About 13 miles west of Glacier National Park sits a small wooden building nestled in a wooded area just off U.S. 2 and decorated with elaborate signs typical of any roadside attraction.
A giant rocking chair sits outside on the front lawn beside a large sign welcoming visitors to the mysterious Montana Vortex and House of Mystery.
Tourists park in a gravel parking lot and step through the front door into a sweet-smelling, glittering gift shop.
The ever-present scent of incense lends itself to the shop’s otherworldly atmosphere as one of the owners, Tammy Hauser, welcomes her guests into her treasure den.
Wall-to-wall shelves are stacked with Native American-style gifts, from genuine fox tails to dream-catchers of every shape and size. Intermingled with the expected souvenir mugs and key chains is a variety of crystals, gems and stones.
“We travel all winter, so you never know what we’ll bring back,” she said of the shop inventory.
Hauser and her husband Joe bought the land on which the tourist destination now sits in order to research and study the quantum physics associated with the site nearly 50 years ago.
In 1970 they opened the site to share their discovery with the public.
A sign above the shop’s back door issues a warning to visitors: “Management is not responsible for world view changes.”
The door opened to reveal Joe, a white-haired, bright-eyed man who acts as a guide through the unexplainable world beyond.
A group of around 15 filed through the door as Tammy waved them forward, saying “into the portal you go.”
Joe led the group to a trailhead, giving ominous directions to follow a path through the woods and push a red button at the top of a staircase.
“By the end of the tour I’ll probably have you all holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya,’” he said. Someone snorted.
The group headed down the path and stopped to gather around a post with a speaker attached and a small red button below. One boy stepped up to push it.
A crackling voice began talking through the speakers about the history of the site and the phenomena the group was about to experience.
The site is home to a vortex field, or a swirl of electromagnetic energy, that was discovered ages ago by local Native American tribes, the voice said.
The speaker pointed out several trees along the path, bent and twisted at odd angles, explaining the vortexes affect the very shape and growth of the surrounding forest, bending and curving the trees with the flow of energy.
When the message ended, the group was sent down the staircase, through a forest decorated with tree faces and fairy gardens and back up the other side of a tall hill to a crooked, misshapen shack.
Joe stood at the top of the hill in front of the shack’s entrance with a level in hand and the told crowd they were about to see something that science failed to explain.
He called two volunteers, a girl and her aunt, to stand on a red strip of concrete. Using the level, he demonstrated how even the platform was. The bubble inside the level stayed centered as he set it down on the strip.
Then the volunteers were instructed to stand on opposite ends of the strip, facing each other. The girl stood about half-foot shorter than her aunt, the top of her head almost level with the woman’s chin.
However, when the two were instructed to switch sides on the platform, the girl appeared to grow as the crowd looked on, and when they stood facing each other again on opposite sides, she stood eye-to-eye with her aunt.
The difference in height was about 4 inches and could be seen from every angle and in photos.
After years of research, Joe and several guest scientists who have studied the phenomena still cannot explain what happens.
He told the crowd their guess was as good as his as to why people seem to grow and shrink, but said he believes it has something to do with the fact that they are passing over a spiral in an electromagnetic vortex.
Following the demonstration, Joe led the group into the slanted shack behind him, a place he calls the “House of Mystery.”
“This place has been cleverly disguised as a roadside attraction for about 47 years,” Joe said.
He and his wife built the House of Mystery in 1970, building it on a slant of about 19 degree in order to better demonstrate the effects of the vortex surrounding it.
Once inside, each member of the group found themselves walking and standing at a mind-dizzying angle.
Using a ladder, a broom and a weighted chain, Joe drew gasps and shouts from the onlookers.
The broom stood by itself. The weight became heavier and lighter depending on the way it swung. Children in the group climbed to the top of the ladder and appeared to float as they let their feet dangle.
Even with a background in biology and physics, Joe said he is unable to predict or explain when or why the vortex defies physics.
He said the vortex’s energy builds and recedes on about a 3-hour cycle, causing dizziness for visitors standing as far as the parking lot at its peak.
In his time leading tours, he said he’s seen watches stop, cellular batteries suddenly drain and photos come out warped and distorted.
Outside the house, the group was taken through three other vortex sites where they learned how to see their own electromagnetic fields, or auras, and create a circuit of shared energy by holding onto each other in a circle.
“I told you I’d have you holding hands,” Joe said, laughing.
As the tour ended, the group dispersed to play and experiment with the different sites.
An exclamation of “Whoa!” erupted from the next tour group as it witnessed their friends’ shrink.
A curly-haired toddler got wide-eyed and let out her own small “whoa” as she attempted to walked straight forward through the slanted house to her dad’s waiting arms.
A gray-haired woman sat under a red tent nearby where $5 buys 5 minutes with the “psychic to the stars.”
One member of the group, a father from Minnesota named Jared Plantenberg, did not know what to make of the tour.
“Some of it blew my mind a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a trick of the eye or what.”
Julia Belsham, the girl who first volunteered to grow and shrink, had nothing but faith in what she saw.
“I think it’s real,” she said, expressing a particular love for the House of Mystery. “When you were on the ladder, it made you float.”
Joe said the vortexes aren’t the only oddities known to the area. Locations surrounding the site have yielded more unidentified flying object sightings than Joe said he could count.
Whether the unexplained phenomena of the Montana Vortex are simple tricks of the eye or a genuine scientific anomaly, curious visitors flock to the site every year, drawn by the question “why?”
According to the attraction’s owners, the mystery is half the fun.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.