The REMS Scale: The Woo Experience

At long last, the long-awaited explication of my world-changing examination of the Woo Experience, which, for lack of a catchier name, we shall call the Lyles REMS Scale.

The Woo Experience

First of all, we need to define what we mean by the Woo Experience, and for that there is no better place than the Skeptic’s Dictionary: “concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey.” This and other fine sites are more likely to use the term woo-woo, but for our purposes one woo is enough.

The issue arose during our recent trip to Arizona, to Sedona specifically, where we sought out the Woo Experience via visits to vortexes1, aura readings, chakra balancing, and crystals. Each of these—and there was more—involves some kind of mystical “energy” that is detectable only by those who are attuned to it. Certainly no scientific instruments have ever been able to verify its existence.

And yet…

Here’s where the interesting part lies. There are very few among us who have not felt as if there might be some kind of validity to the woo2. Call it auras, call it The Force, call it Magick, call it the Void, call it God—or the Goddess—but nearly every one of us can confess to having felt something like it at some point.

So what are we to make of this universal experience that has absolutely no scientific validation?

It began to interest me that in our small group there seemed to be different approaches and different responses to the woo, and I began to think more seriously about the proposition.

The Persons Involved

For this discussion, I choose to rename the four participants Subjects 1-4. (Full disclosure: I am Subject 3.) The entire vacation to Arizona was initiated by Subject 4’s desire to go experience the “thin places” in Sedona, i.e., the vortexes. Even as the trip expanded to include the Grand Canyon and points in between, we all came to agree that if we were going to Sedona, we would seek out and immerse ourselves in the woo. Just go with it, experience it, and withhold evaluation until we were done with it.

Because what’s the fun of having your chakras balanced if you’re not going to give it the benefit of the doubt? Let’s face it, if the whole thing was just a placebo, then you’d get no benefit if you didn’t commit to it. And if it were real, you wouldn’t want to short-circuit it by resisting it.


The wooists make all kinds of outrageous claims for their woo that bring universal scorn and condemnation upon them, and rightfully so when those claims involve medical issues and large bank transfers.

But for the true believers—and those of us just looking for fun or interest—what is the appeal? I think most if not all of it is because we humans desire order. We see patterns where there are none. We want resolution.

Are we at some level unhappy? (Spoiler alert: yes, because we are human.) Shouldn’t there be some way to fix that? (Emphasis on should.) Isn’t there something, after all, bigger than us, of which we are a part? (…)

And so we seek to identify causes outside ourselves that can help us gain peace, comfort, and unity. Woo, I believe, is one of the ways in which we do that: crystals, magick, god.

Next: The Approach to woo


1 N.B.: not vortices, so stop your kibbitzing

2 …which I will now stop capitalizing

Arizona: the swag

Why do we feel compelled to buy things when we travel?  Shouldn’t the experience be enough, particularly if that experience is as glorious as ours was?

I guess we want tangible memories to put on our shelf when our world shrinks back to normal, kind of bringing in those exotic threads and weaving them into the pattern of our everyday lives.  That’s my story, at least, and I’m sticking with it.

Here’s a classy little jigger with the “Man in the Maze” design, and next to it a little round pebble that I allegedly picked up at an alleged vortex.  We claim that we collect jiggers, but can you call it collecting if all you do is stick them in a drawer where they remain unseen?  Not that I want to turn into one of those people with sixty-something jiggers displayed on cute little shelf units…

Yet another “Man in the Maze” item.  (Remember that I also bought the sandstone coasters with the design.)  This is a little amulet—I’m going to attach it to a beltloop of the Utilikilt I wear when I’m Camping with the Hippies™.

A lovely little glass bowl—the artist was selling them on the street in Jerome, and for very cheap.  They’re quite as lovely as some things I saw in the galleries thereabouts.  I’ve included the jigger for scale.  I’m thinking this might be a good little bowl to use to prepare the vortex dirt for whatever ceremonial purposes we come up with for the hippies—the little floppy bit in the rim makes a good thumb hold.

Another piece by the same artist, slightly larger.  He uses gases from heating gold and silver to create the finishes.

And this is the crown of all: a zebra-tailed lizard (male), made of polymer sculpting clay  and hand-painted.  Is he not fabulous?  He’s also extremely delicate; I have to find a place where Abigail cannot thwap him to the floor.

Here’s his ventral side, with the artist’s signature.  I was assured by the salesperson at the gallery that the markings are indeed what the beast looks like, but I think the artist—autistic though he may be—took a couple of liberties1 just for a “wrinkle in the sky” effect.2

There were a couple more items, but they’re not interesting—a few crystals, a trendy hipster t-shirt I bought to wear to Camp with the Hippies™, a bundle of cedar for smudging which actually has trouble staying lit, that kind of thing.  All in all, a good haul, and enough to have part of my everyday world flash with the beauty of the Arizona canyons.


1 Looking at the Califorina Herpetological Society’s photos, I’m wondering whether he also confused the female and male dorsal sides.  However, the photos at Reptiles of Arizona are more in line with the artist’s vision.  Hm.

2 Some early 20th-century set designer, Edward Gordon Craig I think3, once designed a gorgeous outdoor set, and once they had it lit perfectly he went to the back of the stage and gave the cyclorama a good yank, creating a wrinkle in the sky.  His aides were appalled at how he had spoiled the illusion, and his reply was along the lines that the audience ought never to forget that what they were watching was art, not life.

3 I say “I think” because I can’t remember and the intertubes are astoundingly ignorant of the quote.  Maybe it was Adolph Appia.   Or maybe my lighting teacher made it up.

Arizona: Pro tips

Having slept/rested on Sunday and accomplished much yard work yesterday, I am now ready to summarize the trip and offer advice on making such a trip yourself..


If you’re traveling to the Grand Canyon, your only practical option is to fly into Phoenix.  The airport is nice and modern, though as always we Atlantans are shocked at how small other people’s airports are.  Of the city itself I can say nothing; we just rented a car and drove out of it.

re: rental car—Get an SUV, for real.  We ended up with a gigantic Suburban LT which was a pain to park and navigate with, but with four of us we needed that third seat for our water, snacks, coats, etc.  Make sure whatever vehicle you get has at least one USB port, and leave a charging cable in the car at all times.


Flagstaff is fun, kind of a miniature version of Asheville, NC.  Stay if you can at one of the restored downtown hotels.  They’re not as modern—doh—but you can walk everywhere you need to go.  Shopping/dining are primo. Our two best meals on the trip were dinner at Brix on the way up, and lunch at Criollo’s (a sister restaurant) on the way back.

If you’re going to Sedona as well, you might put off purchasing anything until then, but if it’s just Flagstaff and the Canyon, shop away!

Grand Canyon

This was our second trip to the Canyon and it was just as amazing the second time as the first.  And we will return for at least a third time.  There are no words to describe what this place will do to your soul.  For general tips, see my post mortem from our Cross Country trip in 2013.

New advice from this time: get up early one morning and drive all the way out to the Desertview Watchtower, then work your way back in through all the overlooks. Take a snack, because you won’t get back to the Village before lunch!  The Tusayan Ruin and Museum is worth stopping at along the way.

The Yavapai Geology Museum is marvelous.  As I advised before, do this after your mind has been stomped flat by the Canyon.

Spend as much time at the Canyon as you can.  Even though we’ve been twice, there are still areas of interest we couldn’t get to.

Commit to the funding for a helicopter ride through the canyon.  It will change your life in ways that Rainer Maria Rilke couldn’t even begin to imagine.

If you have time and money, go up to Page, AZ, and tour Antelope Canyon.  Your camera will thank you.  (Remember to keep that charging cable in the car!)

Things we will do next time: visit the points of interest we haven’t visited yet; find a way to get to the bottom of the Canyon—I’m fine with donkeys, but the LFW would prefer a helicopter with a champagne lunch.


Sedona.  Oh, Sedona…

The landscape is only a little less beautiful than the Canyon, and that’s mostly a matter of scale.  Food is good, shopping is solid, and the atmosphere is just plain fun.

However, the only real reason to go to Sedona is for the woo.  You can dine, shop, and hike at the Canyon or Flagstaff, so do Sedona just to buy crystals and have your chakras balanced.  I am not scoffing—as you’ll see as I post my world-changing analysis of personality-based/biased approaches to woo.

Pro tip: there are dozens of crystal shops in Sedona, almost all of them with psychics attached.  The more upscale ones are generally overpriced, but they will have little cards in the bins explaining what the crystal is “for,” and you will be given one of those little cards in the plastic bag with your stone. Very handy.

Here’s why crystal selection is fun, even if you are a Existential Realist:1 it’s like the saying that flipping a coin is useful in making a decision mostly because while the coin is in the air you will realize which side you’re hoping it will land on.  When faced with a hundred or so very pretty little rocks, you will see Fancy Jasper and think, “Boy, if it can encourage me not to procrastinate, I want me some of that!”

If you’re not a woo-based lifeform, do a little research on all the available services before you go, then pick one or two and go for it.  A gifted tarot card reading can really be amazing.  The Lovely First Wife was most impressed with her aura reading.  The chakra balancing with Eyea was interesting, though it’s probably more fun to do something where your eyes are open so you can watch.  Don’t worry about looking stupid or getting it wrong—the people we encountered were all lovely professionals and are used to dealing with the cautious, the curious, and the embarrassed.

On the whole, our spa experience was solid, but it simply wasn’t as woo-ful as we had hoped.  You can get a good massage and facial back at home.

Do visit the vortexes, and my recommendation is a personal tour with someone like Rahelio rather than a bus or jeep tour.

Do the Woo™!


Only if you’re on your way between Flagstaff and Sedona.  It’s cute, but it’s not that cute.

Montezuma Castle

Worth getting off the interstate for!  Since it was spur of the moment and we got there at closing time, we couldn’t get to Montezuma’s Well, but if we’re back in the area we’ll plan to do that.

We had a great trip, obviously.  The weather cooperated the entire time, and all the places were interesting enough to make it worthwhile.  The Grand Canyon reigns supreme, however.  If you only have time and money for one, do the Canyon.


1 One of the four personalities in my world-changing system.

Arizona: Day 8

We began our last day of the trip by heading south of Sedona to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. As you can read if you click on the link, it was the inspiration of a sculptor back in the 30s after she watched the Empire State Building being built.  Her vision wasn’t realized until 1957:

The setting is spectacular, of course, and the chapel itself is imposing in a stark 1950s Brutalist way.  After you climb the long and curving road up there, the plaza is no less imposing:

And the interior is no less stark:

It is an actual Roman Catholic chapel, though no services are held there other than prayers at 5:00 and a Taizé service on Monday nights.  There’s a gift shop—of course—in the basement.

All in all, I found its surroundings more impressive:

Surprisingly, the valley below is mostly neighborhoods, so the view is rather spoiled.  The chapel was constructed around the same time as Disney Land and made the same tactical error in not buying up all the property in sight (literally), a mistake Uncle Walt did not repeat in Orlando.

Mostly the homes in the area are lovely, traditional adobe structures, albeit a bit more lavish than perhaps the original dwellers lived in:

Except for this guy:

—click to see this monstrosity in more detail—

This is right below the chapel, and I encourage you to click on the photo for more detail.  You have to drive by this thing to get to the chapel, and there are all kinds of signs warning you not to stop or park.  Take the time to soak in all the components of this person’s home.  N.B.: You cannot see the swimming pool, the pool house(s), nor the observatory from this angle.

From the chapel, we drove back to Sedona and stopped so that some of us could wallow in further woo, getting their actual auras photographed and read (yes, including the 23-page report), and getting counseled on which crystals would help with the subsequently diagnosed issues.1

I, on the other hand, checked my bank account with trepidation and was rather startled to see that I had a lot more money than I thought, so I bought a funky t-shirt that I had seen previously to wear at  Alchemy.  I won’t bother to post that here.

Time to hit the road back to Phoenix, via Jerome.  Jerome was a mining town, mostly copper, and it was the most prolific copper mine in the nation for a long time.  When the copper finally ran out, the town nearly died.  As fate would have it, the hippies discovered  it and moved in, snapping up property for dirt cheap and mostly renovating it.  They also brought an artsy sensibility to the place, and now it is one of the weirdest destinations you can imagine.  Feel free to click on the link and explore; I didn’t take many photographs.

The town is vertiginous in the extreme, never designed for traffic, and we ended up parking in a lot carved out of the lip of the old mine above town:

There seem to be three different kinds of shops there: art galleries, restaurants, and ghost/spooky things.  (Part of its renaissance was promoting itself as the ultimate ghost town.)

Of course, one of its main attractions is the view:

It overlooks the Verde Valley, and boy does it overlook!  We all decided that we could not live there.  It would be like being a bighorn sheep.

We cautiously retraced our steps to the valley and headed to the Interstate.  It is possible to get to Phoenix by continuing along state highway 89A up through Jerome and on to Prescott, but as one biker t-shirt in a shop window said, “I survived 89A: 158 curves in 12 miles!”  When you remember that those curves are along sheer cliffs, the easy answer is “Nope to the nope!”

We hit I-17 heading towards Phoenix around 4:00.  Since our flight didn’t leave until almost midnight, we had plenty of time to kill.  My Lovely First Wife dragged out her books—we never go anywhere without at least three books on what to do when we get there—and suggested we get off the highway to see the Montezuma Castle National Monument.  She has a not-so-secret desire to be an archaeologist, and this looked right up her alley.

We arrived at 4:25—the park closed at 5:00.  The pert young ranger behind the desk in the visitor’s center assured us we had time to go look at and comprehend the ruins.

Oh my.

This is the ruins of a five-story pueblo built long before Montezuma lived.  The name comes from wishful thinking on the part of Spanish explorers.

—click to embiggen—

This is what remains of a much larger settlement, both along these cliffs and elsewhere across the area.

The National Park Service has done a phenomenal job of explaining what you’re looking at, with little poster/signs all along the trail.

For example, here are the ruins of Castle A, next door to the main structure.  Again, five stories, starting at ground level.  You can see the holes for the upper level beams.

There were also markers for all the plants in the area which the residents used for food, cloth, medicine, etc., which I appreciated knowing.  At the foot of these cliffs is Beaver Creek, which is where they farmed corn and other crops, plus hunted and gathered.  Like most waterways in Arizona, Beaver Creek can flood quickly and ferociously, so it made sense for the residents to built high and dry.

As usual, the LFW was right in her instincts about what to do.

Onward to Phoenix, back through the rather unattractive landscape which surrounds it.

There were still moments:

On the whole, though, Phoenix is not pretty.  We made it back to the car rental place and to the terminal and our gate long before boarding, so we tried to sleep a bit.  We took off at midnight MDT and landed at 6:30 EDT, driving back to Newnan and home.

I may be the only one awake at this point, since I was the only one who could actually sleep through the entire flight.

I’ve been rather insistently welcomed back:

All in all, a phenomenal trip.  I’ll do three more posts on the trip: 1) a summary of tips and suggestions for anyone making a similar trip; 2) some of the swag I brought home; and 3) my paradigm-shattering model for personality-based woo encounters.


1 I feel rather certain that Marc would want me to put in the disclaimer that none of this was him.

Arizona: Day 7


Our travels with Rahelio were just our first encounter with the Hippie Woo of Sedona.  Today we waded toward the deep end.

First we had shopping to do.  A friend with pronounced woo proclivities had asked me to bring him a fish fetish for his personal use.  No, get your mind out of the gutter, you pervert.  These are small stone animals carved by the Zuni, who use them in ceremonies.  Nowadays they also carve them for the tourist trade and for collectors, and you can find them in most of the shops around here.

As you can imagine, they range from the clumsily made to works of art, with prices to match.  My problem was that although you can readily find bears and toads and lizards and such, fish are a rarity.  I found one, but it did not speak to me, so I continued my search.

After a couple of shops failed to provide, I asked one proprietor where the best place to look might be.  Garland’s, she said, and gave us directions.

That was our first stop this morning, and my, what a lovely store.  Not really for the tourist trade, it was filled with beautiful Native American art, including some really stunning fetishes.  (However, a brontosaurus? Really?)

So, level unlocked:

Isn’t he nice?  Very well done, I thought.

We got back on the road, and THERE IT WAS—

— THE CENTER FOR THE NEW AGE.  This place is chock full of woo: crystals, pendants, Wiccan equipment, books, tarot decks, and a full staff of psychics, no appointment needed.

Here’s the meditation pyramid in the parking lot:


We went in.  Amidst all the merchandise (and MF was correct in feeling that the atmosphere was oppressive—all that quartz can get to you) the only thing that really spoke to me was a small bumper sticker that says FAIL UNTIL YOU SUCCEED.  Since this is a precept of Lichtenbergianism (coming to an online bookstore near you, some day), I bought it.

But we were there to Do the Woo™, so I went up to the desk and booked a chakra balancing for my Lovely First Wife and me.

When we first arrived in Sedona and were mapping out our stay, I had called the Center seeking more information about their services, but the concierge (no, really) said that each psychic had their own process—and of course they were all gifted and competent.  We would choose our psychic from their bios, using our intuition.  Of course.

We had a choice then of two gentlemen who were present and standing by, and we both were guided by our intuition to choose the younger, better-looking guy.  His name is Eyea.1

We elected to go in together and thus be present for each other’s chakra balancing, which was fine, he said, but cautioned us about keeping our energy “small” so as not to interfere with the other’s balancing.

Here is how Eyea balances your chakras.2  You lie down on a massage table, face up, shoes off, eyes closed.  He asks your permission to touch you during the process, which might be weird but wasn’t.  He stands at your feet and begins by holding his hands near them, sensing your energy flow through your root chakra.  He then works his way up your chakra system, placing one hand on your arm or shoulder while with the other receiving/sending energy with his uplifted/downturned palm.

After he gets to your crown chakra, he works his way back down and ends up by “smoothing” out all the energy.  He asks you to take five deep breaths, then three, then one, and then invites you back to this world.

He placed a large quartz crystal under each of our hands, mine midway through the process, the LFW at the very start.  He used an amethyst crystal at some point during her balancing; no clue about mine.

After we were both balanced, he gave us advice for improving our chakra issues, which I will not detail here except to say that it involved a direct contact with substances the same color as the problematic chakra.  Complete and utter woo!  Yay!

After the trip is over, I will return to this experience with a model for how different personalities approach a woo experience like this one.  Stay tuned.  It’s a world-changing concept.

We ate a quick lunch and rushed to our next woo appointment, a 3-hour massage package.  What’s so woo about that, you ask?  All of us got a regular massage and a facial, but two of us got an Ayurvedic massage, and the other two got an acupuncture session.

The Ayurvedic massage was massive amounts of warm oil, liberally applied and massaged into the skin, which was supposed to soak up whatever herbs and spices that had been infused therein.  This is supposed to stimulate our lymph systems and increase circulation.

Acupuncture, of course, is the Chinese practice of sticking needles into specific points in the body in order to break up blockages of “chi” energy along the meridians along which it flows.

So, while both are probably beneficial to some people sometimes in some way, they are both essentially woo-tastic.

Next stop, the Cathedral Rock vortex, from where one of our company had promised to bring some soil back for a wooist friend:

You approach this vortex, which is at the base of the rock, via a National Park, a very small park which is surrounded by a National Forest.  We followed the path along Oak Creek—the vortex is said to be where the water is closest to the rock.

Soon, the woo began to manifest:

All the hippies have stacked rocks.  Everywhere.

They’re everywhere.  It’s like competitive woo:

When in Sedona, of course…

I was not inclined to take the time to do a full stack, but I saw a rock that looked like it needed to be balanced.  I picked it up and started feeling its balance on a larger stone, explaining to the company, “In this documentary on this guy who does this, he says that every rock has somewhere on it a tripod of points that..”



Here it is in its natural habitat:

Onward we trekked.

Finally we arrived at our destination, or at least as far as we were willing to go.

Having been trained by Rahelio, we set about our individual approaches to being there.  Again, I draw the veil over those experiences.

But I will share part of mine:

I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, “build a labyrinth at a spiritual vortex” would be on it.  I traced it in the soil and then enlisted the help of the group in outlining it.

Here’s an artier shot:

Everyone else began the return hike, but I stayed and meditated a little longer on my own before catching up with them.

Last look back:

We stopped at one point to sit by the creek and let those who wanted to dabble their feet in the water.  The sun was definitely beginning to set at this point.

You can see two young men swimming there.  I actually expected to see naked hippies in the creek, but apparently there are limits to woo-ing it up in public.

We began our drive back into town, but had to stop to catch this shot:

As always, stunning.

Back to the hotel, clean up—that Ayurvedic oil really leaves your hair looking like Snape, or in MF’s case, the Bird Woman from Mary Poppins—and out to one last meal, at the Oak Creek Brewery, where the food was fine but the bartender sneered at me when I asked if they stocked yellow Chartreuse.  How on earth can they make a Molly 22 or a Bartender on Acid?  I settled for a Manhattan, resisting the urge to ask him if he stocked sweet vermouth and rye.

By the way, Sedona also has elks.

One more day, then back to real life.


1 This is pronouned EE-YAY.  Of course.

2 Go look them up.

Arizona: Day 6

Uptown Sedona is basically two streets or so lined with shops that vie with each other in their offerings of a) Native American art; b) Native American jewelry; c) tourist stuff; d) trendy clothing; e) variously themed foods; and of course f) HIPPIE WOO!

You can buy crystals/gemstones, both little tumble/polished numbers and more elegant and mysterious items like spheres and pointers and angels in a dizzying variety of materials.  There were minerals/gems I had never heard of, and in the better shops they’d be labeled with their attributes.

As far as I’m concerned, here’s the deal with crystals—and indeed with all hippie woo: while I cannot believe that the rocks are efficacious in any way in themselves, they certainly can provide a focus for your thoughts and meditations.  So do I believe that howlite can “absorb anger, teach patience, and strengthen teeth and bones“?  Not at all.  But if you need to work on your patience, then having a howlite stone in your pocket or on your desk can certainly help remind you of your goal.

If you follow that link in the previous paragraph and end up going down the rabbit hole of all the pretty rocks, you will notice that each stone has some really woo-tastic attributes—angels, auras, past lives, all that kind of thing.  This is to be taken seriously here in Sedona, because all these shops selling crystals also each have at least one psychic onstaff.  You can get your aura photographed and read (with a 23-page report in one instance); tarot readings; chakras cleansed/balanced/aligned; palms read; and more.  It is a veritable smorgasbord.

Here is one purchase I made:

It’s a sandstone coaster made here in Arizona (I bought four), and the design is the Navajo “Man in the Maze.”  It derives from a basket design, and it is the only example of the labyrinth in North America. The weird shape of it was dictated by the necessities of weaving, but it’s the classic 7 circuit pattern that resides in my own back yard.

It is worth noting that Sedona has an extremely split personality.  On the one hand, its major industry is serving the international Hippie Woo population.  On the other, it is a retirement community for very well-to-do white people.  There is no nightlife.  Only restaurants are open past 9:30 p.m., and from our lofty perch at the Sky Ranch Lodge, we can watch the traffic on highway 89A dwindle to nothing.

You can especially see this in West Sedona, which is what we see from our lofty perch.  Whole Foods, upscale shops, etc.: it is basically Lovely East Cobb.  When we went in search of some of the more notable woo shops in the area, some of us had high hopes for a “gypsy style” clothing store attached to one of the crystal shops, but the clothing was not for hippies at all.  One would  not wear a sophisticated linen top with cute slacks to Burning Man, would one?

The main attraction of Sedona’s woo is, of course, the vortexes.1

When we first started planning this trip, a vortex experience was at the top of our list of wooish things to do, and so I went online and found Rahelio.  Rahelio is a gentle, good-looking Native American shaman, and he takes seekers such as ourselves on three-hour experiences.  I do recommend him.  We were discussing this morning how we expect the bigger tour groups might just take you in a jeep or a bus to see the vortexes, but Rahelio guides you into ways to encounter them through your own spiritual set.

If you go researching the vortexes, you will find that Sedona is just lousy with them and with “power places,” all of them arranged rather tidily in complex geometric patterns.  We went to two, one in the Oak Creek Canyon next to a rushing stream, and one that is actually next to the Sky Ranch Lodge, up on one of the red rocks.

As is my usual custom, I’m not going into detail about what we experienced, but a lovely time was had by all.  Rahelio guided us through the water/Earth Mother experience, and then through the wind/Sky Father.

Here’s what I will say: for the first time on this trip, we didn’t hit a wall at 8:30 or 9:00.  We were all quite energized by our woo.

I didn’t take photos, largely, but here are a couple:

This was on the way up to our second vortex and we couldn’t resist recording the moment.  Rahelio, who was very quick with metaphor and analogy, quipped that it was a perfect model for love.

Marc and MF atop the mountain:

And us:

A panorama from atop the mountain:

— click to embiggen —

(We did not do our sky ceremony on top—lots of noisy people up there—but on a lower promontory that was still pretty high up and glorious.)

I will share one part of my personal experience.  I am almost completely hopeless when it comes to guided imagery, so while we reclined on the rock and Rahelio was talking us through the journey, I just allowed myself to float along and experience whatever happened.  Little of what he asked us to visualize came to me; I am, as I said, completely hopeless.

However, as I began to emerge from my meditation/journey/(nap?), I got a very clear image and a very clear instruction: “Take a piece of charcoal.”  I mean to say, wot?

First of all, I thought, there won’t be any charcoal up here because no one lights fires up here.  Second of all, what are the ethics of taking stuff off the mountain?

So after everyone else talked about what they had seen—and Rahelio offered interpretations for them—I mentioned the command to find a piece of charcoal.  He explained that sometimes there are fires up here because of lightning strikes, so it wasn’t impossible.

I looked about and there seemed to be small dark pieces of something, but I wasn’t sure whether they were rock or wood, and just weathered wood at that.  As we got up to move on to the top of the mountain, though, I saw a small, absolutely black piece of charcoal.  I picked it up, and it broke into three equal pieces:

I have clue why or what.  Rahelio made some mention of lighting “the fire of my dreams.”  Whatever that might be…  At any rate, they’re safely stowed with my stuff and will come home with me for further meditation.  As we often say around here, more work is required.

We had met Rahelio at the Whole Foods, where another couple had joined us in his vehicle.  He dropped us off there, and we decided to create our own small repast rather than going out to gorge ourselves as is our wont.  We promptly met a couple who, hearing our southern accents, astoundingly identified the “southwest of Atlanta” place we were from as Newnan.  She has cousins there—whom we know, of course—and they know north Georgia quite well.

Talk about vortexes.  The Newnan Vortex reigns supreme.


1 Yes, “vortexes,” not “vertices.”  There is no more rational explanation for this aberration than for the concept itself.

Arizona: Day 5

Last day at the Grand Canyon. We arose and drove back into the park to the Yavapai Geology Museum. It sits on the rim at a point designated by some committee way back in the day as being the most phenomenal view on the South Rim.

— click for larger image —

I suppose one could argue the point.

I highly recommend the Museum, but only after your brain is overloaded with all the views, and here’s why: you will find yourself, as you gawk helplessly at the grandeur, wondering why and how and Sweet Cthulhu what??

How do you read all those layers of rock?  What happened here?  Why is this the only one of its kind—why aren’t there grandish sorts of canyons littering the continents?  They’re all big enough, and it might be pleasant to have some in more temperate climates, with trees and flowers and such.

The museum answers all those questions in a very beautiful, organized way.  It’s the only place in the Park where you find yourself not looking at the Canyon.  Pro tip:  in the geological timeline, on the little round hemisphere maps of the gadabout continents, those faint, barely visible gray lines are the United States.  It took me halfway through the timeline to realize that.  Doh.

The inability to know what I was seeing grew stronger and stronger every moment the past few days: on the river, how do you read all the little ripples and backwashes and eddies?  How do you read the rocks’ layers and joints and crumblings? How do you understand how all the plants and animals are joined together?

How do you make sense of all the hundreds of millions of years of accidents and erosions and ebbs and flows and drifts and uplifts?

The short answer is that you can’t, ever.  No one can.  All you can do is try to be there, present, and part of it—and take some of that wonder with you back to your own back yard and realize that the profound ignorance you faced in the Canyon is just as present in the Labyrinth if you will only sit and be there, present, and part of it.

We hit the road to Sedona, the last phase of our trip.

On the way, we stopped off in Flagstaff for lunch, and for me to buy a windchime that I had admired last Saturday. Also, a scientifically correct sculpture of a zebra-tailed lizard.  Photos will have to wait till we return to Newnan, because its little toes and tail are incredibly fragile and I’m not unwrapping it.  Should have gotten a picture of it when I bought it, I guess.

Sedona, for those of you who have only a vague awareness of it, is the New Age Hippie Woo capital of the world.  Its main attraction are the Vortexes, super-spiritual earth energy centers.  I will try to explain more about those after our sunset tour this evening with Rahelio.

Sedona was actually the main goal of our trip when we started planning it; the LFW helped expand the thing into this glorious trek.  Some of our party were eager to sample the energies and woo, and I am one of them.  Yes, it’s woo, but it’s first class, grade-A woo, and I want some of it.

The drive down was not what we expected.  First the pine forests started, and then suddenly we were in a mountain, and then an extremely steep, twisty decline into the Oak Creek Canyon, where signs and AM radio stations warned us to listen for flash flood warnings.  Oh my.

You see how the stone is white limestone, and you will also notice that we are now in a region where it rains enough to support plant life.

The closer you get to Sedona, though, the more the rocks become the red limestone for which the city is most famous.

We are staying at the Sky Ranch Lodge, which is up on the mesa next to the airport (and one of the vortexes).  Here’s the view from our porch, the courtyard:

Little collective cabins with porches; swimming pool; event site for weddings, although there aren’t any this weekend.

Sure, who wouldn’t want to get married here?  After seeing the view, we asked if any rooms were available with porches facing the cliffs, and there were.  We moved our stuff posthaste.  This is now our view:

And now it’s time to go to downtown Sedona and shop for crystals and incense, maybe get our chakras balanced, and in general just wallow in the woo.

Arizona: Day 4 in full

So, yesterday we went on a multi-part adventure. My Lovely First Wife booked an All The Things tour1, via Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines, and as usual the rest of us were slightly aghast to find that it a) was twelve hours long; b) involved an ATV ride, hiking, and river rafting; c) ended with a three-hour van ride back to the airport; and d) worst of all, required us to be at the airport at 5:45 a.m.

And as usual, the entire thing was glorious.

First of all, if you have never been to the Grand Canyon at all, go. You have no choice in the matter. Just go.

Secondly, save up enough pennies to book a flight over the Canyon, preferably after you think you’ve seen it all from every viewpoint. You haven’t, and flying over it will re-boggle your mind. (I would recommend a helicopter ride rather than a plane ride.)

We arrived at the Grand Canyon Airport on time and were sent out onto the tarmac to get into a smallish plane:

I am still squeamish about heights and especially heights in smallish aircraft. But we all loaded in, our party plus a nice couple from Yorkshire plus a pleasantly talkative man originally from Savannah, and up we went.

I will not bore you with all the photos I took.

We flew up the river to Page, AZ, where the Glen Canyon Dam creates Lake Powell:

We deplaned and climbed onto one of those tour jeep-like things where you sit on a bench with perfect strangers, in this case three Chinese women who had spent the weekend in a reunion of thirteen of their girlfriends from elementary/high school in China—all of whom now live and work all over the U.S. and Canada. It was quite startling to hear them conversing in Mandarin and suddenly one says, “Whatever…” in perfect valley girl inflection.

There was elkage:

Our destination was the Upper Antelope Canyon. I knew that from the booking but had no idea that where we were heading was THAT canyon—you know, the one on all the posters.

This is our guide, Dee, shepherding us into the canyon. It’s actually a deep cleft in the rock, scoured by wind, sand, and flash floods. As Dee explained, small flash floods deposit sand while big ones flush it out. In the 15 years she has been a guide, twelve feet of sand have been deposited in the canyon.

Again, I could go for pages posting photos: the whole place is one huge photographer’s orgasm. I’ll post a few with the warning that you won’t see any dramatic shafts of light like on the posters—it’s too late in the year for that. In another couple of weeks, Dee said, light won’t penetrate the canyon at all.

Even though the place was relatively packed—there was a tour right ahead of us, one was treading on our heels, and we walked back through all the tours on their way in—it was peaceful in that stunning way that sculptural architecture is. Like the Grand Canyon, your eye cannot take it in and comprehend it, even though it’s so much smaller.2

We hopped back on the tour jeep and were taken to the river tour place, where we got on a luxurious bus and drove for a longish while, crossing the Colorado via the Navajo Bridge, the only bridge for hundreds of miles, over an already deep gorge.

Our destination was Lee’s Crossing, the only place where the cliffs take a break and give people and animals a shot at crossing the river. Until the Navajo Bridge was built, it was the only way to get across the Colorado at all.

We got onto a nice, large, stable inflatable raft with our box lunches and proceeded to munch while Kim, our pilot, guided us away from the dock and upstream towards Lake Mead. The tour usually puts in up near the dam, but there has been some alarm and concern over a particularly large piece of rock (Kim said it was 30×40 feet, 8 feet thick deep) that was threatening to collapse. Apparently the standard procedure is to go ahead and dynamite the thing and get it over with, but since it’s next to the dam…

So we put in at Lee’s Crossing and went upstream.

The cliffs in this section of the river are Navajo sandstone. (The Grand Canyon is limestone.) Sandstone is much softer and easily sculptable by wind as well as water. It’s very easy to start seeing images in the stone.

These looked like a lady’s butt. Your mileage may vary.

As always, scale is difficult in these shots, so if you click on the following photo to get a full-size version, look in the distance for a tiny little pale blue-white dot. It’s along the shoreline, about halfway to the right of center. That’s one of the rafts in our flotilla, about 20 feet long.

We finally stopped off at a point that has ancient petroglyphs and restrooms. Both are marvels: the restrooms are solar-powered composting jobs, and at that point the shade they offered were as much a relief as the facilities. (There are actually seven campsites along the river with these wonders.)

The petroglyphs are from several different periods, and the guide gave an appropriately fuzzy “interp” of what they might be pictures of, mostly antelope and other fauna.  The hurky little figure to the right is most likely a deity of some kind.  You can tell because it’s elevated above the rest.3

The black surface is called “desert varnish” and is a microthin layer of clay and oxides that accrues to certain rocks in certain environments. It coats a great deal of the canyon walls in phantasmagorical patterns, and here the Native Americans scratched through the surface to create the glyphs—for reasons that are absolutely unknown and unknowable.

We went back down the river to Horseshoe Bend, pictured here from above:

The Colorado makes a 270° loop here, much like I-85 South as it splits from I-75. Here Kim cut the engine and we drifted for a while in the silence. There were mallards and herons, and the water was clear enough to see the bottom 30 feet below. (This clarity is due to the dam; previous to its completion in 1963, the Colorado was notoriously muddy. “Too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” was Powell’s assessment. And yes, ecologically that’s a problem.)

At this point, we were all hot, sunburned, and increasingly ready to be done with the adventure. Finally we made it back to the crossing. Like they say at the Canyon, it’s a long way back up.

Despite my fears of a three-hour van ride back to the airport, we were welcomed by the luxurious bus with a charming and informative bus driver, and even an interesting onboard documentary about river runners.

Arriving back in Tusayan, we cleaned ourselves off and went back down to the Best Western for a simple meal of tapas.

1 Officially known as the Scenic Canyon River Adventure Tour
2 “Smaller” is always a relative term in these parts: the walls of the canyon were hundreds of feet tall.
3 It’s always been my opinion that perhaps scholars should consider that these are doodles by bored shepherds, or even by children whose mothers told them to go amuse themselves.

Arizona, Day 2, maybe 3 who can tell?

Flagstaff, Sunday morning, we walked over to the weekend arts festival.  On the way we encountered this:

The attorney’s name is FLICK, you sick people.

After buying nothing of note1, we headed out of town, stopping first at the Safeway to pick up snacks, water, etc., and also:

IN THE SAFEWAY, YOU GUYS!  Is this a great state or what? Outside of their tendency to elect rightwing nutjobs to office, that is.

We drove up to Tusayan, the little community right outside the Grand Canyon and which is where those of us without foresight or money stay when we come to the Canyon.  Seriously, you have to make reservations in the park years in advance.2

We checked in to the Red Feather Lodge just as one of those amazing storms rolled in: huge raindrops, ferocious lightning, and hail.  We hunkered down and napped till the storm passed.

Finally we headed out.  Our companions have never been to the Canyon, and so we drove to the first overlook and let the awesomeness wash over them.

The Canyon did not disappoint.

— click for full view —

They were awestruck with the mist and low clouds and patches of blue through which the setting sun began to shine.  And always, that amazing, amazing view. We kept moving, stopping at each overlook.

However, that storm we thought had passed had not, and so by the time we got to Grandview, it was freezing and lightning again, so we headed back in.

By the way, have you ever seen hail drifts? Yes, the storm that pelted the hotel with a little hail had managed to do a main dump somewhere near Grandview, and the ground was covered with white pellets of ice.  I kind of wish I had been there to see it.

Nice meal at the Best Western—shut up, I am not lying: the Coronado Room is probably the nicest restaurant in the area—and then willingly to bed.

Monday.  It’s Labor Day, but the area is oddly not packed.  We hypothesize that people went home yesterday because in the unenlightened parts of the country, they still wait to start school until after Labor Day, so either families don’t travel this weekend or they go home early.

Fine with us.  Lots of people, still.

Our plan was to drive all the way out to Desert View and the Watch Tower, then stop at All The Overlooks on the way back.

And that’s what we’ve done.  Endless views, endless grandeur.

I will say now that after the third or so overlook, you get out of the car thinking, “Jeebus, this one is only a couple hundred yards down the road, how different or exciting can this…” And then you see the Canyon again and it’s still amazing, it’s still, always, endlessly fascinating and beautiful and you cannot take your eyes off of it.

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Much wildlife, such canyon:

Spectacular elkage.

Really, the place was lousy with them, and mule deer.

And at least one rabbit.

What, you don’t see him? Here:

He sat patiently while we talked amiably with him, then continued to nibble on his grass.  None of the wildlife seemed at all concerned that we were there.

Sunset and dinner at El Tovar Lodge.

That’s a hurried tour of today.  Trust me, I have a lot more glorious photos of the Canyon, but I’ll probably wait till I get home where I can edit and tweak and then post.

For now, I have to get to bed so that I can get up at 5:oo to go take a plane ride, an ATV excursion, a boat trip, and a 3-hour ride in a van to get back to where we started.  Oi.


1 As usual, we bemoaned the fact that we always encounter the most amazing farmer’s markets when we are hundreds of miles away from our kitchens.

2 No joke—I just asked at the front desk of El Tovar and was handed a slip of paper with prices and the instructions that they started taking reservations thirteen months out.