Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flagstaff and Adventures In Parallax

This morning we left Sedona and drove north to Flagstaff. I had been complaining of the bourgeois tourist-y atmosphere of Sedona and how it was impossible to find 'our kind of place' [to eat, to camp, to shop, etc] anywhere in town. The universe, in its infinite irony, rewarded me with Flagstaff and the college town-meets-greyhound bus stop culture here. I might be a little cranky, it's cold...

This town attracts an eclectic group. We've had some of the best food of the trip today, including Macy's European Bakery - a vegetarian coffee shop, and Pita Jungle, a chain local to Arizona and California.

We arrived in town a little too late to do all of the things I wanted to see here, so we headed up the mountain to Lowell Observatory in the late afternoon to catch the sunset and wait for the evening programs to begin.

I don't think I told you that we had tickets to the McDonald Observatory's star party the second night of this trip, and had to miss it since the Observatory was closed for the snowstorm. We were already in New Mexico anyway...

I was secretly devastated, but held out hope we'd get back through West Texas later in the trip. I'll see the 102-inch telescope sometime soon, but not on this trip, so we settled for Lowell's 24-inch Clark telescope instead.

The campus at Lowell is serene and creatively lit, and was busy with holiday tourists.

We did get a look at Jupiter, the surface of the Moon, and some really neat artifacts of Astronomy history... One in particular struck a chord with me, the Blink Comparator, which is the instrument Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto.

The apparatus takes two photos of the night sky, and superimposes them on each other, revealing near-orbit objects through the principal of parallax. Parallax is one of my favorite observances in physics, and one of the first tangible manifestations of perspective I can ever remember experiencing. My Dad only sees with one eye, and I remember being about 4 years old when he taught me about binocular vision, my superpower. You've experienced parallax before too, if you've ever been driving an old car, looking at the speedometer and you see a different speed than the passenger can see from their perspective because of the angle of the needle. Parallax doesn't just apply to astronomical objects...

After leaving the observatory and having dinner... Guess whose drink is whose here, I'll reveal the answer later:

We spent some time in the dirtiest, trashiest laundromat with (I couldn't make this up) a recently-retired carnival worker who just started working at the laundry this week, pulling swing shifts to make a little overtime on minimum wage. We had a long talk with this young lady, who was about to turn 30, although she looked easily 45... about social media, advertising, and ways to score her dream job as a secretary.

I couldn't help but wonder how I could be sitting in the laundry, talking about ways for her to sell herself... showing her things like Yelp, and FourSquare and talking about the ways to leverage social media for advertising... when less than a decade ago, I might have been on the same path if someone hadn't given me a chance 'secretary' job. I was a bartender, college dropout working two or three low-paying jobs - and I distinctly remember getting a receptionist gig that paid $10/hour. That one opportunity changed my perspective on life. It's funny, until someone told me I was worth ten dollars an hour, I never gave it any thought that I might be, I just worked hard for seven for a little longer. It was a revolutionary shift in parallax for me. I was still the same person, with the same abilities, I just needed someone else to look at me from their perspective and agree. Parallax has enabled astronomers to discover stellar objects for over 170 years, I'd like to use it to help some people discover things of their own.

I know better than anyone that the difference between carnies (travelers, circus folk, insert slang adjective here) and hobos is gainful employment... they still share the same drive for adventure, ingenuity and creativity that makes the next destination possible. This carny-come-laundry-shop girl might just need some encouragement. Bart, the always-enthusiastic entrepreneur, gave her plenty of ideas.

So now I sit high in the mountains, winding down and enjoying the day's perspective... with clean laundry. Tomorrow, I will peek at the Grand Canyon and make the journey to Zion National Park. Everyone enjoy your own parallax this New Year's Eve... responsibly, of course.

There is just no explanation for this face... but it was my beer. Bart ordered the Sangria, I'm sure you guessed that.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Arizona is definitely the place to come if you need to feel small. Today, we made it to Sedona, one of the primary attractors that Arizona could offer me - a crazy hippie.

We've been on the road for a week now, and we've seen such fantastic things that the Sedona of my imagination had a lot to live up to in order to beat the wonders of places like Saguaro National Park and Gate's Pass. In fact, what I found here was surprising and unique, but not in the way I expected. We took our time getting ready today, enjoying the stunning view from camp.

There are 4 energy vortices in the Sedona area (they ignore proper English grammar here and call them 'vortexes'. We set out to see Bell Rock first.

As you can probably imagine, on a beautiful sunny day like today, there were hundreds of people with the same idea. Parking was difficult, the trail was busy, and we had to work really hard to experience the vortex alone. These energy vortices are popular with new age spiritualists, as well as international tourists. A drum circle echoed from high above us as we climbed. We settled on a tableau around the base of the 'bell' away from most of the hikers. I sat down and took off my shoes to see if I could feel the energy and Bart took off down the mountain toward the other giant rock formation there, Courthouse Butte.

Both sites are littered with spiritual refuse. We saw Zen-style stacked rocks on every flat surface.

The desert has a way of distorting proportion and making things seem both bigger and smaller than they actually are. In the photo above, it's impossible to distinguish whether this tree is a bonsai or actually 4-1/2 feet tall, as is the case... Similarly, fir trees and other high desert plants appear in the landscape as scale-miniatures of their more temperate cousins.

One of the hallmarks of an energy vortex is the effect the location has on the Juniper trees. According to experts on these vortices, the energy twists the Juniper branches and trunks and has a powerful effect on the trees. Indeed the trees are strange here:

Along the level surfaces of Bell Rock, there were numerous little shrines... areas built to harness or cleanse spiritual energy, some in a grid formation, with equal sized rocks...

Some fashioned into wheels...

Some, a seemingly disorganized conglomeration of rocks, crystals, trinkets, even bones. People had paid meticulous attention to the arrangement of these objects in order to take advantage of the natural spring of energy that flows from the side of this bell-shaped rock. I thought maybe I'd feel the energy too, since I'm into that sort of thing, but what I felt, high up on the side of this magnificent red rock - was the weight of others' faith and hope... for decades, people have come to this very spot, hoping to have their problems solved by some mysterious force our Earth is focusing here. 4500 feet above the sea, among ancient ruins of rock. I felt both ashamed that I didn't feel the energy (I really should, if it's here) and also a little pang of heartbreak for all of the people so distraught and hopeless for something in their lives that they become hopeful again by wishing on an energy vortex and counting on personal miracles.

I'm not easily discouraged, so I climbed down and headed to the nearby Cathedral Rock vortex, behind the formation you see in the photo above. Maybe this vortex just didn't resonate with me, I wasn't ready to give up just yet. I found out the hard way that climbing up is easier than down with a broken foot.

The hike to Cathedral Rock's vortex along the Baldwin trail is fairly level, winding around the river to the base of the rock itself. We found several strange temperature pockets in the first mile of the hike, some parts of the field frozen, having hidden from the sun all day. We think yucca might be poisonous, I should probably look that up since Bart ingested some accidentally during this shoot.

This site has a much more Zen atmosphere, in addition to the stacked rocks in proximity to the vortex site - Buddha Beach, as they call it... there are lovely rocks in the river itself. The river was nearly glassy as we hiked, reflecting the majesty of the landscape. It was intoxicating to watch.

In fact, the beautiful scenery by the river made me almost forget why we were there in the first place, although I felt more comfortable here in the riverbed than perched atop Bell Rock, I didn't feel moved spiritually. If anything, I felt drained of my energy by the day.

I might have been tired from the constant gasping I did all day, it seemed like everywhere I looked, I was being affronted by some other piece of striking landscape.

Just before the sun set, we pulled off at a scenic overlook in the area, and gazed back over the Cathedral Rock we'd spent the afternoon wandering around. It formed a perfect proscenium for the sunset, which was the best of any we've seen yet on this trip. I was more moved by the beauty of this everyday occurrence than by the energy vortices, but I'm still optimistic, maybe the cumulative effects of visiting two vortex sites made me especially susceptible to the sunset's power today? It's a stretch...

We watched the painted sky kiss the painted desert goodnight, and then had dinner in Sedona. Tomorrow is still undecided, we'll likely hang around this area and do some more exploring and then visit the Lowell Observatory tomorrow evening. New Year's eve will be in Zion National Park, so we'll head north at some point on Saturday. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

To Jerome

Well, here we are, almost halfway through our journey and just now to one of my imperitive destinations... today we drove from Phoenix to Cottonwood, which is near both Sedona and Jerome, Arizona.. both on the list.

We probably would have missed Jerome, except my new friend Bruce enticed us to go by telling us that artists had settled there. We set off extra early this morning, which meant we got to stop for an excellent breakfast before visiting my first agenda item, the Phoenix Art Museum.

I had to see this exhibit, one that had gotten some press and I was a tad worried would disappoint... however...

it was entirely worth the price of admission, no matter how many people told me to stop taking pictures while I was there... a lot, just take my word for it. This piece is truly spectatacular, as an appreciator of the perspectives of light and also perfomance art... Yayoi Kusama's "You who are getting obliterated in the dancing swarm of fireflies" is simply too beautiful for words. You must live it to understand. I tried to bring a little home for those of you who will never go to Phoenix to see it, as I did... but it is inadequate. You have to be in this place to 3-dimensionally feel it all.

There were plenty of other parts of today's leg that were memorable. Some glass sculptures downstairs in the contemporary gallery of the Phoenix Art Museum made me giggle uncontrollably. One of which, the museum staff prohibited us from taking pictures of... sad.

We drove on north after the museum, to our destination from today, the closest place near Sedona to camp in a NICE state park... Dead Horse Ranch State Park... as the recommending park ranger put it: a terrible name for a really nice park. She was right. We have an open view of the sky, a campfire for the first time on the trip, and a good starting place for our explorations tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we head to Sedona, to discover the spiritual energy trapped by this part of the world. I'm serious, I'm not trying to make fun of new-agers... I really do want to take what I can from this experience. I've seen so many beautiful sunsets this trip, I think I'm on the right track. Today, we were facing east at dusk and still saw the most beautiful colors and contrast...

I'm headed to bed to be ready for a packed few days... stay tuned for the next few adventures.. I'm sure they'll be supernatural. As for everyday life... I can tell you showering in a state park shower is not impossible with a broken foot, but it is very frustrating. I feel like an astronaut, wearing boots that are entirely too big all the time, with normal tasks lasting 3 times as long. In fact, I admit, I was not ready for the care that yesterday's surprise would bring... I didn't consider that we would be camping after we picked it up, and that it would need care every few hours... certainly slows things down when you have an addition to your new schedule. In any case we're fine, and I adore the surprise as if it were my own little addition to the world, just means I can't be on my free, hippie schedule...

In closing tonight, a poem that has come to mind several times in the last few days... I have felt somewhat hedonistic, and admittedly, this poem has come to mind often in recent months, but has never been more apropos than now... since I am enjoying a rare time in my life when the present happiness is more important than tomorrow's promise:

Get Drunk

Get Drunk,
always be drunk.

That's it!
The great imperative!
In order not to feel
Time's horrid fardel
bruise your shoulders,
grinding you into the earth,
Get drunk and stay that way.
On what?
On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.
But get drunk.
And if you sometimes happen to wake up
In the porches of a palace,
In the green grass of a ditch,
in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
your drunkeness gone or disappearing,
ask the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock,
ask everything that flees,
everything that groans
or rolls
or sings,
everything that speaks,
ask what time it is;
and the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock
will answer you:
"Time to get drunk!
Don't be martyred slaves of Time,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!"

Charles Baudelaire
I hope to carry that enthusiasm, and grace, and intensity through to tomorrow's adventure... since it will be a new day to get drunk on, and enjoy completely. Today, I got drunk on a sunset with my best friend. Tomorrow, who knows what I will get drunk on... stay freaking tuned!
<3 all...    ,K

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Walkabout Phoenix

Last night, we drove up to Phoenix from Tucson, it was late and we were tired from two days at camp and on the mountains. On the way into town, just over the car, I saw a fireball, otherwise known as a bolide over the interstate. For those of you who haven't seen or heard of these things, they are spectacular. Brighter than the average meteor, they are one of the most enchanting things to see in the sky - for this stargazer, anyway. I saw one during the Perseids meteor shower in 2009, while we were driving home with the top down at about 4am. It lit up the car and hung in the night sky for so long that we were able to perceive its light in the car, look up, and watch it change colors from white to blue to red before fizzling out with a pop. The one I saw last night over I-10 wasn't that bright or long-lasting, but just as special. These things hardly ever happen, and here I've seen two of them. From the passenger's seat, Bart saw the light in the sky and looked up just in time to hear me shout.

We've seen magic in the sky this trip, just as I had hoped we would. A beautiful mountain sky, unreal sunsets and this bolide have already made it memorable.

No pictures to post from today, as most of them have to do with my secret Phoenix mission, which took a large part of the day. It was a lovely day here, though... about 72 degrees, full sun, and lots to see in town. We packed up early and headed to our destination to enjoy the beautiful warm desert colors. Today was a much different crowd at the secret location... instead of being 40 years younger than everyone around us, as we were at Catalina State Park (apparently, Christmas is the time for retired persons to stay there), we were among the oldest folks around today. I can't say much else about the clandestine mission, except that the stars were vivid and sharp, but a little hollow... we sighted a rare pair of blue-tailed swallows... made an excellent new friend... and I wasn't wounded as badly as the previous days on the trip, although the secret mission did draw some blood.

Tomorrow, we visit an art exhibit I have to see before leaving Phoenix and heading north to Sedona/Jerome to find camp for the next couple of nights. I now hurt, somewhat blissfully, from head to toe, and I plan to rest up tonight. New adventures tomorrow.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park. Home to a gargantuan population of Saguaro cactus, the biggest I've seen yet in Arizona. Today, we broke camp and drove to Saguaro NP, but ended up mountain biking in next door Tucson Mountain Park instead. The National Park was packed, and parking was impossible, not to mention that the trails were limited to foot traffic. We hit a trail that was an abandoned road, thinking I could do little damage to myself falling off a bicycle there... foolish, I know.

I only fell twice before we called it quits and drove the parks' many roads instead. I'm about as graceful with this cast on as I am walking through about 4 feet of water. My arms and legs look like I've been tumbled in a clothes dryer with a bunch of rocks.

So many cool things happened today, including the roadrunners that showed up as we broke camp...

We were on a decent trail and could get going pretty fast on the bikes (makes for a harder landing). We're considering a new nickname for me - "Crash".

The cactus here is so big, it's hard to get a decent handle on the perspective in a photo. Bart is level with the base of this behemoth:

After we realized my fall-per-mile ratio (FPM, new scale, we just invented for me today) was dangerously high, we packed up the bikes and pursued the park on 4 wheels instead. (Thanks again for letting us borrow a normal-sized vehicle, Tiffany and Jason... we'd be miserable in one of our cars)

At the top of Gates Pass, there is a lookout point that overlooks the parks below and the Avra Valley. From up there, the world appears to be tilt-shifted, as if these ancient Saguaro are little claymation figurines.

We waited up there for the sun to set, which lately is my favorite part of the day. I made a few calls and set a few things up for us tomorrow (stay tuned) and when the sun was about to set, stood between two red Arizona mountains and said goodnight to the sun. Well, me and about 200 others, this place was really busy. And you can see why...

It looks like a postcard.

As we watched, the clouds transformed, disintegrating, vaporizing and materializing elsewhere as a new shape... at one point, this cloud twisted into a swallow, swooping in to brush the crescent moon. See the head in the middle of the photo, the wings sweeping back and tail straight up in the sky...

It was a lovely day, and now we're in Phoenix, preparing for a day around town tomorrow before possibly heading up to Sedona tomorrow afternoon. We'll see what the morning's secret adventure brings!