Middle of Nowhere

On October 20, 2013 · 2 Comments

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.

Nowhere, Oklahoma

Nowhere, Oklahoma

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.

On October 20, 2013 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Middle of Nowhere”

  1. David says:

    Also Nowhere Creek, Victoria near Elmhurst. This greatly amused my kids when on a driving tour of the region. These American boys were already convinced that Australia was so empty that nowhere was all around them when the sign “Nowhere Creek 10k” settled the matter.

  2. Rhodent says:

    FWIW, my guess on the use of “Nowheres” instead of “Nowhere” for the location in Australia is that it’s a regional variant, much like “anyways” or “forwards”. Momentarily taking off my geography geek hat and putting on my language geek hat, I would note that this sort of usage is one of the last remaining vestiges of using the English genitive case for something other than marking possession.

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