In the old days the pioneers named spontaneously the places that they settled. Their initial anger, passion, laughter, irreverence, or quixotic associations are reflected, particularly in the West, in names such as Calamity Mesa, Hailstone, and Dandy Crossing. The folk poetry of the pioneers lies all around if you stand on this point above Hite Crossing (named after Cass Hite, who leveled it) on the Colorado River: in the distance you see Mount Tukuhnivats (in Ute, “where the sun lingers”) and out an arm’s or imagination’s throw are landforms with strange names:
Goblin Valley, Druid Arch, Devil’s Backbone, and Cleopatra’s Chair (there were educated pioneers).
Lust seems to have been a constant: Cohabitation Canyon, Matrimony Spring, Squaw Spring, and Mary’s Tom, where the locals suspected the widow and her hired hand.
Some of these are being effaced by the gov’mint. Only the old GS maps show Mollie’s Nipple, the Bishop’s Prick, Queen Anne’s Bottom, the Son of a Bitch Rapids, and Nigger Bill Hill.
What are we to make of these topographic suggestions? The paucity of human imagination? They call it the Adamic Impulse over at the university. Maybe we should we thankful that they saved us from another Oak Street or Euclid Avenue.
Wit was the only wall between a pioneer and the dark. But they weren’t always so spot-on. Over there on Tukuhnikivats is an obscure gulch, which a friend of mine, who was on the survey crew and somewhat stumped for a name, christened “Of-the-what Canyon.” Even Flaubert had such days, I guess.
The Board on Geographic Names has been charged with standardizing all names. It really only has one rule: No geographic feature may be named after a living person. At least the “dead wo/men only” stipulation has prevented newly discovered regions from resembling a dictionary of campaign contributors.
Click on the photo to feel the place. It’s a large panorama jpeg.