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Standing from a central viewpoint at America’s Stonehenge, you can see marker stones placed in the distance so that the rising sun will touch the tip of each rock on important days, such as summer solstice. Trees have been kept clear so that you can see the stones. From the air there is a starburst pattern in the trees because of this.

In New Hampshire there is an old stone site with the unfortunate name “America’s Stonehenge,” located on “Mystery Hill.” Who knows why the cheesy name, maybe to draw in more tourists? But this is so much more than a tourist stop. In my opinion, this place should be a federal protected area. It is possibly 4000 years old. Online reasearch reveals arguments by a few people about this site history. Everything I found online was unsatisfactory. Some legit scientists need to go in there and spend some time to unravel the tangled mess it is today and provide us with a verifiable story in the form of multiple peer-reviewed published findings. I want a story sans the cosmic hippie mumbo jumbo and dispensing with the pre-Columbian Irish Monk settlers theory.

One of the caves at the America’s Stonehenge site.

Close up of the flowers on top.

This stone is inside the museum.

Close up of the hatch-marks on the right side.

The setting is in an absolutely beautiful forest in New Hampshire.

A fascinating and intriguing room built of stone.

For a privately-owned historic site, they do a fair job of it, with a small museum, a theatre with a short movie, awesome self-guided tour app, and excellent maintenance. The brochure provided on site is the most convincing scientific information I could find, though it’s designed for tourists and provides no supportive evidence. Their website includes a blog that states there has been ongoing archaeological excavations for thirty years, though I saw no evidence of any active work while we were there. They should eliminate the mock American Indian stuff along the trail, because it’s embarrassing and demeaning, and the alpaca barn is off topic. They take care to highlight the possible function of this site as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and they explain reasons why the site was used as a stone quarry, and how that use caused irreparable damage.

All over the world, people have built with stone for obvious reasons. Stones are a useful building material, particularly when manipulated by humans’ ingenuity. One of the arguments I read about this place is that the structures could not have been built by indigenous North Americans because everyone knows Indians don’t build with rocks. It’s a ridiculous argument. The site website does acknowledge that the builders could have been indigenous North Americans. This simple question does bring up an example of why I am frustrated with the lack of clear science at this site though. Archaeology here reminds me of comments on an Internet post: a string of bold opinions, a dearth of reliable documentation. (So, ahem, let me add my opinions…)

Ok, enough with the complaining!

One of the entryways into a stone room. In the distance is an observation deck to see the astronomically aligned stones.

A look at the corbelling inside.

Some of the slabs of rock used here are enormous.

This is a very large room with a hall and adjacent room you can walk through.

The stone structures were amazing for me to see because I recognized the construction style of corbelling. Arguments have been made that a previous landowner built all the structures in the 1800s for storage purposes, or that a different landowner built it in the 1930s. Possibly farmers built a little more each year. Tara and I just returned from a trip where we got a close-up look at some neolothic corbelling of stones in Ireland, and some modern corbelling in southwest Ireland. Corbelling is when stones are stacked on top of each other, overlapping each layer a little bit more till there remains a small hole in the roof that can be topped with a large flat stone. This style is used all over the site.

Another thing that reminded me of Ireland is a large standing stone in the museum with hatch marks in the side of it. In an Irish museum I saw something very similar, and the hatch marks were a form of writing. If you click the image of the stone above, you can see that someone else thought the marks on the New Hampshire stone could be writing.

At America’s Stonehenge there are stone walls creating a path, outlining common areas, and forming rooms. Some of the rooms are reconstructed enough so that visitors can enter. Some rooms are too small or unsafe, and you cannot enter them. There are two wells, multiple channels in rocks that have been identified as a means of draining water from the site, and an astonishing huge flat table with a groove around the outside. People have opined that this slab was used to leach lye for soap making, to catch juice in cider making, or to catch blood during animal sacrifice. Guess which option I eliminate immediately.

Here’s the barest bones summary of the white man’s part in this story I can gather: Mr. Patee owned the site in the early 19th century. He may have built it or added to it. It was quarried around the same time. Also at the same time, it may have been a stopover place for escaped slaves along the underground railroad. Excavated iron shackles have been found on site, and are on display in the museum. In the 1930s it was purchased by Mr. Goodwin, and by the 1960s it was a roadside tourist attraction, after being rebuilt in the image imagined by the owner, who was convinced that Irish monks came here before the Vikings and settled. (By the way, the information provided by American’s Stonehenge reminds us that names of points of interest here, such as the “pulpit” and the “sacrificial table,” are only used as identifiers and are not meant to deter from an accurate interpretation of the site. I appreciate this kind of scientific integrity.) Current owners state that radiocarbon dating shows that at least some walls existed prior to Mr. Patee’s ownership, and dating of charcoal found in the walls dates it to 2000 BC.

Iron manacles found at the site.

Steps lead down into another room.

Huge slab of rock with a groove carefully carved around the outside. What was it used for?

Me, standing beside one of the wells. (Photo by Will Murray)

A wall in the center of the site. (Photo by Will Murray)

Another thing I dislike here: every groove or gouge in stone, even a fabulous carving of something that looks like a deer, is outlined in white paint. Annoying.

Seemingly incongruent with the various theories of the purpose of the constructed rooms are the large pointed stones circling the site. If you stand on an observation deck (shown in a photo above), you can spot the stones aligned in a circle to mark the point where the sun will rise on important astronomical dates like winter and summer solstices and equinoxes. If the walls and rooms were merely constructed for root cellars, foundations for a home, or for cider making, why erect the astronomical stones? Who did it?

One of the astronomical stones, set in line with one of New England’s ubiquitous and wonderful stone walls.

That’s a lot going on in this one place, and why I call it a tangled mess. I am dying to know more.

Diego walks along the nature path beside the Klickitat River, frequented by Bald Eagles.

Diego walks along the nature path beside the Klickitat River, frequented by Bald Eagles.

It’s always a pleasant surprise to me how easy it is to discover truly interesting and entertaining things in my world, if only I go outside and pay attention.

It also consistently surprises me that I forget my camera so frequently. No, worse, I think to myself Will I need my camera? Naaawwwww.  And then 20 minutes into the journey, I am kicking myself. This is what happened weekend before last when Arno, Diego, and I wandered into Klickitat County in southern Washington.

Our original intent for the entire day was to attempt to spot bald eagles, and practically as soon as we crossed the Columbia River, we began to see them. Where was my fabulous camera with zoom lens? Safe at home, intentionally left behind because I thought I wouldn’t need it. Luckily Arno had his little pocket camera, but the light in the sky was poor and the camera not powerful enough, so I can’t show you photos of eagles. They are huge. Really huge. And beautiful. Every time I see a bald eagle it makes me proud and patriotic. Thank goodness our national bird didn’t end up being a turkey.

We also saw a Golden Eagle and I was excited to spot a Kestrel. I became intimately familiar with a kestrel family when I lived in Nevada, and am glad that their voice is still recognizable to me.

Double bridges span the Klickitat River on the Washington side, but they are clearly visible from the Oregon side.

Double bridges span the Klickitat River on the Washington side, but they are clearly visible from the Oregon side.

We had parked beside a nature trail, so we went for a walk. I was very pleased to see the double bridges I had spotted many times from I-84, the Oregon side. Each time I see them I lament the lack of a place to pull over and take a photo of the remarkable arced bridges. Viola! Here I was at last with an excellent view of them, and not traveling on a freeway at 68 mph.

Not yet ready to head directly home, we followed highway 142 into the canyon. It was a stereotypically beautiful creek canyon for this area, and my hungry eyes gobbled up all I could see till I spotted something I had never seen before in real life. “Oh! They’re fishing platforms!” I said out loud. “Arno, pull over.” And he did, though he had not seen them.

I peered over the steep ledge and was more convinced that they must be fishing platforms built by local Indians. I had seen a photo or two of Indians standing on wooden platforms above rushing river water, waiting to spear fish, but I couldn’t remember when or where. Perhaps that famous photo of Celilo Falls was my resource. Arno and Diego, the climbers, instantly felt that we needed to go over the side and get down to the water.

Unstable but apparently effective fishing platforms

Unstable but apparently effective fishing platforms

You brought the camera!

You brought the camera!

At riverside, I suddenly wanted Arno’s camera, which I had – wait for it – decided to leave in the car thinking I wouldn’t need it. Arno clambered back up the steep cliff to retrieve it for me.

I was satisfied simply by looking at the platforms, but the boys spotted the rickety wooden bridge spanning the river, and needed to cross it. So I indulged them bemusedly and watched with anxiety as Arno bounced across the bridge over raging whitewater.

After returning to the car, we continued farther into the river canyon, which led higher in elevation to the source of  the Klickitat River. We went up, and up, and came out high above the rest of the world, on an incredible plateau so high that the mighty Columbia seemed only a mild trickle in the canyon below us.

Arno bounces across the handmade bridge. Yikes.

Arno bounces across the handmade bridge. Yikes.

We were understandably hungry by this time, and Diego was happy for the chance to play with his dad’s smart phone, even if it was only to use the map feature to find us a place to eat. He steered his dad directly into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in Goldendale, WA. Sated, we turned south onto highway 97.

Stonehenge replica made of concrete and perched on a ledge above the Columbia River.

Stonehenge replica made of concrete and perched on a ledge above the Columbia River.

I remarked that I had never seen the Stonehenge replica out there before, except at night, when I was a kid traveling through in the back of a big brown 1975 Ford Elite. There were lights on the structure, and all I remember is the circle of bulbs, and someone telling me it was Stonehenge, which was confusing, because I thought Stonehenge was far away, but I was a kid and often wrong about things at that point in my life.

So Arno turned east on highway 14 and announced that we were going to see Stonehenge. It wasn’t far, and soon we were standing beside it. I learned that it was built by Sam Hill to honor the fallen soldiers from Klickitat County in World War I. It was the first WWI monument built in the entire nation! The site now has other memorials, honoring the Klickitat military sacrifice in other wars, Vietnam, WWII, Afghanistan, and more.

Diego climbing

Diego climbing

View of Columbia

View of Columbia

My climbers couldn’t resist the walls of the life-sized replica, and were soon scaling them. I wandered through the inside, marveling at not only the original monument in England, easy for me to visualize with this replica surrounding me, but also marveling at the ambitious project of the man who built the Klickitat version. It was a cold, windy, horrid day, and we were all ready to leave that exposed point rather quickly. However, I will go back this summer in better weather, better light, and armed with my camera!

Inside the Stonehenge replica

Inside the Stonehenge replica

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