– Jan. 18 – 22, 2014
On Wednesday January 22nd we looked back about 11 million years into the past to watch a giant star supernova; this was achieved with a telescope a bit smaller than my own body. We had arrived at the Home of the Expanding Universe, Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, AZ, on what the employees had called “a lucky day”, telling us that a supernova was only visible from our planet about once every decade, and might be viewable for a couple of weeks, depending. Kat must have been extra lucky, for in her viewing of the astronomical event, a shooting star happened to pass by also. Lowell Observatory is possibly best known for its discovery of Pluto in the 1930’s, and in a massive effort to remain relevant in a highly competitive field, it most recently spent more than eight years and something like $50M on creating a current telescope to compete with the best on the planet, and the Discovery Channel Telescope was completed just last year in 2013. The Lowell Observatory was a big highlight for us, and though we arrived a bit later in the day around 3pm, we stayed until they closed at 9:30pm.
Before that on January 21st we were wrapping up a four-day stay in Sedona, an area of beauty and serenity, and four areas of recognized high levels of spiritual energy, known there as vortexes. ‘Isn’t the plural for “vortex”, “vortices”?’ I wondered. As it turns out, both ‘vortices’ and ‘vortexes’ are considered acceptable.
“A vortex is a place in nature where the earth is particularly alive and healthy.”
“In a vortex the aliveness and health of the earth is reflected in a tremendous natural beauty created by the elements of land, light, air, and water.”
“A vortex is a place on the planet of increased energy.”
The premise of the vortex is rooted in the theory that the earth is, in it own way, alive, and that healthy areas of the earth manifest into physical beauty for us to perceive, the same way that health or sickness can often be physically identified in human or animal bodies as well. These areas then, carry higher levels of energy and those higher levels of energy can amplify a mental or spiritual experience. There are no exact locations for these energy centres, but they were somehow loosely defined by area, and most believe there to be four in total.
The vortices were of some interest to us when we arrived in Sedona late into the night of Friday January 17th. We had slept in a public parking lot located behind uptown Sedona, and in the morning decided to ride our bikes around town. Uptown was a tourist mecca offering souvenirs, locally crafted arts and jewelry, psychic advice and various healing remedies, Jeep tours of the outback areas, and cleverly disguised RCI “Vacation Ownership” (timeshare) agents appearing as official tourist information clerks who would quickly alter the course of any conversation towards promises of free accommodations at one of their many lodging locations. Thankfully, through our honesty, we discovered we were not “financially eligible” for any of their free stays, which was just as well since we had no interest in attending the mandatory 90 minute sales pitch with which it was to be followed by. The weather had been perfect and we roamed around Uptown most of that entire business day. I bought a book called What Is A Vortex? by Mr. Sedona, a.k.a. Dennis Andres, for $8.95. Eventually we drove to the couple of other parts of Sedona but decided we would visit them more fully in the following days.
We had spent the second night in Sedona parked behind a plaza which offered a movie theatre, a health store, and the only fitness centre in Sedona, as far as we could tell. We were hoping that showers would be accessible to us in the fitness centre, even if by purchase, but the door had been locked, and one needed a membership card simply just to open the door. I’m not sure how that worked for acquiring new members, but at any rate we were not getting through the door, not even to ask our simple question.
At one of the tourist information centres (there seemed to be at least three of them all within a few miles of one another) we were told that there were no public showers anywhere in Sedona. Many of our travels lead us along highways where exist truck stops with showers, but we had been driving north on the 17 for a few days now, and had realized that unfortunately for us it was not a real trucking route, and had been told a few times now that we would have to get up as far north as Flagstaff before we would see any truck stops. My next question of “What is the cheapest motel in Sedona?” had been answered at the tourist information centre without hesitation, as if it might not have been a new question to them. We followed their directions to “the cheapest motel in Sedona” only to find that it was going to cost $65 per night. Cheapness, I was reminded, was relative, and beauty had never been cheap for any involved in such mean transactions. Sedona was no exception. By this time, showers were becoming our number one priority, however, $65 was out of the question, and driving to Flagstaff would be an hour in each direction, as we wanted to stay in Sedona for at least a couple more days. So, we backtracked, driving about twenty minutes back from the direction we had come, to a town called Cottonwood, a lesser destination in comparison and proximity to Sedona, but very near the Tuzigoot National Monument en route to Clarkdale. From the thousand-year-old pueblo ruin Tuzigoot, and even areas of Cottonwood, we would be able to see the town of Jerome up in the mountains, where we had visited days prior. We had driven up to Jerome from Prescott, and had we followed the 89A beyond Jerome, we would have come down to Clarkdale and Cottonwood, but since we had left the trailer behind in Prescott earlier that day it had meant backtracking to obtain the trailer again. Here we were now finally on the other side of the Mingus Mountains.
In Cottonwood, after shopping it around a bit, we found The View Motel for $44. I think it was the smallest motel room I have ever seen, maybe twice as big in total as the double bed contained within it, and with a tiny 3-piece bathroom with no bathtub. However, it was relatively clean, and the price was right. “LittleRicky” was the password here for their WiFi, and this was followed up by the attendant with an explanation: The motel was, and is, actually owned by the Ball family of I Love Lucy fame. Lucille Ball’s brother had owned the motel as one of many investments, and after he had passed on it was taken over by the children, all of whom lived in Hollywood and never came out to visit the motel. I wonder if they know the WiFi password is LittleRicky. Not sure.
In the morning on the 20th, we drove the extra few miles to Tuzigoot. These were very similar to the ruins at Montezuma, being between 700 – 1000 years old, and most recently inhabited by the Sinaguans before being somewhat mysteriously abandoned ever since. Modern day native peoples, however, make no mystery of it, explaining that the occasional uprooting of their ancestors was their philosophical embracing of impermanence and the desire to make change. Tuzigoot was not built on the side of a cliff like Montezuma Castle, but for this precise reason it could be discovered up close and personal, rather than viewed from a distance.
After that we drove back to Sedona, to the popular Tlaquepaque outdoor shopping area. Although the shops did not specifically interest us, the design and feel of the entire area, designed in the style of an outdoor Mexican village, was “architecturally romantic”.
At sunset we drove uphill to Bell Rock, one of the four major vortex sites, as it was considered to be extra beautiful at sunrise or sunset. It was also the closest and most accessible of the four sites to the downtown area, and we must have been about the thousandth people in the past hour to have said to ourselves, “Let’s go watch the sun set at Bell Rock”. The primary parking area was overcrowded already when we drove past it, which led us to the overflow parking area higher up the hill, near the Sedona Airport (an airport, I think, that exists solely for helicopter and propeller plane tours of Sedona for tourists). Our need to find the second and further parking area for Bell Rock turned out to be a blessing, as from there we had to hike almost a mile through the woods to get from our car to the site, and because of the number of people currently at Bell Rock, the hike turned out to be more rewarding and serene than the rock itself (although Bell Rock was nevertheless beautiful despite all of its simultaneous visitors).
It was this fourth night in Sedona where we were told that it was quite illegal to park overnight within Sedona city limits. It was maybe 10 o’clock at night and I was sitting up reading in the trailer when I saw a police car pull up beside us. Acting preemptively, I came out of the trailer to see what the matter was. The officer was about my age and was as polite as could be, but was there to inform me that parking overnight anywhere within Sedona limits was punishable by fine and even imprisonment! Of course, he followed up, there would be no jail time for me, if I would simply leave in peace – an unobjectionable deal. A second, older, officer, of the Barney Fife persuasion, arrived on “the scene”, and between the two of them they described to me a couple of BLM areas between Sedona and Cottonwood where we could park and sleep for free. Barney Fife said he liked to take his kids camping there a couple times a year. There must not have been much else to investigate or enforce in a town as small and quiet as Sedona, and surely that must be a good thing. We found a nice quiet spot where we would park and sleep for the next two nights.
In the morning we left the trailer at our campsite and drove the car back in to Sedona. It was this day of Tuesday January 21st that we visited the remaining three alleged vortex sites, all of which existed as vague areas with surrounding walking paths and scenic views of Sedona’s famous massive red rocks. I think we had neglected to eat properly that day, and after hiking three different areas, plus making a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, we were ready to eat and relax. (Chapel of the Holy Cross was an impressive and daring design of a church built in the 1950’s, a cross-shaped building teetering on the edge of a large rock-face, and with a modernist quality). That night we watched a film called Her, the so-called “Spike Jonze love story”. This is the first film to be written by Jonze, who has previously focused on directing alone, and tells a tale of modern day love in a very near-future setting, where the protagonist falls for, and has an ongoing romance with, his computer Operating System, OS-1. It bravely ponders the complications of the humanization of artificial lifeforms, and the types of relationships that will surely accompany such personifications of technology, in stalwart curiosity of a future not so different from our present-day reality. It left Kat and I with hours of conversation fodder for the remainder of the night and into the next day, and I would rank it among the most thought-provoking films I’ve seen in years.
After a second night camping on public land versus city property for fear of imprisonment! (here the word imprisonment must hilariously and excitingly be followed by an otherwise misplaced exclamation mark!), we drove uphill through mountains on a smallish highway I can not remember the name of now, to the city of Flagstaff, Arizona. Kat had her bangs trimmed for $5.00, and we wandered their quaint medium-sized mountain town for a few hours before finding Lowell Observatory. Here we were, it appeared, at the Home of the Expanding Universe.