Inhaling the Vanilla Forest – Or, The Arboretum at Flagstaff

Before we get to the Arboretum itself, here’s a fun fact I didn’t mention last weekdendrochronology, or the scientific study of tree rings, was first founded in Flagstaff, Arizona, at Lowell Observatory.

How, you ask, did such a skyward-focused establishment stumble upon something so terrestrial?

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Ponderosa pine cross-section on display at the Arboretum at Flagstaff. Notice the particularly thick bark layer. All photos courtesy of yours truly.

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The Underworld and the Heavens – Or, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

I’d just completed the Pluto Walk: an uphill length of sidewalk stretching to the tippy-top of Mars Hill, where one finds the Pluto Telescope Dome surrounded by fragrant ponderosa pines. The walk demonstrates a to-scale approximation of the distances between the planets in our solar system, beginning with our Absurdly Bright Star at the bottom and culminating with Pluto. Each celestial body is marked on the sidewalk itself and is highlighted with panels featuring pertinent facts about the planet and its discovery.

But wait, you’ll object. I thought Pluto wasn’t considered a planet anymore. 

You’re not wrong. Pluto is now the best known of the dwarf planets, and is the namesake for plutoids (ice dwarfs) and plutinos (distant members of our solar system with funky orbital habits) found in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune. The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona knows this. Pluto is honored here not out of astronomical dissent, but out of pride.

You see, it was here that Pluto was first discovered.

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This building houses the actual telescope commissioned to discover “Planet X.” It succeeded in capturing the first images of Pluto in 1915, and the significance of those images was recognized in 1930! (All photos by yours truly.)

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An American Goth and a Belgian Designer Walk into a Boneyard…

When my dear friend Hannelore arrived in Las Vegas last month on her 1988 Honda Africa Twin adventure bike, I asked what she and her boyfriend, Jasper wanted to see. Both wanted to experience the Strip, of course—there’s an unspoken rule that you really can’t visit Las Vegas without having at least seen the Strip, just to say you did. Beyond that, Hanne listed two specific sites: Seven Magic Mountains and the Neon Museum.

As you’ll recall from last week, I hadn’t heard of Seven Magic Mountains until Hanne requested it. But the Neon Museum?

Oh, I had definitely heard of the Neon Museum.

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The Neon Museum’s newest acquisition, and the first thing you see when entering the Boneyard. Photo by Katrina Reinert.

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European Adventurers Discover Seven Magic Mountains, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sunset only added to the stones’ fluorescence. I had not expected this. Usually, dimming light can be relied upon to fade any colors within reach, but Seven Magic Mountains challenged the rule.

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Two Magic Mountains, with the sunset over the Mojave in the background. Photo by Jasper.

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The One that Got Away & Started It All – or, Cosmos Mystery Area

I have never visited Cosmos Mystery Area, a goofy “believe-it-or-not”-style tourist trap outside of Rapid City, South Dakota.

That’s not for lack of desire, nor lack of awareness, nor even lack of opportunity.

The relevant, ineffable lack was far more fundamental, interpersonal, and ultimately illuminating than anything else.

… Boy, that highfalutin beginning better have a decent payoff!

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View of thick, peaceful pine trees and a smooth body of water slipping down over dark rocks. Black Hills, South Dakota. Photo by Derick Berry on Unsplash

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Temple of Goddess Spirituality – Cactus Springs, Nevada

Katrina and I stepped under the pale stucco archway. To our left, tucked between the eastern and southern arches, stood a tall statue of Sekhmet, ancient Egypt’s lion-headed goddess. To our right, between the eastern and northern entries, was an altar covered in small representations of the Divine Feminine: Quan Yin, the Venus of Willendorf, Parvati. The flagstone floor glistened with desert rocks, sand, and small glass pebbles.

Above us, open sky beckoned beyond a dome of intersecting copper circles.

Gazing up, I realized I’d made an error. The small, open temple wasn’t cut off from the Mojave Desert surrounding it, but the feel within its walls was different enough, and familiar enough. Sacred space.

“Hey,” I said, looking back at my sister. “I need to take off my shoes.”

Katrina stepped backwards several steps. “I was thinking the same thing.”

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View of the sky from inside the open-air Temple of Goddess Spirituality. Photo taken by Katrina Reinert.

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Five Tips for Living a Wonder-filled Life

If you’ve been following Crystal Witnesses Wonders, you know I usually use quirky personal anecdotes as the basis for my posts. But what if you’d like to experience more wonder in your own life? What if you’d like to spend more time in awe, more time amazed, more time delighted at the world around you?

Let’s take an experimental detour this week. If it’s a dreadful disappointment, we’ll return immediately to our regular programming and never speak of this again. If you’d like more content like this, please say so in the comments below. I’ll definitely have more to say about each of these five tips.

But right now, let’s dip our toes into some how-to goodness. Keep reading for advice on the Adventure AttitudeStarting Small, Making Mindfulness, Cultivating Curiosity, and Gathering Gratitude.

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Man staring at a starry night sky. Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash

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Atramentous Infinity – Or, Thoughts from a Nighttime Flight

Forty-five minutes after lifting off out of Houston—an evening flight bound for Las Vegas—I finished a chapter of my current book (Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, an exploration of the Appalachian Trail) and wondered about the stars. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark outside my window, I spotted Cassiopeia, the vain queen, her five major stars prone directly in front of me. I smiled and shut off my reading light.

Then I noticed glowing on the ground below.

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City lights at night, against a black landscape, viewed from an airplane. Airplane wing is visible. Photo by Giuseppe Famiani on Unsplash

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Harsh, and Brimming with Life

To begin by saying nature is changeable would be to state the obvious, but I hope my readers will indulge me. Obvious or not, the cycles of nature can’t help but fascinate. And nowhere have they seemed more pronounced to me than in the desert.

Early this March, a week and a half after Las Vegas’ historic snowfall, I and a group of extended family members went on one of my favorite hikes in Red Rock Canyon, just west of the city. Red Rock Canyon consists of a thirteen-mile scenic driving loop off of which twenty-six marked hiking trails can be reached. Each offers something new and special: archeological information, unique rock formations, conservancy initiatives. Continue reading “Harsh, and Brimming with Life”

And the Mississippi Taketh Away – Or, The Tale of Fort de Chartres

Nearly three hundred years after Fort de Chartres’s construction first began, Andrew and I stood in the stone doorway of its restored Catholic chapel, listening to a Franciscan monk—a real one, not an actor—speaking of French colonial life. He sat in a large, simple wooden chair on a low dais, looking as comfortable in the humid shaded heat as he was in his dark robes. Outside, the sun was slipping out from behind the moon, the Great American Eclipse not yet over even though totality had passed. The sunlight was ethereal, periodically shaded by passing clouds. My eclipse glasses still dangled in my fingers.

Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand and his small French contingent left New Orleans in 1718 not for military purposes, but financial ones. Louis XIV had strained the French treasury during his long reign, and with his great-grandson Louis XV now on the throne, a correction was in order to ensure French prosperity and power. New France—a broad swath of North America stretching from Quebec to New Orleans, abutting the British colonies to the east and the Great Plains to the west, united by the Mississippi River and its tributaries—seemed the obvious answer. Continue reading “And the Mississippi Taketh Away – Or, The Tale of Fort de Chartres”