Atlas Obscura is Hiring! Join us in pursuit of wonder.

The Story Behind Bucket of Blood Street and Other Weird Road Names

Photo: Richard Masoner/ Flickr

The road you grew up on undoubtedly holds its own, personally meaningful mythology. But all of the meaningful adventures that took place on, say, McClelland Street probably can’t match the stories behind bizarro destinations like Bucket of Blood Street, Mountain Man Road, or Zzyzx Road. Here are seven incredible stories behind seven strangely named roads. 

1. SHADES OF DEATH ROAD
Independence Township, New Jersey 

Photo: Daniel Case/Wikipedia

The story behind New Jersey’s Shades of Death Road is as shady as you might think. There does not seem to be a definitive history behind the road’s grim name, but rather a number of legends—none of which are very pleasant.

Most theories agree that the road was once known as “The Shades,” thanks to the thick forest canopy that hangs over it. The second part of the name has been attributed to a number of different occurrences, including a group of bandits that once made part of the road their hideout in order to attack travelers. Another theory says that the swampy conditions around the road were once home to a nasty mosquito population, which spread a deadly outbreak of malaria. Then, of course, there are stories that say the road got its name thanks to a bunch of murders that took place nearby.

Whatever the truth is, Shades of Death Road has become so popular thanks to its ghoulish name that the locals have had to grease the sign pole to keep people from shimmying up it and stealing the sign.      

2. MOUNTAIN MAN ROAD
Gehlaur, India

Dashrath Manjhi Road

Photo: Google Maps

India’s Dashrath Manjhi Road, better known as “Mountain Man Road,” is not dedicated to to a grizzled American frontiersman, but instead to a fanatically determined widower who devoted his life to improving his remote community.

Dashrath Manjhi lived in a village near a dangerous, rocky spine known as the Gehlour Hills. With a number of essential services located on the far side of the hills, many people from Manjhi’s town had to either trek dozens of miles each day to circumvent the hills, or risk scaling them. Manjhi’s wife, Faguni Devi, was making the journey across the hills in 1959 when she fell and severely injured herself. Unable to reach medical help on the far side of the hills, she died from her injuries.

After this incident, Manjhi resolved that such a tragedy would not happen again, and he began to attack the very ground where his wife fell. For 22 years Manjhi continued to chip away at the hills, determined to create a road that would connect his town to the world on the other side. Finally in 1982, after decades of back-breaking labor in the face of ridicule from the locals, Manjhi completed the road, which was named after him. During his labors he earned the nickname “The Mountain Man,” which as since been passed on to his road.     

3. DEAD WOMEN CROSSING
Weatherford, Oklahoma

Dead Woman's Crossing

Photo: Nate/Flickr

There are a million Dead Man’s Curves around the world, but Oklahoma may have the only Dead Woman’s Crossing.

On maps this isolated intersection is listed as “Dead Women Crossing,” but it is the story of one woman that gives the junction its name. It was July, 1905 when Katy DeWitt James and her infant daughter boarded a train in Custer City headed for Ripley, Oklahoma. She would never reach her destination. Weeks went by and no one heard a thing from the single mother. A detective named Sam Bartell was put on her trail, and soon discovered the tragic truth: It seems that James had left the train early with one Fannie Norton, reportedly a local prostitute in the town of Weatherford. Norton, James, and James’ baby took a ride out to a local creek, but only Norton and the baby returned.

Norton dropped off the baby, said to have been covered in blood, at a local farm, and went on the lam. Bartell quickly tracked her down and brought her in, but Norton poisoned herself immediately after being questioned. James’ remains were found two weeks later beneath a wooden wagon crossing. The motive and full events surrounding the killing were never discovered, although James’ ex-husband is thought to have had a hand in her death. The wooden crossing is long since gone, but a cement junction now stands on the spot where James’ body was found. Dead Women Crossing has never been a creepier name. 

4. BUCKET OF BLOOD STREET
Holbrook, Arizona

Photo: Peter Eimon/Flickr

Nothing like a history of Wild West violence to give your street name some added ZAZZ!

Bucket of Blood Street is a solid reminder of Holbrook, Arizona’s gunslinging past, and one gunfight in particular that would give the road the name it still bears today. During the 1880s, Holbrook was a prototypical Wild West town full of gambling, prostitution, casually violent cowboys, and a near-nonexistent law enforcement presence, specifically referred to as being “too tough for women and churches.

One of the proverbial thunderheads of this storm of sin was Terrill’s Cottage Saloon, where, in 1886, a gunfight erupted that was said to have drenched the floors with a bucket of blood. The fight apparently started due to a disagreement over a poker game, but whatever the cause, the result was the same: the saloon became known as the Bucket of Blood Saloon.

The sensationally titled saloon survived as the town cleaned up its act and moved into the 20th century, eventually becoming a Route 66 tourist trap. Today the saloon is gone, but the street name remains, proving that washing away that much blood is harder than it might seem. 

5. GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD
West Glacier, Montana 

Photo: Trevor Bexon/Flickr

While it is narrow and often treacherous, Montana’s Going-To-The-Sun Road is considered one of the most scenic byways in the country, and it is this beauty that gave the road its name. Maybe.

Going-to-The-Sun Road is named after Going-to-The-Sun Mountain, which can be seen as drivers head down its length. The road, the only one which cuts entirely across Glacier National Park, was completed in 1932, but the name goes back much farther.

Going by the 1933 press release about the road, it (or more correctly, the mountain) was named after a local legend that talks of the deity Sour Spirit, who came down from the sun to teach the Blackfeet tribe the secrets of hunting. As the spirit departed, it is said that he left his image at the top of the mountain to continue to inspire the people. But this might not be the case.

According to a 1986 book about explorer James Willard Schultz, it states the mountain was given its name by Schultz as he pondered the at-the-time unnamed range along with his Native American hunting companion. Given that it was released in an official opinion, it seems to be that the name is based on the local legend. Either way, the road is really damn beautiful.       

6. RAGGED ASS ROAD
Yellowknife, Canada

Ragged Ass Road

Photo: CambridgeBayWeather/Wikipedia

This awesomely named Canadian road might be a bit crass, but when you consider the name it’s replacing, it really doesn’t seem that bad.

In the 1940s, during the heyday of gold mining in the area of Yellowknife, Canada, the road that is now known as Ragged Ass was informally known as “Privy Road” thanks to the abundance of outhouses that dotted its corridor. In 1970, local miner Lou Rocher, who owned a number of plots on the road, was sitting around with a group of friends and a bunch of beer when they came up with another name of questionable suitability.

Rocher and his fellow miners had been working all season with little to show for it. He jokingly dubbed the stretch “Ragged Ass Road,” in honor of how poor it was. The new name stuck, much to the chagrin of local city officials.

Rocher put up a number of makeshift signs at first, which kept getting stolen, but soon local business caught on and souvenirs with the name began being sold. Before long the name was too big to fail and it became official. People have continued to steal the real sign, so it has been welded to to its pole, which just makes the whole thing look even more ragged ass.  

7. ZZYZX ROAD
Zzyzx, California

Photo: Christopher Mann McKay/Wikipedia

Zzyzx is the last on this list, and was in fact invented by a huckster to be the last word in the English language. While this stunt didn’t stick, the road that took its name certainly did.

Self-appointed doctor and minister Curtis Howe Springer established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Healing Center on a mosquito haunted plot in the Mojave desert in 1944. The radio preacher and professional huckster gathered up down-on-their-luck residents from Los Angeles’ Skid Row, and trucked them out to his newly acquired miracle site with the promise of food and shelter. Together they built a dubious, but extensive healing spa complete with a hotel, a landing strip, and even an artificial lake.

The center promoted a number of healing tonics including a fountain-of-youth concoction called Antedeluvian Tea and an anti-baldness remedy known as Mo-Hair. But the most lasting aspect of Springer’s scheme was to name the area and the road leading to it Zzyzx, a made-up word that he claimed was the last in the English language—just as his center was the last word in healing.

The healing center remained in business for decades, but eventually Springer’s shady dealings caught up to him and he and his followers were kicked off the land in 1974. But with nothing else to name the area, the name stuck. Since Zzyzx has not been entered as a true word in the English language, zyzzyva—a type of weevil—seems to hold the record.