Knowing how much the Twelve Mile Circle audience loves little puzzles, I thought I might try to fold a couple of related ideas that have fascinated lately into a single entry. I looked back to one of the more popular 12MC concepts, the Longest Google Maps Routes from about eighteen months ago. It continues to be a popular page with various social media and aggregator sites "rediscovering" it from time-to-time, giving it new life. It’s quieted down a bit since the comments period closed after a year, a duration I’ve had to specify reluctantly for all articles to try to tame a never-ending torrent of comment spam.
The second related page focused on my journey to Kentucky last summer, specifically the tremendous amount of time and distance I covered before I ever left the Commonwealth of Virginia. The drive was a bit exaggerated because I took a small detour to capture the independent city of Norton which counted as a county-equivalent for county counting purposes, although the journey was impressive even discounting the jog. I knew about all of that ahead of time of course, however understanding something and experiencing it in person were two different concepts entirely as far as I was concerned.
With all that in mind, I’d begun to wonder about the longest Google Maps default drives in layers of geography that mattered to me, specifically my home county, state and nation. I made the rules simple. It had to be the primary default point-to-point route suggested by Google and it could not cross the borders of the home jurisdiction. I couldn’t add intermediate points manually and I had to remain within the lines. Bridges were fine. Ferries were not. I couldn’t use the Alaska Marine Highway System to link Alaska to the Lower 48, as an example. Those were completely arbitrary rules designed to create some focus and structure.
County – Arlington
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One shouldn’t expect remarkably long distances in the smallest self-governing county in the United States (25.98 sq miles or 67.3 square kilometres) and that was the obvious result. I managed to eke out an 11.5 mile (18.5 km) route entirely within Arlington. Google offered 12.4 miles (20 km) as a second option which I discarded because it wasn’t the initial suggestion. Flipping the route didn’t help either; it produced a longer result although it also detoured the path into neighboring Alexandria and thus violated one of my arbitrary rules. The odd thing I’ve learned from Google Maps over the years is that some other person submitting the same endpoints might get the second option as the first one, or that the recommended route could change over time. I can say only that the solution I found this morning worked, and it could be completely different for you either today or if you came back in six months.
These county estimates were difficult to determine because county lines in Google Maps disappear at a critical point as one drills-down. One has to have a pretty good mastery of the boundaries before starting and then go through a bit of trial and error.
State – Virginia
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It turned out that my lengthy drive completely within Virginia’s borders was impressive, although nowhere near as long as theoretically possible. For that, one would need to start from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (my visit) on the Atlantic Ocean, on Virginia’s eastern shore, to some random point west of Big Stone Gap near the Kentucky border, or vice versa. The distance going either direction came to 576 miles (927 km).
Nation – United States
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I felt considerably less confident in my result for the United States. I found a decent distance and I think 12MC readers should be able to improve upon it, perhaps considerably. The route from Key West, Florida to a very westerly point on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula near Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge stretched to 3,661 miles (5,892 km), a smidgen longer than the reverse of those same directions. One should be able to finish that journey by automobile with 55 hours of continuous driving. I wouldn’t recommend it.
This exercise could be expanded to other geographic territories, perhaps ones meaningful to individual 12MC readers. I played around with Canada a bit. The biggest challenge was Google’s bias towards U.S. highways to route Canadians around various Great Lakes. I also took things to a somewhat ridiculous extreme by examining Luxembourg, where I uncovered a 119 km (74 mi) route. I even went Down Under to New South Wales, Australia where my best find stretched to 1,797 km (1,117 mi).
I once searched for and found the Center of the Universe. Never mind that there were plenty of other claimants, I found the one true center naturally because the Intertubes confirmed it and of course that made it unquestionably reliable. It was much more difficult to find the middle of nowhere. First one must discover the exact placement of nowhere and then travel to the middle of it to verify the claim. Unfortunately the great body of Internet knowledge didn’t help much. A bazillion different people asserted that their measurement of nowhere was best despite relying on wild assertions or idiomatic usage. The Twelve Mile Circle took an equally futile stab at it, searching for places literally called "Nowhere."
Success! I found three candidates in three different countries using official geographical databases and national gazetteers. Nowhere could be found in the United States, Canada and Australia. It’s probably located in other nations too and described by different languages (e.g., Nirgendwo, Hvergi, Askund) so I’ll leave that to the 12MC audience.
I discovered arguably the biggest, most significant, most well-known Nowhere in the world in Oklahoma. The USGS Geographic Names Information System located it precisely within the heart of the state and it was very much a populated place. In fact the USGS’ coordinates 35.1592256°, -98.4422802° fell pretty much right in the midst of various structures located therein, offering a solid proxy for the United State’s Middle of Nowhere.
This candidate location even had it’s own Wikipedia entry, albeit a stub, which I’ve reproduced in its entirety:
Nowhere is an unincorporated community in Caddo County, Oklahoma, United States. Nowhere is located at the southeast end of Fort Cobb Reservoir 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south-southwest of Albert and 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Anadarko.
Albert and Anadarko aren’t exactly bustling metropolises (metropoleis?) themselves, lending further credence to the claim.
As if that weren’t sufficient evidence, Nowhere appeared in an episode of Discover Oklahoma. According to the video, a couple from California moved to the area and bought a general store many years ago. The wife complained to the husband, "you brought me here to nowhere" and the name stuck. A dissenting etymology also existed, as I learned in the comments section of that same video. A viewer claimed to be the daughter of the California transplants and noted, "My father came up with the name on a harshly cold winter’s day while standing in the parking lot and no one to see for miles in all directions. He said, ‘we’re in the middle of nowhere’. We all agreed." Either way, Nowhere definitely existed in Oklahoma and it contained an identifiable middle.
USGS suggested several other Nowhere possibilities in the United States including a ridge, a dam, a meadow and several creeks. The Oklahoma village, however, was the only populated place.
Nowhere Island, Ontario
Nowhere Island, Ontario
Then I began to discover truly nowhere places. The only nowhere in Canada — an otherwise vast expanse that should have had plenty of nowhere — was an island in western Ontario. It led to a spot within Rainy Lake near the watery borderlands between Canada and the United States. Fort Frances was the closest Canadian town at about ten kilometres to the southwest, with it’s cross-border cousin International Falls, Minnesota just a klick farther away.
I found no other salient information about Nowhere Island. It was an otherwise nondescript isle on a large lake, along with dozens of other nondescript isles. That made it an excellent candidate. Canada considered the middle of Nowhere, the eponymous island, to be 48.658884°, -93.218204° so that’s what I used.
Nowheres, Western Australia
Nowheres, Western Australia
The Gazetteer of Australia Place Name also narrowed down the possibilities to a reasonable handful, with Nowheres, Western Australia perhaps the best candidate (along with Nowhere Else in Tasmania which actually seemed to be proclaiming itself as somewhere). I wasn’t sure how I felt about that extra "s" appended to Nowhere. After all I wanted to find the Middle of Nowhere not Nowheres if one were to be a stickler. I decided to keep Nowheres on the list because it retained the right spirit. I could envision surfer slang morphing pronunciation over time to reference a place of multiple nowhere; so remote that it became nowhere’s nowhere.
Look closely at Nowheres. The point referenced by the official gazetteer seemed to fall within water, just offshore by about a hundred metres at -33.89215°, 114.984°. This could have happened for a number of reasons including that the coordinates provided by the database were within a margin of error and actually represented placement onshore. Another explanation could be offered by the descriptive code used in the database, LOCU ("Feature Code ‘LOCU’ includes the following features: Locality (unbounded), Place name, Road corner, Road bend, Corner, Meteorological station, Ocean place name, Surfing spot, Junction"). Nowheres could be a beach, a water feature or even a surfing spot
Where is the Middle of Nowhere? It couldn’t be Oklahoma. Readers didn’t actually expect me to select a settlement with its own Wikipedia entry and coverage on YouTube, did they? Canada seemed more reasonable although the conjoined border towns nearby had a combined population of about fifteen thousand residents; hardly nowhere. For pure remoteness, for complete obscurity, for embodying absolute nowhere-ness to the point that a middle became meaningless, the Twelve Mile Circle selected the spot in Australia even with the problematic extra "s."
The middle of nowhere is about three kilometres south of Gracetown, Western Australia.
I’ve collected another raft of small discoveries not nearly meaty enough to stretch into an entire article on their own. 12MC readers have also been kind enough to make me aware of some unusual situations. That must mean it’s time once again for an installment of Odds and Ends, our ongoing collection of bite-sized morsels.
An Interesting Juxtaposition
Where Hooker Meets Pleasure
Certain things are inexplicable and should simply stand on their own without further elaboration. I’m just going to state for the record that Hooker Avenue and Pleasure Drive intersect in Madison, Wisconsin. There, I said it.
I lied. I’ll go ahead and elaborate.
One neighborhood developed with street names based upon military figures from the U.S. Civil War, one of whom was Major General Joseph Hooker. Another neighborhood included rather generic names, one of which happened to be Pleasure Drive. Hooker and Pleasure came together. Apparently I wasn’t the first to discover this odd concurrence. Historic Madison noted that "the street signs at Hooker and Pleasure Drive are reportedly the most often stolen of any in Madison." Imagine that.
There’s also an Old Hooker Road in Georgia. TMI?
Was It the Plan?
Small, Remote Norfolk Island
I received a nice gift on Tuesday, a first-time virtual visitor from an exceedingly obscure land.
I begged rather shamelessly in my Plan for Rare Visitors and hoped it might work. Now, more than a year later, someone hit the site from Norfolk Island. Literally(¹), I’ve recorded hundreds of thousands of visitors on the Twelve Mile Circle since I first started tracking them nearly six years ago. This was the first and only Norfolk Island visitor ever.
Norfolk Island, a largely self-governing territory of Australia, has fewer than 2,500 residents. Yet, it also has its own top-level Internet domain (.nf). That makes it a particularly difficult capture for those of us who like to count such things and want to attract at least one reader from every top-level domain around the world.
That’s why I included Norfolk Island on my earlier wish list when I said, "Australian readers. Maybe one of you plans to go on holiday to the Shire of Christmas Island or the Cocos (Keeling) Islands? Norfolk Island, anyone? Send me a hit if you’re there and happen to think about it."
If one of you did that for me, thank you, I definitely noticed and appreciated it. If it was a coincidence, well, thank you anyway unknown Intertubes voyager.
Warren Co.’s Portion of Augusta Bottom Road
"Joe" made me aware of a situation he’s been following outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I’ll share the article link he referenced from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "County switch floated in Augusta Bottom Road dispute." That article includes all the information one would ever need about the topic although I’ll try to briefly explain and synopsize it without mangling it too much.
Warren County didn’t want anything to do with Augusta Bottom Road after it got flooded-out. The road was a shortcut for people in Franklin County and St. Charles County. It did nothing for people in Warren. Who could blame them for not wanting to pay for its replacement? So they didn’t. Surrounding jurisdictions picked up the tab for Warren’s segment of Augusta Bottom Road. That worked fine until a teenage driver died in an accident on the Warren segment, and her family sued for damages. Now nobody is allowed to use the road; insurance companies won’t provide coverage because they’ll only do it if the policyholder is the landholder. One of the options on the table would involve transferring a bit of land from Warren County to St. Charles so that St. Charles’ insurance would apply and the road could re-open.
It would need to be approved by the Missouri Legislature. It’s complicated.
Joe has been following this story like I’ve been following the Bibb-Monroe Boundary Dispute. These local dramas are endlessly fascinating and addictive. I recommend everyone select one and make it a hobby. You will not be disappointed.
Crime in Isolation
Selden Island, Maryland
"Rob" mentioned a recent crime involving the theft of farm equipment. The crime wasn’t particularly memorable although it happened at an interesting spot, a Potomac River island on the border between Maryland and Virginia. As 12MC has mentioned before, the boundary between Maryland and Virginia follows the low-water mark on the river’s Virginia shore as ratified by the 1874 Black-Jenkins Award (and recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2003). Simplistically, Maryland owns the river and the islands set upon it.
Take a closer look at Selden Island. It’s a lot closer to Virginia than it is to the rest of Maryland, and in fact the only way to get to the island overland is by using a small bridge on the Virginia side (see panoramic view). The officer on duty had to cross from Maryland on White’s Ferry (my visit), drive down through several miles of Virginia, and then cross back into Maryland to take the report.
Well, I thought it was pretty cool.
Thanks Joe, thanks Rob, and I hope everyone keep sending geo-oddities to 12MC!
(¹) a literal literally not a figurative literally