10 weirdly named natural places in America and the stories behind them.
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The Grand Canyon. The Rocky Mountains. The Great Lakes. Many of the names of our American natural wonders are ... a little on the nose.

To be fair, back in the day when people were exploring 3.8 million square miles of largely uncharted territory, literally circling the wagons to brainstorm the name of a random mountain or lake probably got old fast. “Well, they’re pretty rocky, ain’t they? Rocky Mountains — boom. Done.”

But in this vast, amazingly diverse land we call the United States, there are still lots of pretty damn strange names of natural features that might make you say, “Hm, maybe I should go to that pretty place with the funny name.”


As an avid hiker and fan of our national parks, here are a few of my favorite of those pretty places with funny names — and some that are still on my list of places to go.

1. Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Bumpus Hell: when the neighbor's hounds eat all your turkey.

GIF via "A Christmas Story."

Bumpass Hell, on the other hand, is something very different.

Bubbling mud pots. Colorful steaming pools. Overwhelming stench of rotten egg. Lassen Volcanic National Park in the northern Sierra Nevada is Yellowstone's lesser-known cousin. Its biggest area of thermal features has a name that would make Sir Mix-a-lot proud: Bumpass Hell.

It gets its moniker from Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, an ill-fated late-1800s settler who fell into one of its boiling mud pits, severely burning his leg, which is one way to enshrine your name in history, I guess.

Today, you can avoid Bumpass’ fate by exploring the stinky-but-surreal area from the safety of sturdy, carefully placed boardwalks.

2. Big Bone Lick State Park, Kentucky

Whoever decided to put a sign for this park on the freeway clearly didn't have the best interests of teenage boys in mind. We may never know how many ounces of Mountain Dew were lost to the limitless guffaws this name has caused over the years.

Putting aside the adolescent yuks, Big Bone Lick is still just a weird name. Contrary to how it sounds, this place was not named for licking any kind of bones. It’s the site of an ancient salt lick — mineral deposits where mammoths, mastodons, and other large animals fed and died, leaving their big bones for William Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) to dig up.

Ha-ha-ha, Big Bone Lick.

3. Unalaska Island, Alaska

Is this an oxymoron? Actually, no. Despite its name, this island is, in fact, in Alaska — in the 1,200-mile-long Aleutian archipelago, to be exact.

Unalaska doesn't mean un-Alaska — it's more along the lines of “near Alaska.” The word “Alaska” goes back to Russian colonial times, when it referred to the mainland of, yep, you guessed it: Alaska. “Unalaska” is thought to be a combination of Russian and the Aleut indigenous language meaning “near the mainland.” And while Unalaska may be hundreds of miles off the coast of mainland Alaska, that’s just a little jaunt in Alaska terms.

3. Grand Tetons, Wyoming

The Grand Teton mountains are just ridiculously beautiful.

Yeah. Photo via tpsdave/Pixabay.

Early French trappers thought so too. So much so that these wondrous peaks reminded them of other beautiful things from back home when they first laid eyes on them. Legend has it that these early Francophoners named the peaks Les Trois Tetons — The Three Teats (or The Three Breasts).

Devil's advocate: These dudes were probably super homesick and lonely, like ancient mariners who imagined mermaids on long voyages.

Or, they were just French.

4. Dolly Sods, West Virginia

Finally, a national park covered in neatly manicured Bermuda grass! ... OK, not quite.

The strange name derives from an 18th-century German homesteading family — the Dahles — and a local term for an open mountaintop meadow — a "sods." The wilderness area is also full of sphagnum (peat moss) bogs due to its unique terrain and ecosystem.

It's gorgeous to look at — just watch where you step.

5. Mount Fairweather, Alaska

This 15,325-foot peak that sits on the border between Alaska and British Columbia has “the unofficial distinction of the worst-named mountain on earth” — as it actually has terrible weather.

Margerie Glacier and Mount Fairweather during some fair weather. Image via Eric E Castro/Wikimedia Commons.

Its moniker wasn’t given ironically, though: Legendary explorer Capt. James Cook supposedly named Mount Fairweather from the comfort of his ship offshore in 1778 during a rare period of clear skies.

The rare badass who's climbed it would likely say otherwise.

6. Donner Lake and Donner Pass, California

They say fortune favors the bold. "They" are wrong, at least sometimes. Fortune certainly didn't favor the bold but ill-fated Donner Party in 1846.

California-bound, the Donner Party group of settlers gambled on a newly discovered shortcut through the Sierra Nevada, past what was then called Truckee Lake. They hit a wall of early snow at the pass and ended up stranded for months in the freezing cold. They soon ran out of food and, faced with starvation, eventually resorted to cannibalism. Rescuers finally reached the camp in late February, leading about half of the original 87 members of the party to safety.

Donner Lake from Donner Pass. Image via Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons.

Today, busy Interstate 80 traverses the pass between Sacramento and Reno. Take a moment on your drive to pull off at the gorgeous Donner Lake viewpoint, remember this grisly bit of history, and give thanks for your warm bed and three squares a day.

7. Pando, aka Trembling Giant, Utah

This natural feature is unique on this list: It’s a living thing — an 80,000-year-old living thing. Formerly thought to be largest living thing in the world (the actual largest living thing in the world is now thought to be a humongous fungus in Oregon), Pando is a massive grove of 47,000 quaking aspens in Utah that are all one life-form. The trees are genetically identical and all grow from the same root system. Wild.

Unfortunately, Pando isn’t doing so well. Overgrazing by deer and cattle is killing its young trees, which could lead to full collapse of the organism. Scientists, heroes that they are, are of course trying to save it.

8. Delmarva Peninsula

How do you name a peninsula shared between three different states? You combine their names, of course! The 170-mile-long Delmarva Peninsula, which forms the east side of the Chesapeake Bay, owes its name to the combination of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, all of which have a foothold on the landmass. Presumably, Virginia goes last because its sliver is the smallest. Hey, fair is fair.

Image via Planiglobe/Wikimedia Commons (altered).

9. Denali, Alaska

Denali. The stuff of legends. The highest peak in North America, at a staggering 20,310 feet.

Photo via skeeze/Pixabay.

Located in the eponymous national park in Alaska, this peak was recently in the news for a name change — or, more accurately, a name reversion. The word "Denali" means "the high one" in the local native Athabaskan language. What a perfect name, right? But as per usual, back in the day some greedy white dude mucked everything up by renaming it after newly elected President William McKinley, who these days is mostly known for being assassinated and succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt (sorry, Billy).

The national park was also called McKinley from 1917 to 1980. It was renamed Denali when it was combined with Denali National Monument. At that time, the Alaska state Board of Geographic Names also restored the mountain’s original name, but the U.S. Board on Geographic Names did not recognize it until President Obama put an end to all that last year, restoring it to its rightful name: Denali.

No word yet on whether President Trump will re-revert it to Mount McKinley. Or, knowing him, Mount Trump.

10. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California

Sometimes, one generation's trash makes another's paradise.

This beautiful beach is covered in litter. Seriously — it’s strewn with glass from a former city dump site. But the powerful California surf has shaped and polished millions of small shards into smooth pebbles, to colorful effect. (The red ones are old taillights.)

In a twist of irony, the glass at Glass Beach — which, again, is trash — is now protected by the California state parks as a “cultural feature,” which means you can’t remove any garbage from the beach.

Some of these places may sound made up, but they're very real, and they only begin to scratch the surface of what America has to offer.

If you're looking for a breath of fresh air and need something a little more novel than yet another trip to the Grand Canyon, give some of these breathtaking locales a try.

But a quick warning: Like many of Earth's greatest treasures, a few of these spots are in danger from climate change and other forms of human impact. (Glass Beach is basically made of garbage, for cryin' out loud.)

Visit them while you can — or, at the very least, let those catchy names be a constant reminder to always, always act in service of the planet.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."