Where: Hwy 2 between Kalispell and Glacier National Park Just look for the giant yellow rocking chair and the 2-storied outhouse.

How Much: four whopping dollars... way too much

Halloween must be nigh. Not only are people actually eating candy corn and subjecting themselves to the peculiar charms of "Phantasm IV", but I've been craving a truly frightening experience. Sure, I ride the early morning bus with dozens of drunken men almost every day, but that's not exactly supernatural. That's a little too natural, really.

So, when I saw The Amazing House of Mystery on a recent vacation, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Chills, thrills, gewgaws! Now, I know the first thing you will tell me is that these "Houses of Mystery" or "Mystery Spots" are mere tourist traps and they're not unique in any way. Well, I will not argue with you. But the name sounded good, and you just never know where the next good scare will come from. It just might come from the novelty postcards in the gift shop.

Interestingly, one cannot enter the Amazing House of Mystery unless she visits the gift shop first. Beware! This is a sure sign of the crappiness of a roadside attraction, a desperate grab for tourist dollars before the inevitable disillusionment sets in. As far as gift shops go, this has the standards- the airbrushed portrait of John Wayne on a hunk of wood, the teddy bear that says, "Someone in Montana luvs me," the books of dirty jokes. I wish I could see someone buy some of this junk. When hubby Matt and I paid our hefty admission fee, we received two marbles from the gracious matron operating the cash register. At first, I thought that the marble was some sort of prize, but I soon learned that this marble had a purpose. A mysterious purposeŠ

According to the hand-painted sign, the Amazing House of Mystery is situated on "a natural vortex"; evidently, there are only five such natural vortices in the entire U.S. of A. I guessed that they all sit on the outskirts of national parks. How very strange! How very convenient! The taped guide, who sounded suspiciously like the gift shop lady, explained that all the twisty trees on the site mean that this is not your normal, everyday forest. "Wedge-shaped forces" have pulled these trees right out of the ground at alarming angles. I thought, "If this vortex can twist the trees right out of the ground, just think what else they could do!" I had horrible visions of buying "snowman poop" from the gift shop and proceeded carefully thereafter.

The next stop was a kooky-looking cabin, in which there were no right angles. Sure, lots of abandoned shacks in the woods look this way, but this domicile was not the result of hillbilly technology, this was another example of what that creepy vortex does to anything in its way. "The forces want to grab you!" chirped the deceptively pleasant-sounding lady. Eek! Despite the warning, Matt and I walked around in the cabin for a while, enjoying the pull of gravity and taking photos. I thought about my physics class in high school. I thought about levers and pulleys and Mr. L, my desiccated old teacher. So far, the vortex seemed pretty tame and quite unmysterious, even if it did remind me of Mr. L.

I had almost thrown my marble in a fit of disappointment, when I spotted the narrow ramp in the dark, spooky corner of the Freak-Cabin. As if guided by a ghost hand, my marble appeared to roll up the incline until it disappeared into a hole in the wall with a decisive "plunk". That, my friends, was the plunk of a whole vat of shiny, shiny marbles. What a prize if only one could grab it! That might be worth four bucks, and if anyone manages to cash in on this mother lode, please let me know.

On a positive note, the restrooms are spacious and well-lit. The water in the toilet didn't do anything particularly mysterious when I flushed it, so the restrooms are presumably safely outside the vortex.

Sure, I expected this place to be a scam. And it wasn't just the two-storied outhouse by the roadside that tipped me off, either. I guess I was hoping for quantity of schlock, as opposed to quality. Unfortunately, the whole experience took Matt and me less than half an hour- not a good deal for our entertainment dollar. Matt told me that the one in northern California is better, but I've moved on. So, the next time I'm in Montana, I'll save my money for the Ghost Town Hall of Fame or the Testicle Festival instead.

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