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Ghost Hunter’s Treat

18 May

    Every step taken on the creaky floorboards of the Stanley Hotel pierced the silence of our ghost tour, screeching like we were walking on banshees, adding a malevolent feel to the already chilling atmosphere. As we climbed the century-old stairs, both my mother and I were hit simultaneously with a wave of nausea. Sweat began to form at my pores, as if I were standing on the edge of a cliff, fearing for my life. I began to notice the smallest, most insignificant details, as if the missing peg in the banister was the cause of my sudden sickness. A small breeze blew on the back of my neck, as if something were breathing on me.
    Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour is one of the best in the country. Not only does the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., have a great armory of residential ghosts, it’s also the place where acclaimed horror author, Stephen King, wrote one of the scariest books of all time, which, in turn, became one of the most famous horror films of all time. (Actually scary movies are hard to come by nowadays, considering that America’s adolescent population thinks movies are a complete waste of time if nobody dies within the first fifteen minutes. When the zenith of a movie is somebody being mutilated by some insane murderer, it leaves no room for proper plot development or characters that are deeper then a mud puddle.)

    Fans of the popular movie The Shining may be surprised and even a little disappointed to discover that the hotel looks nothing like it did in the movie; however, there is a simple explanation for this. At the Stanley Hotel, there is no hedge maze, the hallways aren’t even the same ones shown in the movie, and the bartenders are much less spectral. This is because the movie wasn’t even filmed at the Stanley Hotel. It wasn’t even filmed in America, much less Colorado! The exterior, albeit, was filmed at Ft. Hood Oregon, but everything else was specially built in a studio in London, halfway across the globe from the actual hotel. However, Stephen King was displeased with the movie and thought that it was inaccurate and didn’t follow the book closely enough, so he came back in 1997 with a mini-series he figured would be scarier. Unfortunately, the series never became as popular as the movie.

    The true inspiration for The Shinning is the real Stanley Hotel.  So, fans of ghost hunting won’t be bothered by absence of scenery from the movie.  If it is ghosts you are looking for, a movie set is no place to find them; a haunted hotel is the right place to look. The Stanley Hotel’s claim to fame is not just the fact that Stephen King wrote The Shining there in one night, but it also has an arsenal of ghosts, poltergeists, spectres, and every supernatural manifestation in between.  And, luckily for all penny-pinchers, the tour is not exclusive to those staying at the hotel, and anyone can get in for just $15 for an adult and $10 for the children.

The Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, Oregon, the face of the hotel in the movie.

The Stanley Hotel, the actual inspiration for Stephen King's novel

Mind you, this is not a guarantee that anything out of the ordinary will happen.  Fear not, though, for the tour also provides you with a general understanding of the history of the hotel.  So, of course, when my family and I were in town, I just had to go and check it out. The tour my sister and I were in was full of those typical American type tourists with their flash cameras, fake smiles, sweaty brows, and Bermuda shorts despite being in Colorado during fall break.  And, of course, it didn’t help that one of the most haunted places was next to a staircase in a cramped hallway. I wasn’t sure what was scarier, the ghosts or the thriving mass of humanity pushing in on me from every angle. It seemed as if every nook and cranny in the hotel had a gruesome legend to it. As we passed rooms, the tour guide, Mary, explained to us all about the little boy named Mathew who had died, bedridden of an illness and was a very friendly ghost who oftentimes moved things and stole people’s candy from them.  There were a plethora of scary stories, but so far our tour had failed to dig up even the slightest grain of evidence.

    Mary stood on an old staircase and gently called out to the ghosts while everyone took flash photos of her from all angles, casting an army of shadows onto the wall.  I, being typically cynical, was skeptical of the mumbo-jumbo story of how some lady had died on the stairwell, yadda-yadda-yadda, until my sister, who had religiously been taking pictures every nano-second, tugged on my sleeve and showed me the picture she had just taken.

   Just feet from Mary’s head was a milky white, translucent orb. It hung there in midair, looking almost sinister. I looked up from the camera, frantically searching for a similar object, but could find none. Some of the people behind us noticed our discovery and, therefore, thought that the best course of action would be to scream, “GHOST!” at the top of their lungs, prompting a battalion of tourists to rapidly take as many pictures with the brightest flashes in as little time as possible.

An orb typically visible in photos of the Stanley Hotel hallways.

    Upon further research, there is a seemingly plausible explanation for why we see these orbs.  People say it’s because of out-of-focus dust hovering in front of the lens of the camera, and it reflects the flash into the lens.  However, under the same theory, we would we not see “orbs” every time we took a flash picture in a darkly lit room?  Dust is everywhere, so why is it that we only see such things in places that people claim to be “haunted?”  It shall remain a mystery to all until another plausible solution pops-up on the inter-webs.    

      For those not interested in the supernatural, The Stanley Hotel is nestled inside a nice town in Colorado called Estes Park, which offers a number of tourist attractions.  The area is surrounded by mountains (with hiking and horseback riding trails), and the town itself features many small stores arranged to form a sort of mall, and a Holiday Inn is located about a mile from the infamous manor. Instead of slowly going crazy cooped up in a hotel room like the movie’s main character, you can peruse Estes Park’s many shops and boutiques and beautiful, scenic trails through the Rocky Mountains out of town.  Estes Park can entertain anyone from a rowdy college frat boy to a quaint family of five with its wide range of activities and assortment of shops.


Tourist Trap of America

9 Mar

Where in the USA do tourists outnumber locals ten to one? Branson, Missouri. Almost every summer, my family heads out there with the help of a timeshare and takes in as much Vegas-like kitschiness as possible. With theme parks, shows, and more mini-golf than you can shake a club at, you’ll remember this place for one reason or another for the rest of your life. I’m going to go over some of the coolest attractions they have.

Not sure about Silver Dollar City? Why don’t you “ax” them yourself!

Perhaps one of the most renowned theme parks in America is in Branson: Silver Dollar City. Visitors can explore the beautiful underground Marvel Caverns, ride spectacular rides, and experience the fun of the old west. Another theme park – this time, slightly less dry – is White Water, which has everything you expect at a water park: a wave pool, a lazy river, and a couple of water slides (some of which use inner tubes). But the highlight of my White Water experience was Kalani Towers, a humongous seven-story tall waterslide of terror! Tremble in fear, mortal!  After you climb up numerous stairs, you have a choice of riding down on your back vertically, screaming the whole time, or using a mat to go down several slightly smaller, yet still just as thrilling, slides.

Those with weak stomachs should look away. (And stay on the ground.)

If theme parks aren’t really your thing, maybe you could just sit back and watch one of Branson’s shows. (You can even find one if you’re lost, they’re so numerous. Pretty much all the roads in Branson lead to Country Music Boulevard.) One of the best I saw was recommended by my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ron:  Legends In Concert. It features impersonators of such singers as The Blues Brothers, Little Richard, Alan Jackson, Madonna, Elvis, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, and tons more. Intrigued about it, we made it one of our prime destinations. It did not disappoint.  If you enjoy music and the fake realism of celebrity wanna-bes, then you urgently need to see one of their shows. (More LIC venues across the country, i.e., Seattle, Myrtle Beach, etc.)

On the topic of phony celebrities, Branson has the amazing Hollywood Wax Museum. Travelers can pose with Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Jack Black, Marilyn Monroe, and a host of others. In the same building are two more attractions, the three together known as the “Hollywood Wax Trifecta.”  The second one, the Castle of Chaos, is much more… interactive. It is, in fact, the world’s first 5-dimensional haunting experience! (Don’t ask me how that’s possible, I don’t know.) It’s pretty much a 3D horror film with so many special effects added in that you’ll think zombies are actually attacking you! According to its website, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions says, “This is the first haunted ride in the world to combine so many multi-media elements and technologies in one attraction. The result is a first-class scare!” The third and final element of the HWT is Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors. If you’re claustrophobic or maze-o-phobic, then I suggest you sit this one out. This labyrinth of reflections will mess with your mind until your face is bruised from bumping into yourself too many times. It’s even a multimedia presentation, as sometimes you’ll discover it’s not a path or a mirror, but a projector screen with hints, encouragement, or even taunts from medieval- themed characters.

The last fun thing I want to cover is a gateway to even more fun things: ducks. Yeah, ducks. Ride the Ducks is a group that uses old military amphibious vehicles to give tours around Branson, showing off some of the more interesting places. With each ride comes a free “Wacky Quacker,” a duckbill that makes a funny noise when blown through. If you pass another duck on the road, then it is your duty as a tourist to quack as loud as possible. Some stores and restaurants even give discounts to people with Wacky Quackers. Once land gets a little boring, the driver speeds the duck into Table Rock Lake and lets some passengers drive for a while. It’s a fun way to see more stuff.
I have only scratched the surface of what Branson has to offer. Whether you’re after rides and attractions, comedy or music shows, or just a way to escape the humdrum routine of everyday life, Branson has something to offer you.


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