People tuning in to Art Bell’s late-night AM radio show knew they were in for some kooky stuff. The program regularly featured talk of paranormal happenings and conspiracy theories, which most listeners knew to be just entertaining stories. But one story, in particular, became more than late-night entertainment. It evolved into a mystery that, to this day, still captures the interest of many Washington state residents.
On February 21, 1997, a man who identified himself as Mel Waters called in to Art Bell’s nationally syndicated show, ‘Coast to Coast.’ He told Bell the story of a rural property he once owned in central Washington, just nine miles southwest of a town called Ellensburg. According to Waters, there was something truly unique about this patch of land.
Waters told Bell there was a large hole on his property that went 80,000 feet deep into the earth. He said he’d used several spools of 5,000-ft-long fishing wire to measure it. To date, the deepest known hole is one dug by the Russians in 1989 that went down 40,230 feet — half of what Waters claimed his hole was. But, according to him, this wasn’t the only thing that made it special.
Waters said all his neighbors knew about the hole and even used it as a garbage disposal. One resident told him that his dog came out of the hole after he had been missing for years. Waters also heard rumors that, sometimes, a black beam would shoot out of the hole and into the sky. It was clear that there was something supernatural about the hole.
When he called in to Bell’s show, Waters no longer owned that property. He said the United States government forced him to lease the land to them, claiming it had been the site of a downed aircraft. His call to the radio show sparked the interest of residents all over Kittitas Valley, where Ellensburg is located. Local reporters and others tried to find proof of Waters’ claims — but it wouldn’t be easy.
There were no records that a man named Mel Waters had lived in the area, nor any of the other identifying details he had given Bell. But the story had taken on a life of its own, and many people in Washington took it upon themselves to find the hole or proof of it. In 2012, Seattle’s KOMO TV station found one other person who claimed to have knowledge of its existence.
KOMO TV interviewed Red Elk, a Native American shaman who said he’s known about the hole since 1961 when his father showed it to him. Surprisingly enough, his theories of the pit are even stranger than Waters’. “There are people down there,” he said. “Alien people to us that were here even before man… the planet they come from is a desert planet, so they live underground.” But he didn’t know the hole’s exact location.
Red Elk’s interview further fueled the flames of interest about what had become known as “Mel’s Hole.” People created websites, message boards, and YouTube channels dedicated to the subject. Then, one YouTuber found satellite imagery of the area where the hole was thought to be. But, instead of geological features, the image showed two white squares. For many, this served as evidence of a government cover-up.
“It has something to do with extra-terrestrials. UFO crafts,” says Dan Turner, an Ellensburg resident and supernatural enthusiast. Theories of government involvement are not completely unfounded, as there is an army base in nearby Yakima. But the most compelling evidence of the hole’s existence was found by three film students in 2017.
Evan Catlin, Cory Henderson, and Tyler Templeton found the coordinates of the hole’s alleged location and went out to investigate. Though it was on private property, they walked across until they found a big hole surrounded by a barb-wire fence. They could not see the bottom and heard no sound when they threw in rocks to gauge its depth. Not satisfied, they came back days later with the ultimate evidence-gathering device: a camera.
Using two lines of rope, the students lowered a GoPro camera into the depths of the hole, hoping to get to the bottom. But before they could achieve this, they were discovered by a neighbor who threatened to call the sheriff on them. Though they were forced to leave, they had recorded enough footage to show this hole existed and was indeed quite deep. Was the mystery of Mel’s Hole finally solved?
Jack Powell is a geologist with the Department of Natural Resources. He remembers listening to Art Bell’s radio show in 1997 when Waters was first on. “It got my interest in a funny kind of way,” he says. He has been exploring the geology of Washington for 30 years, so he would certainly know about any big hole in the ground. And, in fact, one did come to mind.
Powell grew up in Kittitas Valley and remembers an old gold mining shaft in a field where he played as a kid. But this field is northwest of Ellensburg, whereas Mel’s Hole is said to be southwest of the town. Dismissing Waters’ story as fictional, he forgot about it — until 2001, when a group of paranormal enthusiasts contacted him.
The group, known as the Seattle Paranormal Society, wanted to know about the area’s geology as part of their search for Mel’s Hole. Powell agreed to meet with them and gave them a lecture on the local geology. Then he took them to the mine shaft, telling them it was likely Waters took it as inspiration when coming up with his pit story. But the group wasn’t buying it.
“They wouldn’t let go of the possibility of Mel’s Hole,” remembers Powell. But such a hole as Waters described is geologically impossible. According to Powell, a hole 80,000-ft deep would collapse into itself under the heat and pressure from the surrounding layers of rock. Even when presented with this evidence, why does the story of Mel’s Hole persist?
Mark Auslander, director of the Museum of Culture and Anthropology, believes stories like Mel’s Hole are fodder for people who are looking for wonder in the world. “In a metaphorical sense,” he said, “we’re not just looking for a landscape feature, but we’re looking for some mystery in the world.” Even Powell believes the legend will never die. “It looks like it’s indelible now; you can’t disprove a negative. It’s probably with us forever.”