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So it ain't Skinwalker Ranch
But . . .
Some pix don’t need captions, yo.
I was leaving the Blue Ridge Appalachians heading east for Raleigh when the text messages rolled in: Was President Biden really pardoning me for my youthful indiscretions with weed? I actually pulled over to read the links, and sure enough, hot damn – full pardons for all nonviolent federal marijuana offenses. Good for them. Finally.
I’d gotten thrown in jail on a state charge of simple possession, so I didn’t really qualify. However: People like me do expect Governor DeSantis to issue an official Florida pardon because it’s an election-year no-brainer and we all know he’s a standup guy. A $1,900 penalty/expenses refund on my debt to society would be even better, but unlike my neighbors in Fort Myers, at least I’ve still got a roof over my head, so like, yeah, shuddup already.
Anyhow, the good news out of Washington broke as I was trolling for UFO updates. I’d latched onto a FOIA release of recorded exchanges between an LA Air Route Traffic Control Center operator, two pilots, and a supervisor. The nocturnal encounters occurred on August 8, near California’s Catalina Island, where the 2004 Tic Tac incident blew up and eventually jump-started public and Congressional interest in the national security angle on UFOs.
What made these sightings noteworthy is how they begat a new tagline – “racetrack UFOs,” because of their reported flight behaviors. “I’ve done many intercepts, I’ve never seen anything like this,” an American Airlines pilot who once flew for the Marine Corps informed ARTCC in real time. “They’re in a big orbital, they just keep going after, around, each other, and then, uh, two more came in and then one came down from above … They just keep circling.”
Racetrack UFOs – yet another datapoint to sort through as I was still trying to process my encounter with a North Carolina gravity anomaly called Mystery Hill. It wasn’t my first brush with freak geology. I’d visited Mystery Spot in California, the Montana Vortex outside Kootenai National Forest, and Florida’s Spook Hill in Lake Wales, but it had been ages since I’d pitted my rational brain against what conventional wisdom labels optical illusions. But with “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” History series directing so much attention to possible terrestrial/topographical connections to the UFO riddle, I thought maybe it was time to circle back and see if the effects were as peculiar as I remembered.
These folks are leaning south, attempting to resist the gravity envelope of this Ordovician vortex to the north, immediately behind them.
At Spook Hill, for instance, when you put your car in neutral on a downward slope, it drifts backward; at other more developed setups, ping-pong balls and water not only move uphill, they also arc slightly as they drop off a ledge. Or, at least, they appear to. But good luck getting a head count on how many of these places are out there.
A display map at Mystery Hill stated, “Of the known authentic Vortexes in the U.S., nine are open to The Public including Mystery Hill in Blowing Rock, NC.” But who, exactly, authenticated these so-called vortexes/vortices? I’ve Googled my fingers to bloody stubs and still haven’t been able to find the official screening committee.
During a swing into Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz years ago, I bought a booklet by Douglas B. Vogt, Gravitational Mystery Spots of the United States (1996). Vogt listed 19 “gravity hills” strewn across 13 states and Canada, some with addresses as helpful as this: “Unnamed area, located near Coquille, Oregon; Exact location unknown.” The Montana Vortex, located near Columbia Falls, is so weird, the hardwoods grow in corkscrew patterns but, hey, that place doesn’t even rate a mention in Vogt’s book.
A Wikipedia entry on gravity hills includes 54 U.S. locations – some with lat-long coordinates – in 30 states. As with UFOs, there’s no American monopoly; according to Wiki, gravity anomalies are distributed throughout the world, in at least 53 countries on six continents. Those that have been commercialized tend to have memorable names, Cosmos Mystery Area, Confusion Hill, Booger Mountain, Magnetic Hill. And a lot of those are mom ‘n pop operations that include standard features, such as:
A crooked wooden “mystery house” built directly atop the hillside vortex, designed with sloping floors and walls to accent the warped gravity effect. And don’t forget to install a small cement-block platform at the edge of the energy field. The slab – often fitted with a bubble level indicating the horizontal surface area is completely flat – invites two visitors at a time to stand directly across from each other on opposite sides of the block. Upon switching places, they will more than likely marvel over what Vogt calls the “shrink and grow phenomenon,” where visitors on the north side appear taller than their southside selves.
Classic signage on the way in: You secretly wish they were little green men, but you’ll settle for what you can get.
The mountains that host Blowing Rock’s Mystery Hill are the ancient and eroded remnants of the Ordovician Period, which spawned trilobites, cephalopods and other marine invertebrates more than 480 million years ago. Cited as the era of Earth’s First Great Extinction, Ordovician deposits are far flung and have been discovered on summits of the Himalayas.
Mystery Hill, however, didn’t make a mark in recorded history until 1948, when property owner William Hudson had a sort-of Isaac Newton moment. The apple orchard that fueled his cider mill was beginning to shed its fruit when Hudson watched an apple plop onto some boards on the ground and roll uphill. Shortly thereafter, Hudson hopped a train to Santa Cruz to see how well its Mystery Spot was holding up as a tourist trap. Hudson came home with a head full of big ideas and, in 1949, he proclaimed Mystery Hill open for business.
Since 1958, Mystery Hill has been in the hands of Wayne Underwood’s family, constantly rotating and upgrading attractions, like the 25,000 arrowheads at the Appalachian Heritage & Native American Artifacts Museum, or Dr. Rozwell’s Alien Expo & Celebration Carnival. Although the Hudsons discovered low-grade uranium on the property, Underwood has done no core sampling and relies on dowsers to scan Mystery Hill’s subterranean contents, which purportedly include veins of gold, iron ore, crystals and star rubies.
Underwood subscribes to the “ley lines” theory, first posited in 1921, that the planet is crisscrossed with underground energy arteries that ancient people often acknowledged with monuments or stone structures. No related pre-Columbian artifacts have been discovered around Mystery Hill, but the effects are fairly dramatic.
Underwood says fence posts planted two feet deep near the “shrink and grow” platform invariably begin to lean, after a couple years, at least 20 degrees to the north. He tried pounding replacements six feet deep inside poured concrete, but the results were the same.
“We rebuilt the mystery house one time and had to put extra angle braces to keep it intact,” Underwood said. “It pulls due north and it could collapse if it didn’t have enough bracing against it.”
In fact, the sensations can be so egregious, visitors are required sign health waivers before they can enter the mystery house. This isn’t just theater. Some tourists experience lightheadedness in the parking lot, while vertigo reportedly makes others collapse inside the vortex, said Underwood.
Wait for the curveball
One science journal argues the brain gets bamboozled whenever the horizon is curved or obstructed from view. In other words, tourists can suffer blinkered cognition on gravity hills on account of “a misperception of the eye level relative to gravity, caused by the presence of either contextual inclines or a false horizon line.”
If that’s what’s happening, this is one kickass illusion. Equipped with handrails for safety, the green-carpeted vortex room is tricked out with demonstration props that all slant due north – a PVC tube that carries water uphill, a rubber ball that follows an inclined tray, a swing that rests at an off-center angle. Just a few steps into the room and you feel like an iron filing getting sucked into a magnet. An intended straight east-west toss of the ball breaks to the north.
I asked Underwood about associated poltergeist or UFO activity, but none came directly to mind. Several employees reported second-hand oddities relayed to them by visitors – “one lady said she saw some aliens” – but nothing on par with Skinwalker Ranch. There were, however, a few surprises.
Underwood mentioned how physical therapists sometimes brought in patients suffering from back pain, nausea, arthritis, “things like that.” They’ll linger inside the vortex for up to an hour, and their symptoms often dissipate. But it’s the stories about the kids that leave him shaking his head.
Wonder if these kids will remember the day mom and dad treated them to a gravity anomaly?
“Believe it or not, we get a lotta physically handicapped people here, but I remember this one time when two children came through. They both had helmets on their heads, and it took people walking on both sides to help them walk or else they’d fall to the ground. One had a brace on his leg.
“So I made sure we took them to the bottom (north side) so they could lean against the wall without having to worry about them falling and rolling down. I left them there and started showing the experiments to the other kids. But they weren’t looking at me,” Underwood said. “They were looking at these two kids. Those kids were walking around on that side of the house just as normal as anybody, they didn’t need any help at all to stand up. But you take ‘em back outside again, and they can’t walk or stand without help.
“I don’t know how to explain that – it blew my mind.”
There’s gotta be a neurologist out there somewhere with EEG hookups, brain-mapping experience, and unlimited resources.
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