I know a place where things seem to roll uphill. How does it work?
Sometimes you may find or hear of a mysterious place where objects
can apparently roll uphill. This is a remarkably common illusion
which is found in numerous locations around the world.
Usually it is a stretch of road in a hilly area where the level
horizon is obscured. Objects such as trees and walls which normally
provide visual clues to the true vertical, may be leaning slightly.
This creates an optical illusion making a slight downhill look like
an uphill slope. Objects may appear to roll uphill. Sometimes
rivers even seem to flow against gravity.
Spots where the illusion is especially powerful often become tourist
attractions. Tour guides may like to claim that the effect is a mystery
or that it is due to magnetic or gravitational anomalies or even that
it is a paranormal phenomenon which science can not explain. This is not
true of course. Natural anomalies can only be detected with sensitive
equipment and cannot account for these places but science can easily
explain them as optical illusions.
There are several things which enable us to sense which
way is up. The balance mechanism in our inner ears is one system we have,
but visual clues are also important and can be overriding. If the
horizon cannot be seen or is not level then we may be fooled by
objects which we expect to be vertical but which aren't really.
False perspective may also play a role. If a line of trees get
larger or smaller with distance away, our sense of perspective is thrown
off. Objects far away may seem smaller or larger than they really are.
People often overestimate the angle of a slope. If you are standing
on a slope of 1 degrees it will seem like a slope of 5 degrees and
if you stand on a slope of 5 degrees it may seem like you are on a
slope of 30 degrees. Because of this effect the anti-gravity illusion
can seem stronger than it should be even when you know the cause.
Even when the true cause is understood it can be difficult to
believe. In some cases the sea horizon is partly visible and it seems
incredible that the effect can be an illusion.
If you think there is a magnetic anomaly
just use two plumb lines, one made of iron and one of stone. They
would hang at different angles if a strong magnetic field was
acting horizontally. In fact magnetic anomalies are never that
strong and are never the cause as is easily shown.
However, it is not always easy to demonstrate that a slope which
appears to go uphill is really going downhill. Plumb lines and spirit
levels can not be relied on if you think there is a gravitational
anomaly. If the slope runs parallel to a seaview it would be possible
to compare a plumb line with the horizon. Otherwise the only reliable
way of determining the true horizontal is by careful surveying. If a
good topographical map of the area is available it may be
sufficient to show which way the land is really sloping.
The results will confirm the illusion. Gravitational anomalies
are always very small. In any case, if there was a gravitational
anomaly you should wonder how you would notice it. There would be
an equal effect on your sense of balance as there is on any object.
The anomaly would not be apparent unless there was a clear
view of the sea behind the slope, which there never is.
A search on the web turned up a surprising number of examples
of this illusion. Most are natural while others have been constructed
in theme parks. Below is an incomplete list of the natural ones
for those who want to visit. Many thanks to those who have sent
more site details for this list.
Do check locations are correct before making a long
journey and remember that it may be dangerous or illegal to stop
or reverse your car on slip roads and bends! If you know of any
other good sites which are not listed here please send location
details to me at email@example.com.
- Mystery Spot Road, off Branciforte Dr. Santa Cruz, CA, USA.
A spot 50m in diameter in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains
- Mystery Spot, Putney Road, Benzie County, Michigan, USA.
- Gravity Hill, Northwest Baltimore County, USA. along a public road
which ran through the Soldier's Delight environmental area.
- Gravity Hill, Mooresville, Southwest Indianapolis, USA. Located
off SR 42 on the South side of Mooresville.
- Gravity Road, Ewing Road exit ramp off Route 208, Franklin Lakes, USA.
- Mystery Hill, Blowing Rock, hwy 321, Carolina, USA.
- Confusion Hill, Idelwild Park, Ligonier, Pennsylvania, USA.
- Gravity Hill, off of State Route 96 just south of New Paris, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, USA.
- Oregon Vortex, near Gold-Hill, Grants Pass, Oregon, USA.
- Spook Hill, North Wales Drive, North Avenue, Lake Wales, Florida, USA.
- Magnetic Hill, Near Neepawa in Manitoba, Canada.
- Gravity Hill, on McKee Rd. just before Ledgeview Golf Course in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.
- Electric Brae, on the A719, Near Croy Bay, South of Ayr, Ayeshire, Scotland.
- Anti-Gravity Hill, Straws Lane Road, Wood-End, Near hanging rock, Victoria, Australia
- Morgan Lewis Hill, St Andrew, Barbados.
- Hill South of Rome, in Colli Albani, near Frascati, Italy.
- Malveira da Serra, on N247 coast road West of Lisbon, Portugal
- Mount Penteli, on a road to Mount Penteli, Athens, Greece
- Mount Halla, on the 1.100 highway a few miles south of the airport, near Mount Halla, on the island of Cheju Do, South Korea
"Skeptical Inquirer", Vol 16, No. 1, 1991;
an article about the illusion at Spook Hill.
"Seeing Is Believing? Haunted Shacks, Mystery Spots, and
Other Delightful Phenomena" by Chris Banta