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Maco Light, North Carolina
Is train conductor Joe Baldwin still looking for his head? According to a legend that dates back to 1867, he was the sole occupant of a caboose that accidentally uncoupled from its engine and became a hazard to a train following behind. Baldwin waved his lantern frantically–but in vain–to warn the oncoming train. He continued to signal even as the trains collided–and the crash decapitated him. Soon after, locals reported seeing a light along the tracks; they surmised it was Baldwin swinging his lantern, searching for his head. Sightings declined after the railroad was removed in 1977, but intrepid bushwhackers can now explore the forest in (almost) total solitude. Find the old railroad grade in Maco, along US 74/76.
Brown Mountain Lights, North Carolina
For 800 years, native Cherokees and later, settlers, have reported seeing spirit lights on this 1.5-mile ridge in western North Carolina. According to legend, dead warriors–or the heartsick maidens searching for them–inhabit the woods. Regular sightings prompted the U.S. Geologic Survey to investigate in 1913 and 1922. Officials reported that the lights came from cars and trains. But they couldn’t explain why witnesses spotted the lights long before cars and trains existed, or why they continued to see them when floods closed the tracks and roads. Observers still report the lights today, but dense foliage makes it difficult to see the glow from local trails. Find the best vantage points at several overlooks, including Lost Cove Cliffs on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wiseman’s View on Linville Mountain, and Brown Mountain Overlook on NC 181.
Silver Cliff Ghost Lights, Colorado
No theory explains the origin of the lights that appear in the cemetery of this former boomtown. Miners saw silver-blue balls of light as early as 1882, and visitors report seeing them regularly ever since. Not even a 1969 National Geographic investigation could explain their origin. Silver Cliff is located in southern Colorado at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range, and you can see a jagged ridge of Fourteeners from the cemetery. If the lights don’t scare you off, tag nearby Crestone Peak on this 20-miler: backpacker.com/hikes/30762.