When I went to Stonehenge in the UK last year, it was hard to get a picture of just the rocks without some tourist being in your frame. After a couple of minutes waiting in line, I just wanted to be done with it, post the pictures on Facebook, and officially say I'd been there.
>> PHOTOS: America's Stonehenge <<
These were my expectations for the site billed as America's Stonehenge, but at 10 am on a recent Saturday, I was one of just four people at the 105-acre site on Salem, NH's Mystery Hill. I was won over by not just the site's history, but the expansiveness of the forest. It's hard to remember places like this exist after weeks of breathing God knows what kinds of pollution and falling asleep to the sound of car alarms and police sirens in the city.
The whole place is family-run, purchased and opened to the public by the aptly named Robert Stone, who passed away in 2009. I got a personal tour with Robert's son, Dennis, a commercial pilot who followed in his father's footsteps by continuing to maintain and research the land with his wife, Pat.
We started by walking by the alpaca farm at the beginning of the trail (and seeing one of them kiss Dennis on the lips; he really likes alpacas). Fun fact: according to Dennis, alpacas are native to North America, not South America. He said he had wanted to reunite the animal with their "homeland."
The main attraction at America's Stonehenge is a handful of ancient stone structures and cave-like dwellings. No one knows for sure where they came from; theories range far and wide. Some say it was a Native American site dating back millennia, or that it was built by wayward Irish monks in AD 1000— though academics contend it was part of a cider press owned by a farmer in 1825. Nonetheless, charcoal found at the site has reportedly been dated to 6000 years ago.
Given that history, it's easy to imagine why rumors spread about people experiencing paranormal activity here, and the eeriness of the vast expanse of open land definitely lends itself to ghost sighting claims. Dennis said that, the weekend before I visited, a paranormal group came to investigate, and that their energy meters kept going off. Then he casually added, "I'm not so sensitive to that stuff, but my son has seen shape shifters out here."
If it's not too spooky for you, the gem of the site's offerings is the candlelight hike. Every Saturday from January 14 to February 18, the Stones open up additional acres to the public and light the trail with kerosene candles. Sounds like the perfect place to take that special hook-up buddy to on Valentine's Day. It's $15 for adults — $10 if you bring your own snowshoes — and reservations are required. For children, it's $10, $7 if they bring their own shoes. (On a regular day, admission prices are $8-12 for adults, and $5-8 for kids.) Best part: that rate includes hot chocolate and cookies. This would also be a great outdoorsy activity to remind yourself that stars actually do exist in the night sky. (Although it's recommended to bring flashlights because it can get really dark out there.) Sleds are suggested for little ones too young to walk/talk/snowshoe.