The above map was made by Stephen Von Worley:
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.
This map is the brainchild of Stephen Von Worley, who got to thinking about the strip malls sprawling out along I-5 in California’s ever less rural Central Valley: “Just how far can you get from generic convenience? And how would you figure that out?”
His yardstick for that thought experiment would be the ubiquitous Golden Arches of McDonald’s – still the world’s largest hamburger chain, and to cite Von Worley, the “inaugural megacorporate colonizer of small towns nationwide.” That’s not the whole story: like other convenience providers aimed at the motorised consumer such as gas stations and motels, McDonald’ses have a notable tendency to occur on highways and, specifically, to cluster at their crossroads.
This map moreover demonstrates that the spread of McD’s closely mirrors the population density of the Lower 48, the most notable overall feature of which is the sudden transition, along the Mississippi, of a relatively densely populated eastern half to a markedly less populated western half of the country. Some notable ‘dark spots’ in McDensity east of the Mississippi are the interior of Maine, the Adirondack region of New York state, a large part of West Virginia, and the Everglades area of southern Florida.
Out west, the Arches are fewer and further between, with the exception of the heavily populated coastal areas. To achieve identical density to the rest of the country, this sparsely burgered part of the country would have to be sandwiched between them so that southern California and western Texas would almost touch, and Seattle would be a day’s drive from Minneapolis. The blackest holes in the western McTapestry are the Nevada desert, some mountainous parts of Oregon and Idaho, and the plains of South Dakota – home to the aforementioned McFarthest Spot.
I would have expected the Nevada desert to win out.
There’s something for South Dakota to be proud of!
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan