There’s a difference between book smart and bar smart. You may not be book smart, but this series can make you seem educated and interesting from a barstool. So, belly up, pour yourself a glass of something good, and take notes as we look at just how hard it is to get away from McDonald’s.
Measuring remoteness is a fairly subjective exercise, especially in a country that contains 330 million people. Ask folks what they think is the most desolate place in the Lower 48, and you’ll get a variety of answers for a variety of reasons.
They might look for the furthest you can get from a major U.S. city, which would put them on the most rugged portion of the Appalachian Trail—the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine. Maybe they’ll say wherever cell service is worst, which would land somewhere in the Lower 48’s largest contiguous wilderness area—the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. Or maybe they’ll pick the least populous county in America, which is Loving County, Texas—population 134 at .167 residents per square mile. Or they might select the spot furthest from the nearest road, which is found in the remote southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.
However, one statistician argued in a 2009 blog post that the country’s most remote area is where you’re furthest from a McDonald’s. To determine just how far you’re able to get away from a Big Mac, he developed a heat map showing every one of the Lower 48’s Golden Arch locations. East of the Missouri River, it looks like they built McDonald’s on top of McDonald’s. The West is a bit more spread out, but the region is still littered with the world’s most popular fast food joint. Turns out, it’s much harder to get away from McDonald’s than you might think.
The first inclination of the McMap found that the distribution gets sparsest is in the upper Great Plains.
“There, in a patch of rolling grassland, loosely hemmed in by Bismark, Dickinson, Pierre, and the greater Rapid City-Spearfish-Sturgis metropolitan area, we find our answer,” Stephen Von Worley wrote in his Data Pointed blog. “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!”
This may come as a surprise to many, but those familiar with the area know the true remoteness of northwestern South Dakota. It’s where Hugh Glass got tangled up with a grizzly bear. It’s where the last gray wolf in the Great Plains ran roughshod over sheep ranchers and caused $650,000 in livestock damages. It’s where ice fishermen foiled an $18 million Super Bowl Columbian drug bust. And most appropriately, it’s the geographic center of the United States.
But a map shakeup happened in 2014 that caused McFarthest point to move when the sole McDonald’s in Tonopah, Nevada, closed. There weren’t any formal reasons given for why the restaurant chain left the desert town of 2,500, but 15 Yelp reviews averaging 1.5 stars offer some clues.
“Quite possibly the worst McDonald’s on the planet,” said Wendy (perhaps Dave Thomas’s daughter?)
“Atmosphere, 3 stars. Food, 1 star. Service, 2 stars,” said Paul.
“My worst McDonald’s experience, ever,” said Jason.
“Cashier (Cody?) was more stoned than a boulder, with hickeys all over his neck. Well done, Cody’s girlfriend,” said Allison.
Tonopah’s McClosure caused McFarthest to move 1,100 miles southwest to a pin that falls halfway between Las Vegas and Reno. At its new locale, you can now get 13 miles further from two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.
“At its center, by my calculations, 40 minutes of washboard south from the Extraterrestrial Highway and a few klicks to the civilian side of the greater Area 51 perimeter fence, you’ll find the Lower 48’s current McFarthest Spot: a sandy swatch of Silver State sagebrush, just over 120 miles, as the crow flies, from the nearest McDonald’s,” Von Worley wrote in a 2018 blog post.
And in case you ever find yourself in Tonopah with a fast food craving, there is a Burger King and Subway just off Highway 95. They have average Yelp ratings of 2 and 2.5 stars, respectively.
Although I always took pride in my home state of South Dakota claiming McFarthest, this relocation might be for the better. McFarthest now lies on Bureau of Land Management property that anyone who wants to distance themselves from fast food clowns and hash brown patties can access. Just set your onX destination to 37.92849, -116.32324 and follow your nose to the land of no fryer grease.
Feature image via Atlas Obscura user at McFarthest location in Nevada.