Devils Kitchen is in the Mayacamas range northeast of Santa Rosa, near the eastern edge of Pepperwood Preserve. On the other side of the county, near Cazadero, are Devils Ribs, Devils Backbone and Devil Creek. East of Cloverdale is Devils Den Canyon.
Why so many diabolical place names in Sonoma County? One reason is that the devil, who mythologically presides over an underground realm with lakes of fire, is associated with volcanic activity, which helped form our landscape. Before The Geysers were tapped for power, the ground there was “unbearably hot.” You could burn your feet if you didn’t keep moving. Nineteenth-century tourists viewed infernal attractions like “The Devils Teakettle” and “The Witches’ Cauldron,” full of “black boiling liquid ... continually boiling and foaming.”
The burners at Devils Kitchen (outside The Geysers) cooled long ago and the area is described as volcanic ash badlands. But the geology of Devils Ribs and Devils Backbone is metamorphic rather than igneous. So something else — idle hands perhaps? — must be at play.
In Western theology, the devil is God’s enemy, ever trying to subvert the divine plan. Inhospitable places that form obstacles to human “good” and “progress” are sometimes credited to the devil. They are “bad lands.” Take Devils Slide, on Highway 1 south of San Francisco. Prone to landslides and erosion, it was such a hellish place for a road that Caltrans eventually closed it to motorized traffic. For good.
The devil is said to work in secrecy and darkness, preferring to remain concealed and invisible. Mount Diablo was named after an incident in which runaway mission Native Americans hid in a willow thicket. Though surrounded by Spanish soldiers, they escaped unseen in the night. Angry and confused, the Spanish blamed their failure on diabolical magic, “the work of the Devil.”
Likewise, mountain lions’ almost supernatural ability to remain unseen, even in close proximity to humans, has inspired nicknames like “Shadow Cat,” and “Ghost Cat,” as well as “Mountain Devil” and “Devil Cat.” Devil’s Gulch in west Marin is said to have been named for the presence of lions. It could be that a mountain lion lair inspired the naming of Sonoma County’s Devils Den Creek.
The devil himself is often called “The Prince of Darkness.” With winter solstice having just passed, darkness literally reigns over more of our lives. It’s an important time to remember that the underworld also has the power to make good things appear. Hades was the Greek god who inhabited the underworld before Satan arrived. Persephone, Hades’ wife, lived with him half the year, but each spring returned to the Earth above, bringing new life up out of death and darkness.
Such opposites are like a Möbius strip, which seems to have two sides but actually has only one. With the fires and their aftermath, many of us have been through a kind of hell. But without that experience, the kindness humans are capable of might never have seen the light of day.
As one who lost much, I have been deeply touched, inspired and humbled by the generosity of this community. Thank you.