If you've ever passed a place with "Descanso" in the name (such as L.A.'s Descanso Drive) and wondered what that meant, here's a rather depressing explanation:
Descanso is the word given to a roadside memorial that commemorates the site where a person was killed, typically as the result of a vehicle-related accident. The descanso is often marked by a cross with an inscription of the person's name and brief biographical information. The descanso is usually created and maintained by family members or friends of the person who was killed. Unlike a grave site headstone, which marks the place where the body is laid, a descanso marks the last place on earth where the person was alive. A descanso symbolizes a loved one whose life was taken in a violent and unexpected death.
The origination of the practice of erecting roadside crosses in the United States is uncertain. One possibility, born perhaps from American folklore, is that pioneer travelers were forced to hurriedly bury their deceased companions in graves close to the trails or roads, and they erected simple crosses to mark the graves. The origin of descansos as a term that denotes a roadside cross or memorial is more certain.