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Unusual Tours Teach Local Culture With Flair


By Victor Block

The day begins with a viewing of an airline that doesn't exist. Later, visitors arrive at a dry lake bed where unidentified flying object sightings are said to occur. These are among features of a Las Vegas Area 51 Tour, one of a number of unusual excursions that are available to curious sightseers throughout the United States. From ghosts to witches, kayaking to riding in a vintage firetruck, some outings provide very different ways to experience and enjoy a variety of sites.

When they aren't trying to strike it rich at a Las Vegas casino, some guests in what's known as "Disneyland for Adults" check out a very different setting. Area 51 refers to a highly classified U.S. Air Force facility that is believed to be where experimental aircraft and weapons are developed and tested. The perimeter of the location is closely guarded, and a sign warns any interlopers to "Keep out, use of deadly force authorized."

Janet Airline is the name given to a nonexistent public carrier consisting of unmarked planes that transport workers to the secret site. Parked planes are the first stop on an outing that also includes the UFO sighting lake and the perimeter of Area 51. Those taking the trip get insight into one of the most covert places in the country.

In other locales, ghostly spirits, rather than government secrets, are the objective of some tours. What today is the trendy Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C., has a dark past. Tours introduce true-crime stories, supernatural occurrences and hauntings that are associated with the area.

The pre-Revolutionary Old Stone House, which was built in 1766, has been home to 11 different spirits. They include two men in Colonial-era clothing, a young girl who likes to run up and down the stairs and translucent women cooking in the kitchen.

A steep outdoor stairway in Georgetown, which was built in 1895, played a major role in the 1973 film "The Exorcist." In the movie, Father Damien Karras, the priest who exorcises a demon from young Regan MacNeil, dies by throwing himself down the stairs.

Ghosts also haunt participants on the lookout for them in Chicago. Among places where they hang out is the former site of Fort Dearborn, which was built in 1803, destroyed several years later and then reconstructed. During the War of 1812, the fort was evacuated, but the fleeing throng was ambushed by Native Americans, who killed many of them and burned the garrison to the ground. After the remains of people who died were unearthed and buried elsewhere, people began to report seeing ghostlike figures of humans wearing pioneer clothes and early military uniforms.

Other tours in the Windy City allow people to sit in the Chicago Cubs dugout, accompany a professional photographer during a picture-taking experience and paddle a kayak through the heart of downtown's soaring skyscrapers.

Ghosts of witches rather than victims of a massacre greet those taking a spooky tour of Salem, Massachusetts. When that town was being settled by the British, belief in black magic was widespread, resulting in the Salem witch trials. People found guilty of witchcraft were executed by hanging, and some died in jail before they could be put to death. Among landmarks that help relate that dark chapter of history are the Salem Witch House and House of the Seven Gables.

Very different homes are the focus of tours of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California. Mansions owned by the likes of Tom Cruise, Taylor Swift and Leonardo DiCaprio vie for attention with the famous Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame, sidewalks in which terrazzo and brass stars are embedded honoring famous movie icons.

While folks in Hollywood pass by estates owned by celebrities, those in Portland, Maine, clamber aboard a vintage fire engine to take in the sights of that small city. The transportation seems natural in a town that through its history has endured four devastating fires and survived. The tour explores Portland's past and leads to towering lighthouses, Civil War forts and other local landmarks. During the ride, a large flat-screen television displays archival photos of the city.

Severe storms rather than fierce fires are the goal of tours that depart from Oklahoma City and Denver and traverse the area known as Tornado Alley. Expert tempest-chasers use their skills to locate dramatic cloud formations and ferocious weather events and provide guests with close-up encounters. Their knowledge, combined with specially designed vehicles, provide an experience that is both spectacular and safe.

If you think that following a fierce storm is dramatic, picture an estimated 1.5 million bats taking to the sky as night falls. From March to November, that many of those flying mammals hang out, literally, under Congress Avenue bridge in Austin, Texas, then flood out into the air after dark seeking their dinner. A Bike Bats Tour passes several scenic sites before arriving in time to see this unusual spectacle.

If that sounds too batty, you might prefer a different unusual tour. Viator claims to be "the leading marketplace for travel experiences." Its website lists more than 300,000 tours around the United States and the world, ranging from usual to unique.














Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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