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It's summer; you know we have to visit the arcane.

The subject this year: "mystery spots": it seems there are certain locales with strange phenomena.

Years ago we visited a strange such place in northern New Jersey, a hill that you drove down, stopped at the bottom, turned the motor off, put the car in neutral, and sat back as it rolled back "up" the hill (through no visible force). Even stepping out and watching, the car went back up, backwards, repeatedly, of it own accord.

It was certainly one of the oddest phenomena one could see, at least in a way that could be replicated. You try that as many times as you wanted, and it would do the same thing. Was it a gravitational anomaly? Were there magnetic rocks under earth? Was it some sort of optical illusion (that is, it wasn't really a hill)?

No idea. But it isn't alone. There are spots like this, it seems, in other parts of the United States and around the world.

A well-known one is in the redwoods forest just outside of Santa Cruz, California, where an area about 150 feet in diameter is said to exhibit gravitational or some form of force-field aberrations. It was discovered in 1939 and has long been a tourist attraction. Water seems to flow upward and folks photographed in the circle appear to be strangely slanted over.

Skeptics say such spots -- or at least some -- are structures built at an angle and with their angle concealed (the California spot is enclosed in a cabin) allowing for optical illusion and photographic effects. It only seems like folks are leaning; it's the rest of the surroundings that are actually off kilter. Some of these amusements were built during the Great Depression. No doubt, many are hoaxes. Or so say detractors. There are such places -- as well as "spook hills" and gravity "vortices" -- in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Oregon: 46 in the U.S. and Canada alone, and four in Australia (including those highly suspect man-made structures).

Most do seem like illusions -- tourist stuff. Strange gravitational vortices, or simply the landscape fooling the eye [see here]? Factor in: clever engineering (on steep hillsides). It is what it is: hokey.

But some seem legitimately enigmatic -- with possibly spiritual (and occult) underpinning. In a number of cases, Indian artifacts or legends are attached to the locales. In others, spirits of the deceased supposedly "haunt" a vicinity.

We don't know about all that -- and don't recommend hunting such places down (if there is a spiritual element, it can attach to a visitor). But there are "mystery spots" out there (mysterious perhaps without a spiritual element).

In the news recently: forest swastikas. Take a look at the photograph recently aired by ABC [left].

As it reports: "Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke's landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines. Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn't difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact."

Odds are, someone planted them in that formation. It seems to have occurred elsewhere in Germany as well. Suspects have even be cited by name, or have laid claim to doing it. It's a bit reminiscent of "crop circles" (or a new variation: in Oregon, thirteen miles of strange lines scored into a dry lakebed, right; as it turns out, this was accomplished by a "desert artist" named Bill Witherspoon -- not by aliens!).

Still and again, no dearth of conundrums. There are the mystery lights of Colorado. There are mystery lights in Texas. There are haunted caves (Mark Twain's image seemed to form in a famous one). There is Mount Shasta in California. Once more, there are Indian legends. Some claim to see "dwarves" there. Others claim giant mummies were once found. As AOL has recently said, the mountain "is a favored destination for outdoor lovers and extreme sports enthusiasts. However, those who are intrigued by folklore and legend will also find the area compelling, as it is the subject of an unusual number of tantalizing myths.

"Although the Mount Shasta area has plenty of luxury resorts and breathtaking views, it is also rooted in rich Native American history. The grand peak of the volcano was once the physical and visual center of several tribes, which used legends to connect the material and spiritual worlds."


Overly-fecund imaginations?

Certainly that! And not just places. What about the occasional reports of people who wake up from a coma and can now fluently speak a foreign language? Or, as reported this summer (7/20/13), how do we weigh the case of a man named Michael Boatwright of Florida who was found unconscious in a California motel.

When he awoke, he had no memory of his past and spoke only Swedish -- and insisted his name was Johan Ek.

It's summer, and so we search through such things.

Also the silly season?

As for the "gravity hills": the one that baffled us was has a legend claiming that a young woman was killed at the intersection at the bottom of the off-ramp," says a website called Weird New Jersey. "When you stop at the stop sign after exiting the highway, a mysterious force pushes your car backwards up the hill. This is supposedly the ghost of the woman warning you of the danger she succumbed to.

"Perhaps the incline of the road is merely an optical illusion. Although it seems to be on a downward slope, maybe it really isn’t. The contours of the embankments make it  appear the stop sign is at the bottom of the hill, but it could be that the road actually ends on an upward pitch. On the other hand there could be a ghost at the intersection pushing your car backward uphill to protect you from harm."

These days, cops ticket anyone trying to see if their car will go backwards. It could cause an accident.

Our advice: forget it, though baffling it was.

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