Who named Ghost Ditch? And when?
May 14, 2013 5:14 PM   Subscribe

This past weekend I drove from Los Angeles to Tucson via Interstate-10, and took to noticing the names of the various ditches and washes that are spanned by the highway out in the middle of the high lonesome desert. There are a lot of them. Ghost Ditch, Taro Ditch, Larry Ditch, Stubby Wash, Fornat Wash, Itta Wash, Edom, Mccoy, Rollie, Bula, Sutro, Calotus, Esso, Arco, Teed, Turala, maybe a hundred between the ditches and the washes. The names don't seem to refer to nearby municipalities (there aren't any) or other geographical features, and are clearly part of the National Bridge Inventory. How were these 'waterways' named? Who named them? Were they named before the freeway required infrastructure to pass over them, or during the construction process, or when the NBI was implemented, or after the fact altogether?

I have submitted a question at UglyBridges.com, which looks like a public-facing handmade front for the NBI. There doesn't seem to be much interest in 'bridges' over washes and ditches in the middle of nowhere, big surprise, and I haven't heard anything back from them. The NBI has a library but their services are mainly reserved for governmental employees doing important things that aren't based in idle curiosity. I imagine I'll hear back from them sometime next year. FHA has a boatload of documents and policy to wade through, and I'm sort of picking through it haphazardly. So, here I am, asking you. Any idea how that sort of thing works?
posted by carsonb to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been looking at a whole lot of topo maps of that general region lately. I can't answer your question directly, but there are named washes everywhere you look in the desert, even in the middle of nowhere, inside parks, etc. In the area of Joshua Tree, the explanations for the geographic names almost always have to do with people or events from the initial exploration and exploitation of the area during westward expansion. If you can find one of the particular ones you are curious about within the boundaries of a park, or even a city with a decent museum, chances are you could find out more info that way.
posted by feloniousmonk at 6:07 PM on May 14, 2013

I suggest asking the state library. In Vermont at least the state library presides over the official list of place names (and waterways in specific, I know) and so would at least know how these names are arrived at, if not who named them.
posted by jessamyn at 6:20 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the washes and ditches eventually trace into the Colorado, so if anything, the Army Corps of Engineers, who have jurisdiction over all waterways in the US, may have named them when they were surveying the Colorado's drainage basin.

If anything that may be another agency for you to contact.
posted by hwyengr at 6:26 PM on May 14, 2013

Perhaps somebody connected to the National Hydrography Dataset or the Watershed Boundary Dataset could help answer your questions?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:29 PM on May 14, 2013

I'm so glad you posted this question. I live in Joshua Tree and make the drive out I10 from Chiriaco Summit to Blythe 6-7 times a month so I've wondered about those ditch names, too. I've always wondered if they were named during the time General Patton commanded the Desert Training Center in the area.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:14 PM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: Aw, you mean to tell me nobody has my pat answer all wrapped up in a bow?


Well, thank you all for the excellent leads. I will continue to hunt around and email bureaucrats, and report back whether or not I learn anything further. Thanks again!
posted by carsonb at 9:36 PM on May 14, 2013

Another possible lead: The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which, as it says on its site,
promulgates official geographic feature names with locative attributes as well as principles, policies, and procedures governing the use of domestic names, foreign names, Antarctic names, and undersea feature names.
It serves the Federal Government and the public as a central authority to which name problems, name inquiries, name changes, and new name proposals can be directed. In partnership with Federal, State, and local agencies, the Board provides a conduit through which uniform geographic name usage is applied and current names data are promulgated.
And this, from the FAQ:
Proposals to name an unnamed natural feature may be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as described below. The Board is responsible by law for standardizing geographic names throughout the Federal Government, and promulgates policies governing issues such as commemorative naming, derogatory names, and names in wilderness areas. Generally the most important policy is local use and acceptance.

Please note that no natural feature (and certain manmade features) may be named for a living person. A potential honoree must have been deceased for at least five years, and must have had either a direct and long-term association with the feature, or must have made notable civic contributions.

Upon receipt of a proposal, all interested parties will be asked to comment. The Board makes decisions only after receiving recommendations from the local government, county government, the State Names Authority (in 50 States, the District of Columbia, and 2 Territories), and appropriate land management agencies. [My bolding.] Only name proposals for natural features will be accepted (see FAQ #7 for information on administrative feature names—churches, cemeteries, schools, parks, shopping centers, etc).
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2013

« Older DIY Durable Lightweight Box?   |   Silver Tsunami: Baby boomer cliches? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.