Oregon Vortex: Mystery Spot

Unexplained phenomena at the Vortex lures curious believers and skeptics.

two boys comparing heights at Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon

Two boys compare heights at the Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon.

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Promoted as a portal to the paranormal, the Oregon Vortex actually operates like a lot of tourist traps: you show up, pay, and leave with a kitschy souvenir. It's what happens in between that's a little weird. Balls roll uphill. Broomsticks stand on end. People appear to shrink and grow. 

The Cooper family, who have owned the Gold Hill, Ore., property for 45 years, say it's all quite simple: magnetic fields, half above the ground and half below it, create a vortex, a whirlpool of force that sucks everything around it towards its center.

Certainly it pulls in a lot of travelers. They come by the thousands for guided tours of the grounds, scratching their heads at the House of Mystery, a shack once used as an office by a gold mining company before it slid off its foundation.

Today, it's a centerpiece of vortex strangeness. Step inside and you feel your body listing. Grab a broomstick, whisk side up, handle touching the ground, and let go: the darn thing stands there on its own.

Never mind that scientists dismiss this as an optical illusion. It's more fun to believe your eyes. What's also great is the eerie setting. The Vortex lies along a winding, wooded road, a backdrop reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project. Legend has it that American Indians refused to set foot here; it spooked their horses.

Another good tale involves a man named John Litster, a physicist who opened the Vortex to the public in 1930. After conducting experiments on the odd phenomena he observed here, Litster, in notes, which he later burned, is said to have written, "The world isn't ready for what goes on here." We're pleased to report that he was wrong.

Must-have souvenir:

Pick up "Notes and Data," a collection of observations on the Vortex written by John Litster, for $7.50.

Photography courtesy of Oregon Vortex

This article was first published in July 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

If You're Going: 

The Vortex is closed from November 1 to the end of February. It is open from March 1–October 31.
Prices: 5 and under, free; ages 6 to 11, $7; ages 12 to 61, $9; and seniors, $8.
4303 Sardine Creek Left Fork Rd., Gold Hill, Ore. (541) 855-1543, www.oregonvortex.com.

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