Sunday, April 27, 2008

Powers of Ken

The last few days in Flagstaff have required some adjustment on our part, not only to the high altitude and dry climate, but also to the size of things around here. We could see that it was big and flat while driving in, but it wasn't until we started visiting places that we got a real sense of scale.

Back in the seventies, Charles and Ray Eames made a short film called Powers of Ten which shows the relative sizes of different objects, from the sub-atomic level (10-18 meters, the size of a carbon atom's nucleus) up to the entire observable universe (1024 meters). It's informative and well presented, but no amount of book learning can compare to life on the street. Or in the desert.

The Grand Canyon, where you can see nearly two billion years of geology in a single vista, is almost incomprehensibly HUGE. It's an average of ten miles between the South Rim and the North Rim, but us city slickers just ain't used to seein' all that wide open space. I sure am glad we bought these binoculars.


Going down the powers-of-ten scale, it was almost possible to wrap my head around the Barringer Meteorite Crater after a few hours of staring into the abyss. There are a few human-sized structures visible inside it, including old mining equipment and part of the fuselage of a small plane which flew down to escape the high winds (up to 180 mph on the rim) and couldn't get out again, but it's still 550 feet deep--almost as tall as the Washington Monument.


Finally, the pueblo ruins in Wupatki National Monument were actual dwellings, and we were allowed to walk around inside several of them. Just being surrounded by those walls and feeling the size of those spaces is remarkable. People actually lived here, over 800 years ago. Being that close to the artifacts makes it easier to imagine, but it's still far away in time and way outside our experience. Beyond our ken, as the Scots might say.


More photos later, including some large panoramas. (Funny story: I was so excited about the pueblos today, I actually filled up the memory card in our digital camera before lunch. Then I realized that card was only 256MB, and replaced it with the 4GB card from our camcorder. We don't usually take a lot of pictures, obviously.)

Dinner tonight: The best pizza in Flagstaff, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.


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