artifacts of sunken ships and a history of Great Lakes shipping. More than 200 sunken ships are in or near Thunder Bay near Alpena. (Free, 500 W. Fletcher, www.thunderbay.noaa.gov, 989-356-8805)

    Tourist information: www.alpenacvb.com, 989-354-4181

    Atlanta

    45th parallel acknowledgement: The only Michigan town whose downtown intersection, State Street (M-32), is on the 45th parallel. A few Polar-Equator Trail signs still stand on country roads nearby.

    Attraction: Known as the elk capital of Michigan, the town holds an Elk Festival every year, this year Sept. 25-27 .

    Tourist information: www.atlantamichigan.com, 989-785-3400

    Gaylord

    45th parallel acknowledgement: The south part of town near McCoy Road is on the 45th parallel. Everyone going north on I-75 passes the parallel sign just before the Gaylord exit. Also, a 45th parallel wooden sign stands on Hayes-Tower Road west of town.

    Attraction: The city has its own elk herd in Elk Park, less than a mile from the 45th parallel.

    Tourist information: www.gaylordmichigan.net, 800-345-8621

    Suttons Bay

    45th parallel acknowledgement: The parallel marker is about half a mile north of the city limits.

    Attraction: Just northwest of town is the Forty-Five North Vineyard and Winery, which sits exactly on the parallel: "Experience the Latitude," its ads proclaim, "Located distinctly on the 45th parallel" (8580 East Horn Road, www.fortyfivenorth.com, 231-271-1188).

    Tourist information: www.suttonsbayarea.com, 231-271-5077

The 45th parallel can't be seen, but it's as real as the property line dividing your backyard from your neighbor's. Here's a primer:

The 45th parallel is a measure of latitude. Latitude and longitude are horizontal and vertical grid lines that geographers put on maps to help navigators figure out where they are on the globe. Latitude, the horizontal lines, are actually circles of varying sizes -- the biggest one around the equator and others getting smaller and smaller until they reach the poles.

The 45th parallel is one of those latitude circles.

To know why it's called the 45th, imagine standing in the center of the Earth. Reach your hand straight over your head, and that's the North Pole, 90 degrees latitude. Reach your hand straight out, that's 0 degrees latitude, the equator. Reach your hand half way between those two points, and that's the 45th degree of latitude north. Aha! Alpena.

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