All around the world are remnants of a party of epic proportions – Devils Punchbowls. Though, in some cases, the punching was taken more literally. Typically, the name means a low circular-shaped area that is obvious from the surrounding land. Sometimes the features contain water. Many of these places have interesting folklore stories about their formation.
A steep-walled travertine geothermal feature in the Monitor Valley of Nevada is also known as Diana’s Punch Bowl or the Devil’s Cauldron and filled with hot water. Don’t try to take a dip, you’ll be left to slowly simmer to death in the deep pit. The water is only accessible by rope, which is crazy dangerous. Obviously, the name derives from its hot spring origin. In August of 2020, a guy named “TechRax” tested the durability of an iPhone 11 by dropping it into this hot spring via drone. In one attempt, he publicized that there was a strange screaming sound recorded before the phone gave out. People could not resist likening this to the screaming voices from hell (see “well to hell” video clip); it is a “devil” hole after all. But the sound was more likely that of gas escaping in the echo-y cavernous space. No deaths have been documented here as far as I could find.
In Lake Crescent, Washington is a popular swimming and diving area with the name. Lake Crescent is a very deep body of water with colorful legends and lore including being bottomless, swallowing up people and treasure, and having its own monster. The lake formed in a glacial valley that experienced a massive earthquake and subsequent landslide that formed adjacent lakes Crescent and Sutherland. According to oral tradition:
Lake Sutherland was split off […] when nearby, 4,537-foot Mount Storm King, angered by fighting between the Klallam and Quileute peoples, cast a massive boulder between them to stop the fighting, says Jamie Valadez, a Lower Elwha/Klallam tribal member. It separated the big lake tribal members called Tsulh-mut into two pieces, the smaller becoming little Lake Sutherland.
The perceived danger in the depths of this quiet part of the lake likely earned it its dark name.
Oregon’s Devils Punch Bowl State Natural Area is a large bowl-shaped natural rock headland partially open to the Pacific Ocean on the Central Oregon Coast. The ocean waves roar and swirl into the hollow formation. This punch bowl was probably created by the collapse of the roof over two sea caves, then shaped by wave action. It is only safe to approach at low tide.
California has many such named places including a collapsed sea cave in the Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County, a snow-fed lake in the Siskiyou Wilderness in western Siskiyou County, a small explosion crater that is part of the Mono-Inyo Craters chain, and Cedar Creek Falls, a spectacular waterfall in San Diego.
The Devil’s Punchbowl within the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest is an area of rugged sandstone layers along the Punchbowl Fault in Los Angeles County. A deep canyon formed from a V-shaped plunging syncline. The Devil’s Chair lookout point is a jutting rock formation that offers panoramic vistas of the valley floor and the sandstone formations. The bizarre-looking rock layers were oriented into their nearly upright position by uplifting along the local faults and enhanced by subsequent erosion.
Finally, far from the coast is a Devil’s Punch Bowl in Mississippi that may have served as a possible base of operations for bandits and river-going pirates. This natural cut into the bluff along the Mississippi River at Natchez was rumored to have hidden the outlaws… and maybe their treasures. It’s a pristine area with an infamous reputation.
The Devil’s Punch Bowl of Stoney Creek, Ontario is a glacial-derived feature that is part of the Niagara Escarpment which also produced Niagara Falls. The main falls consist of a narrow stream falling 37 m. According to the Hamilton (ON) Conservation Authority, “The Punch Bowl is the only area where one can view such a large vertical display of Ordovician and Silurian stratified rock. Some of the layers include Queenston Formation red shale, Cabot Head gray shale, limestone and shale dolomite.” It’s a popular geological teaching spot due to the exposure. The name derived from the dramatic feature as the observers thought it was too strange to be named after God. Or, the name was related to the local moonshiners who were labeled as doing “the Devil’s work”. The site was used as an evil location in the 2006 horror movie Silent Hill. Decreased flow in the creek means the water may only be a trickle during a dry spell.
There are several punchbowls around Europe.
In Ireland (Killarney, County Kerry), there is a glacial cirque on Mangerton Mountain that provides outstanding views. The story about the name goes like this: Local chieftain O’Donoghue Ross had a nasty argument with the Devil whereby he punched him in the face. Perturbed, the devil bit off the top off the mountain and threw it at the chieftain. The punchbowl lake is the missing piece and which missed its mark but fell in Muckross Lake to form Devil’s Island.
In Wales (Ceredigion), eroded rock chambers directly below Devil’s Bridge is also called the Devils Cauldron as the water boils and churns as if “troubled by some evil spirit”. The popular origin of the Devil’s Bridge itself is the story of Megan, her cow, her dog, and the Devil.
On Scotland’s Isle of Arran, legend tells that the side of the mountain was punched out by the Devil and some say that his face can be seen in the rugged terrain if the light is just right. The Arran’s distillery appropriately produced a series of whiskeys named the Devil’s Punchbowl.
A large natural amphitheater near Hindhead, Surrey, in England also holds the popular moniker. The collapse feature is thought to be a result of erosion from water moving in the clay beneath the sandstone. Several legends exist that attempt to put a fun spin on the geological history. One involves the Devil and Mother Ludlam. She was a witch who lived in a cave near Waverley Abbey. When the Devil stole her cauldron, she pursued him to Hindhead, where he disappeared forming the Punchbowl. Another tale states that the Devil was feuding with Thor, who was at nearby Thursley, when they began hurling rocks at each other. The Devil carved out the Punchbowl by scooping out an enormous handful of earth to hurl back. Finally, the Devil was said to be annoyed at the churches springing up in the area that he tried to dig a channel from through the South Downs from the English Channel and flood the area. Each lump of earth he tossed aside became local landmarks. When dawn was about to break, he leaped into Surrey, landing in what is now the Punch Bowl. It’s been featured as a spooky area in or inspiration for several works of fiction; it is now a nature preserve.
In the Mendip Hills of Somerset, England is another collapse feature with the name, this one karstic, that has been declared a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest. Known as the Wurt Pit and Devil’s Punchbowl, the stratigraphy is a series of limestones and clays which have been silica-enriched (known as the ‘Harptree Beds’, of early Jurassic age). This mineralogical activity also created ore-fields of limonite, yellow ochre (hydrous ferric oxides), barite (barium sulfate), sphalerite (zinc sulfide) and galena (lead sulfide).