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.
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.
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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.
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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.