New book snap­shot of won­ders from At­las Ob­scura web­site

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | TRAVEL -

An elf school in Ice­land. A hos­pi­tal for fal­cons in the Mid­dle East. A mu­seum in In­de­pen­dence, Mis­souri, for art­work made from hair.

These are the types of at­trac­tions fea­tured on the At­las Ob­scura web­site, a fan fa­vorite among cu­rios­ity seek­ing trav­el­ers. Now the site is bring­ing its geeky and mag­i­cal world of won­ders to the printed page.

The new At­las Ob­scura book of­fers a sam­pling of 700 of the web­site’s 10,000 cu­ri­ous at­trac­tions, from a pile of rocks in Butte, Mon­tana, that makes bell-tone rings when struck with a ham­mer, to the skulls and body parts on dis­play at M ut­ter Mu­seum.

At­lasOb­ was launched in 2009. To­day it has over 5 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors a month and 12 mil­lion page views, along with over 120,000 reg­is­tered users.

But it’s not the type of travel site that fea­tures in­fin­ity pools, five-star ho­tels and tast­ing menus. In­stead, you’re more likely to find macabre his­toric land­marks, mys­te­ri­ous nat­u­ral won­ders or odd cul­tural phe­nom­ena, like a Swedish univer­sity’s col­lec­tion of plas­ter-cast noses or Las Pozas park in Mex­ico, a sub­trop­i­cal gar­den filled with sur­re­al­ist sculp­tures.

The book, out on Oct 21, is pub­lished by Work­man, the com­pany that pub­lished 1,000 Places to See Be­fore You Die.

Work­man is billing At­las Ob­scura as a “bucket-list guide to over 700 of the most cu­ri­ous, un­usual, off-the­beaten path des­ti­na­tions from around the globe”. Cover blurbs in­clude this from Lena Dun­ham: “At­las Ob­scura may be the only thing that can still in­spire me to leavemy apart­ment.”

Why take At­las Ob­scura out of the vir­tual world and onto the printed page?

“There is noth­ing like a book,” says Dy­lan Thuras, who founded the site with Joshua Foer.

“It’s hard to ex­plain to peo­ple ex­actly what At­las Ob­scura is, sowe­just felt like it would be so nice to dis­till this into a beau­ti­ful, phys­i­cal ob­ject and be able to hand it to some­one.

“Open it to any page and hope­fully it gives peo­ple a sense of joy and won­der. For me, hav­ing worked in the ephemeral medium of the in­ter­net for so long, to hold some­thing in my hand and say this is the re­sult of years of work, it feels sat­is­fy­ing.”

Thuras says the process of win­now­ing the web­site’s 10,000 en­tries down to 700 for the book was painful be­cause so many fa­vorites had to go, but he sees the vol­ume“as a kind of en­try point.

The hope is that some­one un­fa­mil­iar with what we’re do­ing may see the book and sud­denly some­thing clicks, that the world is full of these in­cred­i­ble mag­i­cal places.”

One of Thuras’ fa­vorite en­tries in the book de­scribes a hand­wo­ven bridge that he walked across in Peru.

Every cou­ple of years, vil­lagers have to re-weave the bridge us­ing twine made from grasses.

“It’s this un­bro­ken piece of cul­tural his­tory that you get to walk across, with this rag­ing river below. It’s what you think of when you think of ad­ven­ture.”

The web­site is crowd­sourced and gets many more sub­mis­sions than its ed­i­tors can vet, but Thuras says they rarely get sub­mis­sions that are off-base.

Fans “re­ally seem to un­der­stand what we’re after”, he says, adding that most of their fol­low­ers are what he calls “ad­ven­ture nerds”, se­ri­ous trav­el­ers who “like div­ing into un­usual sub­jects, get­ting out there and ex­plor­ing”.

The com­pany has a staff of 19 and is lo­cated in a former pen­cil fac­tory in the Brook­lyn, New York, neigh­bor­hood of Green­point — once known as a work­ing-class Pol­ish area but lately a trendy mag­net for 20- and 30-some­things.

Rev­enue comes from ads and spon­sored con­tent, but At­las Ob­scura has also started or­ga­niz­ing events and tours, part­ner­ing with tour guides and non­prof­its.

One such event of­fered a night of mu­sic at Green­Wood Ceme­tery, a sprawl­ing 19th-cen­tury his­toric land­mark in Brook­lyn known for its land­scaped grounds and or­nate mon­u­ments.

At­las Ob­scura is also start­ing to of­fer in­ter­na­tional tours, start­ing with sev­eral small group trips to Cuba this fall.

But the itin­er­ar­ies won’t be the usual top 10 hotspots found on every other tour.

“We’re go­ing to Ice­land in the win­ter, tak­ing peo­ple to a plane wreck site on the rocks,” Thuras says.

Open it to any page and hope­fully it gives peo­ple a sense of joy and won­der.”

Dy­lan Thuras, founder of At­lasOb­


A flower sculp­ture in Las Pozas, a lit­tle-known gar­den of sur­real art, where sculp­tures evoke the ru­ins of an­cient Greece but are over­run by ex­otic plants in­Mex­ico’s north­east jun­gle. It is among hun­dreds of cu­ri­ous at­trac­tions fea­tured in­At­las Ob­scura.

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