This summer, cruising down the I-5 through California’s Central Valley to the Los Angeles Basin, I unwittingly stumbled upon a most exasperating development: the country strip mall. First, let me state that I don’t hate. I’ve got nothing against Petco, Starbucks, OfficeMax, et al. When overcome by the desire for a cubic yard of kitty litter, a carafe of pre-Columbian frappasmoochino, or fifty gross of pink highlighter pens, I’m there in a jiffy!
But, Mr. Real Estate Tycoon, did you have to plop your shopping center smack dab in the middle of what was previously nowhere? Okay, the land was cheap. And yes, you did traffic studies and proved that the interstate and distant suburbs would drench whatever you built in a raging torrent of eager consumerism. But your retail monstrosity drains the wildness from the countryside for twenty miles in every direction! Sure, you can’t see it from everywhere – but once you know it’s there, you feel it. In the rural drawl of a neighboring rancher, that flat-out sucks!
Which begs the question: just how far away can you get from our world of generic convenience? And how would you figure that out?
As I hurtled down the highway, a pair of golden arches crept over the horizon, and the proverbial lightbulb smacked me in the forehead. To gauge the creep of cookie-cutter commercialism, there’s no better barometer than McDonald’s – ubiquitous fast food chain and inaugural megacorporate colonizer of small towns nationwide.
So, I set out to determine the farthest point from a Micky Dee’s – in the lower 48 states, at least. This endeavor required information, and the nice folks at AggData were kind enough to provide it to me: a complete list of all 13,000-or-so U.S. restaurants, in CSV format, geolocated for maximum convenience. From there, a bit of software engineering gymnastics, and…
Behold, a visualization of the contiguous United States, colored by distance to the nearest domestic McDonald’s!
The contiguous United States, visualized by distance to the nearest McDonald's. Click on the image for a larger version!
You can download a bigger, wallpaper-ready version of the visualization, too!
As expected, McDonald’s cluster at the population centers and hug the highway grid. East of the Mississippi, there’s wall-to-wall coverage, except for a handful of meager gaps centered on the Adirondacks, inland Maine, the Everglades, and outlying West Virginia.
For maximum McSparseness, we look westward, towards the deepest, darkest holes in our map: the barren deserts of central Nevada, the arid hills of southeastern Oregon, the rugged wilderness of Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, and the conspicuous well of blackness on the high plains of northwestern South Dakota. There, in a patch of rolling grassland, loosely hemmed in by Bismarck, Dickinson, Pierre, and the greater Rapid City-Spearfish-Sturgis metropolitan area, we find our answer.
Between the tiny Dakotan hamlets of Meadow and Glad Valley lies the McFarthest Spot: 107 miles distant from the nearest McDonald’s, as the crow flies, and 145 miles by car!
Suffer a Big Mac Attack out there, and you’re hurtin’ for certain! For a coupla hours, at least, unless graced by the tender blessings of “manna from heaven” – that is, a fast food air drop from the Medi-Copter.
Update: See “The Hungry Midwest” for a regional zoom of this map.