The Devil's Pulpit

After turning a switchback, I glanced down at my watch to check the temperature. The thermometer read 66.6 degrees. Only a few seconds later I pulled out my map and studied the route. I smiled at the uncanny coincidence of having just passed by a rock formation known as Devil's Pulpit. As it turns out, toponyms named after the devil are not so uncommon in our nation's backcountry. Devil's Backbone. Devil's Punchbowl. Devil's Gulch. I can count nearly twenty of them along the route of the PCT. The next nearest contender in terms of abundance were toponyms with bear in them. It says a lot about man's relationship with nature, particularly wilderness, that so many features of the landscape allude to the devil. For every Cathedral Rock one might pass along the trail, there are three Devil's Ridges. And it was in the wilderness after all, that Satan tempted Jesus.

Wilderness was not always a thing of beauty or a place of recreation, but rather a place to be feared, full of danger and malevolence. As one early European settler put it several centuries ago, "Wilderness is a dark and dismal place where all manner of wild beasts dash about uncooked." Steinbeck himself observed in Travels With Charley, "how terrible the nights must have been in a time when men knew the things were there and were deadly." Later in the book he writes of the South Dakota Badlands, "They are like the work of an evil child. Such a place the Fallen Angels might have built as a spite to Heaven, dry and sharp, desolate and dangerous, and for me filled with foreboding. A sense comes from it that it does not like or welcome humans." For every Cathedral Rock one might pass along the trail, there are three Devil's Ridges. And it was in the wilderness after all, that Satan tempted Jesus.


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