Campfire Reads Review: Atlas Obscura

April 19, 2017


Author:  Joshua Foer

Goodreads Description: Equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.

If you’ve ever been to their website, you’ll know how awesome Atlas Obscura is. It’s basically a catalogue of every strange and obscure roadside attraction on the planet, ranging from crystalized skeletons to hair museums to gardens made entirely of poisonous plants. In their first ever print book, they highlight the best oddities their site (and the world) has to offer.


Personally, I can’t get enough of weird stuff like this and it makes me want to take a road trip to visit some of the places in the book. Here are a few of the “must-see” stops on my theoretical trip!


1. The Great Stalacpipe Organ


I’d first head south to Virginia to check out the Great Stalacpipe Organ. From a distance, it looks like a regular old church organ, but what makes it special is that instead of pipes, it uses the cave’s own stalactites to make music! When a key is pressed, a rubber mallet strikes one of the stalactites that were shaped to produce a specific pitch. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll catch a vampire playing it, or at least, some dude who plays piano dressed in a vampire costume.


2. The Synchronized Fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains


I’ll have to get to the Smoky Mountains by mid-June or I’ll miss the synchronized fireflies. Apparently, the male fireflies only live for three weeks, so to capitalize on mating time, they all synchronize their flashes so the females can find them more easily. I feel kind of sorry for those poor fireflies, but I bet this is pretty magical to watch in person.


3. Pando, the Trembling Giant


Next, I’d head west to Utah to see the heaviest known organism in the world. From the outside, Pando looks like any other aspen forest, but its roots tell a different story. Every single tree in the Pando is genetically identical, meaning that they’re all part of the same organism. It’s not only the heaviest organism in the world, but also one of the oldest, dating back an estimated 80,000 years! To put it in perspective, that tree(s?) has been alive for approximately as long as the modern human species.


4. Racetrack Playa


Rocks don’t move. They’re rocks. They stay in exactly the same place unless someone moves them, right?


Wrong. At least in Death Valley, California. For decades, scientists had no idea why these rocks appeared to have dragged themselves across the sand. In 2013, they solved the mystery, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll just have to go to Death Valley or read Atlas Obscura to find out.


For those of you who like weird natural phenomena and bizarre tourist traps, I can’t recommend this book enough. Maybe, someday, I’ll run into you at the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Canada. Just don’t tell anyone you saw me there. ;)





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© 2016 Ruth Emmie Lang