The fact that there’s a rational explanation doesn’t quite stop the shivers down my spine.
Here’s a bit of secret wisdom courtesy of everyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time in the deep backwoods: Sooner or later, you’re going to see something freaky. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to get a glimpse of a cryptid like Bigfoot (although I don’t mind admitting I am keeping my eyes peeled and always will). However, there are some slightly more common sights…and the fact that they do have perfectly rational explanations don’t quite stop the shivers down my spine. I personally have witnessed all three of the below weird woods scenarios in my time…what about you?
1. The Bear Skeleton
Black and brown bears can be found across much of North America, and of course they don’t go to nursing homes and hospitals to die. So it’s only natural that hunters and hikers will find their remains every so often, and it’s certainly nothing to be freaked out about…except for one thing. It’s fairly common for the skull to disarticulate from the rest of the skeleton over time, and when that happens, you’re left with a skeleton that looks very, very human. The one I came across–probably a cub–had me briefly convinced that I had discovered the remains of a human child. (Thankfully, the skull wasn’t too far away and my heart rate dropped back to sublethal speeds fairly quickly once I spotted it.)
Of course, there’s a reason to still be a tad freaked out. Hikers and hunters find real human remains all the time. Some of them are accidental deaths; some are suicides; and some? Some are murder victims.
2. The “Satanic Altar”
This one almost didn’t make my list because you’re actually much more likely to see it near the trailhead than you are by the time your cell signal finally craps out. However, you will occasionally find these little displays far deeper in the wilderness than you’d expect. The one I saw wasn’t quite as elaborate as the “satanic” altar pictured above, but it will give you a little turn to come ’round a bend to find someone’s weird woods worship.
In general, this actually shouldn’t be a terribly big concern. The people who build and leave things like this in the wilderness come in two flavors: teenagers being “edgy,” and New Age types. The image above was most likely courtesy of the first, because the hand-made five-pointed star has its apex pointing down, in a pentagram. If it were pointing up, that would be a pentacle placed there by a Wiccan or nature worshiper of some sort. Either way, neither of these types is likely to harm you. Seeing a “satanic” symbol out in the pristine woods is jarring–even enraging–but it was almost certainly put there by a teen or teens who then went home and spent an hour popping zits.
3. The Stairs to Nowhere
I’ve seen them, and sooner or later you probably will, too. You’re out backpacking in the middle of nowhere. You haven’t seen another human being for a couple of days, and your map has no record of any sort of habitation here…but what’s this? Stairs. Just a set of stairs. Maybe you can see the remains of a foundation there, but maybe not.
There’s little mystery as to what happened here–obviously, this used to be someone’s cabin, but most of it has long since returned to Nature. But there’s something eerily evocative about realizing that you’re standing on the grave of a long-forgotten home, the stairs standing like a nameless cairn in memoriam. Certainly enough so to have inspired one of the best long-running series on social-media board Reddit, posted by u/searchandrescuewoods. The series is hosted on the Reddit “nosleep” board, which means that it’s most likely fiction…we hope. Here’s the archive of stories…but before you head down that internet rabbit-hole, let us know what the freakiest thing YOU ever saw in the woods was!
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