When I was a wee lass riding belt-free in the rear seat of the family Plymouth, bracketed by older siblings, we always passed the black and orange billboard for the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery on our way headed north. It gave me proper chills.
I sat and soaked up family discussion about the roadside attraction, shared in shadowed tones. I mean, anything that impressed my brother, Alan, had to be very cool.
Now I’m close enough for a daily visit, but I hadn’t stepped inside the strange 165-foot-4 1/2-inch sphere in nearly a quarter century. I love a mystery, especially the unexplained natural phenomena type. I was overdue.
The area that constitutes the vortex apparently messes with the normal laws of physics. If I had more space, I would gladly explain these. But at the OV, things travel uphill and people grow taller while walking a level platform. I skimmed through the booklet, “Notes & Data Relative to the Phenomena at the Area of The House of Mystery,” and I’m satisfied to say I made the right decision in not becoming a geophysicist. This booklet made me almost as dizzy as the vortex, but the pictures were nice.
Though it’s assumed to have existed since the beginning of time, it opened as an attraction in 1930, and nothing has changed but the personnel. No high-rise condos touting miracle cures for arthritis or straightening spines. No Mystery Thirteen-Hole golf course, with balls hurtling back to the tee. Just a modest yet profound curiosity, which continues to perplex the naive and the learned. Tucked back in the oak and madrone woods, within its terralines and adjacent to Sardine Creek, it simply draws. You can’t see the vortex, of course, because it’s an invisible phenomenon, but one can clearly see (and feel, in my case) the effects of its gravitational anomalies throughout the course of a tour. Our guide, Josh, described it as a gravitational whirlpool, providing the perfect mental image for my disorientation. On previous visits, though long before, I had no such reaction.
Animals may prove wiser than people when it comes to hanging out within the area of altered perceptions. I’ve visited about four times now and don’t recall seeing or hearing a bird or animal of any kind. Josh, who reminded me a little of Jack Black, told of birds occasionally flying through, but never nesting there. He mentioned service animals refusing to enter the Mystery House and others becoming strangely aggressive. Babies and toddlers sometimes become suddenly cranky and irritable. Running out of coffee does it for me.
Here are some activities I would avoid while visiting the vortex. Don’t bring a picnic lunch, especially anything with jalapenos. Stumbling through on a full stomach could prove embarrassing. I noticed their snack machine stood conspicuously barren as a warning. I wouldn’t attempt any games like hide-and-seek (you may never find yourself), bocce, or pick-up sticks. Don’t cross your eyes, and for pity sake don’t try square dancing, for obvious reasons. Seriously, it’s not for those who have difficulty walking.
The Oregon Vortex is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but only through the end of October, as in, Halloween. They reopen in March. The tour takes about 45 minutes and they begin every 20 minutes. Despite being four miles or so off the beaten path on a good road, thousands of people from around the world visit each year. They have a map full of pins to prove it, which starts clean again next March. Many visitors come to our area specifically to experience this oddity. Pack along your own plumb bob (my favorite tool to say), level and measuring tape, if you like.
Last night, I drifted off thinking of our visit and how frightening it would be to spend the night in the Mystery House. Then I dreamed it happened.
Heaven help us all if they ever plant a corn maze over one of those things.
Reach Peggy Dover at firstname.lastname@example.org and on her Facebook page.