I take pride in being a great passenger on road trips. I entertain, provide snacks, select playlists, look up facts on the internet (when there is cell coverage), pet the bossy snout of Mack, and most importantly, I navigate. 90% of the time we have only a general idea of where we are going, so an atlas is the best way to find our next spot. My job is locating creeks, dirt roads, trails, potential camp spots, lunch spots, dog walking spots. I spend a lot of my time in the passenger seat perusing an atlas.
Have you been to the top of Bald Mountain? Which one? Or should I say how many? I was looking at an atlas a few weeks ago and saw two of them in the same mountain range. Turns out there are more than 5600 Bald Mountains in the United States. That is an average of 112 in each state. Not sure how many are actually in Nebraska, so they may not be evenly distributed.
You might assume that a place name tells a story or acts as a description, but you never know if the person who named it had a sense of humor or was trying to create a distraction. You should not assume, for example, that Fish Creek will be an excellent place to catch fish. A Fish Creek I’ve been to in Southern Utah is about 4 feet across and treacherous to navigate. There are fish in Fish Creek, but they are tiny and you will probably lose a small fortune in flies, if you manage to not damage your rod, or twist an ankle, in the effort. Who knows, maybe some other creek nearby is the real honeypot.
Names do create an expectation, though. There is a small section of doubletrack, on an otherwise fantastic singletrack mountain bike trail, that Salt Lake City locals know as Puke Hill. It’s steep, used to be rutted and loose, and takes place close to 10,000 feet. These days it is much improved, though still steep and still close to 10,000 feet. The hardest part is mental, so why make it worse with a name like that? I started calling it “Happy Fun Hill.” And it is possible that helped me stop dreading it. It is no one’s favorite part of the ride, but it is short and leads to better things.
We wanted to stop for a mountain bike ride to break up a drive through Nevada and a friend mentioned a trail called Bloody Shins. Instead, we rode Copper Basin, which sounded more benign, though it could have been called Cow Stampede. We did however take a side trip to the Ruby Mountains outside of Elko and that was well worth the drive. The name does justice to the place.
Almost every time I look at an atlas I find another Fish Creek or Twin Peaks. And Ben Lomond! A name that seems distinctive and unique! There are at least six mountains with that name, in addition to the famous one in Scotland. Were people suffering from a lack of imagination or a heavy dose of nostalgia (“It reminds me of the Highlands…”)? I imagine the world once felt like a smaller place when you could say you went over to Trout Creek and no one said: “which one?”