10 U.S. Landmarks That Have Left Experts Stumped – And 10 Whose Mysteries Have Now Been Unraveled

Image: NPS Photo/{{PD-USGov-NPS}

The United States has many stunning historic sites – no small number of which date from millennia before European settlement of the land. And while careful study of some of these archeological gems has revealed their secrets, other sites have baffled researchers with enduring and intriguing mysteries. For instance, how was the extraordinary Spider Rock in Arizona created? Here, we reveal the answers to this and many other enigmatic questions about stunning U.S. landmarks.

Image: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

20. Casa Grande Ruins

Just north of the modern city of Coolidge, Arizona, there’s an ancient site known as the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The buildings date back to sometime around 1350, and archeological evidence shows that the ancestral Sonoran Desert people built these structures. Apparently, they lived in southern Arizona for around 1,000 years — until about 1450 — and built a sophisticated network of irrigation canals in the region that supported their agriculture.

Image: Stephen Couch/Getty Images

The centerpiece of the site is the Casa Grande – or Grand House. Italian Jesuit priest Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino gave it that name when he happened across it in 1694. The Grand House is built from caliche, which is a naturally occurring aggregate stone. And it’s certainly stood the test of time – as it’s still standing some 700 years after it was erected. The site is surrounded by low walls and includes the remains of various other structures. But what was the purpose of these structures? That remains an unsolved puzzle to this day.

Image: Dina Eric/CC BY-SA 2.0

19. Georgia Guidestones

The imposing granite slabs of the Georgia Guidestones stand nearly 20 feet tall and have loomed above Elbert County farmland since 1980. The monument consists of six blocks that collectively weigh an impressive 237,746 pounds. The stones are inscribed with various homilies. These range from an exhortation to limit world population to 500 million to a plea for “fair laws and just courts.” The inscriptions are engraved in eight different languages, too.

Image: Ashley York/CC BY-SA 3.0

The stones were commissioned from the Elberton Granite Finishing Company by someone calling themselves Robert C. Christian – although he admitted that this was a pseudonym. In 2009 Wired magazine quoted Elberton Granite’s Joe Fendley as saying that he thought Christian was a “nut.” So Granit had attempted to discourage Christian with a ridiculous quote – which Christian promptly accepted and built the structure. It was erected because the latter apparently wanted a monument that would provide guidelines for the human survivors of some future cataclysmic event.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Paul Kiler/CC0 1.0

18. Hemet Maze Stone

Hike through the San Jacinto Valley – a few miles west of the city of Hemet in California – and you’ll come across a massive boulder with an intriguing pattern carved into the stone. It’s known as the Hemet Maze Stone, and the motif does indeed portray a puzzle-like maze around two by two feet in size. It was only discovered as recently as 1914, yet it is more than 3,000 years old.

Image: Devin Sean Cooper/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Hemet Maze is classed as a petroglyph – a stone carving which has usually been made in ancient times. Dating rock carvings is no easy task, but the examination of the encrustations that had gathered on this one’s surface through the centuries gave experts a clue. They think it’s between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. But we still don’t know who carved this enigmatic maze nor why they did so.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. Forest Service Photo/{{PD-USGov}}

17. Bighorn Medicine Wheel

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is located high in the mountains in the remote depths of Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest. It consists of a circle of white limestone rocks 80 feet across, and they’re laid out in lines that look like the spokes of a wheel. Amazingly, the structure is said to date back as far as 10,000 years or more.

Image: Jay Gannett/CC BY-SA 2.0

As for who made the intriguing design, experts think it may have been the Native Americans. And despite the fact that the structure has not been attributed to any single tribe, several do consider it to be sacred. According to a 1972 study by astronomer John Eddy, cairns around its perimeter align with sunset and sunrise at the summer solstice – and some line up with various celestial bodies. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel’s precise purpose remains a conundrum, however.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Rsfinlayson/CC BY-SA 4.0

16. Blythe Intaglios

The Blythe Intaglios lie about 13 miles north-east of the city of Blythe in California – not far from U.S. Highway 95. Set at the foot of the Big Maria Mountains, the intaglios are huge images etched directly into the rocky ground. Works of this type are also known as geoglyphs, and the largest of the Blythe ones – representing a human figure – is 171 feet long.

Image: Rsfinlayson/CC BY-SA 4.0

As well as human figures, then, the geoglyphs portray animals such as snakes, mountain lions and birds. Meanwhile, others feature unidentified creatures or geometric motifs. They were first discovered by a man called George Palmer when his plane flew over them in 1932.  There are six geoglyphs in the Blythe group – all within around 1,000 feet of each other. There is also no certainty as to who created these enigmatic images, and their meaning and original use remains unknown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: clark42/Getty Images

15. Judaculla Rock

Judaculla Rock is a large soapstone boulder with a flat side that is covered in enigmatic carvings. It’s located in remote, mountainous territory close to the banks of Caney Fork Creek in Jackson County, North Carolina. Etched into the malleable soapstone are an astonishing 1,548 symbols and patterns of various kinds. And the rock also bears evidence of quarrying activity and the carving out of bowls.

Image: Warren LeMay/CC BY-SA 4.0

The motifs engraved into the stone include stick figures, deer tracks, a winged symbol and a circle surrounding a cross. Archeological investigation has dated the marks left by cup-making to the Late Archaic era – which ran from around 8000 to 1000 B.C. The stone, it seems, had a special significance for the Cherokee people, and experts believe the carvings are a representation of their world.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Stan Shebs/CC BY-SA 3.0

14. America’s Stonehenge

America’s Stonehenge – previously known as Mystery Hill until its renaming in 1982 – consists of an array of large boulders and stones arranged into various types of structure. The site extends for some 30 acres and is set within the town boundaries of Salem, New Hampshire. It’s a popular tourist destination said to be particularly favored by New Agers, who are perhaps attracted by its resemblance to the real Stonehenge in England.

Image: NikiSublime/CC BY 2.0

Some have asserted that the slabs at America’s Stonehenge date back to pre-Columbian times, but this theory has been discounted by experts. So, it’s now generally believed that some of the structures at the site were erected in the 18th and 19th centuries by farmers. And many archeologists believe that one William Goodwin – who bought the site in 1932 – may have been the mystery builder.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Averette/CC BY 3.0

13. Miami Circle

The Miami Circle is right in the downtown section of the Floridian city, and it is indeed a perfect circle spanning 38 feet across. There are 600 post holes and 24 depressions in the limestone rock. And it’s the only archeological site of its kind in the eastern states of the U.S.

Image: Ebyabe/CC BY-SA 3.0

The circle is set at the mouth of the Miami River and was discovered during an archeological survey after an apartment building on the site was demolished in 1998. Using radiocarbon dating of wooden remnants at the site, researchers estimated that the site was built between 1,800 and 2,000 years ago. However, some academics have questioned the Miami Circle’s authenticity. And while other experts believe the site was created by the Tequesta tribe, its true purpose remains elusive.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Eric Ewing/CC BY-SA 3.0

12. The Great Serpent Mound

Set in Adams County by the Ohio Brush Creek, the Great Serpent Mound is a curving earthwork extending for 1,348 feet. Seen from above, its resemblance to a huge snake is unmistakable. The mounds are between one and three feet in height and up to 25 feet across. Unfortunately, though, identifying the mound’s builders remains a challenge, as no archeological artifacts have ever been discovered at the site.

Image: MPI/Getty Images

Nevertheless, experts have proposed two theories as to the Great Serpent Mound’s origins. The first is that it may have been built by the Adena people around 320 B.C. And the second proposition has it that people from the Fort Ancient Culture created the mounds much later in about 1070 A.D. Indeed, a fierce debate within the world of archeology continues to this day as to the origins of these mysterious earthworks.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Andreas F. Borchert/CC BY-SA 4.0

11. Mesa Verde Cliff Palace

The Cliff Palace is located in the Mesa Verde National Park, and it’s a quite extraordinary series of structures built into the contours of monumental rock formations. The National Park – covering more than 50,000 acres – is home to over 5,000 archeological sites, and of those, the Cliff Palace is the most well-known. The Ancestral Puebloan people built and lived in these buildings – some 600 of which exist today.

Image: YinYang/Getty Images

The Ancestral Puebloans constructed the dwellings from around 1190 A.D. probably as protection from increasing hostilities between different tribes in the region. Experts believe most of the structures were built over a period lasting just a couple of decades. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the Ancestral Puebloans deserted these homes in around 1300. Researchers have speculated that various factors may have been involved in the abandonment: including over-population, changes in climate and conflict with other tribes.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/ItzJustJon

10. Waffle Rock

Waffle Rock is set in West Virginia’s Randolph County by the shores of Jennings Randolph Lake – a manmade reservoir. When the Potomac River was dammed in the 1930s, the rock was saved from the rising waters and moved to its present position. And you only need to look at the strange pattern on this unusual rock to understand why it got its name. The criss-cross lines make it look much like a waffle you’d eat for breakfast, you see.

Image: YouTube/ItzJustJon

So what caused the decidedly weird patterns on the face of this rock? Conspiracy theorists have had a field day with it, claiming that the boulder was created by everything from giant lizards to aliens. Others have theorized that Native Americans carved the markings on the boulder. But the truth is a little less exotic; geologists assert that natural processes starting as long ago as 300 million years created the strange pattern.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: John Fowler from Placitas USA/CC BY 2.0

9. Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon is set in a far-flung district of Utah, and it’s renowned for the intriguing images that are painted on the rock walls there. The most outstanding examples of these pictographs – painted in a style known as Barrier Canyon – are found in what is called the Great Gallery. And researchers have discovered other such images in Colorado and Arizona as well as in Utah.

Image: Michael Grindstaff/CC BY-SA 3.0

Experts believe that it was the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Desert Archaic culture who created these beguiling images at the Great Gallery. A number of experts have dated these pictographs to between 400 and 1100 A.D., although evidence of Paleo-Indian occupation of Horseshoe Canyon goes as far back as 9000 B.C. Some believe the Great Gallery images may actually be around 7,000 years old, but the exact dates of creation remain a matter of debate. And the significance or meaning of the artworks is unknown, too.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Larry V. Benson, U.S. Geological Survey/{{PD-USGov-USGS}}

8. Winnemucca Petroglyphs

The Winnemucca Petroglyphs were revealed to the modern world when Winnemucca Lake dried up in the 1930s. The rock carvings are in the north-west of Nevada on the borders of Pershing and Washoe counties – within the bounds of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. And many boulders at the western end of the lake bed feature ancient carvings.

Image: Larry V. Benson, U.S. Geological Survey/{{PD-USGov-USGS}}

These Winnemucca Petroglyphs include geometric motifs, carvings that look like trees and flowers, and in one example, a complex diamond design. They range from around eight inches to three feet across. Analysis using radiocarbon dating has confirmed that the lake’s water level between 14,800 and 10,500 years ago was low enough to allow carving. This makes these petroglyphs the most ancient discovered in North America, but their meaning remains unknown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Skubasteve834/CC BY-SA 3.0

7. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, you’ll find the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. This pre-Columbian land covers an area of some 2,200 acres and includes around 80 separate mounds. These are the remains of an ancient city whose boundaries meant it was larger than the site that remains today. And in ancient times, the city apparently covered almost 4,000 acres and included around 120 mounds.

Image: Daniel Acker for The Washington Post via Getty Images

These man-made mounds are all that remains of this large conurbation which was built and occupied from about 1050 A.D. However, evidence of human occupation of the site dates back as far as 1200 B.C. The city consisted of a sophisticated network of public spaces, homes and ceremonial areas connected by paths. The metropolis was populated by a people that modern researchers call Mississippians who lived across wide swathes of North America. But the site was abandoned in about 1300 A.D. for reasons that are still open to speculation.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Thomson200/CC0 1.0

6. Fort Mountain Wall

Set in Georgia’s Fort Mountain State Park, this ruined wall was built with rough stones blocks and extends for some 855 feet along the heights of Fort Mountain. The wall has a zigzag formation, and there’s a tumbledown gateway. The stones that were used to build it were obtained from the surrounding landscapes. What’s more, some weird and wonderful tales swirl around this ancient stone wall.

Image: Thomsonmg2000/CC0 1.0

One story even claims that it was built by Madoc – a Welshman who allegedly sailed to the United States in 1170 and built a series of fortifications. However, a 1956 study by University of Georgia archeologists came to the more realistic conclusion that the wall “represents a prehistoric aboriginal construction whose precise age and nature cannot yet be safely hazarded…” To date, no one has been able to come up with a clear explanation of who built the wall and the reason they felt the need to do so.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: James Steakley/CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Aztalan Mounds

These mounds form part of the Aztalan State Park in Wisconsin’s Jefferson County and are the remains of a great city from 1,000 years ago. People of the Mississippian culture founded this city in around 1000 A.D., and its main remaining features are the monumental mounds that dot the site. The city’s builders were part of a widespread trading civilization that apparently stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

Image: James Steakley/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mississippians built their homes around wide plazas which probably had some kind of ceremonial purpose. The large mounds have a flat-topped pyramid form and likely served as both ritual and defensive structures. After hundreds of years of occupation, though, the city fell into decline sometime during the 13th century and was abandoned. No one is certain about why this happened, but possible explanations have included environmental degradation and warfare.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via New England Historical Society

4. New England Stone Chambers

You’ll find mysterious stone structures right across New England – with one estimate putting their number at around 800. There’s controversy about the true history of these chambers with many competing theories. Some say that the stone structures were built by some of the first Europeans to settle in New England and used for storage.

Image: via Crystal Rock Star

Other experts assert that these stone buildings were erected by Native Americans before New England was settled by Europeans. And yet others believe that the structures were built by mooted European travelers to America as far back as the Bronze Age. However, experts generally regard that last theory as being extremely unlikely. This, therefore, leaves the competing ideas that the chambers were built by early European settlers or Native Americans. However, it seems that the jury remains out on that controversy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Park Service (United States)/{{PD-USGov}}

3. Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon is the centerpiece of New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The location is home to the most extensive set of pre-Columbian buildings north of Mexico and includes 15 different archeological sites. Incredibly, some of the buildings at Chaco Canyon remained the largest ever erected in North America right up to the 19th century. And as for their purpose, some experts believe that the buildings may have been used for ritual purposes only rather than as everyday dwellings.

Image: John Wiley/CC BY 3.0

The Ancestral Puebloans built these structures, and it was a major site for this group of people from around 900 to 1150 A.D. Experts have noted that many of the buildings are aligned with astronomical cycles – suggesting they may have had a devotional purpose. For unclear reasons – although drought may have played a part – the Ancestral Puebloans had abandoned the Chaco Canyon site by about 1150.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bart Everson/CC BY 2.0

2. Poverty Point

Poverty Point World Heritage Site is located in the north-east of Louisiana – not far from the village of Epps and adjacent to the banks of the Bayou Macon. The site includes a series of earthworks in the shape of mounds and ridges set round a large public space and extending over some 345 acres. For reference, the prehistoric structures were built from around 1700 to 1100 B.C.

Image: Jennifer R. Trotter/CC BY-SA 4.0

People from what is now known as the Poverty Point culture built these monumental mounds as long as 3,700 years ago. But what was the purpose of these impressive earthworks? This is a question that has exercised archeologists for years. And experts are unsure if these mounds were a permanent city or whether they were perhaps only used on ceremonial, perhaps religious, occasions.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: llflan/Getty Images

1. Spider Rock

Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is home to Spider Rock – a peculiar feature that soars some 750 feet skywards from the ancient landscape. The land around the sandstone rock belongs to the Navajo people, and this territory has been occupied by various tribes for around 5,000 years. But the question is: how was this extraordinary geologic formation created? Well, in 2017 the Arizona Highways website put that very question to geologist Harold Pranger of the National Park Service.

Image: Outdoor Craziness/CC BY-SA 3.0

Pranger explained, “Spider Rock at one time – many thousands to perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years – was connected to the ridge between the main Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. The hillslope and stream erosion processes worked at different rates along that ridge, obviously at a slower rate right at Spider Rock. The differential erosion left this tower that is now called Spider Rock behind.” So, there’s your answer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Public Intelligence

And what other intriguing mysteries lie scattered throughout the U.S.? Well, drive west out of Washington D.C. on Interstate 66 and find your way to State Route 601. Then, after a while on the highway, you’ll reach the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll probably notice a roadside entrance for something you’ve never heard of before: the mysterious Mount Weather. But don’t try to drive in; the security guards will likely take a very dim view if you do. That’s because there’s a clandestine installation here – one with a dark secret.

Image: Andy Art

In fact, it’s probably best to stay in your car and travel on for another ten minutes to the Horseshoe Curve in Pine Grove for a burger and a beer. And, interestingly, it’s also said that this inn is a favorite haunt of the people who work at Mount Weather.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Artem Beliaikin

However, if you spot a Mount Weather employee, it’s probably best not to ask them what goes on up there. And while you could try to get some information out of one of the Horseshoe Curve staff, you may still be met simply with a polite smile and sealed lips.

Image: via Public Intelligence

You see, there’s been top-secret work going on at the location since the mid-1950s, and neither the locals nor the people employed at the center are likely to blab to an outsider any time soon. We’ll reveal the secrets of the federal institution at Mount Weather soon enough, but first let’s find out about the history of the place itself.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Our story starts off simply, as the name Mount Weather is an obvious clue to the site’s former purpose. Back in the late 1890s, the U.S. Weather Bureau – later to become the National Weather Service – bought the site as a research station. In particular, the agency wanted to learn about air at high altitudes, and they intended to send up balloons and kites from the mountain in order to do so.

Image: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

For four decades from 1893, the Weather Bureau actually carried out such endeavors at various sites. That said, the Mount Weather station is particularly notable for being the launch spot for the world’s highest-ever kite flight. Back in 1910, a kite managed to climb to more than 23,800 feet in the air from the location.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: National Photo Company/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

These launches weren’t the only activities to take place at Mount Weather in the early 20th century, though. During World War I, you see, the U.S. Army also used the ridge as a place to train its artillery operators. Following the end of the conflict, President Calvin Coolidge is even reported to have considered the site as a potential summertime White House – although nothing ultimately came of that idea.

Image: New York Times Co./Getty Images

Intriguingly, it’s also said that Mount Weather was used during the Great Depression as a sort of labor camp. In 1936, though, the Bureau of Mines took control of the site. And the agency certainly took advantage of the 434 acres of land on which the compound was housed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Public Intelligence

Specifically, Mount Weather became an experimental tunneling facility for the bureau, with workers at the site managing to carve out a passageway some 300 feet underground. This tunnel – with a width of 7 feet and a height of 6 and a half feet – stretched for about a quarter of a mile into the mountain.

Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Then, during World War II, the U.S. government found another new use for Mount Weather. The authorities sent around 100 conscientious objectors to the location, with these men subsequently being put to good use as weather analysts. The aim was to improve forecasts, which was obviously useful to the military in wartime. But it seems that some of the people housed at the facility were far from content with their lot.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: maiallen/CC BY-ND 2.0

D. Ned Linegar was one such individual, and in 1943 he kept a diary that has since been reproduced in part on the Civilian Public Service archival website. Regarding the site, Linegar wrote, “The development of the repair work is slow, organized by rather inefficient caretakers. Hot water was available only last week, [and] no laundry facilities are yet developed. So if cleanliness is next to Godliness, it doesn’t speak well for this unit of religious objectors.”

Image: via Public Intelligence

Linegar also described the meteorological work that the conscientious objectors had been tasked to do. He wrote, “The plan is to develop world weather maps from the statistics of all countries for the past ten or so years, from which patterns of weather can be discovered and predictions made on the basis of certain combinations.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Elen11/Getty Images

Linegar continued, perhaps optimistically, “Thus, any person using the card file to be developed can predict the weather conditions in any part of the world – even though he is no meteorologist.” Another account of World War II life at Mount Weather – also preserved on the Civilian Public Service website – comes in a report written by one J. N. Weaver.

Image: Jaymast/Getty Images

Weaver wrote, “The work is confining and somewhat monotonous… There was… some complaint among the men regarding this aspect.” But he nevertheless briskly dismissed the malcontents, adding, “In our opinion, sufficient information was available to each assignee which made the nature of the project work quite obvious. The assignees in this unit were all volunteers, and the project was forced upon no one.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Nyttend

It’s not entirely clear how valuable this forecasting work actually was to the war effort. In any case, when the conflict was over, the Mount Weather site reverted to the Bureau of Mines. And the bureau’s personnel recommenced their experimental tunneling work with, it seems, some success.

Image: via Public Intelligence

A report written in 1953 proclaimed, “From Mount Weather in the last few years has come a mass of technical data on drilling, steels to use in drills and rods, diamond drilling and related subjects.” Yes, it appears that the miners had made a number of breakthroughs when it came to the use of diamond-tipped drill bits – used, ultimately, to help bore through the unforgivingly hard rock of the mountain.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This report was to be the last public mention of Mount Weather activities for decades. Soon after, you see, the government decided that it had another purpose for the mountain. And this change was linked to a terrifying development elsewhere: the Soviet Union detonating its first atom bomb in 1949.

Image: The Denver Post via Getty Images

Clearly, if the Soviets and the U.S. were going to engage in deadly nuclear warfare, the American government needed to find a way of protecting its key personnel. So, the authorities turned to the unyielding rock of Mount Weather – not least because there had already been a tunnel bored at the site.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: apasciuto/CC BY 2.0

Indeed, what could be more secure than a bunker under a mountain? And Mount Weather seemed to fit the bill perfectly. As the crow – or helicopter – flies, it’s just 48 miles from the seat of government in Washington D.C. Tests of the mountain’s physical qualities proved encouraging, too.

Image: YouTube/Discovery

In particular, the researchers involved in the experiments had been detonating controlled explosions at the landmark in order to get a measure of its strength and resilience. And, naturally, these blasts involved lots of dynamite – some 34 pounds worth of the explosive, in fact. Thankfully for all concerned, the results of these underground detonations indicated that Mount Weather would be an excellent location for a nuclear shelter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

So, in 1954 the Army Corps of Engineers set to work on what was called Operation High Point. And one report – quoted on the Wired website in 2017 – claimed that Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a characteristically pithy order on the subject of the new bunker. The president is said to have told the Mount Weather shelter director, “I expect your people to save our government.”

Image: Pxfuel/CC0 1.0

Mining engineers from the corps then enlarged the original experimental tunnels, boring out massive amounts of greenstone rock. And, in time, they created a cave big enough to house a rather sizable city inside the mountain. As you may imagine, it was a monumental task that ultimately took the engineers four years to accomplish.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Pineapple22Productions

Something like 21,000 steel bolts – driven up to ten feet into the solid rock – were also used to support the massive roof of the subterranean structure. And even before the shelter was finished, President Eisenhower’s government tried out the new facility in a 1954 evacuation practice drill dubbed Operation Alert.

Image: Adam88xx/Getty Images

In order to complete the mammoth task, though, teams of men blasted and dug their way through the rock on a 24-hour rota. The conditions were unforgiving, too, with the temperature of the mountain’s innards staying at an unfaltering 52 °F. And one man who well remembered the hard graft that went into creating the bunker was Gilbert Fowler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Discovery

Fowler worked at the site for 31 years up until 1969, starting out on the very first experimental tunnel. Originally employed by the Bureau of Mines, he later transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers. And during the construction of the bunker, Fowler was the head of one of the three 40-strong squads working the tough shifts.

Image: shaunl/Getty Images

Then, at the age of 80, Fowler reminisced about his experiences in a 2001 interview with Time magazine. “That was some rough, tough, dirty work,” he recalled. “It was amazing the way [the diggers] could drive a straight line through solid rock.” But as Fowler and his men toiled, a complete nuclear bunker was being created.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

And as you’d expect, some of the fixtures and fittings to the bunker are formidable indeed. The entrance to the complex, for example, is protected by a gate that operates in the same manner as a medieval castle’s portcullis. Then, behind that opening, there supposedly lies a 10-foot-tall and 20-foot-wide electronically operated steel door. This feature weighs in at an incredible 34 tons, runs on wheels and takes ten to 15 minutes to open or shut.

Image: FEMA

Julius Becton has also spoken about the security measures involved in the creation of the bunker. Becton was the boss of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an organization that managed Mount Weather, and in 2011 he revealed to Time, “The entrance [to the bunker] is such that if [anyone] were to pop a nuke, it would withstand whatever they popped.” Inside the complex, meanwhile, there is practically a functioning underground city.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Nearmap/Getty Images

So that potential survivors could breathe, the engineers drilled an air shaft from the complex upwards through the mountain’s peak. Pumps circulate this air, while pools of water keep it cool. And other human necessities are naturally catered for, too. There is a sewage plant at the location, for instance, as well as a subterranean reservoir filled with drinking water.

Image: Kecko/CC BY 2.0

Power, meanwhile, would be supplied by generators run on diesel. There’s also a medical facility complete with 800 hammocks ready for the personnel who arrive at the site along with a 280-capacity cafeteria. In a seeming attempt to humanize the steel and concrete environment, plastic flowers are said to decorate the tables in the dining space.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Keren Sequeira/EyeEm/Getty Images

Yes, the Mount Weather complex isn’t without its lighter side, as journalist and author Garret Graff has suggested. Speaking to the New York Post about an above-ground facility at the site, Graff said in 2017, “There’s even a bar, the Balloon Shed Lounge – the name a nod back to the site’s origins as a weather balloon launch station.”

Image: Alexas_Fotos

Furthermore, when President Kennedy came to power in 1960, the bunker was further extended and enhanced. The facility was even given its own police force and fire brigade, with a crematorium added to boot. But in the event of a dire emergency, just who would get to shelter within the bunker?

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Discovery

Obviously, the U.S. president would be at the top of the list. The New York Post has also speculated that cabinet officials, Supreme Court judges and senior members of Congress may accompany the commander-in-chief, as there’s apparently enough room for up to 2,000 people there. And the nation’s leaders could supposedly keep in touch with whatever remained of the U.S. population via broadcasting facilities in the bunker.

Image: Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost/Getty Images

But it’s not just specific people who will find a place waiting for them at the shelter, which is officially dubbed the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center. There will also apparently be room for key texts such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as well as a selection of works from the National Gallery of Art.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Tony Webster/CC BY 2.0

Thankfully, nuclear war has not yet broken out, meaning the Mount Weather center has never been utilized for its original purpose. And while, over the years, federal authorities have done their best to keep the location under wraps, that level of secrecy became severely compromised following a horrifying accident.

Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

In December 1974 a Boeing 727 passenger jet was flying through a storm near Mount Weather. Perhaps owing to this poor visibility and pilot confusion, though, tragedy struck, and the plane slammed into the ridge at a speed of roughly 265 miles per hour. Everyone on board – all 92 passengers and crew – lost their lives.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

This catastrophe – which occurred close to the highly secret tunnel complex – naturally attracted the attention of the press and the wider public. Indeed, reporters quickly realized that the crash had happened near a highly sensitive government facility. And an NBC News story came particularly close to the mark when it openly declared that Mount Weather was the site of a nuclear shelter intended for the U.S. president.

Image: via Public Intelligence

Other exposés followed that largely revealed the purpose of the Mount Weather site; even so, the U.S. government continues to attempt to keep the location under wraps. And the bunker has actually been used at a time of crisis – albeit not one involving nuclear weapons.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Arctic-Images/Getty Images

You see, Mount Weather had a part to play on 9/11. During that fateful day in September 2001, helicopter flights quickly took off from Washington en route to the Virginia shelter. Those evacuated there supposedly included senior Congressional politicians and high-ranking government employees.

Image: via Public Intelligence

And that attack seems to have given the Mount Weather facility a new lease of life. Indeed, reports have suggested that the threat of terrorism has heightened the importance of preparation for civil disturbance. So, with that in mind, Mount Weather could very well be with us for the foreseeable future.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT