With 765 wilderness areas, some are bound to have odd names

America’s hundreds of protected Wilderness areas have names as varied as their landscapes, with wide-ranging origin stories to boot.

Names matter. The word “wilderness” still wrongly carries connotations of danger, desolation, even abandonment (consider the way we use it in popular idioms). This was all the more true in 15th- through early-20th-century America.

The Wilderness Act, 50 years old in 2014, was a monumental piece of legislation, but also a broadside against that misguided understanding; suddenly, the mightiest nation on earth was officially endorsing the idea that the “wild” could be valuable and restorative, and should therefore be preserved. Today, some form of this belief is self-evident to most Americans.

The individual Wilderness areas that sprung from that law have carried a truly diverse array of names, from Absaroka-Beartooth to Zion. Typically, the pieces of land encompassed by these designations are identified with beloved wilderness champions, indigenous legends, native animals or descriptions of the landscape itself.

Sometimes, the name is something more obscure altogether, an ancient jumble of syllables or an out-of-place adjective. Like wilderness itself, these titles beckon the curious and, once explored, often defy expectations.

Here are a few of the more unique names, along with their origin stories…

 

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