Spooky Inspiration In New Orleans…part 1

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My husband and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary this year and decided to take a rare trip by ourselves. You see we have/are raising five kids and haven’t gotten away by ourselves for more than a night in over 8 years! We decided to go somewhere we had never been before, New Orleans! It seemed like an interesting place to explore and maybe I could get my spooky creative juices flowing.

In part one of this two-part blog series, I’ll share some of my overall impressions of the city to warm you up for the spookier entry of part two!

You never know what to expect when going someplace you’ve never been. If our hotel was any indication of what the rest of our experience was going to be like, we were in for a good time! The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel is classic elegance and charm. From the people to our suite, to the hotel bars, to the food, to the rooftop pool and bar, every little thing was spectacular.

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We got a full view of some of the damage left behind by Katrina from our room. It is a shocking contrast between the scene from the window and the elegance of the sitting room of our suite, most notable was the back side of Charity Hospital.

Founded in 1736, The Charity Hospital for the Poor is the second oldest public hospital in the US. The now abandoned building, built in 1939, was at the time the second biggest hospital in the US and was primarily for the poor and needy.

The story of how the rising flood waters in the wake of the winds and rain from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 trapped 360 patients and 1200 staff inside the large art deco style building for five days is both inspiring and heart-wrenching (click here for more). It was difficult to imagine the situation as it unfolded from here in the Rocky Mountains, not so much looking at it with my own eyes. It would be no wonder if lost spirits roam the empty hallways. We didn’t explore it any further as it felt that would be somehow disrespectful to the heroism of the doctors and nurses and the anguish of patients and their families.

As you can see by the nearby cranes and construction, the city is thriving and plans for redeveloping the old hospital site are being explored.

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To celebrate our anniversary (the whole reason for this trip) we took a River Boat Cruise down the Mississippi on the Creole Queen. It was pretty incredible. I have never been on a big boat like that or seen the Mississippi River! Here in Colorado most of our rivers have rapids, but not this one! It was hotter than Hades, but the breeze off the river was wonderful. The food was delicious, and the sunset was quite romantic!

 

 

As far as spooky juices flowing. The river served up some various sights that may work their way into a storyline or two.

 

The sugar factory – loading sugar and monsters at the pier! It’s how the otherworldly creatures traverse the Earth, moving to always more fertile hunting grounds. Perhaps the zombies will hold up here until the time of the apocalypse begins. Look at the pilings under the pier, beings of the night slumber under there in the daylight, waiting for darkness to fall. The murky water – perfect for underwater creatures, aliens, or mutant alligators to hide out, seeking their next meal from unsuspecting boaters gone overboard. Not to mention, it could not be better for covering bodies. Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, standing guard during the day, but even it is overtaken by the darkness.

Oh, pardon me! I got lost there for a moment! Writers are never completely on vacation. New Orleans was a terrific choice for creative fodder, but more on that later.

We took some time to wander around the Garden District and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. If I ever strike it rich, I’m buying here! I fell in love with the distinctive New Orleans architecture. It was peaceful, dynamic, beautiful, and mysterious all at once. It wasn’t hard to imagine many of the homes being sanctuaries for sophisticated vampires!

Coming up in part two: cities of the dead, haunted places, strange sightings, and of course…bourbon street.

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Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights!

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I Know Who Took It, But What is IT?

angle-19887_1920Sometimes the universe smiles on you…even if it is a creepy grin!

I’ve seen this photo here and there all over social media and found it to be very compelling. I couldn’t attribute the creator with confidence and was beginning to think that it was a Photoshop deal. I wanted to know three things.

  1. What the hell is that?
  2. What, when, where, how, and who took the photo.
  3. Is it Photoshopped?

The person who took this photo, Julie M., contacted me and I got most of my questions answered!

Julie is indeed the person who took the photo, she has the memory card to prove it! Watch here to find out all the info. It is worth the watch and includes other spooky and unexplained photos taken on the same night.

Many times with a picture of this nature the photographer is associated with a ghost hunting group or paranormal research team, but in this case, Julie was just out showing this strange park to some friends from out of town. She did not take or post this photo hoping to gain attention or market anything.

I’m not sure if knowing that it is the real deal is better than suspecting (maybe I was hoping) it was faked! Knowing the location just makes it even weirder. Memory Grove Park in Utah features memorials to Utah’s veterans and various other monuments. Like most parks, it has hiking trails, a dog park, and a facility for weddings and such. However, unlike other parks, the ghost of a bride killed on her way to her nuptials at the park now walks the garden paths of the scenic area in her wedding gown. Based on Julie’s photos there are some other very strange symbologies and structures on the property. I don’t think the ghost bride walks alone!

The missing child poster in the picture not only gives context to the photo but makes it even more ominous!

Back to the photo in question. I have looked at this thing from every angle, and I just don’t know what it is.

I know what it looks like…

Like a demon crawling out of the ground! He is so solid he is casting his shadow on the rock wall behind him!

I asked Julie if anything weird happened to her after she took the photo and she said it had. Here’s Julie’s account of the night she took the picture and got home:

“Actually, weird things did start happening, or maybe I was kind of scared and had all these people telling me it would follow me now, so I might have paid more attention to anything weird. But the crazy thing was that very night (or early morning, I must have gotten home around 3:30 or 4 AM), my sister was up and I was showing her the pictures I had taken on my camera. We zoomed in on that picture because we saw the bright orb by the “demon”. Then we saw the figure and we both screamed and freaked out!! I had seen that I was capturing a lot of orbs in my photos, but nothing like that!

About fifteen minutes after we first discovered the figure in the photo another strange thing happened. My room at the time was in the basement of an old 70-year-old house. There was an old, small window in my room that used to look up into the backyard years ago, but since then an addition had been built on the house, so my window looked into a crawlspace with a dirt floor which was now under the addition.

I had actually never really even noticed that window! The house was a rental and there were heavy drapes over it, it was high up on the wall, and small. But when I went down to my room, for the first time in living there for almost 2 years, the drapes were pulled over to the side and I could see the blackness through the window! I had never even noticed the dang thing before, or what was behind it.

I was so scared I didn’t even want to go near that window! I called my sister in and went over, and when I pulled the drapes back into place to cover the blackness they FELL DOWN ON ME and the window fell open!! It was the kind of old window with hinges on the bottom and opened that way. We SCREAMED and were so scared, and I really had a hard time sleeping that night! I had to put furniture in front of it!

It’s funny because the picture scared me so bad I jokingly named the “demon” Matthew. Whenever anything weird happened after that I’d say, “Matthew!!” It became a kind of a running joke with me and my friends and family.”

Umm. Holy Cow! Glad she can joke about it!

Julie first posted this photo on Tumblr about four years ago and has since then seen others take credit for the photo. This is one of my favorite “hmmm” paranormal photos, and I wanted to give credit where credit is due. Julie certainly captured one of the most fascinating images I have seen! So, if you share it, please give her credit for the photo. Julie is, after all, the one who traipsed around at night in this creepy park to get the shot! She says that she has not caught anything strange on any other photos she has taken.

Julie says she is not a believer in the paranormal, per se, but has an open mind and is open to any and all explanations of this photo (me too!). If you think you have an answer, please feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll pass the information on to Julie.

I want to thank Julie for reaching out to me with her story. I’ve been so curious about this photo, like an itch I can’t reach! Although I’m thrilled to have my questions answered, I’m feeling kinda uneasy now. I hope that chatting about “Matthew” doesn’t get him looking my way…but it would make for some good writing material!

Until next time, Never Turn off the Lights!

 

 

 

Tales from the Ghost Town Writers Retreat

15493618_10154899107475972_7094799763006043672_oI have had a difficult time writing this past year. I have a novel that I have started and stopped more times than I care to admit and a Christmas project that I decided to postpone from the planned November publish date. I had amazing momentum coming into this year, but it fizzled quickly, and I’m not sure why.

I decided many months ago to attend the Ghost Town Writers Retreat at the beginning of August to see if I could get my groove back, then my Grandma passed away a few weeks ago, and I almost canceled. Losing her hit me harder than I expected and I just wanted to hide out. My darling husband took time off from work to go with me and said it would give us some time away from the kids together, I suspect he knew I needed him to give me an extra push.

The retreat was held in the small mining town of Georgetown, Colorado. I’m a Colorado native but can say I’ve never hung out in Georgetown for anything more than a bathroom break, fill up, or to get to the pass to go to Clear Lake. I remember when I was little my parents looked at buying a piece of property there. The day they went to look at the property they dropped me, my two siblings, and my grandparents off at the little park in town to eat lunch so they could speak to the realtor without distraction. My sister would not play or leave the bench she sat on. It wasn’t until I told her where I was going that she said the park was full of spooks and they demanded to know why she was there. It scared the hell out of her, and that’s why she wouldn’t play. Weird story, I know, but totally normal in my family.

Georgetown is only about an hour from our house on I-70, but the ride up was hairy. The retreat needed to borrow some grills for the Grill and Greet, so I volunteered ours. Since my husband was coming along, we took his truck and loaded our old gas grill into the bed. The day was overcast, and the wind was picking up. Just as I inquired if the grill was safely tethered a huge bang shook us. The grill had fallen over but not out of the bed. Sadly, the handle didn’t survive. After readjusting the bungee cords, we journeyed on. We drove through dense fog, drenching rain, and pounding hail. It didn’t help that I woke up that morning with a nagging headache. Maybe it was a sign to go home, I thought.

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I-70 Westbound

 

When we got to the hotel we discovered that it would be some time before for our room would be ready and we were a little confused about where to check in for the conference, but we did figure out where to take the grill. After an uninvited cloud burst, my husband helped cook up some buffalo hot dogs and burgers, and we had a tasty little dinner with some fascinating folks.

One of the things I really wanted to do was check out the park. I still had a headache, but the next morning I grabbed my camera and off we went. The moment I entered the park through the iron archway my headache was joined by a turbulent stomach. No one demanded to know why I was there, but it felt heavy and strange. My husband asked if it used to be a cemetery because it gave that kind of vibe. As a side note, I got a terrible headache working on this piece, and I kept getting an error message when I tried to upload the photos of the park, it took several tries. Coincidence? Maybe, but my husband says I should quit messing around with this subject!

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The Park Entrance

Even though my head and tummy were very unhappy, I continued to hit up all the sessions I could. Every single session was terrific, and the presenters (some first timers) were great. When we got home and were describing some of the things we learned my daughter laughed and said it sounded like a murders’ convention! Most of the sessions were held in the historic Heritage Center, the old school house. The building restoration was fabulous!

The marketing sessions were beneficial, as that is the area I dislike the most about this author thing and find the most challenging. I’m a quiet, shy, introverted person which is a huge hindrance to my marketing efforts. I made a commitment to myself to move way out of my comfort zone in the coming months regarding this.

I also had an epiphany. I believe my difficulty in writing has come because I know the marketing will come after. Yes. I hate it that much. I think I got some tools and resources at the retreat that will help me, though.

Being the very first Ghost Town Writers Retreat, there were some hiccups and places where there is room for improvement. I thought Georgetown was a great location and I had the best burger ever (after my tummy finally settled down) at Round About Burgers. The waffles at The Happy Cooker were amazing, and the Family Dollar is stocked better than a full sized Walmart! It turned out to be more of a conference than retreat, however. I would have liked more opportunities to meet up and write with other writers. And coffee! Coffee at the venue for morning sessions, please!

I wasn’t sure where or how to sign up for editor/agent sessions, but since I didn’t feel well, I opted not to pursue it. Maybe for next year,  the signup and location information could be available a few days before the event begins.

There was a walking ghost tour that I would have loved to attend, but it happened on Sunday evening, and I was already jonesing for my kids. We opted for the train, mine tour, and of course, the cemetery.

We really didn’t need a ghost tour anyway. I drug my husband around the town late on Saturday night, just to see what we might see. He always warns that I better not get him arrested, but I’ve been doing this to him for years, and so far we are arrest free, knock on wood!

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Haunted Hamill House After Dark

 

Even though I didn’t feel well for the first three days, I feel like I got out of it what I wanted. I have a strategy to push through my writing wall, and I got to spend some time with my husband. He got a better idea of what it is I do and struggle with and ended up getting into it himself! I said we should just write spooky books together and forget everything else!

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My Handsome Husband – It Looks Good on Him!

 

I can only imagine what it takes to organize a thing like this. The speakers and moderators were great. The movie screening of Dead Awake was fun, and I wanted to ask Jeffery Riddick (Dead Awake, Final Destination) what led them to cast Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black), she was great by the way, but my head was killing me.

How you go about contacting all these folks and getting them to come to a retreat in a tiny Colorado mountain town is beyond me. I’m grateful for the opportunity and that I ignored my headache AND did not go back home. I am already looking forward to next year, but I think I’ll stay away from the park…or not!

roy and joy

Wild West Haunt

The Buckhorn ExchangeSome people wait until this time of the year to do one of my favorite things. But heck, life is short so I do it all year round. That activity is to visit areas around my state that are reportedly haunted. It’s my kind of fun. Just a couple of weeks ago I had dinner at The Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. This place embodies the spirit of the wild west like no other place I know.

The two story building opened for business in 1893 on Osage Street, the upper floor served as a lodge for railroad workers. The Rio Grande Railroad yards were directly across the street, today it is still rail yards and the light rail commuter train. The Buckhorn Exchange also hosted cattle barons, miners, gamblers, and Native American chiefs in the saloon and restaurant. As time progressed, astronauts, Presidents, and Hollywood legends have dined there as well. Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Charleton Heston, Roy Rogers, and Jack Swigert have all stopped in for a meal and likely a beer. After all, The Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado Liquor License No. 1.

They have a terrific menu that offers some exotic fare including ostrich, alligator, and Rocky Mountain oysters (no, I did not eat those and they do not come from the ocean!). We had the best fried artichoke hearts to start with. Then I had a steak that was absolutely superb. I also bellied up to the bar for a cocktail.

The ornate white oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen, Germany in 1857 and brought here by the the family of the original owner, Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz.

The ornate white oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen, Germany in 1857 and brought here by the the family of the original owner, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz.

The decor reflects the rich history of the Buckhorn. Most notably, a 575 piece taxidermy collection with everything from a two-headed calf to a jackalope. On display is also a 125 piece gun collection with firearms dating as far back as 1889. There is an abundance of photographs and other historic pieces.

Some of the collection at the Buckhorn

Sample of the collection at the Buckhorn

Reports of footsteps, voices, and tables moving by themselves are reported. Considering how long it’s been around and all the artifacts it’s not surprising that a spirit or two is there. Sadly, on the evening I was there the only spirits I saw were coming from the bar area. I could see why some of the railroad workers, miners, and such would want to stick around; it’s comfortable and the food is wonderful. I was hoping for a pleasant surprise in the photos I took, like what happened at the Stanley Hotel. I didn’t see anything, let me know if you do.

If you are ever in this neck of the woods give this place a visit. If you’ve been there and had an experience share it with me, I’d love to hear about it. Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights.

Area 52: Good, Sandy Fun!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, Colorado Photo by Joy Yehle all rights reserved ©

My visit to Area 52 was fun and restful. The first time I came here I was around 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know why I waited so long to come back!

The Dunes provide a beautiful foreground to the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. The scenery is striking at any time of the day but we were afforded some of the most spectacular sunsets Colorado has to offer.

Great Sand Dunes at sunset

Great Sand Dunes at Sunset Photo by Joy Yehle ©

The sand dunes provide a surreal landscape. Not somewhere you would want to be lost!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve

We rented some sand boards and sleds. The way down is awesome, the way up…feel the burn! Not just your muscles but the sand was hot, hot, hot! Fortunately, we could cool off in Medano Creek. The cool wet sand was perfect for digging, building, and generally being awesome!

Good Times at the Sand Dunes!

Good Times at the Sand Dunes!

As it got dark we turned our attention to the skies. It would have been pretty crazy if that cloud had actually been a mothership in disguise, but no such luck.

Sangre De Cristo Mountains Photo by Joy Yehle ©

Sangre De Cristo Mountains Photo by Joy Yehle ©

No Bigfoot, but the deer in the area are pretty darn friendly. This photo was taken without using the zoom. She was so quiet that the folks camping about 10 feet from her didn’t know she was in the bush!

Sneaky Little Visitor

Sneaky Little Visitor

The San Luis Valley is a reported paranormal hot spot. My mom’s family is originally from this area and I have heard the stories my whole life. I believe this may be what fostered my interest in the paranormal. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t see Bigfoot, an UFO, an apparition, nor did I witness a vortex. But just slightly.

The paranormal rarely “works” on demand. It was quiet for us on this trip but who knows about the next?

San Luis Valley at Sunset

San Luis Valley at Sunset

As for now I’m going to enjoy the last few days of summer break because in seven days something really scary is happening…school starts!

Forget Area 51, I’m going to Area 52!

Peter Fitzgerald [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Fitzgerald [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m taking a mini-vacation next week with my two sisters and their families. We are packing up 7 adults and 7 kids and heading for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve in southern Colorado. It’s a fascinating geological oddity. Who would have thought that the tallest sand dunes in North America are in landlocked Colorado?

The area used to be covered by an ancient lake, when the lake dried up the silt and sand were left behind. The majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains create a wall causing the winds to drop their tiny sand particles to the tune of 750 feet tall dunes. Spanning more than 30 square miles it has been referred to as the world’s largest sandbox. My kids are excited at the prospect of massive sand castles and “sledding” on sand. I’m excited for an entirely different reason.

The Dunes are located in the San Luis Valley, known in some circles as Area 52 because of the numerous UFO sightings and hundreds of reports of livestock mutilations. For a small fee you can head to the UFO Watchtower platform where you can get a 360° view of the night sky but many of the hundreds of  reported sightings have come from all over the valley. Not sure if we will make it over to the Watchtower but we will be watching the skies.

Night watching is something my family has always done when camping. Without the light pollution of the city the sky is alive with light, some of them behaving in unnatural ways. However, the most dramatic UFO sighting I ever had was in the late afternoon in a busy suburb of Denver.

I was driving on the south side of a large golf course and country club with my young daughter in the back seat, I think she was about 10 years old or so. I noticed out of the corner of my eye what at first my brain decoded as the full moon hovering just above the greens. It quickly dawned on me that the moon wouldn’t be visible at that angle at this time of day. As I looked over to get a better look at it, it dropped straight down and disappeared into the ground. I thought maybe I was seeing things but when my daughter asked if I had seen “that”, I knew we had witnessed something very strange.

The San Luis Valley has reports of vortexes, ghosts, and cryptid sightings in addition to UFOs. I’m always hoping to witness weird and strange things so I’m really looking forward to hanging out in this paranormal hot spot. I’ll let you know how it went when I get back. Until then, Never Turn Off the Lights, on second thought it doesn’t really matter. UFOs usually provide their own.

Spooky Vacay

Summer is in full swing and unfortunately this year we won’t be planning any big trips. Just our usual camping and fishing trips. I have camped and fished my whole life. The many weeks I spent doing this activity as a kid are among my biggest and best memories of growing up. Now as an adult, it really is my favorite pastime. There is just nothing more relaxing than to be the only human for miles, listening to the wind in the trees, cooking over an open fire, heavenly.

I know that for many people this just isn’t their cup of tea. Bugs, wild animals, creepy forests, the feeling of isolation, and the all the rest. I admit that on occasion I’ve been a little nervous for some of those reasons. I’ll even go so far as agreeing that nature can be dangerous.

I grew up in Alberta, Canada. They have bears there, lots of bears. We have had several close calls with them, like the time a mama bear came sniffing around our campsite, including the tent we were sleeping in. The sun was just rising and we watched her shadow lumber past followed by two little cubs. One of our party had a pick-up and camper, she went around to their rig and placed her paws on the hood, stretched up and tried to peek in the upper bunk bed window. That’s how big she was. When the coast was clear we ran to the cars, luckily she wasn’t interested in us.

We’ve had a pack of coyotes so close to our camp you could just make out their silhouettes as they ran around us just outside the light of the campfire. That was a little worrisome, healthy coyotes are usually too afraid of humans to get that close.fire-3312_640

I’ve heard weird sounds in the woods that I was never able to identify. I’ve had the occasional feeling of being watched, but I usually chalk that up to mountain lions. I’ve even had the fleeting thought of an ax-wielding maniac stumbling into our camp with help many miles away. So I can relate to why some people would rather scrub outhouses with toothbrushes than go camping. But even with those problems, I absolutely love it.

Maybe you are one of those people who are not at all frightened by the woods and seek a more extreme experience. Ghost stories around the camp fire are all well and good but not nearly enough for you? I ran across an article that may provide the answer. Out in California, on the Alameda Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, there will be a wilderness camp that is geared for the more adventurous camper.

As far as I know, this is a first, “The Great Horror Campout” will be held in July. You get to watch horror movies, roast marshmallows, and choose to hang in a less scary area or go all out in an interactive game. The game involves “scare actors” and very spooky challenges. Don’t worry you can make it all go away by saying: I want my mommy! It sounds like fun. I won’t be able to go but if you go, come back and tell us about it! I could see franchise opportunities here.

Pretend scares still not good enough for you? Read Missing 411 by David Paulides before you enter the woods. He discusses mysterious and weird disappearances of people from National Forests. Some of the stories are so disturbing that you won’t want to let anyone from your group out of your sight. You may even think twice about visiting the woods yourself.spookylake

I’ll be lurking out there in the woods this summer, just like every summer. Happy trails to everyone who is going on vacation and remember, Never Turn Off the Lights. However, that could be difficult if you are camping because your flashlight battery will die and you will be left in the dark and who knows what may be lurking with you.