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Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

The Pole of Inaccessibility Print E-mail
Written by Jerry Penry, PS   
Friday, 30 January 2015

A 4.485Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The most challenging location to reach due to its remoteness from geographical features is known as a pole of inaccessibility. Generally, this calculated position is furthest from any coastline and would be the location where you would least like to be placed if you had to walk your way out to the nearest coast due to distance and not considering difficult terrain.

The location on the earth that is furthest from any coastline is situated in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, approximately 1,560 miles from the nearest coastline. Similarly, the pole of inaccessibility in water that is furthest from land, often referred to as "Point Nemo", is located in the South Pacific Ocean. This pole is a staggering 1,670 miles from the nearest land. Individual locations have also been determined for every continent.

The continental pole of inaccessibility for North America is located in Bennett County in the southwestern region of South Dakota. When considering the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay, there is no other location that would be further to reach to any one of these coasts. By definition, a pole of inaccessibility is determined by the three closest shoreline points. In North America, these three points from the pole of inaccessibility are located at Port Nelson on Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada; Everett, Washington, providing access to the Pacific Ocean; and the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico between Galveston and Port Arthur, Texas. Mathematicians have calculated the distance from the pole of inaccessibility of North America to be approximately 1030 miles to any of these three locations. The error of uncertainty is estimated to be around 9 miles due to ambiguity of coastline definitions or river mouths.

The geographic location for the pole of inaccessibility of North America has been determined to be 43°21'36"N 101°58'12"W. This location was published in the Scottish Geographical Journal, Vol. 123, No. 3, 227-233, September 2007, in an article titled “Poles of Inaccessibility: A Calculation Algorithm for the Remotest Places on Earth” by Daniel Garcia-Castellanos and Umberto Lombardo. In the Public Land Survey System, the location is just south of the NE Corner of Section 18, Township 39 North, Range 39 West of the Sixth Principal Meridian. The nearest towns are Allen, located 6 miles to the south, and Kyle, located 11 miles to the northwest. Allen, with a population of 420 in the 2010 census, is considered the poorest place in the United States.

Despite its remote location near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the North American pole of inaccessibility is situated in a beautiful canyon lined with pine trees and native grasses. Buffalo belonging to the Oglala Sioux roam this area on tribal ground just as they did hundreds of years ago.

On a fall day in early October 2014, I traveled to the pole of inaccessibility along with my wife, Jenny, and 12-year-old nearby resident named Joey. A red-tailed hawk circled overhead as we walked across the prairie, over a stone covered ridge, and finally down into the ravine. A slight breeze provided a peaceful sound through the needles of the pines while we took pictures to commemorate our short expedition. At the designated location, we found nothing nor did we leave anything. We did, however, take with us lasting memories of being at a location much removed from the populated coastlines of the third largest continent on the earth.

Jerry Penry is a licensed land surveyor in Nebraska and South Dakota. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine.

A 4.485Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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