Geology & Geophysics Feature

Thirteen Ghoulish Place-Names Across the Globe

Feeling devilish this Halloween? Open a map.

By and

Halloween is a night of spooks and haunted houses, of ghosts and goblins, of devilish delight in the creepy and eerie. But for those of us fascinated with the Earth there’s one place that’s always been haunted: our maps.

If you flip through any atlas, you’ll notice that the Devil lurks everywhere. One of his thumbs is in Alaska, another two are in Greenland and Colorado, and his elbow is in Missouri. He’s got a tower in Wyoming and a pile of posts and a golf course in California. He even has an island that served as a penal colony in French Guiana. If place-names are to judge, his accoutrements rival a wedding registry: He’s got forks, chairs, tea tables, a collection of marbles—and don’t forget the bathtub—to name a few.

And when the Devil is on Earth, hell and death aren’t far away either. There’s Hells Canyon and a few half acres of hell pocked around the country. You can reach hell through geysers, valleys, and volcanoes. But beware the Skeleton Gorges and Death Canyons.

From the highest of the Seven Devils to the plummeting lows of Death Valley, the ghoulish is quite literally all around us. Here are 13 place-names around the world that invoke the Halloween spirit.

 

1. Devils Punchbowl, Oregon

Devils Punchbowl, Oregon
Devils Punchbowl. Credit: wplynn, CC BY-ND 2.0

This large sandstone bowl lies on Oregon’s northern coast, about 200 kilometers southwest of Portland. Its cavern formed from the collapse of two sea caves and tantalizes visitors of all ages. Careful, though; you can only hike inside the cavern during low tide.

 

2. Roopkund (Skeleton Lake), India

Roopkund
Human bones with Roopkund, the Skeleton Lake, in the background. Credit: Ashokyadav739/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Imagine finding a lake full of skeletons. In 1942, a British forest guard in the Himalayas did just that.

Roopkund, a glacial lake perched at an elevation of 5000 meters, is about a meter deep and 60 meters across. Ice melting from the lake revealed more than 200 skeletons floating in the shallow water and strewn about the lake edge. Fearing that the Japanese had somehow found a way to invade through the mountains, the British government dispatched a team of investigators. They quickly discovered that the remains were quite old, the dry air preserving flesh, bone, hair, and skin. The site came to be nicknamed “Skeleton Lake.”

Only recently did scientists figure out who the dead were and how they died. The bones date back to 850 CE. As Atlas Obscura reports, DNA and other evidence suggest they were one family or a tight-knit tribe. They appear to have died en masse from blunt trauma to the head. The weapon? A leading hypothesis suggests that the people were pummeled to death by large hailstones.

 

3. Diablo Mudo (Mute Devil), Peru

Diablo Mudo
Diablo Mudo on the left, in the Cordillera Huayhuash mountains. Credit: Stéphan Peccini, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Peru’s Diablo Mudo (Mute Devil) peak attracts mountaineers with its breathtaking views. The 5400-meter peak is extremely remote and can be accessed only from the Cordillera Huayhuash mountains. Pack extra undies—it’s a 2-week trip just to the mountain’s slope.

 

4. Darvaza Crater (Door to Hell), Turkmenistan

Door to Hell
Door to Hell. Credit: Martha de Jong-Lantink, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1971, a natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, collapsed. To prevent the spread of methane, Soviet geologists are believed to have set the cavern on fire—and it’s been burning ever since. The crater, which now sports the nickname “Door to Hell,” is currently the size of an American football field and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

In 2013, explorer and storm chaser George Kourounis rappelled to the crater’s bottom—just because he could. He might be the only person who can truly say he’s been to hell and back.

 

5. Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota

Devil’s Kettle
Devil’s Kettle, Minn. Credit: Captain Tenneal, 2.0 CC BY-NC-ND

Along the northern shore of Lake Superior, a waterfall cascades down several outcroppings of rhyolite rock. Mysteriously, the waterfall, from Minnesota’s Brule River, disappears down a giant pothole known as Devil’s Kettle, and scientists still have no idea where it goes. It’s assumed that the water makes its way to Lake Superior, but even dye tracers can’t locate the exact path of the subterranean flow.

 

6. Jama Pekel (Hell Cave), Slovenia

Hell Cave
Entrance to Hell Cave (Jama Pekel), Slovenia. Credit: Sl-Ziga/Wikimedia Commons

In northeastern Slovenia rests Jama Pekel (Hell Cave), a limestone formation carved out of the ground over millions of years by the Peklenščica Stream. In the winter, the warm interior of the cave meets the cold temperatures outside, creating steam. These cave vapors, plus the spiky stalactites and other formations near the cave’s entrance, helped the cave to gain its name. Jama Pekel is the only cave in Slovenia in which Paleolithic human remains have been found.

 

7. Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Skeleton Coast
Shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Credit: Ian Cochrane, CC BY 2.0

A stretch of coastline in northern Namibia called the Skeleton Coast was once known to the Portuguese as the Gates of Hell. These days, it gets its name from the smattering of whale and seal bones and litters of shipwrecks scattered up and down the 500-kilometer-long coastline.

At this coast, strong ocean currents meet the fierce heat of the Namib Desert at a rocky shore, creating dense ocean fog and rough surf. These conditions have proved treacherous for at least a thousand ships of various sizes. From whaling vessels, ocean liners, tug boats, and even rescue vehicles, smashed hulls and broken stems peek through coastal dunes.

 

8. Devils Hole, Nevada

Devil’s Hole
The entrance to Devils Hole. Credit: Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

Endangered pupfish love its oxygen-poor waters, and faraway earthquakes cause these waters to slosh. This mysterious phenomenon is Devils Hole, a portal to a vast underground network of water-filled caves underneath a detached portion of Death Valley National Park in Nevada.

No one is certain of the extent of the system, which claimed the lives of two teenagers in 1965. The teens jumped the fence and into the hole, then disappeared. Although would-be rescuers dove in to check air pockets throughout the caverns, neither of the teens was found.

 

9. (Another) Devil’s Punchbowl, California

Devil’s Punchbowl, California
Devil’s Punchbowl, Calif. Credit: Matthew McPherson, CC BY-SA 3.0

This punchbowl is empty of liquid but not of punch: The sedimentary sandstone syncline dips down as pressures in surrounding faults mush rock and fold the land upward. This folding, caused by the Punchbowl fault to the south and the Pinyon and San Andreas faults to the north, helps to create a 5-square-kilometer basin that’s almost 100 meters deep.

 

10. Devil’s Bridge Falls, Wales

Devil’s Bridge
Devil’s Bridge Falls, Wales. Credit: Simon McLaughlin, CC BY-NC 2.0

“Or come the incessant shocks / From that young stream that smites the throbbing rocks.” Those are two lines of William Wordsworth’s 1824 poem “To the Torrent at the Devil’s Bridge,” which was inspired by Devil’s Bridge Falls in Wales. There, three bridges stacked one on top of the other cross a waterfall and deep gorge.

Legend has it that the Devil built the first bridge. As the story goes, a woman made a deal with the Devil; she had lost her cow and couldn’t get through the gorge to retrieve it. The Devil said he’d build her a bridge but that the first living soul to cross it was his. So the woman tricked him and sent her dog across the bridge and safely retrieved her lost cow.

 

11. Devils Paw

Devils Paw
Devils Paw, Alaska. Credit: Gillfoto/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Right at the boundary of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, rises a chunk of granite with several sharp peaks known as Devils Paw. Its highest peak stretches upward over 2000 meters. Rumor has it a couple of scrappy teenage detectives once uncovered an “astounding secret” at the foot of the mountain in the late 1950s.

 

12. Hell’s Half Acre, Idaho

Hell’s Half Acre
Hell’s Half Acre, Idaho. Credit: International Space Station Expedition 18 crew/Johnson Space Center

Where Idaho’s Snake River used to flow now lies an expanse of ancient lava flows crisscrossed by nature trails. The lava flows of the “Hawaiian Landscape in Idaho” resulted from Earth’s crust stretching, allowing magma to erupt to the surface. This particular lava flow erupted more than 4000 years ago and stretches across more than 500 square kilometers.

 

13. Devil’s Cataract, Zimbabwe

Devil’s Cataract
Devil’s Cataract, Zimbabwe. Credit: Meraj Chhaya, CC BY 2.0

On Zimbabwe’s side of Victoria Falls, which is actually made up of five separate falls, the lowest is known as the Devil’s Cataract. The Zambezi River erodes away the underlying basalt little by little, but one day the water will start cutting into softer material. This erosion sets the stage for the inevitable collapse of an adjacent island into the gorge below.

What’s your favorite ghoulish map location? Tell us in the comments below!

—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer; and Mohi Kumar (@scimohi), Scientific Content Editor

Citation: Wendel, J., and M. Kumar (2016), Thirteen ghoulish place-names across the globe, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO062181. Published on 28 October 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0