Autumn foreshadowed her imminent arrival as Wyatt and I found our way into Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness.
The drizzle had an icy bite, and the condensation from our breath trailed in puffs behind us, like exhaust from the chimney of a cartoon locomotive. Intermittent aspen leaves glowed a premature gold. Mist hung gauzily over Lost Creek; without the stream’s lilt, one wouldn’t have known it was there.
Countless places and geologic features bear Lost in their names, yet all had to first be discovered. As Erwin G. Gudde notes in the book California Place Names, many landmarks were dubbed Lost because they had been encountered, could not be located again, and were later rediscovered; others bear the title of Lost because they seem isolated or astray amid their surroundings.
Like many “lost” waterways, Lost Creek earned its name for its occasional forays underground. There is no shortage of Lost Creeks in Colorado or elsewhere. The Centennial State counts at least a few among its abundant brooks, and Alaska may hold the record with more than a dozen.
There are also multiple towns named Lost Creek (notably in Texas and West Virginia; Indiana is home to a Lost Creek Township). Montana and Washington each has a Lost Creek Falls.
When it comes to christening locations and landmarks, many look to “lost.” There are more than 30 Losts in Colorado, and California counts more than 100, which appears to be more than any other state. There are also loads of Losts in Alaska, including appellations that stir the imagination:
- Lost Cabin Lake
- Lost Chance Basin
- Lost Chicken Creek (there is also a Lost Chicken Hill)
- Lost Horse Creek
- Lost Jim Cone (don’t worry; Jim was found)
- Lost Rocker Falls
- Lost Temper Creek
Lost places, of course, are not limited to the United States. In the Scottish council of Aberdeenshire, there is a hamlet known simply as Lost, though its name is derived from the Gaelic word for “inn.” Alas, some idiotic, English-speaking tourists apparently find the name so amusing that they are moved to steal the village’s signs.
In his poem “The Explorer,” Rudyard Kipling explores the urge to lose oneself in the natural world in contrast with a desire to name, take ownership of and exploit things. Via inner voice or divine calling, the poem’s narrator is urged: “‘Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!’”
The explorer goes, and he fathoms much of value to himself and to those who would follow, although the nature of the profit differs greatly:
“Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre?
Have I kept one single nugget—(barring samples)? No, not I!
Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
But you wouldn’t understand it. You go up and occupy.”
Though the narrator finds himself, the poem doesn’t have a happy ending. The explorer’s discoveries of timber and coal and iron open the door for industry (“God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready, Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!”).
Some places are better off lost.