- Expedition Seek's Paranormal Pit
- ELLENSBURG - A topographic
map spread on the hood of a car showed where the search party would start.
There is a hole out there, they believe, a hole that not only appears to
be bottomless but has, on at least one occasion, brought an animal back
- The hole, the story goes, exists outside of town on land
once owned by a man who calls himself Mel Waters. For years, he said, it
was used as the neighborhood dump for trash, old appliances, dead cattle.
When the hole never filled up, Waters measured its depth by lowering weighted
fishing line into it. After 80,000 feet, he gave up. Amazed by this odd
place (which dogs and birds avoided), Waters called radio host Art Bell,
whose late-night show on conspiracies and the paranormal attracts a huge
- The hole is now lost. Waters - himself a mystery - said
he sold the property and won't say where it is. Few people know who he
really is. So far, Waters exists only on radio waves, with a story many
think is bunk. But tales of a deep hole in Ellensburg have circulated for
years. Hoax or not, Waters' appearances before Bell's 10 million listeners
have elevated an old local legend into a national paranormal mystery.
- Ever since Waters first called Bell's show in 1997, listeners
have followed the story closely, posting each new clue on their chat page,
melshole.com. They believe the hole is about 10 miles west of town on a
place called Manastash Ridge.
- Before the search party headed out the other day from
its staging area at the Copper Kettle on Eighth Street, member Brian Christ
of Ellensburg, who would wait at the base camp, warned the others they
were in danger.
- "People know you're out here, right?" he asked.
- Christ was clearly nervous. He'd heard what Waters said
happened after he went public - that soldiers in yellow gear cordoned off
his property and threatened to "find" a drug lab on it if he
didn't cooperate. He also knew other details Waters told Bell: how one
neighbor claimed to have thrown a dead dog in the hole, only to see it
later frolicking in the woods; how another saw a black beam emanating from
the hole; how transistor radios brought to the hole play programs from
- Charlette LeFevre, a search coordinator, had another
concern: lining up 30 people for an expedition photo. "On the count
of three," she said, "everybody say 'Mel's Hole.' "
- Search party strikes out
- The quest for Mel's Hole is in its sixth year. A recent
appearance by Waters on Bell's Coast to Coast AM show (heard in Seattle
on KOMO-AM), convinced many it could be found. Bundled up for cold weather
were, among other searchers, a physicist, a father and son from Seattle,
three Los Angeles amateur filmmakers, a family from Enumclaw, members of
a Vancouver, B.C.-based paranormal investigation team and a shaman.
- The group struck out from the Copper Kettle toward Manastash
Ridge, the site Waters had mentioned on the radio. Mel's Hole, they believe,
could be a massive lava tube or what LeFevre calls a Mount Rainier blowhole.
- But Pat Pringle, a geologist with the state Department
of Natural Resources, said the area's landscape, formed more than 12 million
years ago by a volcanic lahar, makes a hole of such depth unlikely. He
admitted that odd things exist in nature, but doubts a hole like Mel's
is possible in the brittle volcanic rock near here. Even if it is, he's
sure the heat of the Earth would snap a fishing line long before it reached
- LeFevre, though, remained convinced that Mel's Hole would
be a great find - and possibly a sign of great danger. "Every geologist
in the world should be here," she said. "They need to pay attention
- The searchers came prepared, carrying maps and metal
detectors. One had a Global Positioning System reader. As they hiked up
the trail, Red Elk, the shaman, assumed the lead. He said he'd seen the
hole in 1961.
- Betsy Wise of California walked with a metal detector
slung on her back. She suffers from migraines and hoped to find an answer
to the headaches out here. Others were drawn by a more spiritual impulse,
viewing the hole as a clue to how the universe is ordered.
- After 10 minutes, the group reached a cattle gate, where
slash piles and clear-cut ridges defined the landscape.
- Red Elk (or Gerald Osborne) wore a pouch around his neck
that contained a half-dollar-sized piece of what looked like squashed pewter.
He said the object, found in the middle of a road, was from a UFO.
- The place to search, he said, was a jumble of tree limbs
and stumps off to the right. "Dig in," he said. "I'm going
to take a break."
- A few people scrambled over to the pile. Others milled
about. They discussed how to measure gases leaking from the Earth through
the hole. They argued over whether a mass spectrometer, a frightfully expensive
machine that measures ions, would help. They lamented not bringing a Geiger
- Sean Kennedy of the Paranormal Amateur Research Association
in Vancouver, B.C., checked the coordinates on his GPS receiver. Inspired
by "Ghostbusters" to plumb the unexplained, he considers searches
like this just another kind of (serious) hobby. "Some people play
golf," he said.
- A searcher tripped over a snow-covered log. "Be
careful of the logs," Kennedy yelled. "We were on a sasquatch
expedition and someone snapped a leg."
- Talk of the town Long before anyone heard of Mel Waters,
people in Ellensburg were talking about a hole so deep it wouldn't fill
- Jay Nickell, 34, who grew up in Ellensburg, remembers
a hole about seven miles from Manastash Ridge where, as a teenager, he
and his buddies rode dirt bikes. On a few occasions, they came across a
hole that sounds like Mel's: too deep to see bottom, and rocks hurled down
it made no sound.
- Among snowmobilers, talk is of a hole up on Manastash
Ridge. Trish Swanson, who works at Central Washington University, recently
drove past a hole that some friends joked was Mel's.
- Rodney, who works at a snowmobile dealership in town
and wouldn't give his last name, said a hole on the ridge - or at least
the story of one - has been common knowledge in town for decades. "Lots
of people talk about it," he said. "Could be something out there
- but I've never seen it."
- Skeptics traipse along Up on the ridge, the search was
bogging down. Red Elk had long since given up, preferring instead to lecture
on a world called Inner Earth beneath the surface. With giant lizards that
make sex slaves of humans, the place sounded a bit like the 1980s mini-series
- Many searchers know each other only through the Mel's
Hole chat page. The expedition offered a chance to meet face to face. With
no sign of the hole or trouble, the search turned into a social occasion.
- Tim Withee of Auburn, the resident skeptic on the expedition,
doubts there is a Mel's Hole. The others, he said, are too quick to accept
Waters' story. "I don't think I'd call this search very scientific,"
he said. "It's like adult cartoons, that's what it is."
- The Davis family, too, wasn't too keen on stories of
giant lizards or black beams. But the Enumclaw residents, here for 17-year-old
Nick's high-school project, agreed a super-deep hole was possible. The
father, Kevin, grew up across the street from a coal mine. As a kid, he'd
tossed rocks into the shaft, often never hearing them hit bottom.
- "But we didn't drop cows or refrigerators,"
- At base camp, Christ had big news. An offshoot of the
party drove farther up the road to see if anything stood out. They stopped
at an old driveway with a chain strung between two sagging posts. The area
- "That's exactly the area where the hole would be,"
Christ explained. It became obvious there would be another search. People
talked excitedly about what would be a truly great discovery.
- Ask a scientist about Mel's Hole and you'll likely be
laughed at. Tell a date you want to traipse around in the snow with a guy
who believes in lizard people and you shouldn't expect a nightcap.
- But the people searching for Mel's Hole don't expect
everyone to believe them. They're used to being called crazy. For Los Angeles
filmmaker Buddy Bolton, at least, what the public thinks is hardly the
- "It's an exploration of faith," he said. "But
there's an essence of reality to it that I think is undeniable.
- "We heard Mel's voice."
- Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company