Potomac in Oregon

On March 24, 2011 · 6 Comments

Is there a Potomac River in Oregon? I’m only aware of the one that forms a boundary between Virginia and Maryland/Washington, DC and out to West Virginia. However, I’ve been receiving a slow but steady trickle of search engine queries on the topic for the last several weeks. Maybe I’m missing something. Is there a geography quiz taking place somewhere, or a standard homework package for a school system making the rounds? Those are usually reliable sources when an oddball question like this comes around.

Potomac River Watershed

I like to consult one of my favorite sources at times like these, the United States Geological Survey’s U.S. Board on Geographic Names database. An Oregonian Potomac will be found there if it’s a geographic feature recognized by the U.S. Government.

That’s not to say that truly everything appears in that source. Potomac could be a term used colloquially within a small area of Oregon and not appear anywhere within the database. However, if that were the case then I don’t think it would be common enough to attract a steady stream of visitors to the website.

First I searched on Potomac as the "feature name" and Stream as the "feature class," for an area covering the entire United States. I don’t generally consider the Potomac as a mere stream but the database defines a stream as a "Linear body of water flowing on the Earth’s surface (anabranch, awawa, bayou, branch, brook, creek, distributary, fork, kill, pup, rio, river, run, slough)" so it’s appropriate for this purpose. What is an awawa, by the way? I guess it must be some type of Hawaiian geographic feature? — the things I learn as I write these articles continually amaze me.

The farthest west that any stream called Potomac can be found within the U.S. is in Henry County, Iowa, in an area southwest of Davenport: 41.036° N, 91.56° W.

View Larger Map

This one actually does look like a stream in the classic sense, as opposed to the wide definition used by the database. Its watercourse can be discerned from the trees and other thick vegetation that sprout between fertile farm fields. I followed it for quite awhile.

Next I searched on anything bearing the name Potomac anywhere in the state of Oregon. The database returned a single hit, Potomac Ranch in the southeastern corner of the state: 42.378° N, 117.571° W.

View Larger Map

I noticed the spot came close to Potomac Ranch Road, appropriately enough, which I’ve marked in the map above. I can’t imagine that it’s a very efficient roadway since Google predicts it will take a whopping 1 hour and 28 minutes to cover its 22.6 miles. I see places where water must run at least intermittently as I examine the satellite images, perhaps significantly at times. Is one of them called Potomac locally? Is it large enough to be considered a river?

I still can’t uncover why I keep getting inquires about the Potomac River in Oregon. I found a Potomac stream as far west as Iowa and I found a Potomac Ranch in Oregon. The elusive Oregonian Potomac River, however, remains a mystery.

On March 24, 2011 · 6 Comments

6 Responses to “Potomac in Oregon”

  1. Marc says:

    It’s probably not generating the search traffic, but interestingly a search shows me a street called Potomac Pl, in the town of Oregon, Wisconsin, a couple of hours from Chicago.

  2. Greg says:

    Is there anything called Oregon (county, township, ranch, &c.) on any watercourse called Potomac?

  3. maramiami says:

    There’s a YouTube video about an air rifle that Lewis and Clark carried during their exploration of the West. In the last few lines, the narrator says that Lewis and Clark went all the way west to the “headwaters of the Potomac.” My reaction was: HUH? I think he misspoke, and meant the Columbia River, though it wasn’t just the headwaters, but the mouth of the Columbia where it empties into the Pacific.
    The queries might all hearken back to this video.

    • I think you’ve come up with the right answer, maramiami. I found the video made by the NRA’s National Firearms Museum, thanks to your suggestion, and it has over two million views! They’ve added a note in the comments as of about two weeks ago: "Yep, he meant Pacific, not Potomoc. Slip of the tongue, not bad for a one take unscripted talk, huh?" That was the period when I was noticing the slow but steady queries and it’s not hard to believe that at least a handful of those two million viewers might have gone to Google when they heard the statement.

      I know I can always count on the 12MC audience!

  4. First off – love your site, and thank you for it. Ever since your guest post on Google Sightseeing so long ago, this fellow northern virginian has been enjoying what you write 🙂

    Anyway, random fact here about the Potomac – while if I remember correctly, it is from the Indian derivation (Patowamack) – I can’t help but think the settlers were also using some Greek in thinking it out – potomos is “river,” as in hippopotomos.

    I figure Potomac has always always been confusing. No wonder they put DC there 🙂

  5. Dave Carroll says:

    There is video clip circulating “The Girandoni air rifle” and about two minutes from the end the narrator says they got all the way to the Potomac River. I believe that was just a mis-statement (he meant the Columbia River. That’s what started me searching whether he might have been correct.

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