“When the southern mesa came into view, we let out a sigh of relief. The ranch hand – his names was Vick if I remember right – pointed us northwest. ‘Look for Holy Butte,’ he said, “You’ll know you’re close when you smell sage”. Once there, he told us to turn directly west and continue on until we hit the mouth a dry ravine. It took us half a day or so to get there, and when we arrived we decided to bed down for the night. The next day, we woke early and rode until sunset, our only source of water the small trickle that filtered through the narrow ravine from a cloudburst the day before. Luckily, the beaten path was well established or else we might’ve been washed out by the light flooding.

“On the Fifth day, the ravine suddenly disappeared and we were spat out on a dry, sandy plain that seemed to go on forever. Luckily, the highest peaks of the Steam Range were visible above the horizon directly in front of us. Mount Sawtooth – the second highest Steam Range peak named for its visibly serrated apex – proved to be our compass as we tirelessly stumbled over sand hills and long tracts of desiccation cracks.

“Alas, on the eighth day, the southern mesa popped into view, and we celebrated by taking out the whiskey skin. We found some shade beneath a grove of young cotton wood trees growing along the eastern face of the mesa as we wound our way around its edge. By the afternoon, we’d found the mouth of the brook that ran between the south and north mesa and we set down for the night. In the twilight of the evening, I looked toward the hogback and wrung my hands. The next day we’d be back on our horses, wondering through canyon land where the bandits hide. I stayed awake for as long as I could hold my eyes open. It was a cloudless night and alongside the whisper of the brook I watched a small group of shooting stars silently rip through the sky.”

The vast array of nature oriented language is daunting. The earth is covered with unique geological features, and each culture has their own way of describing what they see on a day to day basis. Take the word stream for example. It is a word that describes a small body running water, sort of like a river, but much smaller. Here are some synonyms for the word stream: syke, burn, run, kill, brook, rivulet. WOW!

My obsession with terms that describe the physical world around us is sickening really. It’s one of my numerous geeky interests, and perhaps one of the more monotonous. Having said that, I’ve been out traveling and found that having a deep vocabulary and understanding of different features allows me to appreciate and articulate a region more efficiently. Bored yet? Yeah, me too…

Anyway, here are some cool terms for cool things….

Nunatak – A hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice.


Daniel Burka

Batholith – A very large igneous intrusion extending deep in the earth’s crust.

yang-song-15342.jpg Yang Song

Tombolo – A bar of sand or shingle joining an island to the mainland.

dawid-zawila-184721.jpg Dawid Zawiła

Wadi – A valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season (used in Arab cultures).


Rob Bye