Tag Archives: Road Trip

Haunted Road Trip Pt 2: Cadillac Ranch to Stull Cemetery

Let’s pick up where we left off on our weird and spooky Tucson to Madison road trip. In part one we covered ghost and UFO-related locations across Arizona and New Mexico, visiting haunted hotels and eating at haunted restaurants. I’m a sucker for classic Hollywood, so I’ll take a moment to again, point out how cool the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM is. If you haven’t had a change to read that article, check out part 1.

Our departure from lunch in Santa Fe’s haunted High Noon Restaurant, sent us east towards the Texas panhandle. In true form, everything really is bigger in Texas… even the Holiday Inn, which boasted rooms as big as convention halls. Exaggeration, yes, but it was some serious bang for the buck.

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Cadillac Ranch

The next morning, waking up in Amarillo, there was one way to start the day… by hanging out in the middle of a farm field. Cadillac Ranch has been standing for over 40 years just south of Route 66. The 10 cars, arranged chronologically from a ’49 model to a ’64 show the progression of the iconic Caddy tail fin. The original location was a wheat field 2 miles closer to the city, but was moved in 1997 to keep it further from the growing metropolis.

Perhaps most amazingly, the location is still completely free and unmonitored. Curiosity seekers are welcome to visit and explore the oddity as they wish. The original plan wasn’t to provide a canvas for people across the country to leave their mark, but that’s what it’s become. Half used spray cans litter the area, allowing anyone to grab the contraband-turned-art supply and add their own little flair to Cadillac Ranch. After 40 years, I think there’s more paint than metal here. For a great gallery of photographs of the ranch over the years, including the unthinkable – graffiti-free pictures of the cars, visit this site: The Story of Cadillac Ranch.

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We didn’t have to go far to visit our first haunted location of the day as Amarillo also houses “The Nat,” a haunted castle from 1922. Well, a castle-style building anyway. It was built to house an indoor swimming pool (“Nat” being short for natatorium), but within four years of opening, the venue was completely repurposed. A dance floor was built over top of the pool and a stage was added. The ghosts that still reside seem to come from this incarnation of the building.

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Two-page ad announcing the opening of The Nat in July 1922.

The next 70 years witnessed an evolution of music, hosting big band groups, classic rock groups including Buddy Holly and continuing to book acts all the way to the much more contemporary Dixie Chicks.

Today, however, the building is wall-to-wall antique mall. The upstairs loft, previously a gambling hall (unconfirmed), is the site of frequent cold spots and where a women in white is seen. This woman has a red mark on her front. Amazingly, this has not lead to legends of a woman being stabbed to death here, but rather the victim of a ruthless wine stain.

People have seen a couple still dancing the night away on the dance floor. The room is also the site of easily the most rockin’ residual haunting I’ve ever heard of: a phantom drum solo! The opportunity was too rich, so I had our award-winning drummer in residence, Wendy Lynn Staats of the paranormal rock band Sunspot, take the stage and hang out where the drum kit would be set up. Unfortunately, our phantom performers were not enticed to show off in front of a fellow drummer.

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Wendy in her natural environment – on a haunted stage.

Talking with the clerk, he conveyed a story to us about seeing a woman and young girl walking through one of the aisles around closing time. When he approached to let them know they were closing soon, the two vanished.

This sounds like an active site that possibly got much more active with the addition of thousands of antiques. It’s always possible that cherished objects still have attachments associated with their previous owners. This would be an amazing, but impractical location for a ghost hunt. I only hope the Nat has a good security system with sound; essentially a nightly paranormal stakeout.

WizardOfOzLiberal2Our journey took us to Kansas, which meant one thing: odd attempts to capitalize on the “Wizard of Oz.” Liberal, KS contains a replica of Dorothy’s house and in my opinion that’s a liberal use of the word “replica.” In fairness, we didn’t give the place a fair shot as we arrived at closing time and could only explore the exterior. The kitsch and oddity factor is exactly what you’re looking for in a roadside attraction.

CoronadoLiberalJust across the street, however, was some serious history. It was the estimated location where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado at least temporarily set up shop during an expedition in 1541. He spent more than a month exploring central Kansas looking for a fabled kingdom of gold. Clearly Coronado returned without riches, but also without his guide, who he killed in anger.

Stories of frustration turned to those of inspiration when we drove through the nearby town of Greensburg, KS. The town captured our attention as it was evident from tree damage that a tornado was in its recent past. In 2007 95% of the down was decimated by an F5 tornado (the most extreme on the Fujita-Pearson scale). The tornado itself was wider than the entire city. However, rather than rebuild as quickly and cheaply as possible, the town became the first in the nation to build all of it’s structures at platinum levels according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Greensbug is now known as the “greenest town in America.”

We rolled into Pratt, KS in time for an amazing Midwestern meal at Club D’Est, but unfortunately too late to buy a drink (travel tip: BYOB, box wine travels well).

Starting our final day in central Kansas, we were in great position to visit one of the most famously haunted sites in all of America… but not before one more roadside oddity.

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The name “Truckhenge” might make you think you’ll be seeing a replica of Stonehenge created with trucks. However, that would be attributing way too much organizational credit to this site. I hope that doesn’t sound too snarky and judgmental, because this is a “must see” location. As much as this place is an explosion of folkart, it’s also a constant protest against the bureaucracy who wanted owner Ron Leesman to clean up his property, citing that a flood could wash his collection of antique, immobile trucks down the nearby river. Rather than clear them out, he embedded them, turning them into political billboards, none more iconic than the nose-up pick-up truck declaring “Rise up!”

TruckHenge2TruckHenge3However, the trucks are just a small percentage of the overall experience. Ron himself greeted us when we showed up unannounced. Beer in hand at 11am, he showed us his collection of carvings: dozens of faces he carved into logs. It was clear he had a joke for each and every piece. Peacocks roamed the grounds as we were invited to take a drive. You literally drive through this guy’s backyard along a track, viewing the art he’s created with found items and empty beer bottles and cans. He’s also become something of an amateur archeologist too, having located ice age-era fossils of camels and mammoths in the neighboring quarry. There is no admission fee, nor is there even a donation box.

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Within 20 minutes we transport ourselves from an anti-establishment art exhibit to the mouth of Hell itself (well, according to legend anyway). Where do you start when you discuss Stull Cemetery? The rural, out of the way location is one legend heaped upon the next. The church and cemetery date to the mid 1850s, but we don’t know when the first reports of the supernatural started surrounding this area. A 1974 article in the University of Kansas newspaper serves as some of the first hard evidence when it comes to a folklore timeline and the advent of the internet really helped spread stories.

Legend has it that the location is visited twice a year by none other than Satan himself, on the spring equinox and on Halloween night. When the roof caved in on the aged stone church, witnesses there on rainy days observed that no rain would land within the now unprotected church. As of 2002 the church was fully bulldozed, making it impossible to confirm or deny these claims.

StullCemeteryChurchThere’s the legend of a stairway, always described vaguely as as being behind and to the right of the church. This is a magical portal of some sort. If you toss an item into the the stairwell, you’ll never hear it hit bottom. The few people that have attempted going down the stairs have never returned. If “Eleven” goes missing during season three of “Stranger Things,” this would be a good place to start looking as it’s believed this is the literal doorway to the other side.

Wendy and I spent at least an hour investigating this site with no luck in locating such a staircase or anything in the ground that might indicate a filled-in staircase or foundations. While that sounds like a sure “case closed,” it actually feeds into the well-constructed legend that the staircase only reveals itself on rare occasions. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to this story as I haven’t found legends to decipher if it relates to a time of day, anniversary, etc. or if it’s the witness themselves who are the key to the stairs revealing themselves. Of course, the likelihood that it’s all manufactured storytelling, is also possible.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that while stories may get blown up and exaggerated over time, they come from some element of truth. So, where is that truth?

Did early settlers practice séances or other occult practices here? Was a tree on this land used to hang witches? Yes, these are even more of the claims related to this site.

New friends and fellow road tripping paranormal nerds, Greg & Dana Newkirk of Planet Weird made a visit to the site in 2016 and were shocked to see the Stull Cemetery grounds randomly on fire with no obvious cause. It was almost as if Satan had emerged up that mythic staircase and just forgot to wipe his feet before exploring our earthly realm.  Feel free to check out their video below, but note that they misidentify the location of the church.

When Wendy and I visited Stull in 2017 is was a rainy day, so there were no flames or smoke. However, fresh scorch marks were apparent and scattered around the grounds. There’s no obvious culprit for this.  Note the black marks on the ground in the image below.  We will have our own video about this site that shows the burn marks in the future.

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Interestingly, one of the few real life documented tragedies to take place in the small town (Stull’s peak population only hit 50 and has since been absorbed by the town of Lecompton) involves a young boy wandering into a field was was on fire and burning to death. When trying to explain a documented paranormal phenomena, one has to cast a pretty wide net based on historical facts. I, myself, have a lot of work to do when it comes to research here. For one, is that boy buried at Stull Cemetery? If so, the connection between his death and the random fires is somewhat compelling. Also, skeptics claim the 1974 article was a hoax that has since gotten out of hand. If that’s the case, locating paranormal allegations in the ‘60s or earlier will be able to debunk the skeptic claims. It may seem funny to debunk the debunkers, but the lack of detail in those claims is exactly what a skeptic would point to, to discredit a paranormal claim. Either way you cut it, facts have to be backed up by documentation.

We love the more recent story too that talks about a local news crew that got permission to stay overnight at Stull Cemetery. Their goal: To debunk the Satan visitation story (or to grab the interview of a lifetime if he shows up). Despite having consent from the property owners and doing work that would ultimately demystify the cemetery, police kicked them out at 11:30. “What are the police covering up?” has been the understandable reaction of the ghost-believing public. Perhaps one day we will start to put some pieces together, whether it’s debunking the claims or understanding the paranormal truths of this area.

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Thank you for joining us on our paranormal road trip! We hope the insight from this post and the previous one give you some fun, spooky & weird options when visiting Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. One last tip – if you find yourself in Kansas City, don’t pass up the BBQ!

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Haunted Road Trip: Tucson to Madison (Part 1)

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One of my personal favorite videos I’ve ever put out involved how to take a haunted road trip from LA to Vegas.  This year, I set my sights a little bigger and covered a lot more distance, this time taking a trip from Tucson, AZ to Madison, WI, with Wendy Lynn Staats, drummer and violin player for the rock band, Sunspot.  They’re a group that features a lot of songs with paranormal or geek culture themes.  If interested, check out some drone footage I shot of the band here:

Tucson, AZ itself has some great haunted sites, but perhaps, as a Chicagoan, none stand out more than the place that lead to the (temporary) downfall of John Dillinger’s crew.  The Congress Hotel had to serve as a temporary landing spot for the gang of outlaws as the house they rented was not yet ready for them.

Hotel Congress 1934One early morning, fire broke out and the gang, like everyone else, was forced to stand on the street to watch fire envelop the hotel.  Knowing they had some precious cargo inside, a firefighter was convinced to go retrieve their luggage.  In appreciation, the firefighter was given a significant tip.  The following day, the firefighter in question happened to see a photo in True Detective Magazine of the generous tippers.  Within two days the entire crew was arrested, setting the stage for one of the most famous and clever prison breaks in history, that being the escape in the warden’s car in Crowne Point, IN that is described in detail in “Voices from the Chicago Grave.”  (further reading on John Dillinger’s time in Tucson here)

The Hotel Congress boasts many old time amenities and a whole slew of ghosts who continue to make their presence known.  There’s a maid in one of the halls, a cowboy in the basement, a war vet barfly who continues to tell stories to anyone within earshot and the second floor offers a variety of haunted rooms including the positive (room 220, long time resident still hanging around) and the very negative (suicide deaths leading to hauntings in rooms 214 & 242).

No time to stop for the night this time around, so we headed due north toward the tiny, remote town of Snowflake, Arizona.  Snowflake is famous for one thing and one thing only – this is the site of the most famous UFO abduction case in history.  It was here at the in 1975 that Travis Walton and six fellow loggers encountered a UFO.  Walton ventured from their truck and ended up getting abducted.  He was gone for five days.  The story may be familiar as it’s the basis for the feature film “Fire in the Sky” (trailer below).

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where Walton was working, is enormous.  We drove in total darkness for a disorientingly long amount of time.  I had designs on finding the exact location where the UFO encounter happened to try to take some readings, as I’ve heard that there’s still a radioactive signature here.  However, I did not plan for the forest being nearly 3 million acres.  The next best option, which is really a goldmine when getting to the bottom of local lore, was finding a local bar to talk to the regulars.  We passed one or two small dives that appeared to be closed for the night before finally locating a restaurant/bar that was open.

Sadly, this venue didn’t quite have the local flavor I was hoping for as it appeared to cater to time share ‘owners.’  Still, the place had to be staffed by locals who knew all about the tales, right?  I mean, after the most famous UFO story since Roswell, have there been other sightings?  Do other UFOlogists swing through often to see the place for themselves?  What about Bigfoot sightings?  There tends to be a correlation between places with a lot of sasquatch sightings and UFO activity.  With so much woodlands, I can imagine all sorts of cryptid sightings!

“So, do you know about the UFO history of this area?” I asked our bartender.

“You mean, like Area 51?” She responded.

“Um, no,” the smile leaving my face.  “Just down the road from here was the most famous UFO abduction case in the world.  There was a big Hollywood film made about it.”

“Oh,” she said before turning around to dry glasses.

ElRancho“Oh?”  Just “oh?”  I will never understand how there wasn’t a string of follow-up questions to my statement.  I guess I’m a researcher and others are not.   ….but still!  A Hollywood movie was made based on events in your town and you have zero interest?  A UFO plucked a dude off of your sleepy street and you’re not interested?

Clearly, we were barking up the wrong tree and we had a lot of miles left to drive.  Our camp for the night was just over the border in the beautiful town of Gallup, New Mexico.

Gallup’s picturesque landscapes made the town a natural fit for countless movies over the years, particularly westerns.  However, it’s here that one of my favorite movies of all time, Kirk Douglas’s “Ace in the Hole” was filmed.

All of those crew members and movie stars had to sleep somewhere while in town and where better than a hotel opened by Roy Griffith, the brother of the legendary director DW (“Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance”)?  Today, the El Rancho Hotel is considered one of the most haunted locations along Route 66.

ElRancho3The two-floor lobby with the wrap-around balcony proudly displays vintage, signed black and white photos of the stars of yester-year who once stayed there.  Some rooms even display names on them, presumably honoring past residents.  It’s in this upper lobby where people have heard phantom conversations, singular voices, footsteps and laughter.

Among individual rooms, the bridal suite claims the most activity, but neighboring rooms also report objects moving on their own, doors opening by unseen hands and the unwelcome wake up call of the curtains flying open on their own at the crack of dawn.  Apparently a long gone crew member doesn’t want to miss their call time.

A glance around different travel or review sites also recounts tales of unexplainable phenomena in the John Wayne room and the Susan Hayward room.

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By lunchtime we had made it to another location that is intimately associated with a Hollywood production…..and meth.  Yep, Albuquerque!  Perhaps no law enforcement agency takes stopping the spread of meth more seriously than the town where the movie “Breaking Bad” is set.  For the 18+ crowd, ya gotta check out the Candy Lady, a candy store that sells X-rated sweets.  No haunting here, but this is one of the ‘weird’ trip highlights.

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HighNoon2We, however, had our sights set on margaritas and the High Noon Restaurant and Saloon and they delivered!  The building itself has to be one of the oldest still existing structures in the United States as it was first built in the 1750s.  The building has long reported the presence of a woman in white in the Santos room (pictured to the right, note the saint statues in the alcoves), but the current owners have been feeling more and more unsettled.  Something isn’t right here.  That’s what led them to reach out for help in the form of Travel Channel’s “The Dead Files.” (read more on that here). Clever marketing ploy or legit paranormal drama, we had a lunch that more than hit the spot.

Bellies full of great food, we took a little walk before jumping back on the road.  In the process, we got a look at the Covered Wagon, a store that contains a ridiculous amount of Chile Ristras (bunches of hanging chili peppers, picture below) and the legend of a ghost named Scarlett, a prostitute who was murdered on the site when the building was a brothel.  She was allegedly stabbed by a fellow ‘working girl’ and died of blood loss before help could arrive.  Due to the clandestine nature of the building, there are no official records to confirm or deny that this crime took place.  Whatever the origin, the building and the immediate surrounding area seems to be visited by a female presence, who is not always clothed.  You heard me.

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In the same square is the La Placita Dining Rooms (picture below).  The business itself has been in operation since 1935 while the building itself went up sometime prior to 1880 (some sites claim 1706 as the building date).  We talked with one member of the wait staff who confirmed that he had coworkers with paranormal stories but he himself had yet to experience anything of note.

LaPlacita

According to various web sites, there are four known ghosts here, but only two or three are ever identified.  One is the ghost of a little girl who appears as a reflection in the women’s room mirrors while the other is a visage of a woman in full bridal gown seen descending the stairs.  The most unique and perhaps common visual anomaly is a fog or a mist that appears hovering over tables and lingers for a time before again vanishing.  Is this another specter attempting to form?  Perhaps time will tell.

Tune in next month for the next installment of the weird and haunted road trip, which will include infamous and ya-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it sites in Texas and Kansas!

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