Like many of the world's most unreal-yet-affordable places to stay, Mountain Light has a hippie spiritual vibe that’s ultimately pretty dang endearing. When you reserve a shelter online, they don’t ask for a credit card number. When you arrive, you get a warm welcome and a tour of the property -- no ID check, no deposit. “I really want people to walk through the gates and feel a shift in energy,” the owner, Michael Lightweaver, tells me. “We try to model a gentle and generous way of being.” Before you leave, you simply leave your gift (cash or check) inside an envelope under the gnome on the front table.
Yes, gnome. Quite a few of ‘em are scattered about the premises.
Even if you aren’t looking to monkishly surrender your phone, sanctuaries can offer a respite from “the real world.” The thing is: Lightweaver believes that Mountain Light hosts interdimensional beings. He tells me that visitors discover colorful balls of light that appear in the pictures they take here, whether on film or digital. He calls these “orbs,” intelligent beings that are invisible to the naked eye. Apparently guests have seen also spotted UFOs and fairies.
This certainly raised my eyebrow. I’m more skilled at skepticism than camping, and here I was about to hang out in a secluded forest with no locks on my non-existent door, amid a bunch of orbs, or at least people who believe in them.
But those misgivings vanished when I met Lightweaver. He’s nice. Really nice. So nice that my earlier concerns made me feel like a jerk. He has a master’s degree in behavioral science and began his career in Nashville as a hypnotherapist. But the North Carolina mountains called him, and he bought and renovated a dilapidated home in 1995. When friends started coming for extended stays, he added more and more shelters, until it officially became Mountain Light Sanctuary in 2000.
He doesn’t care whether guests believe in interdimensional beings. While he exudes a genuine enthusiasm for it, he’s not concerned with convincing others. “Peaceful and inclusive is all that we ask [of guests],” he says. Over breakfast one morning, discussion between staff turns to whether anyone saw anything special the previous night; alas, no one spotted orbs. I asked Lightweaver why some people can see interdimensional beings while others can’t. “Some people can play piano, some can’t,” he replies. “Different talents.”