Fearless Female Traveler
What’s in a name, anyway?
The landscape appears to glow from within, sprouting purple and orange flowers from cracks and crannies in hard desert soil, but it’s the evening sun hanging low in the sky that paints the horizon honey gold on a springtime evening. It’s April in Death Valley, California. Campers clamber to the ridges of sand dunes for sunset photo ops. Picnic tables under palms are warm to the touch. Kids circle around on bicycles. This place is really called Death Valley?
The name choice still blows me away, especially since Death Valley is home to more than 1,000 species of plants, including California poppies and lupines. But perhaps if Death Valley had the same ring as, say, Sea World, or the Magic Kingdom, California’s desert wouldn’t feel like a super-secret paradise each spring where a playground of sand dunes, vibrant multi-colored limestone formations and palm trees share the same dramatic backdrop. But it does.
My dusty hardbound 1974 edition of “California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names” by Erwin G. Gudde, says: “The name was probably used for the valley by gold seekers of the 1850s because of its forbidding appearance and because of the skeletons of unfortunate wanderers found there. Most maps of the period leave the region blank…the present name was probably applied if not bestowed by the Nevada Boundary Survey.”