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Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America's National Parks, by Andrea Lankford

Haunted Hikes

Few people have the proper credentials to write a book like this, but Andrea Lankford is uniquely qualified. With over a decade of experience as a park ranger and thousands of hiking and biking miles behind her, Lankford knows her routes. In addition, she's recorded an impressive number of stories about hauntings, unexplained phenomena, unsolved mysteries, hoaxes, curses, paranormal events, and other mysteries connected with hikes in parks from Hawaii to Vermont and the Virgin Islands to the Klondike. The book would be valuable for the maps and descriptions of routes alone, but the well-told tales add a fascinating dimension. Lankford's vivid and vibrant prose makes this book worth reading even if you never visit the places where the stories took place.

Organized geographically, the book has eight chapters: California & Hawaii, Desert Southwest, Deep South, Eastern Mountains, Northeast & Mid Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Canada & Alaska, and Pacific Northwest. In each, Lankford tells the spooky tales and then describes the hikes, including their level of difficulty. She also rates the hikes by "fright factor," awarding from one to five skulls to give an idea of the level of creepiness of the story associated with the trail. Four skulls means "Gave me nightmares, and I'd rather not discuss them," while one skull "makes seven-year-olds giggle." Each hike has an easy-to-follow map, directions for how to reach the trailhead, and information about the best time to visit.

When I first picked up Haunted Hikes, I immediately flipped to the chapter that includes Death Valley. I'm familiar with that park, and I was curious to find out which stories the author had chosen to tell. I found a great write-up about the mysterious sliding stones on the Racetrack Playa, and also the story of Hooch, a killer who haunts the ghost town of Skidoo. The story entitled "The Creepiest Man in North America," however, was new to me. It's the unsettling tale of how park rangers apprehended "a hippie dude" who turned out to be none other than Charles Manson. Lankford gives the 16-mile hike around Barker Ranch and Warm Springs Canyon four skulls and rates it "extreme," which means I'll probably stick with visiting the sliding stones at Racetrack Playa (one skull, easy). Even though I may never walk in Manson's footsteps, it was fascinating to find out about his Death Valley days.

Of course, Bigfoot and Sasquatch are well represented within these pages, but the stories the author has selected to include are among the less well known. I certainly had never heard about a teen-age Sasquatch that decorated a campground with toilet paper from the outhouse. Another mysterious creature I had never heard of before is in a section titled "Like Vomit Mixed with Rotten Fish." That phrase evidently aptly describes the Skunk Ape, another big, hairy elusive creature that hangs out in the cypress swamps of Florida.

Another thing I like about this book is that the stories are an excellent blend of old and new. At Lake Mead in Nevada, Lankford tells the tale of a perplexing murder in 2003 that remains unsolved. At the other end of the time spectrum, she relates Indian ghost stories connected with sites in the Rocky Mountains. Other tales reflect different periods of American history. She's included hoaxes, too, like the "Eve of Estes," a publicity stunt aimed at attracting tourists to Rocky Mountain National Park. Back in 1917, an actress pretended to live in the wilderness for a week, but she was really spending her nights in a park lodge.

Enhanced with photographs and loaded with plenty of suggestions for further research and reading, Haunted Hikes is no mere guidebook. It's a highly entertaining tapestry of stories that add a human (or inhuman) element to natural landscapes. Andrea Lankford has done for national parks what Chris Epting has done for pop history in his series beginning with James Dean Died Here. Places are always more interesting when you know what happened there - even when the stories give you the creeps!

Megan Edwards
10/8/06

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