John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A national obsession with the supernatural has led to sinister locales like Satan Hill, Lucifer Falls, Mount Evil, and Lake Chaos.
All right, kids, the bags are in the trunk and we're ready to get this road trip started. Let's just grab the map to see where we can go. Devil's Swamp – hmm, that doesn't sound very fun. Mount Evil... uhh, no. Satan Hill. Lucifer Falls. Lake Chaos. Wait a second – what the hell kind of map is this?
A fiendishly evil one is the answer, as it displays all the places in America whose names draw on demonic, hellish, and Satan-flavored elements. The United States Devil Map, available in full-screen for your pre-Halloween perusal, is a fantastic example of how a nation's burning obsession with the supernatural has influenced its entire cartography. Virtually every state in the union has at least a handful of brimstone-smelling mountains, Styxlike rivers, infernal swamps, and, in one case, a highway so damned the authorities had to change its name. It's as if the country's pioneers picked geographic names by sacrificing goats and studying the entrails for messages from Dark Lord Lucifer.
This is the ember-red geography of the Northeast:
And here's the Northwest:
The whole country:
Making the U.S. look like it was founded by cultists was the idea of Jonathan Hull, a 37-year-old graphic designer from Salt Lake City (nearby attractions: Hades Canyon, Hell Hole Swale). Hull decided to brew up the macabre map after traveling to southern Utah and noticing all the red rocks named for gods and demons. So he went to Google Maps and began to enter in a variety of wicked-sounding words like "death," "witch," and "goblin," although he gave that up in favor of permutations of "devil" and "hell" to minimize the massive number of results he was getting.
Hull doesn't doubt he missed many diabolical places, but is happy with the representative sample he's amassed. "I found there's more Devil's Elbows than I thought," he says. "I'm also amused by street names like Evil Lane or oddball places like Satan's Kingdom or Devil's Cup and Saucer Island." He acknowledges the map would've been finished much earlier if he wasn't spending so much time image-searching photos of these locales for his personal curiosity.
A few things occurred to Hull while he was compiling the terrible guide, he explains via email:
As far as patterns and geography, I'm not too surprised that the mountains and coasts hold most of the names – areas with rugged features, rock formations, canyons, lost and remote places and such. (Again, think of related terms in the West – Death Valley, Skull Valley, Goblin Valley, Valley of Fire, and the Firehole River.) It's clear to see concentrations in the Appalachians, Ozarks, Rockies, and Cascades, and then along the coasts where jagged rocks and whirlpools are hazards. The Plains and Midwest are a bit sparse. Many are places a bit removed from the cities. I was surprised that the Southeast isn't as full as the Northeast, thinking that the Bible Belt might have had a higher concentration. Oddly, central Texas has little concentration.
Certain places own their diabolical denominations. Devil's Sinkhole in Texas is a menacing, bat-infested pit surrounded by dump piles burned by prehistoric people; the guano it accumulated were at one point mined for fertilizer. In Utah there's the Dirty Devil River, near Poison Springs Wash Road, whose illustrious visitors included Butch Cassidy looking to hide out. And Route 666 in the Southwest attracted so much bad publicity for its Mark-of-the-Beast moniker and its abnormally high number of traffic fatalities that state officials recently rechristened it "U.S. Route 491."
The power of a good ol' Beelzebubian name was evident in the burst of memorabilia hunting right before the switcheroo, according to Wikipedia:
Within days of the announcement, virtually every US 666 sign had been stolen, some for sale on eBay. Officials in Utah reported that five entire sign assemblies had been cut down with a chainsaw and stolen, while New Mexico officials reported that even signs welded to metal posts, as a theft deterrent, had been stolen. Officials speculated from one scene that someone had intentionally crashed a car into the sign post to break the welds....
One Monticello resident stated, "We'll really miss all the potheads stopping and taking pictures of the Route 666 sign."
haunted Pep Boys. (Smedpull / Wikipedia)
Other locations defy their evil-sounding names with pleasant landscapes and recreational opportunities. There's Damnation Peak in the Cascade Mountains north of Seattle, an infernal promontory that seems to attract hikers for its name and its gorgeous views (you'll find it buddied up to Hellfire Peak). And in another twist, many places reference body parts, as if a mega-swole Creator had ripped Satan into pieces and scattered the steaming remains over the land. The anatomical parade includes the devil's backbone, elbow, thumb, heart, throat, and, er, knob.
Some are plain weird, like Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley, whose hellishly bucolic name reportedly comes from a type of weed that thrives in the intensely hot environment. My vote for best appellation must go to Arizona's Hellzapoppin Creek, a trickle in an ocean of dried-out grassland that (I like to imagine) sees Natty Light-swilling ghouls tubing under the eerie light of the Blood Moon.
Hull hopes to follow up this sulphurous portrayal of the country with one beaming with heavenly appellations. "I'm not sure how many direct Jesus names there might be, but there are an awful lot of Saint," he says. Expect to see that map come out with "maybe a Christmas timing."