California’s Gravity Hills

An Illusion, Freak of Nature or Something Else?

Among the strangest of the many unexplained mysteries on our planet is a phenomenon known as the “gravity hill.” Also called a magnetic hill, antigravity hill or spook hill, many of them can be found across the planet.

Gravity hills can be defined as a particular location where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply. In virtually eve­ry case, a gravity hill involves a short section of road, usually no more than a few hundred yards long, which appears to go uphill. But does it really? A true gravity hill appears to go uphill, but when you park your car at the base of the incline, put the transmission in neutral and remove the brake, you will find that your car rolls up the apparent hill.

There are three main theories to account for this strange effect. The most popular theory is a gravitational/ magnetic anomaly caused by unusual mineral or stone deposits. A second theory is that ghosts or spirits are responsi­ble. A few of the locations are reportedly the sites of fatal automobile accidents and are near cemeteries. In a few cas­es, people report seeing handprints on the back of their car following their unexplained ascension up a gravity hill. The third theory is that the effects are actually caused by impressive and convincing optical illusions.

Whatever the explanation, gravity hills are relatively rare and most are exceedingly hard to find. You won’t find them on most maps and they are usually known only to the locals.

While doing research for my book Supernatural California (Schiffer, 2006), I was shocked to find that California was literally riddled with these strange sites. Writes one researcher, Marina X., “I never realized how many Gravity Hills there were in California alone. I wonder if it has something to do with the two plates (Pacific and North Ameri­can) colliding and subducting and whatever else it is they are doing?”

Intrigued, I decided to conduct a full investigation into the strange phenomenon. My plan was to determine the number and location of these gravity hills, find witnesses, research any scientific studies, and finally to visit and study the locations myself. Only then would I make any conclusions about these so-called anomalies.

While these sites are supposedly rare, after much research I was able to locate at least seven gravity hills in Cali­fornia. Undoubtedly the most famous of these is the Gravity Hill of Sonoma, located along Lichau Road. Numerous researchers have visited the area and conducted their own investigations.

The Gravity Hill of Sonoma

Writes Marina X., “There are no signs to it, and no way of knowing you are there if you don’t already know that you are there. Basically, it is a road that follows around the side of a hill, where the road dips down into a trough, then climbs back up. If you drive to the bottom of the trough in the road and put your car in neutral, the car backs rapidly up the hill. It is a bit eerie and kind of cool.”

Marina has researched other gravity hills, and is convinced that this one is genuine. “Some people say that all such phenomena are optical illusions. In this case, however, this is a “for real” Gravity Hill, not an optical illusion. It you stand near the top of the road, you will find yourself looking down on top of the car. This would not be so if it were an optical illusion, unless somehow the light is being bent in funny ways, in which case there is still a mystery here.”

Marina has taken others out there, some of whom are convinced, others who are not. Says Marina, “It has become sort of a test of a person’s ability to hold an open mind and allow for something of wonder in the world.”

Way back in the mid-1970s, Kelly Samson visited the area with her brother and a friend. Says Samson, “It was an incredible feeling as the car traveled uphill. I have not forgotten it to this day. Now that I have children, I would like to share it with them, but needless to say, I do not remember the way.”

Local real-estate salesperson Sheila Giovan visited and photographed the area. She writes, “When you cross the cattleguard, look down a sloping grade that clearly appears to run downhill. Go about 10-15 yards, stop, throw it in neutral and say your prayers as the car rolls uphill towards the cattleguard.”

Fenwick Rysen studied the hill with an engineer’s compass, a level and a pendulum. His measurements revealed that the gravity of the hill appears to be misaligned by a certain degree. As he writes, “The stretch [of road] that fools with gravity… seems to be an energy line that the road just happened to cross for that small portion.”

LOCATION: Lichau Road, just past Gracias Santiago Ranch in Rohnert Park, just south of Santa Rosa.

The Gravity Hill of La Jolla

Another gravity hill that is well known to locals is the La Jolla Gravity Hill. Resident Greg Brown visited the site in 2001. He had been to other California gravity hills and was curious to see if this one was valid. To his delight, it was. Says Brown, “The first thing that makes this hill interesting is that you roll forwards up the hill, not backwards like all the other hills I’ve tested. It looks like a dud at first glance compared to some other hills, but your vehicle will crest the hill you are rolling ‘up’ then proceed on a long downhill stretch where you will eventually have to stop your vehicle.”

Brown believes that whatever the cause, the La Jolla gravity hill works. As he says, “[It is] worth the trip if you are in the area.”

Another visitor, Willie Robinson, was able to shock his friends by pretending to push his car uphill with just a fin­ger. Says Robinson, “Yeah, Gravity Hill was always a source of amazement for those who were new to the experience. One of the best was to finger your car up the hill. That really got ’em going.”

This particular gravity hill has been known to locals for nearly eighty years. Writes Wayne Perry, “Ah yes, the grav­ity hill. It has amazed many. After graduating, I became an apprentice carpenter and helped build those houses on the south side of Muirlands Drive. Using a transit level and sighting across the road, a person could see the drop in the roadway. I can remember my Dad and uncle talking about that spot when they used the road in 1937.”

LOCATION: West Muirlands Drive between Nautilus and Fay Street in La Jolla.

The Gravity Hill of Antioch

Outside the San Francisco Bay area of Antioch, again only known by the locals, lies a small stretch of gravity-defying road. For those uninitiated to the phenomena, it can be a disconcerting experience. On the evening of August 28, 2003, Monica X. and her friends visited the hill to test it out. As she says, “I went to Gravity Hill in Antioch two nights ago, and I was scared out of my mind! Our car was moved at least 25 feet uphill. Right when we turned the headlights on, the car came to an immediate halt.”

On the evening of September 18, 2003, local resident Jessica X. drove alone to the site to see if the stories were true. She came away from the experience convinced. “Your car does move, so it does work. But yeah, there are cults around there. I had a truck come out of nowhere and chase me. So don’t go alone and be careful… It’s a really creepy place, just so you’re warned, and you will get VERY weird vibes there.”

Another convinced visitor is Rosie X. As she says, “My friend and I went to Gravity Hill and it does work… The car does move! A good couple of feet! It’s awesome but really freaky at the same time.”

Local resident Angela X. agrees that the gravity hill exists, but believes it has a prosaic explanation. As she says, “It’s just a place with an extreme gravitational pull. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely cool and an amazing feeling. It’s pretty creepy at night. The cool thing to do is to get out and put a ball on the ground or get on a skateboard. Now that is awesome!”

LOCATION: End of Empire Mine Road in Antioch, outside of Stockton.

The Gravity Hill of Kagel Canyon

I heard a lot of rumors of another gravity hill in southern California in the city of San Fernando. Says Gwen X, “Okay, first of all I have been to numerous so-called ‘Gravity Hills’ throughout California. I can only confirm that one of them worked… I was a non-believer until I experienced this.”

Says Heather X., “My friend who had already been there said it worked really well for her and scared her to the point of crying.”

The spot is apparently well known to locals. I was able to locate three firsthand witnesses. Unfortunately, it was many years earlier and all of them were teenagers at the time. However, I gathered what information I could and set off to find it.

With me was my friend David Fleetwood. He remembered visiting the site as a kid and being impressed by it. But twenty years had passed and much of the information we had was sketchy. All we knew was the approximate location of the site, and that it was next to a cemetery.

As we drove up the canyon, David remarked that the area was bringing back memories. When we approached the area, the first thing we noticed was the Sholom Memorial Cemetery. David said, “This area looks familiar.” One of the many conflicting directions I had gotten mentioned this particular cemetery. That was a good sign. Still it appeared that finding the exact location was going to be an uphill battle.

We drove until we hit Lopez Canyon, turned left and drove past the Haverhill Cemetery. This certainly seemed to be the right area, but where was the hill? We turned around and began driving back and forth, looking for it. The first few times we drove right over it.

I noticed it first, an odd-looking dip in the road. “Stop here!” I shouted, after we had turned around a third time to look for it. “I think this might be it.”

David looked around and nodded. “I think you might be right!” He stopped the car at the bottom of the little hill, put it in neutral and slowly took his foot off the brake. We held our breath for a second when suddenly the car lurched forward and began to move apparently up the hill! It wasn’t a big hill, but the car was definitely moving.

I thought it was probably an illusion, but when we reached the top, we turned around and looked down. It certain­ly looked like we were looking downhill.

We did it several times until we were sure that this was the actual gravity hill of Kagel Canyon. I returned again later to take some photos and try it out with my own car. Sure enough, it worked. I can see why some people might find the experience frightening. But it was also kind of interesting. Was it an optical illusion or an actual gravitational anomaly? I withheld my judgment until I visited another nearby gravity hill.

Rubio Canyon Gravity Hill

While doing research for the Kagel Canyon Gravity Hill, I started to get reports of another gravity hill located in nearby Altadena. At first I assumed that the two sites were being confused, and that there was only one site. But the reports mounted until it became clear that there were, in fact, two gravity hills. The only problem was, nobody seemed to know where the Altadena location was.

I found a few firsthand witnesses, but they were unable to remember the location. Finally, after a flurry of email requests, I received a response from an Altadena resident who not only knew the exact location, he provided a map. I had just about given up on ever finding it. Now I knew exactly where it was.

I jumped into my Toyota pickup and began my adventure. Altadena is located north of the 210 Freeway in south­ern California. As I headed into the city, I was struck by how the city of Altadena is built. While most southern Cali­fornia cities are built in the valleys, much of Altadena is carved into the foothills of the rugged San Gabriel Moun­tains. Because of this, many of the streets are steep and winding. Already I was fighting gravity as I climbed higher and higher in elevation towards my destination.

The directions I had been given were perfect, and I had no trouble recognizing the gravity hill as soon as it came into view. Like the Kagel Canyon site, the hill was a small stretch of road with an odd dip about a hundred yards long. It started just south of a large stone bridge near a small white house.

I pulled a quick U-turn and parked at the bottom of the small hill. I looked behind me. Yes, it definitely looked like an uphill grade behind me. There was no way this was going to work.

I popped the car into neutral and slowly removed my foot from the brake. Almost immediately the car gave a small lurch backwards and started to roll uphill! I couldn’t believe it. I was moving only a few miles per hour, but I was definitely moving. And no doubt about it, it looked like I was going uphill. A few seconds later, the car eased up to the crest of the hill. I put on the brake, pulled forwards and did it again. Just like before, the car rolled easily back­wards.

Just to be sure, I did it a third time, pulling the car forward until I found the exact beginning of the strange effect. It worked like a charm. Then I turned around and tried it on the west lane of the road, which also worked, though not as well.

I then pulled over and walked up and down the stretch of road, trying to get a feel for it. Was it an optical illusion or an actual gravitational anomaly? I honestly wasn’t sure.

I took several photos and surveyed the surrounding area. The site had many things in common with the Kagel Canyon hill. Both were located in the foothills of large, steep mountains. Both stretches of road went steeply downhill and were interrupted by the same type of minor dip or trough in the road, where it appeared to level out and travel upwards for a short distance, then continue downwards.

As I surveyed the site, a few cars pulled over at the bottom of the hill and tested it for themselves. At first I thought they were concerned neighbors who were wondering why I was taking pictures of the area. Then I watched as their cars began to inch backwards, with the drivers looking at me to see my reaction. Then I realized, they obvi­ously knew about the hill!

Again, like other gravity hills, the location is apparently well-known to the locals. I could only wonder if the resi­dents of the small white house near the base of the hill knew why so many people stopped before the home and rolled their cars backwards!

LOCATION: Rubio Canyon Road, adjacent to Rubio Canyon Wash Basin, in Altadena.

While gravity hills may be hard to find, California is filled with them. There is another reported gravity hill on the Mira Mesa/Sorrento Boulevard exit of the southbound 805 Freeway in La Mesa. Another gravity hill is said to exist next to the Rose Hills Cemetery on Turnbull Canyon in Hacienda Heights-Whittier. Yet another gravity hill reported­ly exists on Patterson Road between Tracy and Livermore. Unconfirmed reports of other hills come from Corona, San Bernardino and Duarte. There are also several famous sites across the United States. Clearly, this phenomenon is widespread.

However the main question remains, what is the cause of this bizarre effect? Cars can’t really roll uphill, can they?

On the other hand, gravity is not the uniform phenomenon that many people assume it is. The power of gravity does, in fact, alter depending on one’s altitude and geographic location. However, the differences are too minor to ac­count for the kind of effects we see on gravity hills.

Skeptics claim that the effect is only an optical illusion caused by the horizon lines on either side moving in con­tradiction to the slope of the road. After visiting two of the hills myself, I can offer no solid conclusions. Logically, we all know that cars do not roll up hill. However, there is nothing quite like personal experience to make you shake your head and wonder if just maybe, sometimes they do….

Adapted from Supernatural California (Schiffer Publishing, 2006) by Preston Dennett. Dennett is the author of 100 articles and 8 books, including his latest, Supernatural California (Schiffer Publishing, 2006). His website is www.prestondennett.com

BY PRESTON DENNETT

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