At the Oregon Vortex, two people stand on a perfectly level board, facing each other. The one on the right seems taller. As they switch places, the taller one gets shorter and the shorter one gets taller.
You know it's impossible, but there it is, right before your eyes.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in March, April, May, September and October; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in June, July and August
Admission: $9.75 general, with discounts for seniors and children
Info: Visit www.oregonvortex.com or call 541-855-1543
Balls roll uphill. Brooms stand on end. People lean toward magnetic North.
Is it your perception playing tricks on you, or is the Oregon Vortex a confluence of magnetic fields that defy some laws of physics?
For some Southern Oregonians — and visitors from around the world — finding out for themselves is definitely on the bucket to-do list.
The Vortex, at 4303 Left Fork Sardine Creek Road, Gold Hill, has been in operation for 82 years. At the center is the House of Mystery, a wooden shack built in 1890 that served as an assay office for a gold mining company before it slid off its foundation. Guide-manager Elena Cooper says the assay office had to be abandoned because the scales wouldn't weigh gold correctly, and the mules wouldn't go near the place. Neither would the American Indians.
The family-owned operation, which runs from March through October, gives up to 12 tours a day in the busy summer months, each with 20 to 30 people. Some can't make it across the slanted floor of the shack, which is 8 feet out of level.
"A lot of people say they get the 'ocean motion' (seasick) in here," says Cooper. "It takes three days to acclimate to it, if you come to work here. Some get euphoric and say, 'All my jokes are funny!'"
One such person is tour guide Richard Krohn, who says, "I feel a drastic difference in my body when I come to work, a natural high, a buzz."
"It makes me high on life," says Jace Harlacher of Rogue River. "It's super-interesting learning about the energies here. I feel an awesome glowing vibe."
Using many tape measures and levels, Cooper proves beyond any seeming doubt that a surface is level, then has Krohn and Harlacher stand at opposite ends, one clearly taller than the other. But when they switch places, one has grown and one has shrunk. It defies your senses — and it defies cynicism. You know it can't be true but it sure seems like it, so you laugh.
"College kids love to come here on spring break, going both ways; we're halfway between Eugene and colleges in California, and they come here in tank tops and flip-flops and there's still snow on the ground," says Cooper.
Once, a physics class from a high school in Bend came armed with scientific instruments and butcher paper to cover all the slanting background lines in an effort to debunk the Vortex's claims. But they could find nothing out of level or misrepresented in height, Cooper says, so all they could surmise was "something" skewed perception there.
Dowsers who visit say it answers their "questions" backwards — that is, yes for no and no for yes. New-Agers bring their crystal pendulums to "recharge" with Earth's energy and sit on the benches meditating. One spiritual-minded woman from India came and said, "It's a gateway to heaven, and you are very blessed."
"She left radiant — but we avoid talking about the spiritual things on our tours," notes Cooper.
The most fun are visitors 7 to 10 years old who love to ask questions, look under and behind everything and try to crack the great mystery, she adds.
"I love this place and the nature here and how the heights change and how nothing is planned. It doesn't feel weird," says Evie Sullivan, a tour guide.
Cooper married into the family, who tried to sell the Vortex in 2003 for $3.5 million. She convinced the Cooper family it just needed new energy and a more engaging presentation, which Elena Cooper happily provides.
The Oregon Vortex was created in 1930 by geologist John Litster, a graduate of the University of London who experimented with the Vortex for decades before his death in 1959. His wife sold it to the Coopers in 1960.
So, seriously, why does it do what it does? Is the Vortex on the level?
"Yes it is," says Elena Cooper, balancing a broom on its bristles and leaving it standing there. "It's like a whirlpool of force that's 165 feet and 4.5 inches in diameter, covering half an acre. The Indians called it the Forbidden Ground. There's not a lot of wildlife here and the birds won't roost.
"We honestly don't know why it does what it does," she says. "It's a vortex of gravity, electrical energy and magnetism which obeys the Unified Field Theory and shows how all these are one energy expressed in different ways and at different times. You can test a compass and it will spin, but an hour later, it won't. Some people doing the height-changing say they actually feel compressed.
"But why this happens? We don't know. We haven't heard the final explanation on it."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.