Please help me identify the most physically remote areas of the continental United States of America.
November 17, 2011 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I need your assistance in helping identify the most physically remote areas of the lower 48 that have towns and a population. Examples might be Appalachia, northern Maine, west Texas, the Oregon desert, but specific towns, general areas, personal anecdotes, histories or even hearsay would be appreciated.
posted by lstanley to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Terlingua TX is pretty remote.
posted by sanka at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2011

Minnesota's NW Angle
posted by unixrat at 1:06 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Route 50 in Nevada is known as The Loneliest Road in America. Having driven it, I can attest that there is not much there.
posted by alms at 1:11 PM on November 17, 2011

This New Yorker article suggests that the Uncompaghre Plateau in Utah is among the more remote areas in the Lower 48. I vacationed in that area this summer from my home in the Appalachians, and Podunk Utah (which we found, by the way) is far more isolated than anything in the Great Smoky Mountains.
posted by workerant at 1:12 PM on November 17, 2011

Are you considering islands as well? Maine, for example, has many islands with a school, post office, etc., of which Matinicus is probably the most remote.
posted by JanetLand at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2011

You may want to examine this heatmap of proximity to McDonald's locations to give you a general idea where to look.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:25 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Highway 50 gets all the loneliness respect in NV, but the US-93-ALT highway that goes from wendover, nv down to meet up with the main US-93 is pretty damned lonely.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2011

Personal anecdote: in 2000 I visited De Smet, SD (home of Laura Ingalls Wilder), which is in eastern South Dakota. I read about the "dying" town of Manchester, 7 miles away (home of Laura's sister Grace). There were maybe half a dozen residents left when the great tornado hit in 2003; the town was abandoned and never rebuilt (good video here). I'm guessing that the areas around there are even more remote.
posted by Melismata at 1:36 PM on November 17, 2011

Moab, Utah is pretty out there. I lived there in 2007. In the summer months, the population can get up to 5,000 or so, which includes a lot of seasonal workers and tourists, as the main economic driver is tourism and extreme sports stuff. In the winter, everything shuts down and the town is about 1,500 folks.

Closest 'big' town is Grand Junction, CO, about 2 hours away, which is itself still not all that big and relatively far from an actual city. Denver is six hours from Moab, Salt Lake is about 5.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2011
posted by blob at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think that Sanderson is the most remote town I've seen in Texas. It's a long ways from I-10, Big Bend, Del Rio, out a very lightly-travelled US 90. 800 of Terrell County's 1100 people live in town, so they're surrounded by a whole lotta nothing. There's a population density of 0.5 people per square mile in Terrell County, which is the 25th least-dense county in the US.

Out further west, you've got Ft. Davis, Marfa, Alpine (biggest of the 4), and Marathon, but theyr'e closer together than anything is to Sanderson, and they get a lot more tourist traffic, being both destinations themselves, or gateways to Big Bend & the Davis Mountains.

Nobody ever goes to Sanderson for anything but maybe gas, a six-pack or some milk.

The whole Trans-Pecos is probably the least dense part of the contiguous US, if you discount El Paso. Alaska seems to trump the rest of the country, density-wise.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:00 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most parts of the Mississippi Delta.

Most of West Texas (Terlingua, Valentine, between there and El Paso).

Out by the Utah Salt Flats, near Wendover.

Little towns in northeastern Arizona, such as Cameron or Jacob's Lake.
posted by pupstocks at 2:01 PM on November 17, 2011

Yeah, Valentine is pretty remote, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:08 PM on November 17, 2011

Loving County, Texas has only one town. I read this article about it earlier this year - really interesting.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:10 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cedarville, CA is a town of about 800 folks in the Surprise Valley, in the northeast corner of California. Pilots call that area the empty quarter because there are so few lights.
posted by rockindata at 2:10 PM on November 17, 2011

I have been through Sanderson, and would agree it's pretty freaking remote. What's your metric, though? Distance to the nearest settlement? Sanderson is about 50 miles to Marathon. I think we can do better. Even along the same stretch of road, Langtry (barely a wide spot in the road) feels more remote, likewise Comstock.

US 50 in Nevada is called the Loneliest Highway in America. The town of Ruby Hill, on that stretch of road, is ~70 miles from the nearest town.
posted by adamrice at 2:13 PM on November 17, 2011

Checking out the Mcdonalds Heatmap, Cedarville, CA is the closest town to the McFarthest Spot- the point in the US that is farthest from any Mcdonalds.
posted by rockindata at 2:16 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Even along the same stretch of road, Langtry (barely a wide spot in the road) feels more remote, likewise Comstock.

The towns are kind of evenly spaced along 90, I guess, now that I look at a map. How about Dryden, and for a truly remote drive, 359 north from there to Sheffield is pretty devoid of human life. Pandale might take the cake, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:32 PM on November 17, 2011

If you are looking for somewhere truly remote, you would be hard pressed to beat the Maze District in Canyonlands National Park. Although Moab, UT is probably, as the crow flies, the nearest town, if you wanted to go to this particular section of Canyonlands, you might have to approach it from Green River, UT: see driving directions here.

Note: Canyonlands National Park is divided into three sections, Island in the Sky, the Needles District and the Maze, the first two of which are accessible from Moab. The ranger station in the Maze is accessible by car, but an off-road vehicle (plus permit) is required to venture into that part of the park. The Maze is so remote that it is said that there are sections of it that probably have never "enjoyed" human footsteps.
posted by cool breeze at 3:07 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Point Roberts is sort of oddly remote -- it's part of the U.S. but you have to go through Canada to reach it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:34 PM on November 17, 2011

I'm not sure if you're looking for the place that is measurably most remote or if anecdotes are actually useful, but this is my recent-ish experience with remote places:

Over the summer I took a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to Boston, taking a southern route so that I could see the Grand Canyon and visit family along the way. I drove almost exclusively on the interstate, with two exceptions: I took the 1 down the California coast to do some sightseeing, and I had the oh-so-bright idea to cut across California on route 58, which goes from San Luis Obispo to Barstow. Almost immediately I realized that I had made a mistake - the road starts out in a mountainous area and is one hairpin turn after another, so I was driving painfully slowly. I passed a sign: next gas station x miles (I don't remember what the number was - maybe 70 or 80). The sign didn't actually mark a gas station - the message, I guess, was to turn around if you didn't have enough to make it. My tank was looking like it'd be ok, so I kept going.

At first there were some locals out and about (and apparently they're used to winding mountain roads, because I was getting passed a lot), but eventually they disappeared and I was the only one on the road. A huge roadrunner darted past my car - neat! The mountains then opened up and there was a vast plain in front of me. Not completely desolate - there was an occasional house or trailer, and a bit of farmland - but largely pretty empty. I kept driving and saw a sign for Carizzo Plain National Monument, and I decided I should go check it out, so I turned down a side road. I realized I was a little disoriented in this big open space with not a lot of clear landmarks in any direction, but I wanted to see whatever the hell the monument was. After driving what I realized was waaaaaaay farther out of my way than I meant to go, I made it. And there was really nothing there - a board with some materials on the history and ecology of the plain, an outhouse, and a hill. I climbed up the hill and looked out on the salt lake below and the open lands around me and started to panic - I am in the middle of nowhere, it's probably 100 degrees out, I shouldn't have taken a detour without a full tank of gas, and holy shit what if I die alone on this prairie, it will be weeks before anyone finds my body. I'm not sure where such a palpable sense of danger came from - I was safe, my car was fine, I had lots of water with me, etc. - but there was just something freaky about that place.

So I ran back down the hill to my car and booked it out of there. I got back to the main road and drove and drove. I was increasingly worried about getting to this mythical gas station. I finally saw a sign for a town - I am pretty sure it was McKittrick (which, according to Wikipedia, has a population of 115 - it didn't say this on the sign though). I got really excited - a town! I'm saved! I drive into "town"...and there was pretty much nothing there. The streets were deserted, there were some boarded up buildings, and there was no gas station anywhere in sight. I pulled into a dusty parking lot and walked up the block to a building that looked open - turns out it was a bar. There were a few men playing pool and a few at the bar - not particularly scary-looking dudes, but a little rough, and there were some raised eyebrows at this weird little hippie-ish girl in a sundress, clearly not from here, who had stumbled into their bar. "Turn the Page" was blaring on the jukebox. I went up to the bartender and asked her if there was a gas station in this town (I'm a city girl, and I wasn't really sure I even believed in the idea of a town without a gas station). "Oh no," she said, "You've got to go up the road to Buttonwillow for that." So I drove on to Buttonwillow (just another 15 minutes down the road, population of about 1500), found gas, and then went on to Bakersfield (which is only another half hour or so past Buttonwillow) and spent the night there (and spent the next morning crossing the Mojave - seriously, don't take route 58 ever unless you really have to).

TL; DR: McKittrick, California (I think that is where I was) is not really that remote at all, given the proximity to Bakersfield, but holy shit, if you come at it from the west, and you've been driving through the mountains and prairies for a couple hours and are already kind of freaked out and also really need to gas up your car, it kind of feels like the ends of the earth.
posted by naoko at 3:59 PM on November 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Dugway Utah, when I lived there, was 40 miles from the nearest gas station. (And 15 feet from hell, as we used to say). It's a secure military base out in the desert, and looking at Google Maps, I don't see any reason to believe that they've built anything closer since I was there. Getting to the nearest town, Toole, required traversing a mountain pass on a narrow two lane road, and in the winter, it could be impassable for quite a while.
posted by COD at 4:15 PM on November 17, 2011

Elk City, Idaho, is pretty isolated. It sits in the Nez Pierce National Forest. To the east, north, and south is next to nothing--miles and miles of national forest.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2011

Try anywhere in Catron County NM. There is about 4 towns with a total population of about 2000 or so. It is so remote they built a the Worlds biggest radio telescope their because there isn't much interference. I think there are maybe 3 gas stations, none of the open more than 8 hours a day, in the biggest county in the state. One of the places I may go live if i ever have enough money to give a big ole fuck you to the world and not pay attention anymore.

The whole area between the Grand Canyon and the utah border is pretty remote and isolated, but has more people living there then you would think by appearances. Close by is the Hopi and Navajo Reservations. The distances between even sage brush can be pretty far out in the middle. The Northern Part of the Rio Grande Valley in Colorado isn't really that low of population but it is remote and isolated.

The whole north half of Nevada has a lot of open space, and the surrounding areas in other states are about the same. Lots of communities here - Gerlach NV(except for Burning Man, it is really out in the middle of nowhere), Summer Valley, OR isnt too far, CedarVille CA, is pretty close and lots more little wide spots in the road. The natural Terrain around all these make them pretty isolated and likely to stay that way. In the winter it may be weeks between the roads clearing in some of the remotest ranch headquarters and old mining centers. In that part of the world you are on your own. I really like driving through their. Winters are pretty rough here but also a great place to go and disappear.
posted by bartonlong at 8:05 PM on November 17, 2011

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan
posted by jasondigitized at 8:31 PM on November 17, 2011

The New Yorker has some things to say about remote Nucla, CO.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 PM on November 17, 2011

I drove through Trona, CA on the way to Death Valley. It is remote, both physically and culturally. I've never seen any place like it.
posted by cholstro at 10:26 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Devils Rancher: "I think that Sanderson is the most remote town I've seen in Texas."

I took Amtrak from Austin to Phoenix late last year, it runs right through Sanderson, stops there if I recall correctly. That country out there is beautiful; came back through on a sunny afternoon, New Years Day. I've been around just a bit in that neck of the woods—I've a friend lives in Alpine, we bopped around, Marathon, Ft. Davis, Marfa, headed down to Terlingua then followed the river road to Redford at sundown, really pretty.

But it was nice to be on that train, too, be able to just ride and watch it flow past rather than drive, plus it obviously goes places that cars/trucks don't. There's so much raw beauty there, spectacular. I may take the train just to Alpine, visit my friend, take a few days and go, see it again, get to meet her new daughter, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:32 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not many people have mentioned New Mexico. This is because most people are apparently unaware that there is even a state there. ("Yeah, I lived in New Mexico for a while." "Mexico?" "No, New Mexico." Lost count of how many times that has happened.) I was in Ponderosa, which was pretty much composed of a few trailers, a couple of houses, and a bar. It was only about 6 miles from the Jemez Pueblo and the lone gas station the area had to offer, which was technically some national chain or other, but which we all just called Walatowa. But to get to a grocery store or laundromat you had to drive to Rio Rancho, a repellant suburb of Albuquerque. I think it took us a bit over an hour to drive it? This was not the most remote part of the state. And I did not move to it from a major city. But for someone from Out East, good heavens, it's quite a thing.

Appalachia's heavily settled in comparison to the dry areas of the West. If by "remote" you mean "difficult to get to by car", then there are no doubt areas over there which would fit the bill pretty well. But in terms of miles from the nearest large settlement or Wal-Mart or something, I'd look in deserts, if I were you.

I admit I'm curious about why you ask.
posted by Because at 1:38 AM on November 18, 2011

Forgottonia in Illinois.
posted by smackfu at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2011

Lots of places in Montana qualify as remote - but here in Montana, we all know that Jordan is about as remote as it gets.
posted by davidmsc at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2011

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