I need to make it really clear that I’m neither endorsing the validity of the stories on the Strange Kinzua Facebook page nor am I debunking them. I’m merely taking the locations given and visiting them. And probably revisiting them. And taking pictures. And writing unbiased experience reports.
I’m not trying to prove anything.
I’m not trying to disprove anything.
But as my guide yesterday said, my analytic mind is asking “what is causing this site to behave this way? What’s drawing people to this site? And what objective information can be gathered here?”
I’m like a five-year-old. I perpetually want to know WHY.
And while the answer to that question is never forthcoming, the ability to explore the places, to attempt to re-create the stories being told, and to simply document the places is intriguing to me.
I love storytelling. I love story’s function in society.
I love getting down and dirty with the folklore, legends, tales, and stories that have to do with our area, and my personal aesthetic draws me to the mysterious, curious places. Honestly, I like it when I leave with more questions than I came in with.
So Oakland Cemetery was an interesting place, not not really heavy on the mystery.
“The Circle,” however, is quite a bit different.
So before we go any further let’s let Tim guide our mindset as we get into the legends, the location, and yesterday’s experience at a place called “The Circle,” which is off the road into the Rimrock Overlook area in the Allegheny National Forest just past the Kinzua Dam off Route 59 in Mead Township.
Like Timothy, I love the flexibility that skepticism provides. It demands the asking of questions. It demands satisfaction, no matter how long it takes to achieve. It demands that we keep our minds ever open but ever questioning, ever sharp, thinking critically and intelligently about what we’re dealing with. But most importantly, skepticism allows for beliefs to change based on the data available at any given time, which is always dynamic, with a steady swell and ebb.
Obviously, this Tim song is one of my favorite and by far the one I’ve shared the most, I’m guessing. But it’s kind of my entire philosophy on the metaphysical reality of our world and conscious lives.
So on Strange Kinzua one of the most discussed sites is “The Circle,” a spot that lies about a ten minute hike into the mountain laurel on the west edge of the roadway that connects Route 59 in Mead Township with the Rimrock Observation area.
You can see from the satellite image that the coordinates for the site are topographically significant.
You can see here that the area is clearly marked on a topographic map of the same spot with a whited out area that I’m assuming denotes a glacial rock, as that’s what you wind up walking onto once you get up the second steep section of hill.
From 454 the ten or so minute hike up to the circle area is not a particularly easy one, but with an idea of what you’re looking for, once you’ve been shown the way in, you’re likely to be able to find it assuming that none of the experiences of the storytellers on Strange Kinzua happen to you. My guides, who chose not to share their names for personal reasons, suggested not heading into the area without at least one other person.
“It’s really easy to start feeling twisted, off-kilter,” one of the people I walked into the area with Sunday afternoon explained. She also said that the area often feels “inverted,” explaining that a sudden hush comes over the area, with even the sound of crickets and birds stopping. The wind, she said, goes still. And physically she reports feeling pressure in her sinuses, ears, and head.
While I did not experience that feeling at the circle Sunday, I did notice that a lot of birds were in the trees surrounding the rocky surface, and they were all pretty active but I never did see one fly across the circle. I watched them fly around the perimeter of it but never cross. That’s by no means scientific data in any way. Just something I noticed casually without testing it or collecting data in any formal way whatsoever. That is one of the things I’d like to do on future trips, as well as spending about 45 minutes or so in silence and counting cricket sounds, bird sounds, etc.
I also would like to take my own equipment, not because I don’t trust the people I’m going in with, but because I’ve had the scientific method drilled into me and I’d like to use my own equipment that I’ve calibrated myself and that I’m personally familiar with the quirks of.
One of the things that did happen on the way in was that the battery powered handheld GPS unit did a lot of spinning, telling me I’d reached my destination starting at around the halfway point of the hike, and reading a dramatically different direction for north from the magnetic compass I carried alongside it.
Curious. But I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know enough about the physics of the differences between the two compass types to make any statement on that phenomenon other than that I saw it happen. Please be aware that I’m not making any claim of causation or assigning any value to any of the things I’m taking note of on these trips. I’m trying to simply notice and record them.
Also worth noting is that there is a clear human presence in the area whether you happen to meet anyone at the circle area or not. I saw candy wrappers on the ground hiking up to the circle, and we found clear examples of sticks crossed and possible structure building.
In no way do I mean to imply that there’s anything other than a common explanation for these features of the walk in. People come here. What draws them here is anyone’s guess, but once inside the circle area there appeared to be evidence of some sort of intentional action. Two or three small cairns were clearly visible and another area where stones appeared intentionally placed in a crescent shape based on spacing and trajectory. It would be hard to believe that they ended up there naturally that way.
Again, not saying whether anything happened there, although based on my personal knowledge of modern ritual-heavy religions (namely neo-pagan variants), it would not be a stretch to assume that the cairn with the rocks around it had been the site of some ritual or another.
I also need to make it clear that I don’t condone the lambasting of neo-pagans. Just because it’s not your religion, that doesn’t make it bad. Back off.
It’s a pretty obvious place for people who believe in the power of ritual to draw power from a physical setting. Whether or not the stories are true, the fact that lore exists surrounding the place is clear evidence that there is emotional investment and belief in the power of the place, which by their very nature give the space power if one accepts them as true.
That’s the thing about the intersection of faith and science. At a certain point one must concede that power need not be physically inherent in anything – tools, words, places, gestures – to exist. Power is a man-made phenomenon and its vehicle is story and belief.
So. Getting to the lore. The following stories are taken from the Strange Kinzua page and not attributed because in my mind it doesn’t matter who said them. I’m not investigating validity here at this point. I’m simply retelling stories.
First of all, any number of meanings have been given to the circle area. Some people believe it’s a site where witchcraft (malevolent or benevolent, both accounts exist) was practiced over the years. Some people believe it’s the site of a UFO crash. Some people believe it’s a “vortex,” where rifts in time and space can occur. Some people believe it’s a bigfoot hotspot.
Irrelevant side note: Firefox spellcheck is going nutso over both the words “bigfoot” and “hotspot.”And the word “nutso.” Haha.
Some people believe it’s a sacred space where native people buried their dead in antiquity. Given the nature of the white/native relationship surrounding the Kinzua Dam area that’s a pretty common explanation for any weird experiences anywhere near the dam or in the surrounding Allegheny National Forest, as is the existence of government activity and the resulting conspiracy theories – the Army Corps of Engineers still manages the dam and military/police/forestry service presence is not unheard of in any given area at any given time.
Most of the Strange Kinzua posts about the circle area are about lapses in time, losing one’s way, compasses spinning, interactions with “forestry agents” that the USFS claimed to have no knowledge of. I love a good conspiracy theory and I’m not trying to be dismissive when I say that a lot of it sounds conspiracy theoryish. I do think, sometimes, that when we want something to be true we may find meaning in things that are just coincidences. Possibility vs. probability.
But, like wee Timothy, my mind remains open and I’m excited to go spend some time up there just quietly sitting, taking it in. Experiencing it. Documenting it. Just forming a dynamic opinion as I go. I tend to believe not that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that it’s our best current explanation for something we don’t have the scientific ability to explain yet.
So. My official position on the circle is that 1) I’m excited to go back, 2) I have no idea what it’s all about, and 3), as Mr. Minchin says so eloquently in our Minchin Monday tidbit, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved/If you show me that, say, homeopathy works, then I will change my mind/I’ll spin on a fucking dime…You show me that it works and how it works/And when I’ve recovered from the shock/I will take a compass and carve ‘Fancy That’ on the side of my cock.”