Hitting the Mystery Spot
I've always loved mysteries. Not the Nancy Drew type, but the weird science type, like crop circles and Virgin Mary apparitions. It turns out I've been living just minutes away from California's own weird science tourist attraction.
The Mystery Spot is a 150 square foot piece of hillside land in the Santa Cruz redwoods, where, it is said, a compass will not work, and where people appear to grow and shrink. It opened to the public in 1939, and not much has changed since then except tours went from a nickel to five dollars.
In summer, a thousand people a day make the pilgrimage here from all over the world. What brings them? Mostly curiosity. Claims are that gravity doesn't apply here, balls roll uphill, and people appear to lean at odd angles to the earth. Ever the skeptic, I've brought along my friend Joe Jordan, a physicist from NASA. Maybe he can solve the mystery behind the Mystery spot. But first, a reality check.
With a firm grip on reality, we proceed through the turnstile. Standing beneath the dripping trees in a light drizzle, we meet our guide, Randall.
The first stop? Two parallel cement blocks about four feet long embedded in the asphalt path. In the center sits a carpenter's level with the bead centered exactly. Our guide, Randall, stands at one end, Joe at the other. Joe is about a foot taller than Randall. Then they trade sides.
Joe appears to have shrunk, although both men are standing on a level surface. In 1948, the cover of Life Magazine showed a smiling couple standing at this very spot, demonstrating this shrink and grow phenomenon. As a short person, I find the idea of instantly gaining height very appealing.
Apparently, the skewed backdrop makes us think objects in the foreground change size. Our brain does some quick shorthand about how tall objects are in relation to their background and sometimes miscalculates. It appears to be a brilliant optical illusion.
A short, steep climb brings us to the famous tilting cabin. It's door, walls and floor all slant at impossible angles.
Inside the cabin, our guide climbs onto a narrow shelf suspended about four feet from the steeply canted floor. He appears to be leaning out from the ledge at a 17 degree angle into thin air.
This place might be a hoax, but there's nothing fake about my car sick feeling. The odd angles are confusing my sense of equilibrium. Joe, on the other hand, maintains his cool.
O.K, so most of this is optical illusion. But what explains the other phenomena here, like spinning compasses and trees that lean towards the center of The Mystery spot? Theories range from alien space ships to buried asteroids, but nobody really knows.
The Mystery Spot is open seven days a week from nine until five. In Santa Cruz, California, I'm Rachel Anne Goodman for the Savvy Traveler.
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