Obscura Day 2012: A Day of Local Exploration

Obscura Day, 2012: A day of local exploration and a celebration of wonder and curiosity. From nighttime tours through Alcatraz to rooftop camping in Brooklyn, this year’s day of exploration will trigger a movement of unique discoveries throughout the world. Rather than travel abroad in search of adventure, Obscura Day advocates finding the wonders in your own hometown.

“It’s about connecting our communities with each other and bringing these places to life,” said Seth Teicher, Vice President of Atlas Obscura‘s Strategic Partnerships and New Media. “It’s about escaping the web and uncovering the world yourself and discovering that there’s wonder in abundance and intrigue all around us.”

At a time when 78 percent of Americans are connected to the Internet and 50 percent of the country is on Facebook, it sometimes takes more motivation to get a group together to explore. People book plane tickets to foreign countries, often leaving their own cities unexplored.

But between 3,000 and 5,000 people are expected to leave their homes in search of a local adventure on this year’s Obscura Day.

Atlas Obscura was formed with a similar mission to National Geographic, said senior editor Annetta Black.

“It’s in the same spirit that National Geographic was formed in the 1880s – this idea that the world is absolutely amazing, and if you spend your time looking for and cultivating those amazing stories, it cultivates a sense of wonder that permeates your life,” she said. Most rewarding to her is witnessing people’s new-found love for places they once took for granted in their hometowns.

“We really do overlook all these amazing places near us. We reserve or excitement for traveling to faraway places, and it’s ridiculous because there’s amazing places next door,” she said.

More than 100 events have been organized throughout the world for this year’s Obscura Day, and here’s just a few:

Particle Accelerator Tour — Athens, Ohio

The Edwards Accelerator Library is home to the largest and highest energy accelerator in Ohio. A free tour of the lab will teach visitors about neutrons (which can be used to detect explosives) and explore the 4.5 million volt tandem accelerator.

“People love particle accelerators,” said Teicher. “There’s something about smashing atoms together at the speed of light that really gets people off.”

Off Limits and After Dark at Alcatraz – San Francisco, California

A three-hour walking tour through this former prison – which no one had ever escaped from – includes visits to off-limit areas. The longest tunnel on the island, as well as guards’ apartments, the firehouse, and a Civil-War age fortness known as “the dungeon” are just some of the places that Obscura Day visitors will be taken to.

“People love exploring abandoned asylums and museums and that sort of thing,” Teicher said. This abandoned prison ranks as one of the more popular Obscura Day attractions.

Bivouac New York Rooftop Camping – Brooklyn, New York

For the more adventurous explorers, camping on one of Brooklyn’s rooftops — with the lit up Manhattan skyline in the background — is sure to be a memorable night. Spend an evening “roughing it” with other New Yorkers, discussing alternative living spaces and pioneering skills.

The rooftop will be equipped with tents and a library, and provides the opportunity to spend a night meeting other local adventurers.

Street Art and Graffiti – Berlin, Germany

Ever felt the urge to see a graffiti artist in action (or learn to become one)? Berlin, the city of urban art, is hosting a walking tour and workshop to demonstrate the techniques behind the art that famously left its mark on the Berlin Wall. After a walking tour to see the works of more than 50 street artists, tour-goers will be given the chance to do their own form of (legal!) spray-painting.

Although tickets may be sold out and Obscura Day events don’t take place in every city, Teicher hopes everyone will go out and do their own local exploring. Got cool pictures? Atlas Obscura hopes to see them on Twitter.

Go rooftop camping in Brooklyn, NY during this year's Obscura Day. Photo courtesty of Atlas Obscura.
Learn the secrets of Berlin's graffiti artists during a street art workshop. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Nicole Glass is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist and a contributing writer at National Geographic News Watch. She also writes for USA TODAY, The Huffington Post, Russia Today (RT TV) and Demand Media. Previously, she was Assistant Editor and later Weekend Editor of FrumForum.com, David Frum's political news outlet (now a part of The Daily Beast). She grew up abroad, has moved more than 15 times and has visited more than 40 countries. Visit her website, www.nicoleglass.com to see her published works and follow her on Twitter @NicoleSGlass.