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The Stories Behind the Most Mysterious Places in the World

Despite decades, or in some cases, centuries, of trying, these fascinating mysteries surrounding these mysterious locales have never been solved.

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Mysteries around the globe

There’s nothing like a good mystery, especially when it’s been unsolved for a very long time. These places are full of stories about spaceships, ghosts, disappearances, seemingly impossible archeological finds, and more. Researchers have tried to crack their secrets but can’t seem to agree on the answers. It’s no wonder. From the dancing lights of Marfa, Texas to the enormous stone blocks in the Giza Pyramids—some of these stories defy logical explanations. Are some places haunted by spirits or the landing sites of visitors from another world? Read on, and decide for yourself. Unfortunately, these 15 crimes will never be solved.

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Marfa, Texas

The first historical mention of the Marfa lights occurred in 1883 when a cowhand working in the area reported seeing dancing lights in the distance. He soon learned that local settlers frequently saw such lights, too. Native Americans reportedly attributed the phenomenon to fallen stars. What’s more, no one has any explanation for them. In modern times, people continue to report appearances of the Marfa lights. There’s even a viewing area 9 miles outside of Marfa for people who hope to get lucky enough to catch sight of them. They’ve been studied by the airforce, meteorologists, and physicists who have yet to agree on an explanation for these mysterious glowing orbs. Some even attribute them to spaceships.

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Nikumaroro Island

The pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared while attempting to fly around the world with her navigator, Fred Noonan in 1937. The pair radioed that they were out of gas and disappeared without a trace. Although many believe they perished after crashing into the ocean others believe she was taken prisoner by the Japanese. One of the most credible theories is that Earhart and Noonan crashed on Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro Island. Possible evidence includes unidentified bones discovered on the uninhabited island. An empty jar of Earhart’s brand of skin cream was found there along with a piece of acrylic that might have been part of her plane. The rest of the plane, however, was never found on Nikumaroro Island or anywhere else. These are other popular conspiracy theories about Earhart’s disappearance.

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The Bermuda Triangle

In the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico, lays the Bermuda Triangle, one of the world’s most haunted bodies of water. Christopher Columbus sailed through it and reported seeing a great ball of fire crashing into the water. He also recorded mysterious lights in the distance and his compass reading inaccurately. In the 20th century, there were mysterious disappearances, including huge navy ships and airplanes flying above the area—all gone without a trace. Possible theories for these tragedies included aliens, sea monsters, and time warps. In recent years, some scientists have theorized that there is probably no single reason for the phenomenon, blaming human error, bad weather, and heavy sea and air traffic for the disappearances.

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The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is one of the spookiest places people have spent the night. In fact, Stephen King was inspired to write his terrifying novel, The Shining, after staying there. The hotel has long been rumored to be haunted and people have reported hearing the laughter of invisible children, flickering lights, spirits on the staircases, and more. If you’re wondering why The Stanley doesn’t look like the hotel from the movie, that’s because the exteriors for the fictional Overlook in the movie version of The Shining were shot at The Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon. Here are more hotels where your favorite movies and T.V. shows were filmed.

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Nazca Lines, Peru

The Nazca Lines outside Lima, Peru, are so enormous they are best seen from the sky. This is startling given that they were believed to have been created between 100 BC and AD 700—long before any known aircraft were invented. They are a series of designs up to 30 miles long depicting geometric shapes, animals, plants, and lines. They were created by removing 12 to 15 inches of the rust-covered pebbles that cover the top layer of the area, unearthing the lighter color soil below. The mystery is why they were created and who they expected to see them; theories have included messages to the gods, space aliens, and ancient astronauts. The Nazca Lines are among these 10 ancient mysteries scientists can’t explain.

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Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids of Giza are an awe-inspiring sight, even in photographs. They are tombs built as the resting places of Egyptian kings approximately 4,500 years ago. No one knows exactly how they were built. The blocks on the Great Pyramid weigh 2.5 tons each, and the structure is 481 feet high. What’s more, many of the stones came from a quarry 500 miles away. Scientists and archeologists have yet to agree or prove definitively how such heavy stones could have possibly been transported and put into place during ancient times. The secrets don’t stop there.

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Stonehenge in Salisbury, England

A circle of gigantic stones outside of Salisbury, England, no one knows exactly why the monument was built or how the heavy stones, some of which are 30 feet tall and weigh 25 tons, were transported there in the first place. Some scientists believe Stonehenge is an ancient burial site dating back 4,000 to 5,000 years while others believe that the fatty residue found on ancient pottery shards at the site point to the fact that Stonehenge may have been used as an ancient feast site. The good news is, we may soon know the answer: many scientists believe that Stonehenge is one of the mysteries that can be solved in the next decade.

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Lost City of Atlantis

The Lost City of Atlantis has captured the imagination of humankind for thousands of years even though there’s no real proof such a place ever existed. It was first written about by Plato in 360 BC who described a continent populated by wealthy people who had developed advanced military and technological capacities. Despite the fact that Plato’s stories about Atlantis were fictional, many people believe they were based on fact and have searched for proof the continent existed. So far, however, none have discovered it. While they might not have found proof of the sunken city of Atlantis, there are still plenty of creepy things found at the bottom of the ocean.

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Roswell, New Mexico

Many people believe that President Harry S. Truman covered up the fact that an alien space ship was recovered from a crash site in Roswell, New Mexico, as reported in 1947. The military quickly denied that reports a flying saucer was discovered were true, and said the wreckage was actually the remains of a weather balloon. It’s one of the UFO myths scientists wish you’d stop believing, especially since de-classified reports later revealed that the remains were actually from a military surveillance balloon being developed to spy on the Russian military.

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Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, California

At first glance, Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California might look like an ordinary dried-up lakebed. That is, until, rocks, some of which weigh 700 pounds, began to slide across the desert as if they’re being dragged by an invisible hand. No one knows when, or if, a particular rock will move. Some sit idle for more than a decade. In 2013, scientists were on-site and able to observe individual rocks moving for periods ranging from a few seconds to 16 minutes and theorized that it was caused by a shallow layer of water freezing at night and a light wind pushing the rocks as the ice begins to melt but this theory has yet to be proven definitively.

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Loch Ness, Scotland

If you take a look at these jaw-dropping photos of Scotland, it’s easy to see that Loch Ness is a stunning lake. For 1,500 years, it’s been best known, however, as home to the Loch Ness Monster. In AD 500, pictures of a mysterious aquatic creature were even carved into the standing stones near the lake. The first written reference to the monster was in AD 565. In 1933, a couple claimed to have spotted the creature in the water, and yet another couple said they spotted it on land. Since then, researchers have tried unsuccessfully to prove the Loch Ness Monster exists, and is perhaps, an ancient whale or dinosaur that was erroneously believed to be extinct.

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Bran Castle, Romania

Of all the spooky vampire legends all over the world, there is probably none more famous, or frightening, than the tale of Dracula, who first made in appearance in a novel written by Bram Stoker in 1897 and has since become part of popular culture. It is believed that Stoker based Dracula’s castle on descriptions of Bran’s Castle in Transylvania. In real life, villagers in the area believed evil immortal spirits haunted the area, hunting prey from midnight till dawn. Bran Castle still stands today, although whether or not malevolent ghosts roam the halls after midnight is up for the debate.

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Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

Of all the infamous houses everyone should know, there is probably none more mysterious than the Winchester Mystery House, a mansion in San Jose, California. The home was built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle Company fortune. When her husband and baby died, Winchester learned that she may have been the heir to something else: a terrible curse and the anger of vengeful spirits. A psychic told her her family was killed by ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles who were seeking revenge. She spent the next 38 years building a large house with 160 rooms, confusing hallways, and stairways leading to nowhere to trap these spirits. Many believe she continues to haunt the mansion to this day.

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Crooked Forest, Poland

If you glance at photos of the Crooked Forest in Poland and you’ll immediately know where it gets its name—the approximately 400 pine trees that grow there have long curves at the bottom before pointing up to 50 feet towards the sky. The question, is, why? The trees were planted in 1930, but no one knows how why they are mysteriously crooked. Theories include unusual reactions to snowfall and possible intervention from local farmers in the years after the trees were planted for an unknown reason. Unfortunately, the nearby town of Gryfino was abandoned years ago and the townspeople took their secrets with them. Here are true stories from the most haunted forests in the world.

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Machu Picchu

Built in the fifteenth century, the ruins of this ancient Incan city are one of the seven wonders of the world. No one is sure what the city’s purpose was. Some scientists believe it was a royal estate while others believe it was a religious site or even a trade hub. Perhaps the larger mystery is what happened to the people who once dwelled there since, at some point, Machu Picchu was abandoned approximately a century after it was built. This would have been after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, however, there’s no evidence they ever reached the site, causing many to theorize it might have been abandoned due to a smallpox outbreak.

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Great Blue Hole, Belize

Belize is famously regarded as one of the best islands for retirement. It is also home to one of the under the radar gems found only in the Caribbean—the Great Blue Hole. This underwater sinkhole is over 400 feet deep and 984 feet from one side to the other and home to creatures like sharks and giant grouper. For years, no one was sure what was at the bottom of the Great Blue Hole but recent expeditions have allowed cameras into deeper waters than were previously possible, allowing scientists to get a glimpse of icicle-shaped shaped mineral formations and mysterious, unidentified tracks at the floor of the hole. Hopefully, future expeditions will be able to tell us what kind of creature made them.

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Fairy Circles of Nambia

The desert there is also the home of a mystery that has long puzzled scientists and explorers, known simply as the Fairy Circles of Nambia. They are bare, red circles of land where the brush that covers the rest of the terrain won’t grow. Local folklore says they are footprints of the gods or spots where dragon fire has scorched the earth. Although nothing is definitive, scientists have theorized in recent years there might be a less exciting explanation for the Fairy Circles, such as termites or weather patterns.

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aurora cemetery in texas. "Ned's" grave.
via auroratexas.gov

Aurora Cemetary

The Aurora Cemetary may not be the oldest cemetery in Texas but it has the distinction of being the only one to claim they have a dead space alien buried there. In 1897 the Dallas Morning News reported that a spaceship had crash-landed near Aurora, killing its otherworldly pilot. Several people reportedly saw the spaceship before it collided with a windmill and the badly disfigured alien at the helm was affectionately nicknamed Ned and buried in the Aurora Cemetary.

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Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia

If you’re wondering where to spot a ghost in West Virginia, the Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum is a good place to start. Located in Lewis County, West Virginia, the asylum operated between 1864 and 1994, was built for 240 patients but at one time, had up to 2,000 living there under deplorable conditions. Paranormal experts say the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a hotbed of otherworldly activity and many claims to have captured proof of the spirit world both on audio and on film within the walls of the asylum. Today, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a popular spot for paranormal tours.

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Ape Canyon, Washington

There are strange facts about every state. To some, one of the strangest facts about Washington is that you aren’t allowed to shoot Bigfoot there. That fact is less strange, however, when you consider the story of Ape Canyon. A group of gold prospectors claimed they were attacked by seven-foot-tall creatures flinging boulders at them east of Mount St. Helens in 1924. The attack was reported by local papers in which the prospectors described the creatures as ape-like, with long black hair. Local rangers searched for proof of the attack and came up empty, but nevertheless the site was home to numerous sightings and large mysterious footprints for the years that followed.

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Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island, Chile (otherwise known by its original name of Rapa Nui) is one of the most remote places on Earth. It’s located 2,300 miles from South America and 1,100 miles from the nearest island. Yet somehow, ancient people managed to build more than 1,000 heavy Moai statues there. Scientists and archeologists still don’t know why the statues were erected in such a remote location, how they moved the heavy stones, or what happened to the people who built them and seemingly abandoned the island. Rapa Nui is one of the cities you learned about in school that no longer exist.

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Diquis Delta Region, Costa Rica

The Diquis Delta Region of Costa Rica is also home to the legendary stone spheres. Indiana Jones tries to escape from one of those spheres as it rolls towards him at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are over 300 known examples of the balls, some of which weigh up to 16 tons. No one knows why they were made or what they were used for. Sadly, the culture of the people who made them was lost after the Spanish Conquest so no stories were left behind to explain them. Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Many people even believe the beaches are even better in winter.

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charleville castle exterior
Jgillett via wikimedia.org

Charleville Castle, Ireland

Some people dream of spending an enchanting night in a fairytale tale Irish castle, but a stay in Ireland’s Charleville Castle might turn out to be something of a nightmare since the castle is rumored to be haunted by a small girl named Harriet who died on a castle staircase in 1861. People have heard her laughing, singing, and even screaming there. Some even claim they’ve got evidence of her in photographs. For more true horror tales, here are 10 true ghost stories from the most haunted places in the world.

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Area 51, Nevada

For many years, U.S. agencies refused to confirm the secretive space in Nevada even existed and banned NASA from releasing satellite photographs of the area. Many have theorized the site houses a research facility, spaceships, and aliens from outer space who have crash-landed on earth, although the government has always denied this. If you want to learn more, take a closer look at Area 51, one of the most secretive places on the planet.

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Guanabara Bay, Brazil

One of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time took place in Guanabara Bay, Brazil. In 1982, the remains of about 200 Roman jars from the third century were found about 15 miles offshore. This confused scholars since Europeans weren’t documented to have reached the area until the year 1500. Romans were not known to have sailed further than India at the time. Unfortunately, the answer may forever lie beneath the water since Brazil closed the area to research and exploration shortly thereafter to prevent looting. Here are 13 more of the weirdest discoveries scientists have ever made.

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest. She's a travel expert who takes an average of 30 to 40 trips a year and covers vacation destinations, luggage, road trips, air travel and hotels.