Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’

Leftover Bits and Pieces from the Road

March 9, 2015

Most of the wandering on my trip took place in Nevada, as nearly all the sites I wanted to hit on this go-round were in the desert. There were some great ghost towns and haunted spots from my start in Missouri, for sure, but those only popped up at the rate of about one a day.

Like Texola, OK, where the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl pushed residents out, and the nostalgic Route 66 tourism (the juice that keeps towns like Seligman on the map) didn’t bring enough in. I had a great time tromping around through obviously unsafe ruins and poking into doorways where I probably shouldn’t have been.

abandoned building, with faded

Another day was for Picher, OK, an old mining town that the EPA calls the most toxic place in America, where only a handful of people refused to take the federal buy-out. I poked around the Picher Mining Museum (now empty, except for a strange tiny photo of an antique clock on one wall), respected the signs that told me a building was still inhabited, and walked all through the others.

window in faded wood, cracked glass, red brick

young couple spraypainting upright cadillacs

Not all the sites I headed for were ghostly. Visionary and outsider art has always been as much of a draw for me as the unknown and spooky, and this trip included a healthy dose of that as well. I’ve meant to hit up Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch in Texas for years, and I finally had the opportunity. Carhenge was a highlight of my last trip; there’s just something about the idea of big ol’ road trip machines sticking out of the earth in odd ways and covered in colorful paint that calls to me. Especially if you get to leave your own mark on them. The best bit was watching a young punk couple spray their names onto a car in the middle of the row. Before leaving, the boy came up to me and grinned, and let me know that they’d collected all the cans with leftover paint in them, and that I should feel free to grab a couple and go nuts. They walked off hand-in-hand.

sun peeking behind aluminum-covered 'castle' tower

The next day’s site wasn’t ghostly either, just awesome: Cano’s Castle, in Antonito, CO. 30 years of junk collecting and building, and the result is a glittering, towering, pile of awesomeness. Dusted in snow when I saw it, it was freaking astounding. I’m both a bit sad and a bit relieved I didn’t run into Cano, the marijuana & Jesus-inspired builder. Sounds like he has some strange views about women, and food. Still. Next time, maybe. There’s a sweet little narrow gauge railroad that runs up the mountains from there in the summer, and a return trip might be called for.

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orange and nuts and note left for ghost in room 19

I didn’t find any ghosts at the Weatherford Hotel, in Flagstaff the next night, though I wasn’t looking too hard. Actually, the St. James, a few nights earlier, was the only spot where I spooked myself to the point of almost seeing something. My room was sans bath and at the end of a long mirror-lined hallway, which meant I had to run down creaky floorboards and past doors open to empty poker rooms with antelope heads on the wall every time I had to pee. I also stood for long minutes outside the most haunted room, where other visitors left offerings in the morning, and almost convinced myself I heard something. And I ate green chile, both for dinner and breakfast the next day, that flat-out changed my life. My mouth is watering right now. The Bay Area might be awesome for international food, but it’s severely lacking in southwestern tastes.

That was the first five days, bringing me to the desert and Nevada. The next day was when I really went a bit nuts.

Amargosa Opera House sign and doors, openingI spent that night at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel. It was a Thursday, which sadly meant that I missed the performance by one day. But I met the young dancer from Oakland who is carrying on the vision of the founder, a New York ballet star who renovated the little decrepit Death Valley theater and danced, regardless of whether she had an audience, every weekend. And I saw the wild horses that came up to her back door every night. And I met the hawk who spent his nights in the old barn, thanks to an introduction from a chihuahua-toting Modesto man who had been there for a week. If you think of this lovely old place as a historic hostel with private rooms, and you’re cool with that, you’ll love it.

AmargosaNight

I left at sunrise the next day to get to Rhyolite, where the old West ghost town wasn’t itself the attraction. Within the ruins lies the Goldwell Open Air Museum, where artists have scattered works here and there in the desert setting. The ghostly forms were, obviously, my favorite. They reminded me of my favorite building in San Francisco.

white ghostly forms against a desert background

On to Scotty’s Castle… but I made one quick detour on the way. I was geocaching this whole time, and that lovely little sport/game led me to some fantastic spots. But none compared to the Hard Luck Castle. The second cache, about 4 miles down the dirt road after you turn at the big attention-grabbing Tourist Attraction! sign, was located at a fantastic roadside shrine – and I simply cannot resist a roadside shrine.

HLShrine

HLCastleEntryWhen I got to the end of the road and met the shrine’s creator, I learned that it was built from the bed of a truck that cracked an axle when he was hauling his first load up the road to begin his castle. Oh, his castle. It looks pretty nondescript from the road – just a big round green bunker, with a bit of a tower in the middle where you can watch the stars – but as soon as you get closer, you start to see the amazing bits. This is your classic lone-man-builds-a-dreamhouse-in-Nevada-to-escape-the-government type scenario, and the tour will blow your mind. The great doors open to a circular room, with arched doorways leading off in various directions, and an immaculately tiled labyrinth taking up the entirety of floor. With a jewel in the center.

The main living room has not one, but two pipe organs, one rescued from a condemned church, one from a theater. It also has a 5-foot wide latchhook wall hanging, made by the builder during a long Tahoe winter (part of the reason he chose Death Valley). As you go through the house, the details overwhelm you: the conjoined HL logo with a naked woman on each side (pretty sure I spotted a – classy – naked woman in each room of the castle); the commemorative bricks placed (first, last, and in honor of departed dogs); the central fountain-filled courtyard, open to the observatory above and joined by a circular metal staircase; and oh lord, the white and gold bathroom dominated by a gleaming tub and a huge window with an expansive view of the desert valley. Simply amazing.

GoldfieldStationSo as I said, on to Scotty’s Castle – which, while part of a National Park and a Historic Place with an Entrance Fee and Picnicking Area and also Parking For Recreational Vehicles, was way less impressive. An engineering marvel, and a gorgeous deco building, but how can you compare a private tour that went into every room with a don’t-touch-anything, follow-the-guide, stay-in-your-pack-of-30-people tour? You can’t. I left early, and moved on to Goldfield, a town studded with geocaches, art cars, abandoned buildings, and historical markers. Perfection.

ClownMotelSignStill, I rushed through it, as sunset was coming and I had to get to my lodging that night: the Clown Motel in Tonopah. This was my last haunted hotel for the trip, and probably the one I was the most excited about. It’s like doubling-down on terror: not only do you have ghosts (well, maybe – the owner says any ghosts are just nearby, in the adjoining cemetery), but you also have clowns. ClownMotelClowns5Clowns. Lots, and lots of clowns. Over 500 of them in the motel’s lobby, a collection that went a bit mad. However, I actually found this one of the most peaceful nights of my trip. Aside from a clown holding my door number, and a tasteful pastel watercolor of a clown gentlewoman holding a parasol in an Edwardian dress above my bed, the clowns were mostly confined to the lobby. I slept like a log. No evil cackling or anything.

ClownMotelClowns2ClownMotelBigClown2

And that was my time in the desert. I spent one full day traveling a distance that you could make non-stop in about 2 hours. Bliss. The high point of my trip. I’ve always given Nevada a wide berth, calling it the one state within which I found nothing to love on my first road trip. I love the Arizona deserts of my ancestry, but the Nevada ones always felt truly empty to me, not conducive to living (or dead) souls. Man, was I wrong. You just have to go a little slower and be willing to off-road it a bit, and the uniquely-Nevadan spirits will show themselves.

DesertSunrise2

Ghosts at the Weatherford

February 19, 2015

Like clockwork, on day four of my road trip I hit my cranky existential crisis. It didn’t help that for this trip, day four overlapped with my birthday, which always makes me a little bit cranky. So double crankiness.

I had a wonderful visit with two parts of the family that I never get to see, and then hit the New Mexico roads. About an hour in, my crankiness descended.

I’ve never liked birthdays, but I hate telling people that, because they nod their head and say, “yep, getting older sucks.” That’s not it. I’m cool with getting older, if for no other reason than it releases some of the societal expectations that get forced on younger people.

It’s the ghosts of birthdays past. I’ve had some great ones, and whether I’m consciously remembering them or not, I think my brain tries to hold each new one to ridiculously high standards. I don’t really like that about my brain.

Last night I sat and listened to the Italian study group that was inhabiting the upstairs saloon at my historic (haunted, of course) hotel. The ghost of my last trip, to Rome and Venice, was floating about, but it wasn’t making me feel all nostalgic and wanderlusty. It just felt like I was trying to be manipulated into a good mood.

(By the way, 100% sounds really cool in italian. Cento perciento. Or something like that.)

The facilitator, who is from San Diego and has a very large family, was very cute, but this was a closed group and my Italian skills are below remedial. I moved over to the mostly empty ground-level bar for another cocktail (apparently all the kids were in the basement bar playing trivia), but I didn’t really engage with anyone and booked it upstairs pretty early, hoping to see a ghost. Because how can a too-young college kid at the bar compare with a pair of honeymooners who died in a murder/suicide in room 54? He can’t.

… Yeah, I think this bit of my brain that is fixated on ghosts may not be the most healthiest thing for my real-life relationships. Something to think about on the long desert roads scheduled for day five.

(Also, it’s just painful to listen to college kids hit on each other in halting Italian. “Can I dance? Oh, DO I dance. Yes.”)

Your video for the day: Senza Fine, the best part of the horrible 2002 film Ghost Ship, with a bizarrely creepy background image.

Borderlines

February 18, 2015

On my last road trip, just over 10 years ago now, I noticed a surprising thing when I crossed state lines. Things changed. I’d always assumed these borders were largely arbitrary, formed by politics and history and maybe a river here or there.

Nope. I found that each of the states had distinct landscapes and personalities, and these changes took place pretty much right on the borderline. Today, when I passed from New Mexico into Colorado, that feeling was reinforced. Suddenly, trees! The adobes shifted to log cabins. The weather and the rivers were the same, but now there were fly fishing outfitters. All of this within the span of about 10 miles.

This time, though, because I was thinking about it, I noticed the shift coming back into New Mexico down a different road. On this road, the changes were far more gradual; it took nearly an hour of driving for the landscape to feel like a new place. (Yet another sign that the brain tricks you, and only remembers what it wants to remember.)

And of course, since I seem to be traveling on a theme this time around, I started to think about the borderlines between life and death. Sure, sometimes they’re abrupt: life on one side, death on the other. But maybe sometimes they’re a bit more gradual…

I was lucky enough to see two aunts today, who live about seven hours apart from each other within New Mexico. The first, who’s right next to one of those gradual state borders, was who I was aiming to reach when the snowstorm pushed into a haunted hotel instead.

“I worried about you!” she said. “Did you sleep at all? Did you even know what it was, going into it?” I reassured her, and we got to talking about spirits. I think one of the reasons I seek them out is because I’ve never seen one. I’m not what you’d call sensitive, really in any sense of the word. So I look for them, and enjoy the terrifying tricks that my mind plays on me along the way.

She had an amazing story, about coming down a grade in the snow, losing traction on a pile of slush, and hearing her father’s voice telling her to let up on the brake. She swears she never would have thought to do that, and that he saved her life that day.

As I sit near Santa Fe and think about borders and spook-filled late nights, this feels appropriate, from Tom Russell’s Borderlands album. “Baby wakes up and calls to me, ‘What is that lonesome sound? It echoes off the mountain out near the lights of town.'”

On an unrelated note, I started to get nostalgic for the sketchy places I’ve slept in (the hotels and family homes on this trip have been freaking DIVINE, I feel spoiled) and discovered that my favorite, the Sleeping Buffalo, has been seriously swanked up. I reeeally want to go to the new spot, but I’m a little sad, too. Here’s what it used to look like, except I’m pretty sure it was never really that clean or that bright. I remember dim lighting, murals obscured by decades of mineral deposits, and the only after-hours entry was through a darkened, perennially under-construction motel with plastic window coverings flapping frantically in the wind. Once you actually got to the pool, your senses were overloaded. The water coming in through the exposed pipes (with holes punched into them for jets) blasted your eardrums so that you could just barely hear the menacing, grumbly, hungry noises of the water running back out, and the jets churned up the rust colored water so much you could not see your foot as you stepped naively into the water. It was a pretty good bet that the crazed serial killer lurking in the abandoned motel behind you was going to grab up one of the power tools left lying about and easily sneak up behind you.

I loved it. I miss it. RIP, old Sleeping Buffalo.

Ghosts, and Adventure

February 16, 2015

My spirit tour continues…

To sum up, here’s my timeline so far:

Friday the 13th:
– Hop on Spirit Air to Dallas, connecting (belatedly) to Missouri, to pick up the car.

Sunday, 15th:
Picher, OK: a ghost mining town and Superfund site, largely evacuated in 2010.
– Geocaching in cemeteries

Monday, 16th:
Texola, OK: a ghost(ish) Route 66 town
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM

And so much more still to come…

I like ghosts. Whether or not they exist (and I will withhold all judgement on that), the very idea of them makes me all tingly. They are things that exist through storytelling, and often only through storytelling. What is an icy hand on your back if you don’t tell about it, with great gusto and exaggeration, to your buddies in the bar the next night? Have you ever heard of a ghost that lived an uneventful life and died peacefully in their bed? No, their lives and deaths were undoubtedly filled with drama and plot twists.

I like adventures. I’m sure that’s not a surprise, what with the deep and abiding love of getting lost that I confessed to in my last post. I’ve bungee’d, zorbed, slept alone in the woods, cross-country tripped solo, visited 48 states and 6 countries, whitewater rafted, swapped a desk job in publishing to drive a freight train, went skinny-dipping in a leech-filled pond with people grabbing my ankles (okay, that was at a theme event thing, but still), and more.

I freaking LOVE Ghost Adventures. I watch it ironically, and scoff at the frat boys yelling “Come at me, bro!” to ghosts, while magnifying every possible sensation to the millionth degree. Later at night, I watch it totally un-ironically and have to turn on every single light in the place.

So while I didn’t plan this trip based on their site visits, I was stoked when I discovered how many of the places on my itinerary that they’ve also been to. They’ve visited the St. James and Amargosa, and even the Clown Motel, but they went to the other haunted hotel in Flagstaff, the Monte Vista, while I’m hitting the Weatherford.

Of course, it’s a tourism thing. They’re on the Travel Channel, for pete’s sake. Ghosts and travel go together perfectly; locals can tell as many tall tales as they want, and the history of a place will only grow. Right now, I’m sitting in the lobby to work, and listening to the front desk agent field calls. On about 3/4 of them, he mentions the paranormal. He’s pretty good, though; when I stopped in to get out of a blinding snow storm white-out, he didn’t say a word about ghosts. It was only when I saw the signs while coming down the hall (“Ghost Investigators:” followed by a list of rules, one of which is “No Ouija Boards”). Even then, he downplayed it, just in case it was a turn-off for me.

It was not. This trip, man. It’s doing this itself, I swear, my fingers aren’t even on it.

cemetery gravestone:

Not quite Unknown, but unnamed.

In a Columbarium, 5 miles and a world away from San Francisco

May 16, 2010

Last November I spent some time (okay, fine, 4 completely absorbed hours, and I need to go back again) in the San Francisco Columbarium, in the interest of research for my NaNoWriMo book, but also because I’m a ghoul and I love that shit. Today I decided to wander the Oakland Columbarium, in part because I always walk by it and wonder about what’s inside, and in part because when I do start planning for my eternity, I may be firmly East Bay, and not want to spring for niche in The City.

I guess I should have expected that there wouldn’t be many similarities, but I was stunned. Where SF’s house of the dead is full of remembrances, personalities, and memorials, Oakland’s is full of somber good taste. And good taste is really not “in” anymore, making this a cold, empty place. Structurally, it’s similar, and beautiful, with stained glass and a gorgeous dome. It’s just everything human that’s missing.

By the numbers
Built in: 1911
Dearly-departed souls: 40,000
Living souls spotted in the hour I was there: 1 (I caught a glimpse of myself in a pane of glass)
Dead flowers: A dozen or so
Artificial flowers: Half a dozen
Live flowers: Maybe 5
Pictures of loved ones: 2
Personalized inscriptions (beyond just a name and date): 2
Urns with any tiny spot of color: 1

 This place has themed rooms. In one, all the urns are the classic book shape. In another, they all have wood paneled fronts. Uniformity and matching is prioritized here. There were even guidelines, stating what could and could not be put on the interment spaces, and these guidelines included the phrase, “uniform beauty.”

It’s not at all surprising that this place was so empty. They’ve made it into a beautiful storage space, and nothing more. On a Sunday just after noon, not a single one of the chairs that looked like they were stolen from someone’s grandmother’s patio were occupied, and no one came in the entire time I was there. It’s even starting to affect the caretaker’s moral, I think. There were buckets in a couple rooms to catch drips from skylights, half the lights were off, and on the cracked marble steps that wobbled beneath me, there was a smattering of dead flies.

The worst thing was that it wasn’t even spooky! You’d think a silent, dark, empty columbarium would scare the crap out of you, right? Nope! I was on edge and looking for ghostly reflections in the first couple empty rooms, but after that, I just felt a little dead inside.