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Unexplained America: Strange Mysteries and General Weirdness from the USA

When it comes to fascinating and unexplained American history, archaeology and natural wonders, “facts” may be in the eye of the beholder. 

In many instances, evidence put forth by one group of experts to explain certain phenomena is hotly contested by those with differing views, and as is often the case, controversies have been known to intensify over decades and turn otherwise cooperative colleagues into bitter rivals.  

Thanks to supposedly overwhelming evidence, some claim that the verdict is clearly out on the following 5 anomalies, but for others these assertions are little more than theories put forth by narrow minded specialists unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture. 

That said, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

1. Kensington Runestone – Minnesota

The Kensington Runestone is a 202-pound (92 kg)
The Kensington Runestone is a 202-pound (92 kg) slab of greywacke covered in runes on its face and side. By Mauricio Valle, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

In 1968 in reference to the Kensington Runestone, author and historian Theodore Blegen –  noted authority on Minnesota history and Scandinavian immigration to America, wrote: 

“Few questions in American history have stirred so much curiosity or provoked such extended discussions.” 

As the story goes, while clearing land on his farm near Kensington, Minnesota in late 1898, Swedish immigrant Olof Ohman discovered a unique and obviously man made slab of rock similar to a gravestone ensnared in the roots of an upended tree. 

The artifact was covered in mysterious markings later identified as Scandinavian runic writing, and the legend of the Kensington Runestone was born. 

But after more than a century of contention and professional dispute, historians and archaeologists still don’t agree if the runestone is the most significant find in American history, or a petty hoax perpetrated by a mischievous farmer with too much free time on his hands.

What is agreed however, is that the stone’s inscriptions state that a mixed group of Swedes and Norwegians crossed the Atlantic from Vinland on a journey of exploration. 

But perhaps most intriguingly, the stone was inscribed with the year 1362 – 130 years before Columbus purportedly reached the West Indies.

Leaving some of their party to watch the ships in the Hudson Bay, they marched inland and established a camp that would later become the Runestone site.

Again, an even smaller group hiked north for two days to explore and fish, but upon returning they discovered that those left at camp had been murdered in bloody fashion.

The stone’s weathering, geographic location and archaic writing, along with the personalities and motives of those who apparently discovered it and were closest to it, have given rise to a number of controversies concerning its authenticity. 

Some geologists and antiquities experts say the stone and writing would’ve been much more worn if they were more than six centuries old, while others claim that they were likely buried for much of that time, which would’ve protected them from the elements.

There’s also the case of geography.

With a reference to being 14 days from their home port of Vinland, an apparently unknown city, it’d mean they’d not only have had to cross the North Atlantic, but navigate the Hudson Bay as well, for which 14 probably wouldn’t have been nearly enough time for a rudimentary unpowered craft. 

Furthermore, no other record of the expedition is known to exist, and one frequently cited “red flag” is that it’s improbable that besieged men so far from home, who’d just discovered their compatriots murdered, would waste time inscribing their situation into a stone. 

Likewise, some of the runic characters on the stone didn’t pass close inspection from Scandinavian writing experts, while others concluded that they were correct down to the last detail, but that portions had been worn away over the years, making them appear inaccurate. 

If the inscriptions aren’t authentic, they were certainly made by someone with in-depth knowledge of Scandinavian writing, and not surprisingly, Olof Ohman is the main suspect. 

Later, scholars interviewing Ohman found a number of books on runestones in his modest library, which he claimed were given to him years after he found the stone.

Other skeptics point to his relationship with local pastor Sven Fogelblad, who also may have had knowledge of runes and archaic Scandinavian writing.  

Sadly, neither man ever admitted to anything, and over the years the slab has been displayed in European museums, the Smithsonian, and the 1965 World’s Fair in New York. 

2. “Rock Wall” – Rockwall, Texas 

Located on the eastern shore of Lake Ray Hubbard a few miles northeast of downtown Dallas, Texas, the aptly named city of Rockwall is home to another of the country’s most enduring and unexplained sites.

And more than 150 years after its discovery, there’s still disagreement as to whether the “Great Wall of Texas” is a naturally occurring geological formation or a manmade structure.  

Though most of the wall is still buried, it’s believed to be 20 miles long and as tall as 7 stories in some places. 

The legend of the “wall” began in 1852 when three Rockwall residents digging a well inadvertently unearthed what appeared to be a buried portion of a man made rock formation resembling a wall.

In fact judging by looks alone, it was clear that the long rows of narrow stones stacked one atop another like bricks must’ve been laid by men. 

But all wasn’t as it seemed, and the structure has baffled scientists, archaeologists and historians for well over a century, largely because bewildering bits of evidence suggest that it’s both a natural phenomena and a manmade wall. 

The wall has been partially excavated in more than a dozen areas around town, but the first official dig was carried out by the Rockwall County Historical Society just months after its discovery. 

From the beginning, a number of well respected and high-profile 19th and 20th century geologists like Robert T. Hill – a man often referred to as the “Father of Texas Geology” – have concluded that the wall is indeed a naturally occurring structure.

In 1901, Hill stated that the wall was a natural sandstone dike, and that the material resembling mortar between the individual stones was silty clay that’d filled stress fractures in the sedimentary rock formed over millennia. 

This process has been well documented the world over, but what’s unique to Texas’ rock wall is that the cracks are surprisingly symmetric, giving the rocks a uniquely manmade appearance. 

But though it was widely regarded as a manmade feature for most of the 20th century, not everyone is in agreement, and those who don’t buy the official narrative point to a number of unexplained anomalies. 

First, iron rings and other artifacts were found embedded in the wall that have been dated to 4,000 years old, and other purported findings have included archways, stairs, indecipherable inscriptions, and small ports for water drainage.

Some archaeologists claim that the dike formed much farther below the earth’s surface than where it is today and pushed its way upward over thousands of years, trapping more contemporary artifacts and making it appear as though they’d always been in the same strata. 

Especially in the ‘90s, a number of geologists and historians made pleas for the rock wall to be reevaluated, with a new focus on the aspects that tend to debunk the original explanation.

After visiting the wall and reviewing its structure and accompanying historical evidence, in 1996 eminent west coast architect John C. Lindsay said that “evidence of a prehistoric structure built by man is mounting.”

3. Sedona Vortices – Arizona

Though the vortices for which Sedona, Arizona is most well-known are often looked upon with derision by naysayers, everyone from Native Americans and “New Age” gurus to traditional scientists claim there’s something unexplained going on amidst the gnarled junipers and majestic red rock formations just a few hours north of Phoenix. 

With nearly two dozen tribes, Arizona is home to one of the country’s largest indigenous populations. 

Yavapai, Navajo, Hopi and Tonto Apaches have called the Sedona area home for countless generations, and they’ve always revered its canyons and shimmering crimson rocks as sacred and powerful places. 

In the mid-20th century Sedona was a popular shooting site for western movie classics like Billy the Kid and Apache, but just a few decades later its stunning beauty and remoteness began attracting retirees, authors and artists – many of whom took up permanent residence. 

Tourism soon followed, but it wasn’t until the early ‘80s that reports of mysterious vortices began showing up in local and regional newspapers – and later national and international news outlets as well.

Vortices commonly occur in nature when fluid or gas – like water and air – spin around an axis as in a whirlpool or tornado, or when water spirals down a drain.  

But many claim that vortices can also be formed by static electricity and electromagnetism, as well as unexplained energy sources that are amazingly powerful, curative, and originated deep within the earth.  

By some estimations the Sedona area has hundreds of individual vortices, but it’s the ones in and around the village of Oak Creek that attract the most visitors. 

Many come from all over the world to commune with forces they believe to be otherworldly, while others seek relief from diseases and ailments, both physical and mental, that modern medicine hasn’t been able to cure. 

Sedona’s vortices are said to be among the few places in the world where the earth’s intrinsic “energy” makes its way to the surface, and they’re often likened to sites like Stonehenge, though there’s no corresponding manmade structure. 

Not surprisingly, perhaps more than any place else in the country, Sedona has attracted a permanent community of eccentrics that subscribe to an eclectic mix of contemporary nondenominational spirituality, Native American lore, and alternative healing practices. 

In Sedona, phrases like “karma”, “life force” and “go with the flow” are common, but detractors claim that visitors are more likely to have their fortune told in a gas station parking lot by a 22-year-old with dreadlocks, than actually experience anything even remotely resembling energy from or communion with Mother Earth. 

Others argue that the mere suggestion of mysterious vortices is enough to create a “placebo effect,” whereby visitors expect to experience something unique and powerful, and therefore think that they do whether or not they really have. 

4. Racetrack Playa – California

In 1913 California’s Death Valley registered the highest temperature ever recorded in America – 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius).

But though it’s most well-known as the country’s hottest place, it’s also home to a number of fascinating phenomena, one of the most mysterious and enduring of which is Racetrack Playa. 

Though you may not know it by name, chances are you’ve seen photographs of the enigmatic rocks that apparently slide across the dry lakebed (playa) leaving telltale grooves behind them. 

Despite some of the hundreds of rocks weighing nearly 700 pounds (320 kg), it’s commonly agreed that they do in fact move across the ground, but the forces at play have baffled scientists, geologists, and amateur paranormal aficionados for decades. 

Like the Bonneville Salt Flats, Racetrack Playa is nearly perfectly flat and usually bone dry, but its surface is composed of sedimentary silt and clay.

From north to south it stretches for nearly 2.5 miles (4 km), and from east to west it’s about half that width. 

Precipitation is just a few inches per year, but when it does rain runoff from the surrounding mountains often fills the broad lakebed with water, causing the wet clay and silt to morph into a slick slurry. 

The deep trails left in the rocks’ wakes suggest that they move when the playa is soft and wet, but though some claim it’s a man made hoax, no evidence of human intervention, like footprints, have ever been found. 

At certain times hurricane force winds do sweep across Death Valley’s wide expanses, but though the trails left by the rocks parallel the prevailing gusts, the gusts just aren’t forceful enough to move boulders across the surface – at least under most conditions. 

Course changes in the trails do suggest that the motion of the rocks follow the direction of the wind, but even on the slippery mud prevalent after a rain, there’s much more to the story.   

Less than a decade ago, intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery, scientists affixed small GPS units to a number of rocks, and the findings showed that some moved more than 700 feet (213 m) over multiple days. 

These surprising movements coincided with winter weather in which the wet surface of the playa froze into a thin layer of ice over an unfrozen layer of water below. 

Scientists theorized that the rocks became imbedded in ice, and that together they floated over the water, which reduced downward pressure and friction enough for strong winds to move them as one. 

Then, by the time the ice melted and water evaporated, the rocks were far from their original location, leaving only telltale trails to hint at their movement.

One of the first reports that provided strong evidence of this theory was a video taken in 2006. 

Then in November 2013, the ice-water-wind theory was verified when the playa became inundated with three inches of water.

The top portion froze, and researchers physically observed the rocks sliding across the lakebed ensconced in ice and pushed by the wind, moving almost effortlessly bit by bit over three months until January of the following year.  

5. Mel’s Hole – Washington

If bottomless pits, reincarnated dogs and mysterious men who may or may not have existed constitute an urban legend, then the story of Mel’s Hole might just take the proverbial cake. 

It all started back in February of ‘97, when a man identifying himself as Mel Waters was a guest on the famous late night paranormal talk radio show Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. 

Waters’ claimed to be the owner of a plot of land about 10 miles west of Ellensburg in rural Kittitas County, Washington, and that a mysterious gaping hole like a mineshaft lurked on his property. 

He estimated that the hole was at least 80,000 feet or more than 15 miles (24 km) deep, and that he’d plumbed its depths with a fishing rod wound with heavy duty line.

One wonders whether a fishing rod with a spool capable of holding 15 miles of line ever existed, but whatever the case, Waters apparently lowered that amount of line out, and by the time it ran out the weight hadn’t yet hit the bottom. 

To put Mel’s Hole into perspective, the deepest known mineshaft at the TauTona gold mine is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) deep, and the deepest borehole was drilled by the Russians in 1989 to a depth of just more than 40,000 feet (12,200 m). 

Waters also claimed that over the years he’d thrown everything from household waste and rocks into the hole, and he never heard any of it hit bottom. 

And one one occasion, a neighbor apparently heaved a dead dog down the hole, but a few days later the same dog was seen alive, well, and wearing the same collar in the woods nearby.  

Waters also said that one morning on his way to the hole, he was accosted by federal agents who told him the hole was off limits because there’d been a plane crash, and that shortly thereafter the same agents coerced him into leasing the land to the government for a princely sum – after which he packed up and moved to Australia. 

Between the first airing on Coast to Coast AM, the legend grew, and Waters made subsequent appearances on the show in both 2000 and 2002. 

The exact location of the hole was never divulged, but local investigators looking into the claims reported that no records could be found of a man named Mel Waters ever living in or owning property in the area. 

Yet several people corroborated Waters’ story, including a local tribal medicine man known as Red Elk. 

He claimed to have visited the hole numerous times as far back as the early ‘60s, and said that there was an underground government base in the area, and that UFO activity was common.

In 2002 however, leading an expedition to locate the hole once and for all, Red Elk was unable to find it.

According to geologists, a shaft as deep as Mel’s Hole is purported to be can’t exist, because it would collapse under its own weight largely due to the immense heat that would be present at such depths, prompting many to characterize it as an obvious and baseless hoax. 

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