Vortices, vampires and volcanoes: My fascination with the Pacific Northwest


Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

My kids’ favorite show is Disney’s animated cult-classic “Gravity Falls.” It features Dipper and Mabel Pines, a brother and sister duo who spend their summer in the fictional town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, with their Great Uncle (Grunkle) Stan. 

“All the monsters aren’t real,” my 10-year-old tells me as we sit down to watch the show, I think in an effort to reassure me I won’t be too scared. She explains that at the end of every episode it is revealed that whatever mythical and terrifying creature has been tormenting Dipper and Mabel for the preceding 24 minutes is usually the creation of a bored townsperson a la “Scooby Doo.”

I am disappointed to hear this. It’s well-documented that I want the monsters to be real. And there’s a not insignificant part of me that believes some of them are, especially in the land to the north and west.

Of all the regions of the United States, there is none more mysterious to me than the Pacific Northwest. And none where I believe it is more likely that the creatures of lore might actually exist. 

So much of my U.S. history education was focused on the original 13 colonies, the wars — Revolutionary, Civil, and World — and various social-political movements through the centuries. I had all of a single day’s instruction and one textbook chapter devoted to Lewis and Clark and the settlement of our neighbors in the upper-left corner of the map.

My postschool understanding of the area has been enhanced only by a quick trip to Seattle, the majority of which was spent in Pike’s Place market and on a tour boat that passed the Space Needle and “Frasier’s” apartment. During the brief window when I wasn’t buying cheese and saying “Niles” in a deep, sort-of British voice, I hiked Little Si Peak and was struck by how different the landscape felt from my arid home.

In Utah, our mountains are sharp and jagged and demand to be seen from anywhere in the valley. We have a month or two of green before everything turns brown and every prayer includes pleas for moisture.

Oregon, Washington and the surrounding areas seem to be in a perpetual state of dampness, with fog covering the rolling hills and dense woods. The lack of visibility creates a sense of mystery, and dare I say spookiness. Bigfoot, a werewolf, or even Edward Cullin could be hiding behind any tree. 

This opinion is, of course, colored by depictions of the Pacific Northwest, or as locals call it, the PNW, in modern media.  

Gravity Falls is just one of many programs and movies set or filmed in the region. “Twin Peaks,” “Twilight,” and “Harry and the Hendersons” all have the area as a backdrop for their tale of murder, vampirism and overgrown family pets, respectively.

And sure, it might be because Vancouver, British Columbia — Washington’s northern neighbor — is one of the world’s most prolific filming locations. It could even be because overcast and rainy days, of which there are many in the PNW, make for the best filming conditions.

And yes, it could be because many in the PNW seem to want to be perceived as offbeat and maybe even a little spooky.

But I believe that where there’s dense fog there’s fire, and these stories all work best in the region because of its inherent mysticism. 

In the spirit of spooky season, I turned to some of the Pacific Northwest’s supernatural experts for insight into whether PNW is objectively more mystical than my desert home.

Psychic medium Stacy Mitchell of Bend, Oregon, believes the area is saturated with energy from otherworldly entities. Many of these entities have unresolved conflicts from their personal lives, she claims, and others are stirred to anger by the “debaucherous” actions of residents in the area who disrespect the land with developments and destruction of natural space.

And paranormal vortex detective Dan Shaw, tells me the saturation of paranormal energy in the area can in part be explained by the number of different geological features and their various electromagnetic energies. Volcanoes in the Ring of Fire region spew magma, which hardens to lava and magnetic minerals.

He’s convinced being near the lava rock affects the magnetism of our bodies and our minds.

And while scientists are far more interested in how lava rocks actually retain a magnetic memory — capturing the magnetic field of the earth at the time the rocks harden — for the purposes of this entirely authoritative article I’m much more interested in what mystics have to say on the matter.

And, Shaw believes, justifiably or not, that changes in an electromagnetic field can cause sensations of electricity and tingling, a racing heart or feelings of elation. He says he’s heard reports of UFO, Bigfoot, and ghost sightings from people in areas of increased electromagnetic activity.

He tells me about his belief in vortexes, or “areas of spinning energy.” I ask him if he believes that it’s because there’s a high concentration of vortices in the Pacific Northwest there seems to be an outsized amount of paranormal activity.

He tells me to exercise some caution in jumping to wild conclusions. Fair enough. But, in the same reassuring tone my daughter used to tell me the children’s program we were about to watch wouldn’t keep me up at night, Shaw says:

“People often ask me, where’s the most powerful vortex on the planet? And I sincerely believe that it is your heart.”

This powerful vortex heart of mine believes there really might be shiny vampires and bigfoots (bigfeet?) and werewolves in the Pacific Northwest. Or at least it wants to. 

To my disappointment, neither Mitchell nor Shaw was willing to concede that their place of residence is any more mystical, magical or spooky than the rest of the country. So maybe the reason for the outsized amount of paranormal stories and pop culture coming out of the region is as prosaic as Hollywood budgets and proximity to a filming hub, or a product of the “Keep Portland Weird” attitude, and gamesmanship among locals to play into the general unknown of their place.


An annual locals gathering

But still, I wouldn’t walk into those foggy woods alone.

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