Correcting the record: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not actually in the middle of nowhere

It appears that the nearly month-long standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge may soon reach its inevitable denouement, which means that if I want to say anything about the situation, I’d better do so quickly. This introductory paragraph obviously isn’t helping.

There’s a common misconception out there that Burns — the town closest to the NWR — is in the middle of nowhere. See, e.g.:

Granted, the refuge — and Burns itself — are quite close to the middle of nowhere, but they are not in fact in the middle of nowhere. And, as we shall soon see, that is an important distinction. Luckily, I can tell you just how far away from the middle of nowhere they are.

To his credit, Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones had the right idea: Malheur “is near Burns, Oregon, which would probably need to be a little closer to Bend to even qualify as the middle of nowhere.” Actually, it would need to be a little farther from Bend to qualify as the middle of nowhere. More specifically: Go southeast, young man.

You see, the middle of nowhere is actually an identifiable location, which someone went through the trouble of locating back in 2010:

mcfarthest spot

As you may be able to tell from the caption, we’re looking at the McFarthest Spot. At 115 miles from the closest McDonalds, it is literally as far away from one as you can be in the continental United States. In other words, that’s the precise middle of nowhere.

What you may not be able to decipher from the above image is where in the United States one might find the McFarthest Spot. As it happens, the sacred location is located in Northwest Nevada, at an equal distance from precisely three McDonalds: Winnemucca in Nevada, and Klamath Falls and Hines in Oregon. That last location is actually a suburb — for lack of a better term — of Burns:

hines burns

So when coverage of this evening’s incident refers to either Burns or Malheur as the middle of nowhere, please feel free to gently write the editors to let them know that — while their confusion is understandable — the locations in question are in fact precisely 115 and 98 miles away, respectively, from the true middle of nowhere:


*Spoken like a true resident of DC from early January with amnesia.

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