A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names. For this installment in our series “A Place Called What?!” we head to Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Know an unusual place name in California? Tell us about it in the comments below, or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can smell Bumpass Hell before you actually see it.
"It smells like rotten eggs," Karen Haner says. "It's [the] hydrogen sulfide."
Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park, where Haner is the chief of interpretation and education.
She tells me that Bumpass Hell has been described as "a little Yellowstone" because of its boiling mud pots and steamy fumaroles.
The bands of colorful soil are another iconic feature. "The soil look[s] red because of the iron, or yellow because of the sulfur, or black because of the pyrite," Haner says. "It can look quite startling when you first come upon it."
Bumpass Hell has been startling visitors since 1865. That was the year that Kendall Bumpass led a group on a tour around the hot pools.
"Kendall was warning everyone to be careful of where they put their feet and stepped because he knew how crumbly the ground could be," says Haner. "Unfortunately, he took a misstep, and his leg plunged into the boiling, acidic water. It burned him very severely."
So that's how Bumpass Hell got its name, from poor Kendall Bumpass.
"It was considered to be his hell because of what he experienced," says Haner.
By the way, it's pronounced "Bump-uss" -- not "Bump-ass."
Now, Bumpass Hell is one of the three major trails visited by the half-million people who come to Lassen each year.
"[People are] like, 'How can I get there? How can I get to Bumpass Hell?'" Haner says, laughing.
"Unfortunately, we have had a couple of individuals in recent years who've decided to ignore the signs. And there have been a couple of accidents," Haner admits.
She hopes Bumpass Hell's namesake deters those who are tempted to go off-roading.
"That's definitely one of those where you want to learn from another's experience."
Bumpass Hell’s trails will be closed for repair this season, but you can plan your trip for summer 2019 when they are scheduled to reopen.