MOUNT SHASTA, Calif. -- Locals didn't find the ads, posted at the laundromat or running in the SuperSaver, to be strange at all.
A number of people, in fact, reached out to Brian Wallenstein, the "researcher looking to gather stories and information" for a book on Bigfoot and UFO sightings.
A woman named Rudi emailed to report that she'd seen a bright disc hovering above Mount Shasta. She attached a photo from a ski resort snow cam that showed a luminous speck. (Credible, Wallenstein thought.)
A man named Larry recounted his own research - including telepathic communication with "them" - conducted in preparation for the day extraterrestrials would reveal themselves to earthlings. (Too out there, Wallenstein decided.)
People pulled him aside to share anecdotes of mystery lights and star gates, or to whisper the names of neighbors and brothers with tales to tell.
Secondhand accounts flowed in: about the forest ranger who casually spoke of spotting a Bigfoot east of McCloud, and the deer-hunting couple from Weed who came across a bright chrome vessel on a dark mountain road.
"Their stories will die if I don't do this," Wallenstein, a 56-year-old computer technician and self-published children's author, said recently from his home here, a 21/2-acre sanctuary of sorts for the six cats who serve as his muses.
Mount Shasta, a 14,162-foot peak often tinged in pink alpenglow and topped by lens-shaped clouds, long has elicited awe. When John Muir first caught sight of it, "I was fifty miles away, afoot, alone and weary," he wrote in 1874, "yet all of my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since."
A tale written a few years later by a teenager from Yreka, just northwest of the mountain - a story of advanced beings living in a crystal city beneath the mountain - cemented Shasta's otherworldly reputation.
The mountain has been touted as the site of an energy vortex that allows passage into the metaphysical dimension; the birthplace of a spiritual foundation whose adherents believe they can ascend to the eternal realm; and a hot spot for UFOs that hide in the clouds and enter the mountain's core through mystery "portals."
Newer to the repertoire are sightings of Bigfoot (the word serves as both singular and plural, like fish and sheep), believed by some to secret themselves by passing into a fifth dimension.
"Mount Shasta has always had a spiritual drawing, but it's getting more and more popular," saidKaren Anderson, a supervisor in the town's visitors bureau, who estimated that a fourth of the area's tourists come for that reason.
To assist seekers from around the globe, the bureau's website includes a list of energy healers. Shops carry crystals for the "spiritual pilgrim." Drop-in channeling sessions are held each Sunday at a spiritual center. Guides lead soul-cleansing treks up the mountain in all seasons.
Among them is Ashalyn, as she is known. Her Shasta Vortex Tours also offers spiritual journeys into Telos, the sparkling refuge said to lie beneath the mountain, inhabited by lanky beings who fled the sinking continent of Lemuria 12,000 years ago.
Pins on a map in Ashalyn's office mark her customers' home countries: Japan's cluster is the densest, as Mount Fuji is thought to be Shasta's sister sacred mountain. Russia, Latin America andChina show more recent activity.
Although nonbelievers abound here - as Anderson said, "We're a normal town. We have a hospital. We have a grocery store" - a number of them have seen things they can't explain.
In 2008, the Mount Shasta Herald reported that five people claimed to have witnessed a jellyfish-like craft that hovered noiselessly over neighboring McCloud, with what appeared to be a fire raging inside it.
"I really don't believe in flying saucers," lifelong resident Dick Cary told the newspaper, "but I do know that something weird was happening."
With its hot springs and glaciers, the dormant volcano at the southern edge of the Cascade Range has always been sacred to Native Americans, some of whom view it as central to their creation myth.
But it was the Yreka teenager, Frederick Spencer Oliver, who blew the mystical door wide open in the 1880s when he claimed that an ancient native of Lemuria had used him as a "channel" to write a manuscript that described a buried city with walls "polished as by jewelers, though excavated by giants."
Residents who say they speak for the inhabitants of that underground realm have since multiplied.
Oliver "was the earliest channel in this area," said historian William Miesse, who put together a vast bibliography of primary sources on the mountain and its lore for the College of the Siskiyous.
"Now," Miesse said, "you can hardly miss a channel walking down Main Street."
In a 1932 Los Angeles Times Magazine article, Edward Lanser wrote of seeing Mount Shasta "ablaze with a strange reddish-green light" from the window of his Oregon-bound train. "Lemurians," a fellow passenger confided.
Returning to explore the legend further, Lanser was told that tall men from a sunken civilization were known to patronize local stores, buying "enormous quantities of sulfur as well as a great deal of salt."
In a stroke of fortune for the Mount Shasta economy, the items were "always paid for with gold nuggets, and the gold always far exceeds the value of the merchandise."
Lanser's account came as another spiritual movement was building near the mountain: violet-clad followers who believed that loving "Ascended Masters," Jesus among them, could teach humans to raise their vibrational levels and thus pass freely between Earth and the eternal realm. The movement is still prominent in Shasta.
As for UFOs, reported sightings exploded in the 1950s and persist today. Appearances by rank-smelling Bigfoot, also called Yeti, came later. Tales of dwarfs and fairies flavor the mix.
"Lewis Carroll's White Queen, who famously said: 'Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,' would feel right at home here," said Michael Roesch, a retiredCollege of the Siskiyous professor who wrote the Shasta project's folklore segment.
Roesch said the true believers are good neighbors who "recycle and readily give hugs," but he wondered about the consequences of their cosmology: "If you believe wisdom comes from a 35,000-year-old channeled spirit named Ramtha, why would you bother reading the Great Books?"
The upside, spiritual guide Andrew Oser argued in the Mountain Spirit Chronicles - a newspaper that Ashalyn publishes twice yearly - is that "in these times of rapid change, there is a great need for people who can maintain their equanimity in the midst of any earthquakes, nuclear disasters, or bank collapses."
"Just like the mountain," he wrote, "they radiate a calming energy that impacts all those around them."
Wallenstein, a student of Eastern mysticism, left New Jersey as a teen and eventually made his way to the mountain.
His cluttered house - filled with musical instruments and lush plants - lies equidistant from Mount Shasta and the imposing Black Butte. The geometry, he said, gives one of the bedrooms a "hum."
A father of two, Wallenstein owned a car repair shop before turning to computers and children's books.
His latest project, he said, stemmed from experience: In 1987, he saw a family of Yeti emerge from an abandoned cabin on the mountain. He says a reversal of gravity on one grade often pulls his Subaru uphill. As for spacecraft, he's "watched UFOs ... head into the mountain."
After mulling a book on local sightings for two decades, Wallenstein said, he decided to move on it "before more of the original locals pass on."
His goal: to rattle the presumptions of those who resist the unknown.
For help coaxing recalcitrant witnesses to confide in him, Wallenstein has turned to Pamela Padula. He reasoned that someone with her background - years of working in fire lookout stations and a family with law enforcement roots in the region - can help convince old-timers that sharing their sightings won't cause them to be labeled crazy.
As a teen, Padula said, she once saw three small triangular craft hovering noiselessly in formation. Her boyfriend, sister and future in-laws watched with her, she said.
"I do know what I saw," said Padula, 51. "I don't know that it was anything extraterrestrial, but it was definitely unidentifiable to me."
Wallenstein long has been an explorer of the boundary between the real and the metaphorical, with a good dose of grounded humor. "I'm cosmic," he said, "but I eat meat." To him, the search is all about opening up to possibility.
"If you think about it empirically, there's got to be life all over the universe," he said, his voice quickening with an isn't-it-obvious frustration. "Otherwise we wouldn't be here."