Near 1st Street

(If only smells were captured with photos…)
(Here you would find one of the sweetest smells I know of.)
(Or perhaps you would be as amazed as I by a purple flower that smells like root beer.)

It is such a great time to go for walks and to smell the world.

The Mystery Spot

Do you remember when old cars use to have metal bumpers? Well, bumpers use to be chrome and I think the move to plastic painted bumpers, while aesthetically pleasing, accounts for the comparably low turnout of colorful bumper stickers on the road these days. My hypothesis is that humans love color and can’t help but try to fill it in where they can. And a plain chrome bumper is practically begging for a splash of color. When I was growing up in San Jose, one of the bumper stickers I would notice often was the bright yellow “The Mystery Spot” bumper sticker. I still see them from time to time, some brave souls sticking them to their painted bumpers and some crafty drivers affixing them like band-aids to their bumper’s scratches. More often these days, bumper stickers of all colors find themselves on the chrome like covers of laptops.. Laptops- the chrome bumpers of today, begging for a splash of color. Just realized that, hmm.

Well, despite seeing all those stickers for years and talking to friends who had been there, I had never, until a few days ago, actually gone to The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. 

I am sooo glad that I finally went!

Okay, in simplest form, what you are overtly going to see at The Mystery Spot is a single small wooden building on a hill. I was made to understood from friends over the years that the deal with this place is supposed to be about some crazy energy vortex causing water to flow uphill and other weird things. And, of course, I knew it was some kind of trick optical illusion. But it was so much more than that. It would have to be for this pace to be an actual California Historical Landmark, Landmark #1055.

(Pretty flowers and giant trees surround as you wait for your tour to begin at The Mystery Spot.)

First impression upon arriving? Wow, these are friendly people. Really. The guy in the parking lot was the happiest and friendliest parking lot guide I could imagine, magnified by approximately 300%. As if I ever imagined there was such a job as a parking lot guide welcoming me as I drove passed and pointing out an open spot in the free parking lot with a smile. Then, as we walked into the place, we were greeted by… well, a greeter, with three badges declaring “Greeter” on his shirt and the friendliest of demeanors. Another guy sweeping up paused to chat and make me laugh and talk to my kids. What kind of happy-crazy-town is this?

Second impression? It only costs $8 to go in! What? I can not believe that a destination type place near us could only cost $8 to get into in the year 2019. Yes, I am about to see a small sideways wooden building and so charging $8 is theoretically about right when you consider restrooms, etc. provided out in the forest…but I assumed that nothing with such name recognition would have a reasonable cost. Shocked, is what I was! I mean, it costs $6 to park in most of our County Parks and they don’t have greeters walking around to make you smile. I’m not complaining, I love our County Parks and happily buy my annual parking pass every year. It’s just that I was impressed and surprised that any destination type visit could have a cost that has become less than most people would spend for a fast food meal. 

Eventually, it was our turn for the tour. How would they do it, I wondered. Serious, perhaps,  and explain the warp zone vortex what-cha-ma-call-it like a crazy cult follower? Or with a surly attitude,  like a minimum-wage-paid teen in need of the money who knows they are supposed to sell some wacky story to a bunch of adults who should know better? Critically, maybe, like a scientist who drank the kool-aid? Well, it was none of the above. I should have known better after seeing so many friendly employees and the fact that this place has been around since decades before I was born. 

The tour guide was young but there was no hint of a surly attitude or kool-aid induced craziness. No, he was simply funny! It turned out to be a performance after all and one that was welcomed and entertaining. How long did it take this place to perfect this art? The whole presentation was perfect. Perfectly funny with silly jokes, perfectly presented with quasi-possible story telling, and still perfectly sane in its silly delivery. I was again impressed. 

And then, while I continued to just enjoy the show and wondered at the optical illusions before me, it was our turn to spend some time in the cabin. And that is when I experienced the best $8 worth of awesome I could have imagined. I became giddy like a child inside. How in the world could an illusion create so real a visceral response in me? It was AMAZING! I was consciously walking in an optical illusion and happily continued to to have my senses and rational mind boggled by the experience in a tug-of-war of sensory befuddlement and mental tennis. Even when I utilized all of my wits to see the reality as I was in it, it would only take seconds without my full attention before my mind was tricked again into feeling and behaving as though I were in a warped world. This caused me to alternate between wanting to fall over, wanting to sit in a dizzy spell, sometimes feeling my stomach twist in a dangerously vomit threatening way, and wanting to laugh with joy. All of this was internally. Externally, I was just trying to hold my self together as I walked in that building.  It was the silliest and coolest thing I have done in a long time. It was like the thrill of a new toy as a child mixed with the bafflement of a great card trick done before your eyes mixed with the fun of being at a cool dress up party while spinning on an amusement ride. Am I over selling this experience? I don’t think so. If you go to The Mystery Spot and aren’t physically effected by the leaning shack then I am certain scientists will be able to study you for some kind of rare genetic mutation affecting equilibrium. And if you don’t happily let your guard down to enjoy the tour while being charmed by the friendly shtick of the tour guide, than I don’t know what could please you. And if all of that does not sound amazing for the price of one fancy coffee drink, than I don’t know how to impress you.

(Guests on the tour, standing in the tilted building.)

I realized the fun of this place was neither about being duped nor figuring it all out, because what you were able to understand did not matter. For me, it was the fun of being amazed at how my body dealt with the optical and physical illusion.

My final assessment of The Mystery Spot? It is a seemingly magical giddy-inducing-silly-amuzement-ride-lke-experience created from subtle performance and illusions so good you will happily throw your mind into it to be boggled, all for the price of a fancy coffee drink. 

It was simply wonderful to feel this childish fun.


From the northern tip of San Jose, or nearly anywhere with a view of the south San Francisco Bay, you can look to the south east shore that is Newark and see a white mound. That white mound, if you go to Newark for a visit, is a giant mountain of salt!

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Notice the telephone poles on the left of the above photo. Or the railroad cars on the right. That is a big mountain of salt. It gets bigger or smaller as the harvesting cycles through. It is the only solar evaporative salt production facility in the U.S., producing 500,000 tons of sea salt each year!

The history of salt collection on the San Francisco Bay goes back hundreds of years with the Ohlone Native Americans collecting salt along the bay shore. Commercial production began in 1854 during the gold rush. Water is pumped or flows from one evaporation pond in the bay to the next, taking 3 to 5 years (depending on the source read) and traveling miles through the pond network before the water has evaporated enough; concentrating the salt in the final pond for harvesting, cleaning, and packaging on the shore of Newark.

It’s amazing to see so much salt! My kids are as surprised as I that a product acquired by evaporating water out is then washed in water as part of the cleaning process without washing it all away. It’s interesting to imagine the long journey these salt molecules make out there, suspended in ocean and bay water for countless years, bonding and crystalizing with their neighbors, being piled up so high, cleaned and packaged for anyone to buy at a local grocery store. Salt is so much more interesting to taste when you imagine where its been all these years.

Today, much of the former salt pond area of the bay is part of a marshland restoration project to bring back the natural habitats while keeping a smaller area for salt harvesting. Modern efficiency has increased production with a smaller footprint. We are still in the early years so it will be interesting to see the continued changes along the bay in the years to come.

Below is a photo from northern San Jose in Alviso where you can see the giant salt mountain in the center across the bay.

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