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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapter 3 - Ghost at Donner Pass

Dad is reading the newspaper at the kitchen table when he bursts out, “Hey a ghost was seen at Donner Pass.”

Confused I ask, “What and where is Donner Pass?”

Dad looks over at me, “Donner Pass is in the mountains about three hours south of here and the Donner Party disaster was a historic wagon train headed west that got caught in a blizzard and most of the pioneers died.

Dad reads me the article. “Mrs. Eleanor Waldo of Phantom Hill, Texas told her story. She said she and her husband were stopped at the overlook rest area, sitting at a picnic table when she saw it.

It was a ghost all right. It looked like a thick cloud of smoke with a head. But it was a woman with a stone face and a broad smile. She hovered right in front of me, staring at me.

The ghost asked me, “Would you like to come to dinner?”

I followed it up the mountain as it kept saying, “Come with me, I would love to have you for dinner.”

Interrupting Mrs. Waldo I asked, “Wait a minute, the ghost said I would love to have you for dinner?”

Mrs. Waldo looked surprised at the way I phrased my question as she replied, “Oh you don’t think she meant I am the dinner do you? Oh my, maybe she did.”

Mrs. Waldo squealed, and continued with her story, “I followed it up the mountain and when we started down the other side, I saw an old rusted out car with a skeleton sitting at the steering wheel, driving.

As I got closer and closer to the car, a great gust of wind blew right through me and kicked up so much sand, I had to close my eyes. When I opened my eyes I gasped, the skeleton was gone.”

She said she heard her husband calling her to come back. When he caught up to her she told him about the ghost.

He exclaimed with frustration in his voice, “That’s nonsense, its ten o’clock at night and one hundred and nine degrees Elle, It’s the heat. You didn’t see anything."

She told her husband to hush up, then sat in the old nineteen thirty-five Buick for a while. It’s a nineteen thirty-five Buick. My family had one of these when I was a child.”

Mrs. Waldo continued her story saying, “I checked out every nook and cranny of that car. My husband and I checked the car from its headlights to the taillights. Under one of the seats we found an old empty bottle of whiskey.”

She said that she was feeling around under the dashboard and found that hidden compartment she and her sister had stored stuff in when they were kids. In the compartment were chips, poker chips, lots of poker chips.

Her husband counted them up. There was twenty thousand dollars.

“Twenty thousand dollars!” He said again and again.

Mrs. Waldo cried out, “Can you believe it?”

The newspaper reporter asked the casino manager how much the twenty thousand dollars in poker chips are worth?

The Casino spokesperson said, “The chips are worth twenty thousand dollars at our casino.”

Dad puts down the paper saying, “Mrs. Waldo was lucky her husband followed her over that mountain and caught up to her. I don’t think it was a good ghost that appeared in front of her and wanted to take her to dinner. It could have been an evil ghost from the Donner Party. I’m sure Mrs. Waldo saw something, she could never have made that story up.”

Spirits use ghosts to trick humans and take possession of their body and soul. After the body dies the spirit lives in the wind, or earth and seeks the body of a human. That’s when it posses the body, returning from that supernatural world to the natural world.

I have read about people who imagine seeing ghosts. In fact they saw moonlight reflecting off a rock or a broken piece of glass. What they saw may have looked like a ghost to some people.

People high on drugs or alcohol have vivid imaginations when it comes to seeing ghosts. There are always stories in the newspapers about people seeing ghosts in the desert or mountains. They see a shadow and think it’s a ghost. Their imagination causes them to see things that are not there. They make mistakes, people always do.

Smiling I give Dad a hug, “Dad can we go to Donner Pass and find that ghost. We have to go right away while the trail is still fresh.”

Dad seems distracted as he replies, “Oh, Yeah that sounds good, I’ve been working with a brand new thermal scanner for the hurricane search planes. It’s going to be installed in all of them if we can only get it to work right. It’ll read the temperature inside the storm within a hundredth of a degree. I’ll bring it home on Friday, we can use it for the weekend, but I have to return it by Monday morning.”

Dad always tells the boss the truth, he tells him, “I’m bringing this equipment home to run some tests.” But he doesn’t tell him what tests we are running and he especially won’t tell him we use it to hunt ghosts.

Later at dinner we plan our up coming trip for this weekend. I’m so excited, this is going to be so cool.

Oh no, I just realized we’re gonna be in the van together for three hours.

Dad tells Jackie and me, “Okay this is the plan, we’ll camp out Saturday night at the Donner Memorial State Park. Before sunset we set up the equipment where Mrs. Waldo’s saw the stone-faced lady. I think that is the most likely place to catch that ghost. That is also where the Donner Party was trapped in the winter of eighteen forty six.”

“Okay Dad, Jackie and I will pack our stuff, you make a list of everything we need and we can check it before we leave,” I add.

When we go on a hunt we bring all kinds of equipment. Not all of it is ours. Some of it comes from Dad’s work.

An absolute must is the electromagnetic field meter and the infrared thermometer, which detects infrared energy and converts it to a temperature reading. Two more devices measure the electricity in the air, the electrostatic field meter and the air ion counter. We also have a radio frequency (RF) field strength meter that detects electrical fields like FM radio and microwave transmissions from .5 MHz to 3 GHz, and expresses the strength as power density (.001 to 2000 microwatts/cm2). It measures the electricity given off by stuff like transformers, computer screens, telephones, and electric motors. For extra safety we bring a Geiger counter or radiation monitor that detects dangerous alpha, beta, and gamma rays.

I ask Jackie, “Did you pack the motion detectors? We need them for the cameras we will set up on the trail. If anything moves in front of one of them, the camera will turn-on and we will catch that phantom.”

My new digital video camera has audio capability, which allows me to record every sound. The recordings are important because we can capture electronic voice phenomena (EVP’S), or footsteps, knocks, and banging during the event.”

Temperature changes like uncommon cold or hot spots can be detected with our infrared thermal camera and the infrared thermometer. Both of them will detect variations in temperature signaling the presence of a spirit.

Difficult to document events like telepathic communications, odors, and scents like sulfur, ammonia, perfume, and flowers are written down in my notepad. I take a writing pad with me on every investigation.

If I’m checking out a house haunting and someone is still living there or a past resident is near-by? I like to interview them to find out if they’re having nightmares, apparitions, seeing moving objects, or even just having simple electrical problems. All the notes from my interviews have to be written down in the notepad.

“Jackie, You packed the anemometer? That’s the weathervane looking thingy with the four cups. It spins and records wind speed.”

“I’ll get the spectrometer which analysis light intensity and somehow figures out what an object is.”

This weekend we are bringing the cameras, motion detectors, EMF meters, digital thermometer, night vision goggles, light meter, anemometer, radio frequency field strength meter, and a spectrometer.

Of course we always have flashlights, cell phones, a laptop to view the video we take, and our camping stuff. We try to bring all our equipment, but it doesn’t all fit in our backpacks. It makes no sense taking more then we can carry.

Hunting the Donner Party ghost is going to be scary for two reasons. First, this ghost is active. It’s trying to lure someone for some reason. Mrs. Waldo almost fell into its spell. Who knows what would have happen to her if she had followed it to “dinner?” Second, some on those people in the Donner Party died horrible, agonizing deaths. I think this ghost is still in pain and is dangerous.

I learned about the Donner Party in school. They were settlers headed to California in a wagon train in eighteen forty-six. There were about ninety people of all ages. Winter came early and heavy snow trapped them in the mountains. Not all of them lived through it.

The wagon train didn’t have enough food and blankets, and many of the settlers died of hunger, exposure, and frostbite. Those few settlers that did live told stories of terrible hardship, and horrible acts. They did things that people are not supposed to do.

I’m pretty sure this ghost we are going to hunt is not resting in peace, if you know what I mean.


Finally it’s Saturday morning. We are packed and ready to go. A three-hour ride will give me plenty of time to do my homework. I have to finish writing a book report about ghost hunting. I’ll do my math and chemistry after that.

Let’s see I have Neewa’s bowls and a chain to keep her tied up. I’m sure Neewa will love hiking the trails, camping, and ghost hunting. She loves to play with me-- this trip will be fun for her too. I feel so much better, just having her around.

As I carry the last of our gear out to the van Dad announces, “Okay we’re ready to go, all aboard. Jackie you sit in front, Neewa and Christina in the back.”

“No Dad, I’m sitting in the front I called it. Jackie, you get the front seat on the way home.”

Jackie scoffs, “You always say you called it, but I never hear you. That’s okay, I get to sit next to Neewa, ha.”

We all get in the van and drive off to Donner Pass on our ghost hunting adventure. Driving on the interstate is fun because the speed limit is eighty miles an hour. This is so cool. We will be driving over mountains, through deserts, and valleys. Small towns about the size of swimming pools dot the highway.

When we get to the Sierra Mountains it’s going to be just like back east, all green with lush meadows and streams. Nothing like this boring desert where everything is flat and faded beige with nothing but sand, sagebrush, and empty wasteland.

Driving along the highway, I get to see a lot of places I want to visit. There are huge cattle ranches, and casinos near every gas station rest stop. Located about half way there is a gold mine where you can take trips into the mine and see just how it was a hundred years ago. And near that is the military base where they supposedly keep the bodies of the aliens that have crash-landed on Earth.

After driving for hours and sleeping most of the trip, I realized we have traveled almost two hundred miles through the desert. Ahead in the distance, I see the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Peaks the size of Mt. Everest jutting into the blue sky. Donner Pass is right under one of those peaks.

As we near our destination I see small meadows hidden here and there, fluorescing green, blue, and yellow. Then amazingly we pass this huge marsh that goes on and on forever to a distant mountain. The whole swamp is blooming purple at this moment. Deep lavender flowers on pale green stems blanket the landscape. Endless color as far as the eye can see. Miles and miles awash with heavenly violet flowers so thick they look like a carpet extending into forever.

We’ve left the desert and start our way up the lush mountainside entering a steep gorge on the two-lane road. The route leading up to Donner Pass goes through a gorge so narrow the road has no shoulders. It switches back and forth, meandering up, rising steadily, an endless path disappearing before us into the forest.

Back on the desert the colors are so dull, with beige sand and brown dirt all muddled together with an occasional clump of pale olive sagebrush. Except for a rare grove of green scrub pine, there isn’t any color to see all year round. We have to travel twenty-five miles to a nearby canyon to get away from our drab surroundings.

Only after it rains does the desert come alive with budding flowers, grasses, and the wonderful desert smells of wet sage and sand. Too bad it only rains a few times a year.

Dad points out the window, “That road is a runaway truck escape ramp for heavy eighteen-wheelers that can’t stop. Sometimes they lose their brakes coming down the mountain and they have to take that fork or they will crash.”

Shooting off of this road and going in the opposite direction is a mile long ramp carved into a rocky ledge. It starts upward slowly and then the grade rapidly rises above the trees until it ends abruptly at a pile of sand and a railroad tie barrier.

“That ramp saved a lot of lives,” Dad adds.

“What do they need that for?” Jackie asks.

I add, “Jackie, if a truck is coming down the mountain and loses its brakes, it can turn onto that ramp which is so steep it slows the truck down, even if it has no brakes.”

“Yeah, so what does he do when he starts to roll backwards toward the road?” Jackie counters.

“Yeah that would be a big problem, hopefully he slows down enough that he is able to stop his rig somewhere on that ramp,” Dad chimes in.

“Yeah hopefully,” I comment.

Red cedar and white pine trees reach up into the blue sky. I can see the sap leaching through the bark, reflecting the sunlight. Little bubbles of the stuff drip down the tree creating a stream of juice that eventually forms a droplet. The dribble grows until it is a blob, and the blob to a glop of sap, so over sized it drops to the ground. Plunk.

The steamy air carries the fragrance of pine to my senses. The little needles float down to the ground in the wind. Layer after layer fall, creating a soft bed of yellow and rust.

The forest begins to thin out, only small clusters of trees dot rocky terrain as the timber line, above which little grows, comes into view. A huge peak with a waterfall pouring over its rock face is revealed as we climb to still higher elevations.

Nearing the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we are about to enter Donner Memorial State Park. At the entrance stands a statue in memory of the settlers who lost their lives on that fateful wagon train trip west to the promise land.

Dad pulls over near a sign on the side of the road that reads Elevation 10,000 Ft. We get out to stretch and have a look around. Neewa runs into the woods for a quick sniffing adventure.

It’s ninety degrees, unusually hot for this late in the afternoon. There is little breeze to cool us down and an unusual amount of humidity in the air.

My face is flush and red from the heat. I always turn red when I’m out in high temperatures for a while, especially when I play tennis. It takes a lot of time for the redness in my face to go away.

Dad gets all paranoid, “Tina your face is red, do you have a fever?” he touches my cheek.

“Dad stop it,” I tell him, “I’m fine.”

I look up at fifteen-foot of statue depicting three pioneers: a man, a woman, and a child. The embossed bronze plaque on the monument reads, The Donner Party Memorial.

I wonder if the ghost that Mrs. Waldo saw is the woman in the bronze sculpture? Tonight we will be looking for that one.

It’s peaceful around the monument. Whispering breezes curve around the contours of the statue as a trickling stream in the background is feed by the snowcaps still remaining on the highest peaks. I hear a woodpecker tunneling in the hollow tree, gathering bugs.

After exploring around the monument, we drive to the camping area. The Donner State Park campground is about a half-mile in the opposite direction from Donner Pass--where we are setting up our equipment to catch that rogue spirit. Before entering we pull up to the large wooden welcome sign at the entrance for a paper copy of the layout with all the rules, regulations, and warnings to campers on the back. The picture depicts a circular dirt road with forty campsites. In the middle of all the numbered areas is the common bathhouse with showers.

Picking a campsite is no easy matter. There is a lot to be considered. After parking in one of the driveways, we walk around the circle assessing the pros and cons of the various available camping locations. About three or four of them are taken and have tents. There’s not that many people up here for some reason.

Each site has a driveway that leads to a small flat picnic area with a table, barbeque, tent platform, and a sunken campfire surrounded by rocks.

Jackie, Neewa, and I pick out the site with a view of a small meadow and the most shade trees. Dad begins unpacking and setting up the tents, while Jackie and I unload our stuff.

It’s still light out, time to go exploring for the best location to set our trap to catch that phantom.

Next to our picnic table is a sign with the word warning in big letters across the top. Below that is a picture and description of the many possible visitors that might be lurking around the park during the night. I’m least concerned about bears because Neewa will bark at them and keep them away. Besides we’ll put our food in the metal bear-resistant food locker provided at the campsite. But the scorpions--they give me the creeps. Good thing our tents zip up tight. Funny thing though, the sign doesn’t say anything about ghosts.

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