Sensory Deprivation and Overload

For the last year, I’ve had this really weird caving, I mean, craving. As a hiker, I am all about heights. I go to the tops of things. And yet, I’ve felt this pull to be inside of mountains rather than on top of them. To be honest, it was a little disconcerting. Was it something to do with being cozy? I do like sleeping in a blanket cocoon or the crook of an arm. Or maybe I’ve just wanted to be somewhere quiet where the sound of the Fishtown pizza truck can’t reach me. Whatever the reason, I’ve been looking for an excuse to be underground so when a Holbrook local told me about a lava cave just outside of Flagstaff that was formed back when this whole area was a volcano, I decided it was time for an adventure.

Lava River Park cave entrance

At 9am the next day I turn on my headlamp, climb into a hole in the ground, and scamper down the pile of rocks that makes up the entrance to the cave until I reach blackout conditions. I turn off my headlamp, take off my swishy rain jacket and listen for silence.

What I hear is nothing and everything. It sounds like recordings of outer space. Is this the sound of the cave? I wonder. Or is this what my brain sounds like in silence? I begin to experiment with different sounds. A whistle is immediately absorbed into the cave walls. Footsteps sound hollow on the porous lava rock. When other cave explorers come close their voices sound as though they are coming through air shafts from another part of a building.

I wave my hand in front of my face. Nothing. But I think I can see it. My brain, knowing where my hand ought to be, is filling in the gaps. Not only that, it is creating imaginary light. I can “see” what look like wisps of grey smoke right in front of me. You can take the girl out of the light but you can’t take the light out of the girl. If my mind doesn’t want to experience true darkness there is nothing I can do to change that.

It’s fifty degrees cooler in the cave than it is above ground so I soon put my jacket back on, turn on my headlamp, and trek on. At times the cave emits a sweet smell that I associate with the cigarettes my ex-boyfriend used to smoke and I wonder what kind of shenanigans go on in this cave after hours.

I make my way through 15 foot high caverns and crouch through 3 foot high tunnels. When I finally make it back to the surface the smell of ponderosa pine filled my nostrils and I breathe deeply until I grow immune to the scent.

Just past the pines was this bucolic scene that made my heart happy. And so what if I made friends with one of the cows and had a hard time leaving. It could happen to anyone.

My darkness addled brain is shocked to find that it is only 10.30am. I leave Lava River Park and head for a city known throughout the world for the quality of it’s light.

Sedona, AZ

This afternoon, I took what can only be described as an uncalled for, indecent, obscene, amount of Sedona photos.

I. could. not. stop. taking. pictures.

I tried, really I did, but somehow from a seven hour visit I have 130 photos. That’s 18 1/2 photos per hour or one photo every 3 minutes. To make matters worse, I spent half of my time in Sedona at a vegan cafe called ChocolaTree gorging myself on organic food and reliable internet, which means that really, while I was actually out and about, I was taking a photo every 90 seconds.

But can you blame me?

My photographic downfall was to hike Doe Mountain at sunset. I could have died happy up there, thus proving that I still do love heights. Phew. Even when I swung my hand into a prickly pear cactus, aka the poison ivy of the west, I was giddy at the essential desertness of the experience. As the sun set and the moon rose, the mountains began to glow like they were salt crystals, lit with little tea candles from the inside.

Doe Mountain at Sunset

I may be an ambling sort but I think I could live here for a while. The locals I’ve met are kind, outdoorsy, and sun kissed. The city is packed with art galleries and today at lunch I overhead the two men next to me talking about Scorpio moon while a waitress at another table was assuring the patrons that there was no honey or soy in their order and yes, the live music would begin shortly. I look around at the cliffs and gardens and think that short of living in an actual network of treehouses or on actual clouds, Sedona might have everything I want in a city. I, too, want to hike red rock mountains, get a job in a glass blowing factory, and talk about astrology! I think back to the time I got my first tattoo. “Mom!” I said. “I got into college and I got a tattoo!” What could she say but ‘Congratulations!’ I think I could pull that off again: “Mom! I’m moving to Arizona but at least my vote will count!”

This cafe has a whole vegan chocolate counter.

I contemplate spending the night and driving back to the park early in the morning but I have a voicemail from Jennifer, one of the bio interns saying that if I want to come feed the prairie dogs in the backcountry tomorrow I should be in Andy’s office at 6am. My life, I think, is perfect, hippie dream.

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