Few things are as American as the family road-trip. Since the invention of the automobile in the early 1900’s and the subsequent expansion of the interstate road system in the 1930’s, thousands of family travelers have set out each year on the open road seeking new and exciting places to visit. Not long after people flocked to the new roads, road-side attractions popped up along them as eager entrepreneurs looked for ways to separate passing motorists with some of their money. Hence, a new American cultural institution was born.
Some of these road-side attractions are educational, some are interesting, some are bewildering, and some are just bizarre. No matter what, they are usually worth a quick stop while you stretch your legs and get something to eat or drink before you head back on the road. If nothing else, they make for some humorous stories when you get back. Oregon has many! One of the best is the Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon.
The Oregon Vortex is billed as “a glimpse of a strange world where the improbable is the commonplace and everyday physical facts are reversed.” Hmm, sounds intriguing! But, what is it really? This is one of those things that are best seen for yourself than explained. Essentially, it is a small area about 2 acres in size with a steam running through it and an old partially collapsed miner’s cabin (and obligatory gift shop). OK, big deal. What makes it worth a stop and $12.50 for adults and $9.00 for children under 12?
Tip: The Vortex takes about 1 hour to fully see, so plan another event for the day too, like Ashland or covered bridge spotting.
According to the expert docents, the site is the center of a spherical gravitational anomaly where light is warped inside the vortex so that normal visual perceptions are skewed. People appear to shrink and grow in height relative to each other and their surroundings depending on where they stand in the vortex. This phenomenon is very pronounced in some of the demonstrations by the docents. Balls roll uphill and brooms balance on their ends. The affects really mess with your mind!
“The House of Mystery itself was originally an assay office and later used for tool storage, built by the Old Grey Eagle Mining Company in 1904. But the history of the surrounding area, The Oregon Vortex, goes way back to the time of the Native Americans. Their horses would not come into the affected area, so they wouldn’t. The Native Americans called the area the “”Forbidden Ground””, a place to be shunned. Many years before The House of Mystery was built it was noted that unusual conditions existed there. But it was not until well into the 20th century that any effort was made toward a scientific analysis of the disturbance. John Litster was a geologist, mining engineer, and physicist. He developed the area in the early 1920’s and opened it to the public in 1930. He conducted thousands of experiments within the Vortex until his death in 1959. He was born in Alva, Scotland on April 30, 1886, son of a British Foreign Diplomat.” -The Oregon Vortex
Tip: There is no food or drink for sale at or near the Vortex, so plan on bringing your own.
My wife and I being science people, tried to find the magician’s trick to all of these crazy happenings. I think we had more fun trying to figure things out then actually being awed by the attractions. Both of our boys were pretty skeptical too. I guess we have influenced them a little. Despite our combined efforts, we were unable to debunk some of the events we saw. So, the Oregon Vortex still holds some of its mysteries! Maybe you can help us solve them?
Next week in our family travels, we will tell you all about winery hoping in Oregon!