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Add a Little Mystery to Your Vacation

May 20, 2011 | Permalink

Almost everyone loves a good puzzle, which may be why “mystery spots” have remained popular tourist sites for decades. Sure, such phenomena as trees growing sideways and balls rolling uphill have scientific explanations (spoiler alert! more on that in a minute), but even so, it’s just pretty cool to see things that boggle our eyes and brains. Because many of these mystery spots are located just off major highways, stopping at one makes a great break or side-adventure during a road trip.

Mystery in California

It may be no surprise to many people that there are a number of mystery sites in California. In the southern part of the state is the Calico Ghost Town Mystery Shack. Located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (so a good day trip from either), the Calico Ghost Town is a restored 1880s mining town. You can explore not only the mine and narrow gauge train, but also shops, a schoolhouse and the “Mystery Shack” where you can see water run uphill and other gravity-defying sights.

For a mystery two-fer, the SF Bay Area should be your destination. Within half an hour of each other are two spots that you won’t want to miss. In San Jose is the Winchester Mystery House, a 160-room Victorian mansion built continuously over a period of 38 years to appease spirits haunting the widowed owner. And just over Highway 17, nestled in the coastal redwoods, is Santa Cruz’s Mystery Spot (“be stunned as your perceptions of the laws of physics and gravity are questioned”!).

A Little More Mystery

But don’t think spooky and gravity-defying sights are limited only to the Golden State. The rest of the country has its share of purportedly haunted and otherwise mysterious buildings. Some of these are the following:

  • Mysterious Tuttle House in North Woodstock, New Hampshire
  • Vortex Mystery House in Golden Hill, Oregon (dubbed “America's premier mystery spot” by Roadside America)
  • Mystery Shack in Maggie Valley, North Carolina
  • Big Mike’s Mystery House in Cave City, Kentucky

At any of these you can watch your traveling companions appear to stand at 40-degree angles or your three-year-old look taller than her twelve-year-old brother.

Mystery spots often share similar names, for example, “Mystery Hill” (found in Marblehead, Ohio; Irish Hills, Michigan; Blowing Rock, North Carolina), “Gravity Hill” (Bedford Country, Pennsylvania), or “Confusion Hill” (Ligonier, Pennsylvania; Piercy, California). They also frequently include other amusements like museums—like the Cosmos of the Black Hills, near Rapid City, South Dakota—for when you tire of watching soda cans or even cars appear to roll uphill.

Spooky Legends and Spoilers

Many mystery spots have accompanying legends to add to the thrills (or kitsch). At Spook Hill in Lake Wales, Florida, a sign tells the legend of the site’s creation when a great warrior killed a huge alligator in a titanic battle on the hill. Many years later, as horses struggled for no apparent reason to climb the low rise, it was named "Spook Hill." And when the newly paved road was paved, “cars coasted up hill. Is this the gator seeking revenge, or the chief still trying to protect his land?"

Okay, so here’s the spoiler: While the sites themselves often describe the mysterious cause as energy vortexes (or vortices), or “a genuine quantum, or gravitational anomaly that may re-define the laws of physics and nature” (the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery, in Columbia Falls), scientists attribute the phenomena to optical illusions or people’s suggestibility. But hey, that doesn’t mean they’re not a kick to visit. As Sandlot Science notes, “Even when you learn the secret behind the effects, they are no less amazing… as everyone present shares the same illusions. ...We like to tease reality, to lose the security of familiar spatial references for a brief time.” So, as we said, why not add a little mystery to your next trip?

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