America's Most Mysterious Places
“The very first night there we saw brilliant white and green lights that would respond to our laser signaling; they came from a steep side of the mountain, way too steep for climbers,” says Richard Lalancette, a software engineer from Ottawa, who, in hopes of having a firsthand encounter with a UFO, traveled in 2006 to Mount Shasta—arguably one of the country’s most mysterious places—as part of a Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI) expedition. He got his wish.
Over the following days, a series of incredible incidents unfolded in the immense skies over the mountain’s slopes, and Lalancette returned home from northern California a changed man—admittedly more connected with nature and the universe. “If a regular dude like me can [experience] and achieve things like this, then anybody can.”
Lalancette is not alone in his experience on Mount Shasta, nor in wanting to explore one of life’s greatest mysteries: according to a 2007 Associated Press poll, one out of three people believes in the existence of UFOs. Debunkers may relish “I told you so” moments, but few can argue that the planet is teeming with unexplained phenomena. We’re all familiar with the well-worn lore of places like Area 51, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt, but there exist countless mystery spots across the globe—even in our backyards—that spark our imaginations and make us stop to consider just how much we don’t know. Where is Morpheus from The Matrix to show us “how deep the rabbit hole goes” when we need him?
So check your beliefs at the door, and read on with an open mind. Travelandleisure.com has unearthed 10 power places steeped in mystery that will make you breathless with wonder, send chills sprinting down your spine, or just plain leave you scratching your head.
Take the eerily named Skinwalker Ranch in a remote corner of northeastern Utah. Soon after an unsuspecting couple moved to the 480-acre compound in 1994, disturbing things began to happen. As Colm A. Kelleher and investigative journalist George Knapp describe in their book, Hunt for the Skinwalker, the couple witnessed “the appearance of huge, otherworldly creatures. Invisible objects emitting magnetic fields with the power to spark a cattle stampede. Flying orbs of light with dazzling maneuverability and lethal consequences.”
Or consider “Mel’s Hole” near Ellensburg, Washington, a nine-foot-wide opening in the ground that appears to have no bottom (former owner Mel Waters, in vain, dropped a fishing line some 15 miles to find its end). It’s also the site of amazing tales of “reanimation” (the ability to bring dead animals back to life), among other hairy paranormal phenomena.
Sometimes the mysteries are natural, as with Pennsylvania’s Ringing Rocks Park, known for its unexplained field of boulders that, when struck, sound like bells. Other times, they’re man-made. Coral Castle, in Homestead, Florida, may appear to be just another roadside tourist trap, but look deeper and you’ll discover its wild backstory. The structure—made of megalithic-size stones—was built over 28 years by a single slight-framed man, Edward Leedskalnin, as a temple to his lost love. Leedskalnin claimed he’d learned the ancient secrets of the Great Pyramids back in his homeland, Latvia, and was witnessed levitating 1,000-pound stones in the dead of night.
Welcome to the Rabbit Hole.
Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, CA
The Mystery: People have long scratched their heads over the “Sailing Stones,” which mysteriously move across the sandy playa’s surface on their own, leaving visible tracks in their wake.
Fact: Given that these rocks chart a new course once every three years, it’s no wonder no one has ever seen them in motion. Some theorize that, in winter, wet clay and strong winds—which can reach speeds of up to 90 mph—are to blame, but no one is 100 percent certain what causes this curious natural (or unnatural?) phenomena.
Mount Shasta, Redding, CA
The Mystery: This stunning snow-capped peak in the Cascade Mountain range, 60 miles south of the Oregon border, has long been considered one of the planet’s great “cosmic power spots,” luring everyone from Native Americans to Buddhist monks and hippies. Its sacred slopes are home to a potpourri of mysteries: spontaneous altered states; UFO sightings; crystal caves; encounters with Ascended Masters; underground military bases; even the rumored home to Lemurians, surviving members of a sensitive super-race some believe existed 12,000 years ago during the time of Atlantis.
Fact: A chance encounter with a strange group of warm, seemingly enlightened people in Shasta Valley inspired James Hilton to author the classic 1933 novel Lost Horizon, a tale about the idyllic community of Shangri-La. Others claim similar real-life experiences, but the mountain’s sheer natural beauty is inspiration enough for most.
Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill, OR
The Mystery: Measuring 165 feet in diameter and known for producing intense feelings of vertigo, this curious site in southern Oregon has attracted visitors since the 1930s. Here, balls roll uphill, brooms stand on end, and people appear to grow and shrink inside its centerpiece, a former gold mining outpost called the House of Mystery.
Fact: Whether caused by gravity anomalies, a concentration in the Earth’s magnetic fields, or paranormal presence, the Vortex’s strange phenomena is well documented, and animals still refuse to enter its sphere. Native Americans referred to it as Forbidden Ground.
Coral Castle, Homestead, FL
The Mystery: Made from 1,100 tons of megalithic-style limestone boulders—some heavier than the Pyramids’ and bigger than those at Stonehenge—this unusual structure, located 25 miles south of Miami, was built from 1923 to 1951 by a single man, a diminutive Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin, as an homage to the love of his life who left him on the eve of their wedding. But how did he do it?
Fact: Leedskalnin claimed he knew the secret to the Great Pyramids’ construction, and was once witnessed levitating stones. Other construction details—no mortar, precision seams, impossible balancing acts—have also stumped scientists for decades.
Sattva Sanctuary, Trout Lake, WA
The Mystery: At the base of Mount Adams lies an incredible hotbed of UFO activity: a wooded ranch-cum-spiritual retreat owned by James Gilliland. The founder of Enlightened Contact with ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence and the Self-Mastery Earth Institute has been hosting seekers at “the ranch” since 1986. Thanks to so many unexplained light shows, almost no one leaves disappointed.
Fact: Countless visitors to the consciousness-raising compound, including many prominent scientists, report staggering UFO eyewitness accounts: documented sightings, sounds, even alleged contact of the third kind. One wave included as many as 50 unidentified craft. The curious public is welcome Monday through Thursday to conduct its own sky-watches. (Reservations: 509-395-2092.) Coincidentally, it was after seeing a UFO near Mount Adams in 1947 that pilot Kenneth Arnold first coined the term “flying saucer.”
Mel’s Hole, Manastash Ridge, WA
The Mystery: The nine-foot-wide bottomless hole and former dump site on Mel Waters’s former property near Ellensburg, Washington, is awash in mystery, which includes its professed ability to “reanimate” dead animals. Some speculate the opening is actually a tunnel, giving rise to the “Hollow Earth” theory first proposed by astronomer Edmond Halley (of comet fame) in the 17th century. The most pressing secret: where does the hole lead?
Fact: Waters—who has since moved—reported sinking a fishing line some 15 miles into the pit in an attempt to find the bottom. He never found it. He also claimed the abyss would shoot black rays and could bring animals back to life; a neighbor tossed a dead dog into the hole only to have it return, alive, from out of the woods. Some believe the discovery is a blow hole for Mount Rainier, but no one knows how to account for the high strangeness.
Lake Michigan, Home to the Lake Michigan Monster
The Mystery: Locals and cryptozoologists have long believed there’s an enormous prehistoric creature living in the second largest of the Great Lakes. Sightings from around its shores—Cross Village, Harbor Springs, Northport—date as far back as 1817 and tell of a 60-foot serpent or “sea panther,” as local Native Americans referred to it (because of its catlike head and lizard body), that likes to emerge at dusk.
Fact: While the beast, if it truly exists, is thought to be a land-locked plesiosaur. Similar sightings have also occurred in the other northernly lakes, including Lake Champlain—home to Champy—and Lake Erie, where proclaimed creationist Carl Baugh discovered a carcass of a three-foot long “baby monster” in the early 1990’s. He had the creature, probably a burbot, stuffed and placed on display at the (now closed) L & D Bait and Tackle shop near Cleveland, Ohio