“Atlas Obscura” for the Curious Traveler

Dylan Thurus peaks your curiosity,taking you on an adventure of some of the wierdest and most wonderous places in the world. Co-author of the book Atlas Obscura and now an online guide, Atlas Ocsura.com you too can visit these stange and curious places.

he has checked out some of the weirdest strangest most obscure places on earth and that led to his book Atlas obscura explorers guide to the world's hidden wonders which I just looked at on Amazon and I bought because it looks so fascinating you will note that the the photographs in your program many if not all of them are from his collection of Atlas obscurity will see them and they are really spectacular let's meet Dylan therus who's gonna tell us about following your curiosity wherever it may lead you Dylan thank you so much hi everybody it's great to be here thanks for having me it's I want to thank Randy and imagine solutions it's been a long day a lot of you have been here for many hours watching people speak so I'm gonna we're and I'm about to take you on a journey around the world so I'm gonna give a gift to you and a chance to get you ready to take this trip together so if everyone wants to take a moment stand up if you feel
like standing up stretch if you feel like stretching it's gonna be a metaphorical trip but if you want to just give yourself a chance to limber up before we go on our adventures together all right I see a few Liberty will figure it out when we start climbing the mountains okay so I grew up in the Midwest I'm from Minnesota and this meant that yes Minnesota this meant that my family vacations were not trips around the world or going to exotic locations they were endless road trips uh-huh with six hours between stops through Wisconsin and South Dakota and on one of these trips when I was 12 years old we went to a place that I have never forgotten in fact it left an enormous impact on me we went to a place in Wisconsin called the house on the rock has anyone ever heard of the house on the rock if anyone ever been to the house on the rock I see a
couple of hands if you've ever been to the house on the rock you understand this is a very special place so it comes with this kind of mythology and the mythology behind this there was an architect who wanted to work for Frank Lloyd Wright and supposedly he took his designs to Frank Lloyd Wright and showed him and Frank Lloyd Wright told him I wouldn't hire you to build a cheese crate or a chicken coop and sent him packing and this architect Alex Jordan jr. frustrated decided that he didn't care he was gonna build his own what I have come to call a Frank Lloyd wrong thank you I'll be here about this for today uh and so he built this crazy house but what happened next was kind of the most interesting part he started filling it with all of this strange stuff it takes about six hours to go through the house on the rock and inside is the world's largest indoor carousel the world's most diverse set of carousel animals it has a hallway that looks like it goes on for infinity and it has a sculpture of a squid fighting a whale that is the size
of the Statue of Liberty all of these things are in this house and as a twelve-year-old I thought if this is what's in the woods in Wisconsin what else is in the world and that feeling of wanting to discover the the next thing wanting that sense of amazement and Wonder and surprise stayed with me and as I grew up I was a teenager I lived in Minneapolis me as a teenager I definitely thought I looked like the cool punk kid but I for sure looked like the one in the beanie and I was a straightedge or so I didn't drink or do drugs but I still needed to get in trouble and for me that meant urban exploration I fell in love with exploring the nooks and crannies of my city of finding the underpasses and rooftops I could gain access to and it felt like I've been given this key to this magical place I got to see parts of the city that no one else saw I got to go places that were hidden to most
people and this all kind of percolated and ultimately is what came together into atlas obscura so I founded this organization called Alice obscura and we do a few things the one of the central things we do and what we really started as was this collection of the world's hidden wonders so from day one could submit places we wrote up the first few hundred and then said basically what are the most amazing hidden things that you know about because often these places are in someone's backyard and the only way you find out about them is that they say like I grew up right next to that so we created this map of the world's wonders and at its heart atlas is this collection of over 20,000 places seven million people come each month to help plan their travels using Atlas obscura and some of the places that people submitted you know people always ask me
what is an atlas obscura place well okay the Eiffel Tower it's not a good example of an atlas obscura place but the tiny little apartment that's at the top of the Eiffel Tower where Gustav Eiffel would take people like Thomas Edison and they would have tea and look out over the city and laugh maniacally or whatever they did that is an atlas obscura place places like this this is one of raw Paulette's caves these are spread around the southwest of the US and Rob Paulette was an artist who realized in his mid age that his medium of choice was not painting or sculpture but entire caves so he finds these sandstone caves and then over the course of years sculpts them into these incredible unbelievable spaces so raw Paulette's caves are atlas obscura locations this is a place I stumbled upon in person when I was living in Hungary and we took a trip to Florence Italy and we wanted to go to the Uffizi but the line was four hours long so we
went around to the other side of the block and on the other side of the block there's a museum called the history of Science Museum in Florence and there among these incredible armillary spheres and these giant telescopes there was a little glass egg with a strange little human fragment in it this is Galileo's middle finger and this story is long and complex but basically it was it was snapped off of his skeletal corpse about a hundred years after he died by an admirer someone who really wanted to celebrate him and ultimately ended up at this museum which I've now read Galileo Museum and apparently they've also managed to track down another finger and a couple of vertebrae so I figure if you give it enough time they'll just reassemble a whole Galileo at some point so this is an example of an ounce of ski replace uh tashirojima in Japan this is always the one that gets a good reaction when I do school
tours this is an island with thousands of cats and just about a hundred people and there are of course no dogs allowed on cat island so these are all the kinds of places that people submit and our core mission everything we do is about giving people this sense of surprise and wonder about this world that we all share and we do this in a few different ways we sort of expanded beyond just this this database of places so besides all these places we also we wrote a couple of books this is the the aforementioned Atlas obscura as a book and it sort of condenses the best of the best it's really our seven hundred most incredible places around the world I wrote a kids book and I did a kids tour and I have to say once you've spoken in front of 500 seventh graders nothing will ever terrify you again that is the height of terror so that was a good experience and we
also run events experiences all around the world so this is at the Explorers Club in New York where he bought a group of people they slept over they got to handle these artifacts from Arctic and Antarctic expeditions we took people to the top of one Times Square which is actually a totally empty building as Walgreens on the first floor nothing the whole way up because it's just covered in advertisements at the top there's this guy the Wizard of New Year's Eve who runs the ball drop every year so we went up and he dropped the ball for us and we got to touch it and he lit it up and it was really an incredible special special experience and for example we brought a wolf to a bar in Brooklyn this is an ambassador wolf who usually goes around to schools but we thought adults could use the chance to learn more about both habitats and behavior and so we brought this wolf to a local bar and everyone got to meet meet this ambassador wolf so those are some of the things we do and in the last few years we started taking that
even further so we really wanted to put our money where our mouth is and we run trips so this is the first trip really we ever ran back in 2017 and it was a trip to abandon communist monuments in Bulgaria in the winter and we were not sure that there would be an audience for this actually but as it turns out we sold this trip out in a few days and we got to go see these incredible places this is what the interior of that space looks like and so we started running trips all over the world so this is in Death Valley where we do a lot of night photography because it's one of the most incredible dark sky places in the world this is to remain Romania a place called Salina tirta it is a an abandoned salt mine in Transylvania that has been turned into this kind of futuristic landscape we take groups to Mexico to where the monarch butterflies all return to on their migratory path we bring people to Priya pot in Ukraine which is
basically the town that was evacuated abandoned after Chernobyl there's an interesting trip because you think that this would be a terribly depressing place but in fact because it's been left untouched it's basically become this accidental nature preserve so there are all of these animals that have returned after years of not being there foxes wolves that kind of thing and we go to the Amazon where we encourage our travelers to make friends both large and small and then you might be thinking to yourself at this point that these are just trips for crazy young people you would be half right actually we get a huge age range on these trips so you have sometimes twenty five year olds and seventy-five year olds on the same trip and what binds everyone together is this real sense of curiosity and wanting to learn and explore the world together and it's it's a really lovely and wonderful thing to see so over the last since that first trip in 2017 we now are running a
hundred and thirty trips around the world in 2020 we're trying to sort of address some of the problems that come with this we're doing 110 percent carbon offsets we're making sure that 80 percent of money generated stays in the community going to individuals and small businesses and so this has become an enormous part of what we do basically bringing people to these places and using these trips to help help these locations that we care about really thrive and the interesting thing for me is that I've been doing this for 10 years now so this is most of my kind of adult life this is my career and I didn't expect this at the beginning but it's pulled me into this world of travel and understanding the impact of travel on the world and really the power of travel I think people really don't understand or they greatly underestimate the scale of what's happening with tourism and travel in the world so
travel tourism generates 10 percent of world GDP one in every five new jobs is in the travel and tourism sector and it has been growing faster than global GDP for eight years in a row it is reshaping the world in ways that are both good and and sometimes bad so one example that you might see is well this is a beautiful place called trolltunga in Norway and some brave soul has come out here and had a moment of solitude in nature well okay if a few brave souls have done this and in fact if you go to trolltunga what you find is this you find a line of people waiting essentially to have their photo taken in this same spot and this is kind of a silly example but it points to a much larger problem that is really becoming quite urgent around the world so when we think about places like Barcelona or
Dubrovnik Croatia or Venice Italy we have these beautiful romantic ideas in our heads because these are beautiful and romantic places but when you actually go especially if you go during high season what you get is this you get 60,000 visitors in a day to Venice and the entirety event only has 55,000 residents you get things like this in Dubrovnik where you can't walk through this town square in less than an hour it takes an hour to cover about you know forty meters or in Barcelona where the locals people living there have really become very very frustrated 750 cruise ships docked in Barcelona last year and it's not going that well this is it's a worthwhile question so it's over tourism this problem of basically places being loved to death is becoming a larger and larger
issue in the world and the reason behind it is actually quite simple it's you can see it right here in in 1960 25 million people traveled internationally that passed 1 billion in 2013 by 2030 it will surely be passed 2 billion international travelers and that doesn't include domestic travel at all it doesn't include people who are going to places within their own country so that is just an enormous number of people and some of it's happening for great reasons one of the things that you see here is this is basically outbound travelers by country for your Germans were the the greatest travelers of all time but as China's middle class Rises you just see this enormous explosion of travelers working from China and soon in India sort of working its way up that that graph and obviously the impact of this is reshaping kind of travel it's reshaping tourism markets and currently with the
coronavirus it is gonna head having huge impacts on both the Chinese economy but then everyone who depends on Chinese travelers so this is all kind of happening and it's gonna keep growing in this way and we need to address this because over tourism going to venice in july with 55,000 or 60,000 other people it's not a very good experience for the traveler it's not a good experience for the city and it's a real lose-lose situation but the irony from my perspective is that i see this all happens and it's quite loud over tourism is a very visible thing that that damages the world I see this other thing that happens much more quietly so this is Kovacs planetarium in Wisconsin and Frank Kovach was a machinist who built his own working planetarium it is the only construction of its kind in the world he hand-painted 5000 little stars and
glow-in-the-dark paint and you can sit in this hand-built mechanism and it rotates around you unfortunately Frank Kovach couldn't get enough people to come to support this kind of incredible place and so he's had to close it down and go back to work in the machine shop across the country in Wyoming this is the Smith mansion this was the artistic pursuit of this incredible creative genius who actually he died well while building this and his daughter took it over but she hasn't been able to get the tourism dollars that she needs and so now it's been sold to an uncertain fate or this for example this is Margaret's grocery store in Mississippi and Margaret's first husband was killed in a robbery she met Reverend Dennis Reverend Dennis promised that he would build her heaven on earth and he did that he built this beautiful folk art creation out of her grocery store and they lived here and until they both
passed away a few years ago but following that there really hasn't been the structural support to keep this place up and around and it's probably too far gone at this point to save so you have this kind of incredibly frustrating thing on one hand you have over tourism destroying places and on the other hand you have these unbelievable wonders quietly disappearing but I know I have seen the middle path there is a way to thread the needle to redistribute our impact and our resources to help places thrive and so I'm gonna give you a strange example that a well you'll see so this is the clown motel in Tonopah Nevada it's about four hours outside of Las Vegas and for a long time it was just a strange clown themed Motel the last stop before you're truly in the middle of nowhere here's the interior and and it
in fact not only this but it sits directly next to this abandoned miner cemetery which has been there for a hundred years and so not a lot of people were coming here but then in the mid 2000 something kind of amazing happened we found out about this other people started to find out about this and people started to make throw cabbages to the clown making a trip all the way out for hours outside of Las Vegas to come and spend some time at the clown motel and it's a silly example but the reason it matters is twofold one this town is 2,500 people and so the impact of those visitors really matters people get drinks at the local bar they eat at the local restaurant too if a clown themed motel next to an abandoned miner cemetery can become a tourist attraction truly anything can so this has impact in bigger ways - this is a silly example
but I've seen this in much more profound ways this is one of the first entries to Alice obscura these are the living route bridges of Chariton gee they're woven together from the roots of two ficus elastica trees and these are hundreds of years old they get stronger and stronger with each year and they're built this way because it's one of the wettest regions in the world so when it floods the water goes all the way up to that second tier bridge but it doesn't it doesn't hurt the bridges at all they only get stronger they absorb the water and they're there the next year when we found out about these places someone wrote in basically said there is no tourism industry to these and they are disappearing because there was no incentive to really keep them around so people were draining the the trees for their latex and you look like these might not be around in another decade that was about ten years ago and I'm really happy to say today that there is an active eco tourism business around the route bridges they're being taken care of new route bridges are being grown and this is an example of the Chi
of power and good that we can all bring as travelers and tourists another one of my favorite examples and bridges in the world is across across the world in South America and Peru this is a bridge this is a you'll see my little feeties going across here so this is back in 2010 this is a bridge called the Quechua Chaka sometimes known as the last Incan bridge and each year the bridge is cut down and the four villages come together and you they they cut this kind of grass material which they weave together and ultimately make a brand new bridge every year and they've been making this bridge this way since the Incan Empire this is a little functional piece of the Incan Empire and even though it's quite close to Machu Picchu we've got almost no tourism and the towns in this region needed really basic stuff they needed schools they needed accommodations and now because of interest in this they are
starting to be able to build those kinds of things so these are examples of some of the ways that we all as travelers have incredible power in the world but these wonders are not just far-flung one of the things that's central to Alice obscura is this idea that wonders are found close to home so well I've been here in Naples I've only been here a couple of days I've had a chance to sort of go around and see a couple of things this is a very small but quite lovely little wonder right in your backyard the clamp past Park this walkway through the mangroves I thought this is like a small and beautiful thing right here you have places like pine craft Florida which is the go-to destination for Amish and Mennonite vacationers and a really good example of the ways in which travel reframe what you think reframe your assumptions like maybe you didn't think about where the Amish for Mennonites go for their summer or for their winter vacations they come to Florida - why wouldn't they and finally a place that
I've been meaning to go to for years and loved the chance to get and go see was the Cape Romano dome houses and just the whole area of Marco Island and the 10,000 Islands this is just this beautiful little ruin that then opens up into the natural landscape that's there that is the real sort of jewel and I wish I could have spent days just exploring that area so these are some really wonders that are really close to home and I I like to tell this this last story about traveling to South America because I think it really captures something about the world so this is a place called gocta Falls it was in a very remote part of Peru and they didn't have good roads and they didn't have good electricity but what they did have was this enormous waterfall and in fact it wasn't until 2005 when a German hiker happened to be coming through the area that he stopped and he looked at this waterfall and he thought gosh it's a very tall waterfall
I wonder how tall that really is and so he came back the next year and he measured gata Falls which might be the most German thing that anyone has ever done and as it turns out gocta Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world it's certainly in the top ten gets into a little bit of how you get down to it but some people measure this as the third tallest waterfall in the world and when I went there this had already been discovered and and tourists were starting to come and I talked to the people who lived in gocta and I said you guys needed support from the government you wanted tourism dollars and you had this absolute wonder in your backyard why weren't you shouting this to the world and they said yeah you know we we knew it was special but when compared to all the other wonderful things in the world we thought how special could it really be and the truth is we looked at it every day we just kind of stopped noticing it and I think we all live at the base of God - Falls we live
surrounded by these incredible wonders and it is in our power to help support these special places and let them thrive and really all we have to do is open our eyes and see thank you so much for having me all right hello thank you yeah real pleasure