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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 Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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