Atlas Obscura: An Ambassador for the Abandoned and Hidden World

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I am fascinated with abandoned places.  It calls to the archaeologist in me.  These locations are fascinating because they are a marker of what once was and beg exploration, research and pause.  The pause is to question why and is this site significant and of greater importance, at least to me, is to potentially answer the question “So what?”.  There are so many sites to explore throughout the world with the payoff of exploring these place comes the possibility of risk.

While doing some research into abandoned sites last year, I found an amazing website.  Atlas Obscura:  The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.  This site is all about “curious and wondrous travel destination”.  They certainly do live up to it.  This site is amazing and comprehensive look at all that is obscure in trips, experiences, courses, places, food, and stories.  This site was founded in 2009 by Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras, Atlas Obscura documents unusual unobscured travel destinations via user generated content (wikipedia).  Honestly, what’s not to love about all this?

Atlas Obscura is a member optional site

.  You are able to access content without a memberships.  Both memberships have supply a newsletter and a community forum.  There is a free membership that provides:

  • Plan travel with lists
  • Add your own discoveries
  • Talk travel in our forums

There is a paid membership option for $5.00 a month of $50.00 a year that provides:

  • All basic account features
  • $100 off your next Atlas Obscura trip
  • Members-only experiences
  • Far fewer ads and no pop-ups
  • Early access to new travel tools

The site is so well laid out that it begs you to spend hours cruising through article after article and link by link.I spent some time looking through some of the articles on Europe and the United States. My trip to Europe maybe sidelined due to Covid restrictions at certain ports, so we have Plan B and that is to travel the states. They offered up some wonderful options for us to explore and I think we’re gonna be taking them up on several things like Templo De Debod In Madrid which is an Egyptian pyramid or Marble Canyon in Arizona which is a swirl of sand frozen into the rocks. They also offer options of where to eat in locations around the world and I am really thinking about the caverns grotto in peach Springs, Arizona. It is a 345 million year old cave that is 200 feet underground and is an actual restaurant. The food is cooked at ground level and lowered underground. What makes it really interesting is that the restaurant has an unobstructed 360° view of the largest known chamber in the cave network and there is no interference from other diners.

Another interesting element of Atlas Obscura is their book and course areas.  Gastro Obscura:  A Food Adventurer’s Guide, An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and 2nd Edition, Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid are part of Atlas Obscura’s book catalog.  I did a review of the Gastro Obscura book and found it absolutely delightful. I feel it’s a must buy for the obscure and dark traveler.  The site also has a plethora of courses where you can explore new skills and niche topics. One that I found very fascinating was re-creating ancient recipes with VWAA, which stands for vacation with an artist. Ursula Jansen is an archaeologist and culinary historian that helps you re-create dishes from ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Rome, and the Mediterranean middle ages. It’s a three part series that cost $235. Session one starts with a Babylonian fall pie and Mursu, followed up by an ancient Roman Mustacei and Alexandrian gourds and then wraps up with Mediterranean middle ages Itriyya and hummus. Talk about bringing the world home.

If you are looking for travel, atlas Obscura also provides trips. They are moving away from being a digital site to a travel site. Some of their trips look very good and really cater to the obscure. One of the trips that caught my eye was the Mexico City to Oaxaca which trace is a threads of Frida Kahlo’s dresses. Also there are trips that explore the route of Creole kitchen in New Orleans, sacred granaries, Kasbah and feasts in morocco, wildlife of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and Iceland summer a journey through the fabled land. There’s something for everyone here. They also offer a travel blog.

Last but not least, Atlas Obscura has launched an app. The app is currently available for Apple only. There are many topics to browse like architecture, art and culture, death and afterlife, Food and drink, history, and nature. A lot of the app does mirror the website. I took a look at the history section and what I found were options for abandoned, ruins, memorials, archaeology, and cultures and civilizations. If further breaks it down into a lot of other topics such as ghost towns, disaster areas, American revolution. I looked at the American revolution since I don’t live far from Valley Forge. I was definitely not disappointed in what they had to offer which included the Liberty Bell hiding place which is Allentown, PA.Bowman’s Hill Tower in New Hope, PA is the stone tower marks  a lookout point over Washington’s Crossing point over the Delaware.

I love Atlas Obscura.  This website has so much to offer and is worth the visit even if you aren’t into the obscure because there really is something for everyone along the way.

Yes, I know I posted this back in July but it bears repeating!

While not always a rule follower, I like to stay out of jail and harms way.  There are some guidelines I like to follow when it comes to abandoned sites.

  1. Research the site you want to explore.  Most often there is information about the site online and especially how to access the site and who may own the site.  I always take this with a grain of salt since the accuracy can be an issue depending upon where you find the information.
  2. When in doubt make a phone call.  This contact can provide you with a wealth of information.   Be careful how you identify yourself.  I let them know who I am and that I am a travel write looking to review the site.  Don’t stretch the truth, these places have heard it all.  Ask permission, let them know how many of you are visiting and if there are any guidelines that you need to follow.
  3. Assume the risk if you can’t or won’t make a contact prior to your visit since some sites are closed to the public and off-limits.  This means that if you are trespassing you may be arrested which means jail, public service and/or a fine.  One place that is legal to visit but illegal to explore the buildings is Centralia, PA since the Commonwealth owns the buildings.  I saw piece on Dark Tourist (episode 5: Europe) about the Cyprian town of Varosha that was left abandoned due to a Turkish invasion.  It is patrolled by the Turkish military and off limits.  Some places are not safe.There are some abandoned nuclear sites that are still registering high levels of radiation (Dark Tourist episode 4: The ‘Stans).  Some sites are in poor condition and can cause accidents due to structures falling apart.  Another concern may be wild animals.
  4. Read the signs around the sites.  This will give you a clue as to what to expect as far as the legal ramifications, trail information and potential hazards.
  5. Be prepared.  Make sure that you have extra batteries, enough photo and video storage, water, snacks, flashlights, a map and information.  Also, let someone know where you are.  I share Life 360 with a friend so we know where she is on a date or where I am when I’m on the road. Keep you cell phone handy and just know that there may be poor reception at some of these sites.  Walkie talkies come in handy.
  6. Do not take anything from the site and please leave it as is for the next person.  This is the beauty of these sites and if a majority of visitors take a a piece of the site, there would be little left to explore.  In some cases, it could be considered stealing.
  7.  Most importantly….Beware and take care.  Be aware of your surroundings, where you are and what is coming near.


Wikipedia:  Atlas Obscura

Netflix Dark Tourist Series

Allianz Travel Insurance

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