Olympic National Park, WA
Maybe they were intrigued by a dark mass bobbing in the water near Sledgehammer Point. Or maybe it was a small, white flash at the surface that caught their attention. Or perhaps they simply cast a line for steelhead and were surprised to discover a 5-foot-long bundle on the other end. But for some reason on a day in July 1940, the two trout fishermen reeled in a nearly perfectly preserved corpse. Lake Crescent had surrendered one of its secrets.
Lake Crescent is nestled in a glacial valley south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. Four-thousand-foot peaks rise on either side, as if to guard it—and maybe they are. The native Klallam and Quileute people tell a story of a once-beautiful region that was marred by war. Mt. Storm King, which soars over the lake’s southern banks, grew angry at the tumult and threw a chunk of rock from its peak into the river valley where the tribes were fighting. The boulder killed every one of the battling tribespeople and dammed the water, creating an undisturbed, crescent-shaped lake.
There’s some historical truth to the legend. Geological surveys indicate that a massive landslide decimated the area 8,000 years ago, effectively separating Lake Crescent and Lake Sutherland. One result of the partition is the former’s crystalline water. Without major inflows, Lake Crescent lacks the usual amounts of plant nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, preventing algae growth.
It’s no wonder a floating body looked so out of place in the clear water.
The two fishermen, brothers, reeled in the corpse. It was wrapped in a gray, striped blanket and bound with rope, but tears revealed a shoulder and a foot, both so pallid the body looked less a woman
than a mannequin.
“It’s like a statue,” Sheriff Charles Kemp later concluded after the coroner’s examination. “The flesh has turned to some rubber-like substance.” There was no odor, nor any sign of decomposition. Something about Lake Crescent’s unique makeup had not only preserved the body—including a ring of still-purple bruises circling the girl’s neck—but had also actuated a chemical process called saponification, essentially converting the tissue into soap. What remained was the body of a woman in her mid-30s, around 5 feet, 6 inches tall, obviously strangled, and, to an extent, easily identifiable: Hallie Illingworth, missing for three years.
But Illingworth was only one of Lake Crescent’s victims. In 1956, an ambulance careened off US 101 at Meldrim Point, plunging into Lake Crescent, killing one. In 2002, a 1927 Chevy was discovered
in Lake Crescent’s depths, finally closing the case on a couple that had been missing since 1929. They were entombed in Lake Crescent’s icy water for 73 years. In a chilling interview that was released by the FBI in 2013, convicted serial killer Israel Keyes insinuated that he’d dumped his victims in the cursed lake: “You guys know about Lake Crescent in Washington, right?” he taunted his interrogators.
Who knows how many secrets Lake Crescent hides?
“If you could ever get down [into the underground stream that flows from Lake Crescent to Lake Sutherland],” said Dr. Charles P. Larson, a Tacoma-based pathologist who assisted with the Illingworth examination, “you would probably find from 50 to 100 bodies, all of which have turned to soap.”
DO IT Walk along Lake Crescent’s glassy waters—admiring from afar seems safer—on the Spruce Railroad Trail, which traces its northern banks. The path meanders through Douglas fir and Sitka spruce along a World War I-era rail bed, maintaining water views the whole way. Spurs to waterfalls dot the route, which sometimes crosses bays and inlets on bridges. Keep your eyes peeled for the Lady of the Lake, a specter that’s reportedly been seen gliding across the surface and believed to be Hallie Illingworth’s haunted spirit. Find the Spruce Railroad trailhead off Beach Road (48.094863, -123.805016); the path ambles some 12 miles west to Olympic Highway (48.075360, -123.954349) when merged with the Olympic Discovery Trail.
Green Mountain National Forest, VT
Follow the 272-mile Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains this month and you’re guaranteed top-notch vistas of slopes painted red and orange. But leave a detailed itinerary at home before you go: In the last century, half a dozen hikers have simply vanished from the area now known as the Bennington Triangle.
DO IT Pick up the Appalachian/Long Trail from VT 9 (42.885110, -73.115580) and take it north. Mileage monsters can thru-hike 20.4 miles to Kelley Stand Rd. (43.061171, -72.967758) below Stratton Mountain. It’s 9.1 miles to the Goddard Shelter and 9.4 to the 3,748-foot Glastenbury summit. Short on time? Do part for an out-and-back.
Dead Horse Mesa
Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
Listen for the phantom whinnying of the herd of wild horses that was barricaded on the mesa by cowboys in the 1800s. Some died of dehydration, but most leapt off the sandstone precipice toward the green ribbon of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.
DO IT From the visitor center (38.487626, -109.735780), make a 4-plus-mile circuit that traces the rim of the mesa by linking the East Rim and West Rim Trails (distance varies with how many spurs you tack on). Going clockwise, the Basin, Meander, Shafer Canyon, and Rim Overlooks are each worth the negligible distance off the main loop. Bring an extra memory card for the photo opp at Dead Horse Point, and listen closely.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, IL
Meander around the eerie, 1,000-year-old earthen mounds of ancient Cahokia in southern Illinois—and rest easy knowing that archaeologists excavated more than 250 human skeletons from one. From the vertical positioning of their fingers, scientists concluded the Cahokians had been digging in the sand, very much alive, and trying to pull themselves out of the mass burial.
DO IT Check out the Cahokians’ earthwork on the Nature/Culture Trail, a 6.2-mile circuit. From the parking lot (38.654172, -90.058643), do the loop clockwise: Pass the Twin Mounds, then come up on Mound 72 near mile .5. Continue past Woodhenge, a timber circle à la Stonehenge, before reaching Monks Mound and closing the loop.
Find Haunted Hikes ($17; Falcon Guides) wherever books are sold.