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.
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.
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’m not sure the title adequately conveyed what I’m trying to describe, although I can’t think of a better concise title to replace it either. Conceptually, I wanted to know the northernmost and southernmost places in the world and in the United States where one could cross an international border by automobile via a road connected to the larger grid. There are plenty of places farther north where a crossing could be accomplished on foot, perhaps after a long ship voyage or an airline flight, but not by a motorized vehicle on an established road. Those road crossings would be cardinal direction border extremes for the average tourist as opposed to the adventurous explorer. You know, ones that I might actually experience someday.
These were the best examples I could find. I’d love see improvements.
The absolutely farthest northern road that crossed an international border that I found occurred between Polmak, Norway and Nuorgam, Finland at an astounding 70 degrees north of the equator. By contrast the Arctic Circle is at about 66.56 degrees north. Barrow, Alaska — about as far north as one can get in the United States — is only slightly farther north (71 degrees) and it’s not connected to anything by road, much less internationally. This is crazy far north.
Both nations are part of the Schengen Area so one could cross the border freely. It looked like a former border station had been converted into shops in the Street View image.
NORTHERNMOST UNITED STATES (AND CANADA)
Flickr by jimmywayne via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License
The United States and Canada share the same northernmost international border crossing at Poker Creek, Alaska / Little Gold Creek, Yukon (map) along the Top of the World Highway. It’s located at about 64 degrees north.
This also demonstrated how few roads crossed this rugged, isolated terrain because the border extended another 380 miles (612 kilometres) due north without a single other road crossing it. This border station closes in the winter so I’m willing to concede that purists may wish to look farther south to the Alaska-Canadian Highway for a more complete example, one that remains open 24X7 all year long (map).
What about the Lower 48 states? I think the northernmost crossing would be the place where the border jogs around to form the Northwest Angle (map). Weekend Roady visited this one in person and I won’t try to improve upon his first-hand description.
The record wasn’t clear-cut at the southern end, nor was it quite as extreme. I think it may be a spot on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego around 54 degrees south, although it’s not even as far south as Ushuaia (featured on 12MC previously), the southernmost town of significance in Argentina. There may also be an error on the Google Map too. Google seems to have issues with borderlines, a condition I’ve observed before. Notice the vertical fence line about 100 metres west of Google’s line. Could that be the true boundary?
I thought perhaps there might be a car ferry between Ushuaia, Argentina and Puerto Williams, Chile. It seemed natural and I’d be willing to bend the "road" rule to accommodate a ferry. It wouldn’t violate the spirit, right? Nonetheless, Wikipedia said of Puerto Williams, "There is no regular link with Argentina and connection to Ushuaia is restricted." Puerto Williams exists primarily for the Chilean navy to assert national sovereignty at the farthest tip of South America. It was once a rather sensitive military area although tourism has begun to creep in.
Another source said it was possible to travel between the two places albeit not very conveniently, "Ushuaia Boating in Ushuaia, Argentina, has regular zodiac service to Isla Navarino October-March or April. The trajectory is boat from Ushuaia to Puerto Navarino (40 minutes, immigration), then minibus to Puerto Williams." However that wouldn’t qualify as an automobile crossing by any stretch of the imagination so I’m not going to count it.
SOUTHERNMOST SOUTHMOST USA
Eyeball estimates led me to believe that the southernmost border crossing in the United States would be found at Brownsville, Texas where it provided access to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México. That was located at about 25.9 degrees north. A whole bunch of the world can be found farther south than that.
That’s not what I enjoyed the most, though. I was amused by Southmost Boulevard. That’s southmost not southernmost. A shorter word with the same meaning. It sounded a little odd. Maybe I could get used to it?
The first cluster existed near Black Mesa at the far northwestern corner of the Oklahoma panhandle. This small area may be unique in the state from a geographical perspective, with genuine mesas replacing more typical flat or rolling grasslands. One drives along ramrod-straight roads all day until the terrain changes completely without warning. It’s that stark.
There were three notable geo-oddities that I visited near Black Mesa. Thay are labeled on the embedded map as (A) the Colorado-New Mexico-Oklahoma tripoint; (B) the 37° north/103° south latitude-longitude confluence; and (C) the Oklahoma Highpoint trailhead.
I’ve driven a lot of dirt and gravel roads on this trip, gaining a new appreciation for the "dust" of the infamous Dust Bowl. It’s a very fine consistency reminiscent of powdered sugar, and it coats an automobile in light-brown grime on the back roads. Just about every road that wasn’t designated a primary route lacked pavement.
Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the road up to Black Masa was paved asphalt. Only the final mile-or-so turned to gravel gravel at a point where one turned west towards the CONMOK tripoint. There it switched from an Oklahoma road to a Colorado road. I suppose that accounts for the difference.
CONMOK was an easy capture and extremely obvious, complete with a convenient turnaround adjacent to the roadside. The lat/long confluence was only slightly more difficult. Starting from the tripoint, I followed the GPS back another quarter mile until it implied that I was perpendicular to the confluence. I got out of the car and walked maybe twenty paces north into the surrounding scrubland. There I found a small pile of rocks decorated with a few doodads and coins left by previous geo-geeks with the same strange fascination. That marked the confluence. The whole ordeal took all of about thirty seconds.
Backtracking further we reached the Black Mesa trailhead. I would have encountered the Oklahoma tripoint had I wished to hike four miles onto the mesa and return. My passenger had already completed four half-marathons in four days as part of the Dust Bowl series and was in no mood to add another eight miles to the total. We called it a day and decided that maybe we’d try this some other time assuming we’re ever in the area again.
We drove down from Black Mesa to find the next tripoint on our journey at the southwestern corner of Cimarron Co., OK, where New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas form the NMOKTX tripoint (Label A on the map).
This marker was the least remarkable of all the tripoints we visited during the trip. It was downright underwhelming. Nonetheless it signified a tripoint so it counted just as much as the others. I also promised that this would be the last dirt road we would have to travel during our journey.
We continued west another couple of miles to rejoin Route 54 on our way to our ultimate destination for the day at Clayton, NM. I had a final geo-oddity to capture, a landmark more obscure than all of the others combined because it’s fictional and I made it up. I called it the Thelma and Louise spot. I developed a Thelma and Louise Route Map about eighteen months ago. It’s been a very popular page, receiving several new visitors consistently every day since its publication.
Anyway the big finale of the Thelma and Louise movie depends upon a specific plot twist. Louise cannot enter Texas. I remarked on the geographical implications of that point in the previous article:
The shooting script includes a reference to Boise City, OK that did not appear in the movie. This makes sense as it’s the logical path between Oklahoma and their next destination, New Mexico. It also brings them within mere feet of Texas without crossing the border so Louise remains safe in that respect.
The photograph marks the spot where Louise comes within mere feet of Texas. The movie simply cannot work from a logical perspective without the characters passing down the paved road directly ahead. The paved road would be safe territory. The dirt road in the foreground would be unsafe. The movie wouldn’t work if the road had been constructed a few feet farther east.