Manly Places

On April 6, 2017 · 7 Comments

Where does the highest ratio of men live? An unknown visitor to Twelve Mile Circle posed that question in a recent search query. I didn’t learn why s/he wanted to know because I didn’t have a means to contact said person to ask. Nonetheless it seemed like an interesting query and I’d never considered it before. Maybe I should take a closer look.

I only examined the United States because I could find the data easily, and I’m too lazy to look for more. Perhaps I’ll search more broadly some other day. For now however, let’s stick to the U.S. where women outnumbered men by about 5.2 million during the 2010 Census. There were 0.97 men to every woman for a bunch of different reasons. For instance, men did stupid things and managed to kill themselves accidentally at greater rates than women. Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teen years, as an example. They also lived fewer years on average, just as a matter of physiology.

The national ratio shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, a few places actually had more men than women, sometimes a lot more. I found a number of sources that I could consult including the Overflow Data website (with 2014 Census estimates). The results took me to some unexpected places.


Prison Counties


Eden Fall Fest
Eden Fall Fest. Photo by mirsasha on Flickr (cc)

The top counties, the ones with the highest ratio of men, seemed rather counterintuitive to me. Why, for example did Concho County, Texas have 2.32 times more men than women? It didn’t seem any more or less of a testosterone magnet than other counties nearby. Then I noticed a comment on the Overflow Data website I mentioned earlier. Concho didn’t have a lot of residents so an anomaly could skew the ratio without a lot of effort.

That’s where the Eden Detention Center — named for the largest town in Concho — came into consideration (map). It housed 1,400 men in a low security prison facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Half of the men counted in the Concho County census were serving time behind bars, incarcerated. Take those guys out of consideration and the ratio of men to women in Concho practically converged. Also, was I the only person who thought that Eden might be a terribly misleading name for a prison?

The same situation existed in Crowley County, Colorado, with 2.31 men for every woman. Crowley held the title for the highest ratio of men during the 2010 Census although it fell to second place with the 2014 estimate. It also contained a Corrections Corporation of America facility, this one housing medium security prisoners through a contract with the state of Colorado. The Crowley County Correctional Facility made room for about 1,800 prisoners.

Greensville County had the highest ratio of men to women in my home state of Virginia, at 1.58. Once again, a prison bore responsibility. The Greensville Correctional Center was run by the Virginia Department of Corrections. This maximum security prison also housed the state’s Death Row.


Alaska


Fishing Boats in the Harbor
Fishing Boats in the Harbor. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

Alaska seemed the obvious choice to me, where more men would live than women. It didn’t disappoint either. The Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area came in right behind Concho and Crowley. Aleutians East registered 2.24 men to women and Aleutians West hit 2.01. The economy of the Aleutians depended on fishing in some of the most rugged waters of the world, the Bering Sea. One of its biggest towns, Sand Point, had a thousand residents and a harbor that held 150 boats (map). That implied a lot of manly men heading out to sea every day.

The Aleutians attracted burly characters like those on Deadliest Catch; adventurous men attracted to the mystique of the Last Frontier. One woman described the situation vividly, saying "I once spent the better part of a year working in a fishing village in the Aleutian Islands, and the men of the Alaskan bush country were as surly as werewolves." Long ago it became cliché to describe Alaska’s overabundance of men with a simple aphorism: The odds are good but the goods are odd.

A funny thing began to happen in recent years, however. The ratio started to normalize. Sure, Alaska still contained a higher ratio of men to women than any other state in the nation although the imbalance fell to 1.08 in the latest Census. A crazy ratio still existed in the Aleutian Islands although the next borough on the list barely cracked the Top 50. The State of Alaska examined the situation and issued a report. It noted that an even split existed in Sitka, and men barely outnumbered women in Skagway, Haines, Anchorage and Juneau. Those were major population centers. This foreshadowed continuing convergence of the ratio.


Boomtown Counties


Oil Rig
Oil Rig. Photo by Lindsey G on Flickr (cc)

I thought boomtowns might score high too, and they did, although not as high as I expected. I figured Williams County, North Dakota might serve as a solid proxy. That’s the location of Williston (map), at the epicenter of oil extraction in the Bakken formation. The population of Williams County increased by more than 50% between the 2010 Census and the 2015 estimate. Those dirty, difficult oilfield jobs attracted lots of men. They came for high wages under dangerous situations and brutal winters. It also created an oddly skewed economy where the median annual income for men hit $50 thousand and where women made only half as much.

Even so, there were "only" 1.19 men to women. That surprised me.

Good Fortuna

On February 22, 2015 · Comments Off on Good Fortuna

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.


Along the Avenue of the Giants
Along the Avenue of the Giants by Images by John 'K', on Flickr (cc)

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.


Another Fortuna

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.


US-Timezones
US Time Zones via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

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.


Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

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.

The station may soon become just another patch on the plains before too long, however Veterans of the 780th AC&W Radar Squadron still keep in touch.

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.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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