Sunset just south of Taos, New Mexico. | Robby Batte/Shutterstock
Sunset just south of Taos, New Mexico. | Robby Batte/Shutterstock

Investigating the Mystery of the Taos Hum

Is the universe is trying to tell us something or is the eerie noise all in our heads?

A low purr was barely perceptible on the grounds of the Millicent Rogers Museum, set on sprawling, shrubby land a few miles from downtown Taos, New Mexico. It’s not too far from the ancient adobe dwelling of the Taos Pueblo as well as the Earthship Biotecture, an architectural compound where iconoclasts built a settlement of otherworldly sustainable homes—disparate populations who have all answered the call of Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

At my feet is prickly and pungent sagebrush, and in the air is a ubiquitous sound. I’m excited. This must be the infamous Taos Hum, I think.

It could be a wishful thought—I very overtly wanted to experience something mystical and unknown in this desert locale where so many are spiritually drawn. So much so that I’d asked around about where you could best experience the drone of the hum, the low buzz ranging from 30 to 80 Hz that had been reportedly heard by a small percentage of Taos residents dating back to at least the 1990s. And many cited this museum as a good place to start. Rogers, a granddaughter of one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company and a collector of Southwestern and Native arts, came to Taos in 1947 to heal after her heart was broken by Clark Gable. Her eponymous museum, founded by her son to showcase his late mother’s singular collection, was constructed on a vast property far outside the city—an aspect that seemed key to hearing the phenomena in action.

The Taos Pueblo | Angel McNall Photography/Shutterstock

According to self-reported testimony, 2% of the area’s population is able to hear the Taos Hum, and it happens in stillness, mostly when there’s no other sounds around. To me, it sounded like a version of Tibetan throat singing, a low rumble permeating the atmosphere. Others have said it resembles a cicada-like hiss, a jet stream, a swarm of bees, the throbbing hum of a truck, or, less creatively, E-flat. A resident quoted in a 2021 article by the Taos News was a touch more poetic, proclaiming it “the frequency of love—it's just there—like gravity.”

And yet, it’s also divisive. Some say those that hear the hum are meant to be driven out of town because of it. Others say it’s meditative, like a gift that pulls you in. It’s not known if Rogers heard the hum, but it could have been a part of the area’s original appeal. In a letter to her son, she wrote, "Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the earth, so that I felt the sun on my surface and the rain. I felt the stars and the growth of the Moon; under me, rivers ran..."

If Sedona has its vortexes, the hum just might be Taos’s signature mystery. But regardless of its true meaning, when it was first widely heard back in 1993, residents were not amused. And they quickly demanded an explanation.

The ski slopes of Taos are a big draw. | Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

Hum: 1, Taos: 0

Taos, New Mexico is probably best known for its small but mighty ski resort, flock of celebrity vacationers, and the aforementioned Taos Pueblo, home to the ancient Pueblo people for an estimated 1,000 years. A stay in Taos lends itself easily to paying homage to the earth in a quiet yet exhilarating setting. That is, until something disrupts your ethereal fantasy—something, perhaps, like the Taos Hum.

In March 1992, a local woman named Catanya Salzman had reached her limit. In a letter to the Taos News published on March 19, she described a deafening din that interrupted her sleep, and consequently, her life. It was the opposite of what she and her psychologist husband Robert expected when they settled in Taos, attracted primarily by the mountain solitude. As it turned out, Salzman wasn’t the only one disturbed by the unrelenting noise. Her letter struck a chord with readers and prompted an avalanche of responses.

The paper learned that Taos residents had been hearing the hum for about a year but were reluctant to come forward until Salzman went public with her complaint. Subsequently, so many locals backed Salzman’s claims that New Mexico Representative Bill Richardson had no choice but to investigate. His staff put together a team of scientists from the Air Force’s Phillips Laboratory, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories as well as the University of New Mexico, and tasked them to monitor the sound’s acoustic, seismic, and electromagnetic energy. The result? Absolutely nothing.

They did, however, use some very sophisticated geophones to measure vibrations in the earth and picked up… the sounds of a gopher tunneling through the dirt. In the end, the study concluded with the words, “We are left with a mystery.”

As for Robert and Catanya Salzman, they packed up and left their idyllic, custom-built mountainside retreat, bidding farewell to Taos for good. Some say the couple moved to Mexico. But the hum remained.

Bristol, UK was once plagued by the hum. | Sion Hannuna/Shutterstock

A worldwide affair

Thanks to that government-led investigation, the Taos Hum suddenly entered the national stage, capturing the imagination of the masses as it was the first time such an aural phenomenon was so widely reported in the US. As more affected residents came out of the woodwork to validate its existence, it took on a life of its own, cementing the bond between the New Mexican tourist destination and its omnipresent din.

However, America soon learned that the people of Taos were not alone in their struggle to identify such a persistent and puzzling cacophony. In the 1970s, a similar hum in the British city of Bristol kept people awake at night, so much so that they also complained to their local council. The strange disturbance began appearing in the pages of The Sunday Mirror in 1977, and much like what happened in Taos, readers around the UK subsequently inundated the newspaper with reports detailing their own encounters with the sound.

Constructing sustainable housing at the Earthship compound in Taos. | M.M.PHOTO/Shutterstock

In the decades that followed, the sound appeared to spread. Apparently, the coastal town of Largs, Scotland had been hearing it since the 1980s, while reports of a similar din surfaced in Whitehill, Scotland in 2001. People living in both Leeds and Manchester have recalled hearing sounds throughout the years, and it's been ringing in the ears of the residents of Hythe, Hampshire 2013 (one bizarre explanation there speculated that it was the mating call of fish). Dubbed the Bristol Hum, it eventually disappeared, but not before skeptics waxed poetic on the inevitable UFO or secret military operation theories.

Evidence of audible hums have since come in from around the world, from Australia to Canada to Germany to New Zealand to, recently, St. Louis, Missouri. Most notably in the US, a noise in Kokomo, Indiana was said to be causing residents headaches, diarrhea, and nosebleeds (!). Thankfully, that one was eventually attributed to high-powered air compressors at a nearby DaimlerChrysler plant, and easily dealt with.

There’s even a crowd-sourced Worldwide Hum project, where people across the globe sign on to add data whenever and wherever they hear the noise. “Most people find this website because they’re disturbed by an unusual, unidentified, low-frequency sound that scientists now call the Worldwide Hum,” reads the page. The project’s map is littered with data points, primarily clustered in North America and Europe. One peculiar thing the website note is that people who can audibly detect the hum, called “hearers,” hear it wherever they go. Once a hearer, always a hearer.

A courtyard in the Millicent Rogers Museum. | Courtesy of Millicent Rogers Museum

Still a mystery... but maybe not for long

So what’s behind the hum? Is it a mass delusion? Does everybody just… have tinnitus? (because if so, I need to make an appointment with an ENT ASAP). And while we’re at it, why are some hearers physically repelled by the hum while some folks barely mind it at all?

What we do know: Tests have excluded cell phone transmissions. (For one, they didn’t exist in Bristol in the 1970s.) It also doesn’t seem to exist as an external acoustic sound, as the majority of humans have never claimed to hear it. In some larger cities, experts theorize that it might just be the din of traffic, but in the remote location of Taos, that’s simply not a possibility. One guy thinks it’s pipes. Others have proposed wind farms, low-frequency submarines, government mind control, and yeah, those fornicating fish over in Hampshire.

In 2016, a group of French scientists thought they solved the case, attributing the noise to microseismic waves putting pressure on the seabed and causing a droning effect that’s able to reach the earth’s surface. “We have made a big step in explaining this mysterious signal and where it is coming from and what is the mechanism,” said Fabrice Ardhuin of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of the study, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Not covered in the explanation was the sound’s constant shifting of location as well as its tendency to show up and leave an area at random.

And just this week, scientists have revealed evidence of a widespread universal thrumming, an astral phenomenon they believe is caused by black holes echoing as they merge. Could this be the reason for the Taos Hum? One can only wonder.

Today, a popular hot sauce serves as the loudest reminder of the Taos Hum’s aural reign. According to my highly unscientific poll consisting of asking every Taos resident I met, the sound’s disruption to life these days is minimal. A few, however, perhaps even petulantly, refused to acknowledge that a hum even exists—one such naysayer sat behind the desk at the Millicent Rogers Museum itself. When asked if he’d ever heard the sound, he swiftly shut me down with, “That’s just a popular myth.” Try telling that to Catanya and Robert Salzman.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She forgot to try the hot sauce.