Fortuna was the Roman goddess of prosperity and luck. That would be an excellent name for any location hoping for some of that mojo to rub off. I was aware of a Fortuna in California (map), probably the largest Fortuna in the United States. It was settled in the heart of redwood country.
I’m sure it’s very nice and I’d love to go there someday and take a drive down the Avenue of the Giants. However this Twelve Mile Circle wasn’t about that particular Fortuna. Maybe I’ll circle back to that eventually. Not today.
Rather, I became fixated on the Fortuna I’d uncovered as I investigated the intricacies of what divided Divide County in North Dakota. There sat tiny Fortuna, population 22, all alone on the Great Plains (map). Let’s ride along on a little driving tour given by some random guy on YouTube, shall we?
Hmmm… there wasn’t much there, was there? A church, a gun club, a curling club, a few houses and a senior center.
Don’t be deceived. Look below the surface and every place is a geo-oddity. I myself live in the smallest self-governing county in the United States. I’m sure your little corner of the world has its own unusual geographic distinction too. Fortuna (pronounced For-Toona) was fortunate enough to have two unusual features, one created by nature and one caused by the arbitrary placements of lines by man.
We already discussed the first condition in County Divided: the Brush Lake Closed Basin. Fortuna fell barely within the eastern edge of this endorheic basin. Sandwiched between Arctic and Atlantic watersheds, water falling in Fortuna wouldn’t flow to either ocean. Instead it drained to nearby Brush Lake just over the border in Montana where its overland journey ended, trapped in a gouge carved by ancient glaciers during the last Ice Age.
The second feature was somewhat more esoteric. According to North Dakota State University, Fortuna had the distinction of having the latest sunset on the summer solstice for any town in the Lower 48 United States, at 10:03 p.m. That occurred because of a confluence of a couple of different situations. Fortuna happened to be located at the far western edge of the Central Time Zone. The zone had a nub in northwestern North Dakota that made Fortuna considerably farther west than almost any other place along the time zone edge.
The exception was a corner of west Texas east of El Paso, say, somewhere like Van Horne (map). It was just a little farther west than Fortuna. However there was a different factor that more than made up the difference: latitude. I put the points into a great circle mapper and found that Fortuna was about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres) farther north than Van Horne. Thus, with that large of a difference I think it would be safe to speculate that sunset happened later on the summer solstice in Fortuna’s corner of North Dakota than anywhere else in the Central Time Zone. I suppose I could also check the other three U.S. time zones in the Lower 48 for their westernmost extremes although I’m simply not that motivated. The Intertubes said it was true and I left it at that.
But Wait, You Also Get This
Fortuna had history. I hardly would have expected anything of historical significance in such a remote area. Yet, ironically its remoteness actually created its importance. Out-of-sight places made ideal locations for a variety of Cold War artifacts.
The U.S. government constructed Fortuna Air Force Station just outside of town, a radar base operating from 1952 to 1984. It was designed to track enemy aircraft and coordinate their interception should Soviets bombers have attacked the United States. The site was completely abandoned once the Cold War faded and fell away. Ghosts of North Dakota visited the old station recently and noted,
We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late… The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged. The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.
What does the future hold for the town of Fortuna? Perhaps something fortunate. This quadrant of North Dakota has boomed in recent years because of oil discoveries in the Bakken formation. The population of Divide County increased by more than 10% between 2010 and 2013 (the latest figures available) after decades of decline.
At the far northwestern corner of North Dakota, right up next to Canada and Montana sits a county with a curious name, Divide. It looked somewhat rectangular like many other counties on the sparsely-populated Great Plains where few natural features could take the place of arbitrary straight lines.
I’d encountered Divide County vicariously one time before without even realizing it as I researched infrequent border crossings between the United States and Canada a couple of years ago. The Noonan border station in Divide County was so lonely and isolated that it had only a single pedestrian crossing during 2011 (the most current data available at the time), although it also had motor vehicle crossings of course. This photo was actually another nearby crossing in Divide — I couldn’t fine one of Noonan — although notice the obelisk marker placed by the International Boundary Commission. I don’t know where I’m going with that. I simply liked the image and it probably looked a lot like the one at Noonan so feel free to use your imagination.
The international border probably wasn’t the divide that inspired a county’s name however, in spite of modern theories like that described by Dakota Datebook in 2007:
This time a name for the new county would be determined through a contest. The winning entry came from George Gilmore, a Williston attorney. Gilmore proposed the name Divide County. The Northern Continental Divide runs through the region. The county divides the United States from Canada. It divides North Dakota from Montana. And most importantly, the new county was a product of its division.
The part about the contest was true enough. Both Divide County and the Town of Crosby (the seat of county government) confirmed the story. It happened in 1910. Homesteaders were just then migrating into the area. There were just enough people to warrant a new county, thus dividing Divide from larger Williams County. The contest commenced, Gilmore won $5 for his efforts, and the name stuck. The preponderance of sources I consulted mentioned two divisions as the basis for the name, the divide from Williams County, and the continental divide. The notion of state and international borders inspiring a name were apparently modern contrivances.
The continental divide fascinated me more in this instance so I went into the National Map Viewer and selected the watershed layer. Notice the dark purple line that marked the continental divide. Many people see "continental divide" and think reflexively of the Great Divide that separated west from east, the Pacific drainage area from the Gulf of Mexico. This wasn’t that divide. Rather this was the Laurentian Divide or the Northern Divide that separated water bound for Hudson Bay from that heading down towards the Gulf of Mexico.
Divide County’s northeastern quadrant and its county seat at Crosby fell within the Souris River watershed, which flowed into the Assiniboine River River then to the Red River of the North into Lake Winnipeg, then to the Nelson River and finally into Hudson Bay. Divide’s southeastern quadrant flowed a long distance too albeit with a more familiar set of names, from local tributaries to the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, and then to the Gulf of Mexico.
What about that curious notation on the map? The Brush Lake Closed Basin? Indeed, the western part of Divide County flowed just a few miles farther west and barely crossed the border into Montana before stopping at Brush Lake where it remained. A good 20% of Divide wasn’t part of either side of the continental divide, it fell within an endorheic basin created at the tail-end of the last Ice Age as glaciers gouged the plains.
The buried outwash gravels and the deeper river terrace gravels are very porous and support a controlled groundwater irrigation area, as well as supplying Brush Lake with a continuous flow of water through large springs in the lake. Being in a closed basin, summer evaporation serves as a pump to keep groundwater flowing into the lake. And since evaporation only takes pure water out, the minerals leached from the glacial gravels remain dissolved in the lake and accumulate, giving the lake its distinct color.
The word "bogus" had a murky history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it may have dated back as far as 1827, used in Ohio as a slang term for a counterfeiter’s apparatus. It was the name of a machine used to manufacture fake coins. Bogus came to mean counterfeit or fake in a more general sense, and alternately disappointing or unfair.
Some trace this to tantrabobus, also tantrabogus, a late 18c. colloquial Vermont word for any odd-looking object, in later 19c. use; "the devil," which might be connected to tantarabobs, recorded as a Devonshire name for the devil.
Supposing that, it might share a common origin with bogey which is known more familiarly as the root of bogeyman. A bogus bogeyman would be a strange contradiction, however.
It will reveal both my relative age and my level of maturity (or lack thereof) if I mention that bogus appeared prominently in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). As in,
Evil Duke: Put them in the iron maiden.
Ted: Iron Maiden?
Bill, Ted: Excellent!
Evil Duke: Execute them.
Bill, Ted: Bogus!
Apparently there was also a sequel called Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). I never watched that one. Not every sequel can be like The Godfather Part II and the original Bill & Ted’s certainly wasn’t The Godfather. Keanu Reeves (Ted) of course went on to bigger and better roles. Alex Winter (Bill), well, hopefully he invested wisely and is leading a nice life somewhere.
That was quite a roundabout tangent even for 12MC. Hopefully it provided the necessary context to appreciate the absurdity of places named Bogus.
Bogus spots were confined almost entirely to the United States. I’m not surprised given the origin of the word. I first came across such a Bogus place when I traveled to Boise, Idaho a number of years and noticed references to the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. It was founded by a nonprofit organization "established by the Boise community in 1942." Its a ski resort operated by local interests, with 53 runs and a vertical rise of 1800 feet (550 metres).
Bogus Basin (map) came by the name honestly. It actually referred to fakery. The hills gleamed with gold, or more accurately gold-colored pyrite or "fools gold." There were tales of people who believed they’d found gold only to be disappointed after investing in mines. There were other stories of nefarious swindlers and their dirty tricks designed to defraud people. The Boise City Department of Arts and History mentioned,
Bogus Basin got its name from a group of con-artists in the late 1800s who created fake gold dust in the same area as the Bogus Basin recreation area. These con-artists would melt silver, sand and a small amount of gold and sell it for $14 an ounce.
Bogus Basin was a strange name for a ski resort albeit one with genuine historical roots.
Bogus Brook Township in Mille Lacs (thousand lakes) County in Minnesota sounded promising. Indeed, a stream named Bogus Brook (map) ran directly through the township. It seemed strange that the township selected Bogus Brook for its name when the Rum River, a much larger body of water also ran through it. Maybe residents didn’t want to live in a place named for demon rum.
Actually the Rum River became rather controversial in recent years, leading to an organized name-change movement. The Lakota named the river Wahkon originally, the Great Spirit River, and it was considered a sacred body of water. Settlers of European descent thought it might be clever to create a pun by using spirit in the sense of alcohol and renamed it Rum River. Native inhabitants considered that usage insulting and profane.
Bogus Brook was probably a better choice for the township.
Bogus Elementary School, Montague, California
Imagine attending Bogus Elementary School in California (map). It seemed like the name might be a liability although the school sounded pretty interesting:
Is your child lost in a large class size? Bogus Elementary School has one classroom, one teacher, and 12 students… All children get to participate in our winter ski/snow board program for free.
There were a number of Bogus features nearby including Bogus Mountain, Bogus Creek and Bogus Burn. Any one of those could have inspired the Bogus name for a school. I also noticed it was located near one of those checkerboard patterns, which wasn’t particularly germane to this article, just an interesting fact I noticed along the way.