Flagstaff Musings

I.

So here I am in Flagstaff, Arizona, birthplace of crazy Mars canals theories and the demoted planet Pluto. I like this city. Coming from the arid and bleakly beautiful San Juan Basin (the geological area Chaco Canyon is in), the San Francisco peaks that hover over the town to the North are like walking down the sidewalk on a hot day and getting hit by an errant sprinkler. I took a ride up that way this morning looking for a good camping site for tonight and I was alternately feeling giddy and moved by the landscape and the smell of pine forest.

II.

An Easterner is a bit crippled in understanding the land out the west, I have discovered. Back East, there are two kinds of land. Private and public, and public usually means long roads connecting tiny parks. In this part of the country, however, there’s all different kinds of land: BLM land, BIA land, Tribal land, Tribal-leased land, Private land, State land, Forest Service land, National Park land. The rules are different for each kind of land. BLM and Forest Service land is very interesting, because you can camp almost anywhere. This boggles the East-Coase-addled mind: wait, where’s the designated campsite? What do you mean, I don’t have to follow the trails?

III.

Add to this realization that I actually own massive tracts of public lands (for all practical applications) the fact that I have never camped alone, and I’m in for an interesting experience. I have to admit a certain bit of trepidation. To get to my chosen campsite (pointed out with a very dirty fingernail and recommended to me by the guy at Peace Surplus camping supplies) I have to take a long rocky forest service road, turn on another, and then another that’s closed about .7 miles on, and then pull off. It’s right under Shultz Peak, which is my kind of peak: not very tall and with an alpine glade on top, just calling for a short hike. (I’m not a very aggressive hiker. I’m more likely to say “Hey, there’s a trail that goes around that mountain!”) Anyway, I’ve never hiked alone in the woods. It’s kinda freaking me out, though I feel like it’s something I should learn how to do. I could write more about this feeling, but I don’t need to. The excellent Mary Kelly, who teaches in the education department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, made a great digital story about this. So, if you’re seeking to empathize, check out Mary’s story.

IV.

It seems a comet or asteroid struck Jupiter in the last few days. There’s a new giant black cloud in its southern hemisphere, like the ones formed when Comet Shumaker-Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter in 1994. So sky-watchers with telescopes will be carefully watching Jupiter over the next few nights to see if they can spot the new blemish. You can keep up with the story at Spaceweather.com. Here’s a pic of the pimple, which is likely near half the size of our whole planet.

Anthony Wesley's photograph of the new impact. It's the dark cloud at the top (south is up) of the image.

Anthony Wesley's photograph of the new impact. It's the dark cloud at the top (south is up) of the image.

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