By Doug Kirby
Laws of science invisibly govern our earthly existence, but gravity is one natural force that we expect to be consistent, always “on,” ceaselessly working its matter-anchoring mojo. So it can be jarring and disorienting when gravity appears to go haywire—or it can be fun to watch, especially if you’re an adventure-seeking driver of a Sonic Hatchback, the car for firsts.
“Gravity hills” and “mystery spots” are offbeat roadside attractions—gravity-erratic places of wonder and befuddlement. Just the thing for someone who’s an individual to the core, intent on making your own mark.
The magical properties and urban legends of gravity hills (also called magnetic hills), found on roadways from coast to coast, have been whispered about by generations of children. Skeptics usually dismiss the phenomenon as an optical illusion—a slope and tree line misleading the eye, or another visual element that sets perception awry when it comes to proper up and down. But you’re open to all possibilities: When you get behind the wheel of your Sonic, you feel your world open up.
Spook Hill, along North Lake Wales Drive in Lake Wales, Florida, is a zone where cars slowly roll uphill, or so it seems. The town’s “Legend of Spook Hill” billboard tells of an Indian chief wrestling a monster alligator—spirit energies that now influence vehicle fuel-efficiency. Recent pavement improvements may have lessened Spook Hill’s effects, but travelers are nonetheless drawn to it.
Bedford County, Pennsylvania touts its Gravity Hill with a printed guide and billboards. Directions lead to Gravity Hill Road, the spot marked with a line and a spray-painted “GH.” Drivers trust their motion to invisible forces, often divided into optical illusion vs. freak gravity camps, but at least they have a story when they get home.
If gravity hills offer a logic line some may not want to cross, mystery spots are the proverbial rabbit hole, where visitors encounter distortions of size, direction and surroundings. They also encounter admission fees and souvenir shops. Mystery spots happen to coincidentally manifest near major tourism hubs, so inconvenient locations tend to feel more authentic.
California’s Santa Cruz Mystery Spot was discovered in 1940 on a dark, forested hillside. Today, steep switchback paths lead to a misshapen two-room wooden shack that—according to tour guides—was distorted by a 150-foot-wide “gravitational vortex.” Trees grow in corkscrew patterns, chairs balance off walls, and visitors of similar height appear to grow or shrink, depending on where they stand.
The Oregon Vortex may be the most convincing mystery spot, with its own two-room shack and perception-bending demonstrations. It’s the oldest mystery spot attraction, nestled in Gold Hill, Oregon since 1930. Balls roll up ramps, a broom stands on end. Water flows the wrong way, visitors change size. Your wallet feels lighter.
It’s all very eerie. Don’t expect your travel comrades with equilibrium weaknesses to thank you. You may flee to the relative stability of the nearest gravity hill.
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Doug Kirby is the publisher and co-creator of RoadsideAmerica.com, the go-to guide for offbeat tourist attractions and oddities. Follow him on Twitter @roadsideamerica.