Confusion Hill Shoe House.
Confusion Hill Shoe House.

Confusion Hill

Field review by the editors.

Piercy, California

Craving a quirky roadside experience? Or just an atmospheric eddy to sap your equilibrium? Watch carefully: Confusion Hill is around that next bend. It's a redwood forest attraction combining a miniature train ride and a mysterious vortex. Crazy things happen there.

Confusing Gravity House entrance.
Confusing Gravity House entrance.

In 1949, improvements in northern California's stretch of US Highway 101 opened the region's majestic forests and rocky coasts to increased tourism. There was room to add what travelers didn't yet know they desired -- great tourist traps. Entrepreneur George Hudson had visited the Oregon Vortex (opened 1930), the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot (1940), and probably witnessed the winning formula of Trees of Mystery (1946).

Hudson rationalized that there must be other spots where the laws of physics run amok -- for example, his frontage along US Highway 101. He named his property Confusion Hill. Its main features were a gift shop/snack bar and a "Gravity House" he built. The twisted shack was situated atop a confluence of unexplainable forces, enhancing the visible effects in a place where magnets went haywire, water ran uphill, and objects changed size.

Gravity House exhibit 8.
Gravity House exhibit 8.

In 1955, Hudson added a miniature train to carry passengers through the redwoods to the top of Smokestack Hill, passing through the "World Famous Twin Tree Tunnel." The Mountain Train Ride, with points of interest narrated by its conductor/engineer, wound for 30 minutes along a 1 1/4 mile switchback. One half of the Twin Tree rotted and fell down, so the ride was realigned to continue without it.

In the 1980s and '90s, Confusion Hill started to appear a little time-weary. In 1993, the ridge top was logged, and toward the end of the millennium the business was for sale.

Employee John Mills, minor dream demon.
Employee John Mills, minor dream demon.

In 1999, Doug and Carol Campbell, along with Doug's brother Don, bought the Confusion Hill business, with a dream to restore its vintage vacation charm. They repaired and restored areas. They dubbed one pair of impressive trees "The Twin Towers," dedicated on Sept. 11, 2002 as a memorial to victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Within a few years, Don passed away unexpectedly; Doug and Carol carried on. They kept the train running -- Doug played the part of the engineer, and also a bandit named "Derailing Doug."

In 2006, after a particularly massive landslide caused by seasonal rains blocked the highway, a large state rerouting project began and was completed in 2009. The new route bypassed Confusion Hill, forcing potential visitors to exit, and caused the attraction to lose as much as 60% of its business.

In 2016 we visited, and then again in 2017, after hearing that owner Doug Campbell had passed away. Confusion Hill is open daily even in the winter; the snack bar and train hibernate until Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Rings of History.

The parking lot contains the World's Tallest Free-Standing Redwood Chainsaw Carving, crafted in place from the remains of a dead tree. The 44 ft. tall sculpture is a colorful totem pole of cartoon bears. Near the entrance there's a redwood house shaped like a shoe (acquired from a 1946 July 4th parade in Fort Bragg). Confusion Hill features a "Rings of History" redwood slab (Notable departures from the usual milestones: 1350 Black Death Plague; 1884 Lightbulb and Gasoline Engine; 1975 Vietnam War Ends).

The tradition of putting signs on everything has continued, and expanded to near insane complexity. Placards explaining natural features and unnatural effects alternate with warnings and instructions. "Stay on Paths," "Don't Climb on the Wall." One sign saves a tour guide's breath by listing the seven favorite theories accounting for Confusion Hill's confusion -- from "concentrated iron deposit" to "buried alien computer" to "multidimensional door."

John Mills points out still visible dents from the gun battle.
John Mills points out still visible dents from the gun battle.

The Gravity House and related exhibits are self-guided (in the winter, and perhaps always), with signs directing visitors where to stand and what to do to achieve a particular effect.

In 2014, Confusion Hill was the unlikely (and totally random) location for a shootout with an unhinged killer. Employee John Mills investigated a commotion at the hillside lavatories and found a man urinating in the bushes. "I told him he had to leave the premises. He went out into the parking lot, then came back a few minutes later and started shooting." Mills, licensed to carry a concealed pistol, returned fire from the snack bar floor, and the shooter ran away. The crime spree had started with a murder, arson, armed robbery, and carjacking in Oregon. A sheriff's deputy was killed along the way.

Shoplifting Advisory.
Shoplifting Advisory.

"Police chased him. Shot him dead," John told us. No confusion there.

It's hard to predict Confusion Hill's future. Its best bet is probably to stay connected to its roadside attraction roots, while also tapping into modern cultural totems. For example, the attraction is beloved by fans of the animated cult TV series Gravity Falls (2012-2016). It was part of a massive scavenger hunt for a Bill Cipher statue (he's a triangular dream demon, as we all know). After the icon was found elsewhere, he was transported to Confusion Hill and mounted on a mighty redwood tree. Those in the know spot him immediately.

Confusion Hill also has its own contribution to the roadside freak menagerie: the "rare and elusive" Chipalope, a mutant hybrid of chipmunk and antelope. There's a plywood photo op, with head holes for four as Chipalopes.

And the gift shop continues to display this friendly sign: "To ALL shoplifters, since you like things for FREE, how about a .45 SLUG IN THE KNEE!"

Also see: Big Tree Drive Thru

Confusion Hill

Address:
75001 North Hwy 101, Piercy, CA
Directions:
3.5 miles south of Piercy on US 101. North of Leggett.
Hours:
Summer 9-6, Winter 9-5. Train summer season. (Call to verify)
Phone:
707-925-6456
Admission:
Gravity House Adults $5, 4-12 $4, Train adults $10, 4-12 $7.50
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

World Famous Tree HouseWorld Famous Tree House, Piercy, CA - < 1 mi.
Chandelier Drive-Thru TreeChandelier Drive-Thru Tree, Leggett, CA - 5 mi.
Famous One Log HouseFamous One Log House, Garberville, CA - 6 mi.
In the region:
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA - 32 mi.

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February 20, 2018

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