"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious" ~ Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blackrock Well Petroglyphs and Lee Flat Nightscapes, November 9th, 2013

On the east side of Lee Flat and up against the western flank of Nelson Mountain range, lies Blackrock Well - a place where one can take a walk back through time.  This is a remote, secluded petroglyph site where ancient drawings on the canyon rocks tell stories from people long ago.  I had tried to get to this site on my Lee Flat, Darwin Plateau Exploration ride a few weeks back, but had bungled the directions, ending up a not-so-impressive old mining site instead.  Disappointed to miss the petroglphys, I came back out over the weekend of November 9th, 2013, with Rebecca and the doggies, Rosco and Daisy, for a second attempt at locating this magical little canyon.

Doing a little more research this time, I realized there was no road to the actual location.  Perfect!  It had been a while since my last hike and it felt great to get out again.  Plus, I knew the site would be that much more secluded.  It was about 2 miles of cross country travel through scattered Joshua Trees across Lee Flat, leading to the western escarpment of the Nelson range.  Canyons wind their way down from the high rocky ridges, with dark, volcanic looking rocks gathered near the bottom flanks.  One of these canyons had the mysterious petroglyhs we were looking for.  But, which one?

Showing up extra prepared this time, we used a GPS to lead us right to the canyon holding Blackrock Well and its rock art.  It would have been easy to spot, but I wasn't taking any chances this time!  There was one particular canyon where Mother Nature had gathered the areas prize collection of dark-colored, clean, granitic boulders that native people discovered made a perfect parchment for their artwork.  The drawings are enigmatic and one can't help but wonder what story they are trying to tell, but the details are lost to time.  However, some things were clear.  Big Horn Sheep and the Snake were obvious co-inhabitants in this land long ago, as they figured prominently in many of the drawings.  Occasionally a figure of either a warrior, or hunter, would appear.  Sun bursts would appear, giving hints the desert could get just as hot then, as now.

After taking an extended hike further up-canyon and taking lots of photographs, we trekked back across Lee Flat, hopped in the 4Runner and headed over to the excellent camp site I found last time I was here.  Rebeca made a yummy back country dinner, which you can read about here.  It was delicious!  The dogs were so relaxed, as they hung out nearby in the vehicle.  They had the most amazing expressions of serene contentment I had ever seen.  Clearly, they needed a good hike too!

Next up, waiting, followed by a little more waiting.  We didn't mind.  It always feels nice to soak in the desert surroundings.  We were waiting to try out some timelapse photography on the sunset, followed my some photos of the night sky.  The sunset wasn't spectacular, but the timelapse still came out pretty decent.  The clouds were very cool.  They appeared stationary in real time, so it was neat to see all the hidden movement come alive in the video!  I also took an hour's worth of exposures every 60 secs to put together one of my first star trails photo and an accompanying timelapse.  I didn't get the intervals quite short enough, though.  So, overall, nothing spectacular, but good stuff for a first try.

Lee Flat Sunset

Orion Rising

Cosmic Spin Cycle

Our timelapse vidoes are available on Vimeo and embedded below.

We just ordered a new dSLR, which should really improve the landscape and night scape photos.  A Canon EOS 6D with a Sigma 20mm f/1.8 Wide Angle lens.  Cant' wait to try it out on an upcoming trip!

I think we got hooked on the petroglphys too.  There are many other secluded sites in Death Valley that are not well known and would also be very cool to visit.  So much to explore!

Smugmug Photo Album - Blackrock Well Petroglyphs, Lee Flat Sunset n Nightscapes

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reincarnation - Scientific American: Ian Stevenson’s Case for the Afterlife

Scientific American Article

This was an interesting article about Ian Stevenson who conducted the first systematic and rather monumental research effort into reincarnation.  Stevenson was a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia for ~50 years.  His work is continued there today by other folks in the Division of Perceptual Studies.   It was a bit shocking to see an article like this in Scientific American, especially one that acknowledges any rigor or the compelling nature of Stevenson's work.  Indeed, despite what certain folks think of reincarnation, it is rare to hear disparaging comments thrown in the direction of Stevenson.  Perhaps that alone says much for his repute of a scientist and the quality of his work, even if folks may not like the topic.

Overall, the article seemed like a fair assessment of his work.  I'll quote some of it here with a link to it included below.  I will also briefly discuss reincarnation further below, with a focus on Christianity.


"Stevenson’s main claim to fame was his meticulous studies of children’s memories of previous lives. Here’s one of thousands of cases. In Sri Lanka, a toddler one day overheard her mother mentioning the name of an obscure town (“Kataragama”) that the girl had never been to. The girl informed the mother that she drowned there when her “dumb” (mentally challenged) brother pushed her in the river, that she had a bald father named “Herath” who sold flowers in a market near the Buddhist stupa, that she lived in a house that had a glass window in the roof (a skylight), dogs in the backyard that were tied up and fed meat, that the house was next door to a big Hindu temple, outside of which people smashed coconuts on the ground. Stevenson was able to confirm that there was, indeed, a flower vendor in Kataragama who ran a stall near the Buddhist stupa whose two-year-old daughter had drowned in the river while the girl played with her mentally challenged brother. The man lived in a house where the neighbors threw meat to dogs tied up in their backyard, and it was adjacent to the main temple where devotees practiced a religious ritual of smashing coconuts on the ground. The little girl did get a few items wrong, however. For instance, the dead girl’s dad wasn’t bald (but her grandfather and uncle were) and his name wasn’t “Herath”—that was the name, rather, of the dead girl’s cousin. Otherwise, 27 of the 30 idiosyncratic, verifiable statements she made panned out. The two families never met, nor did they have any friends, coworkers, or other acquaintances in common, so if you take it all at face value, the details couldn’t have been acquired in any obvious way." *

"This Sri Lankan case is one of Stevenson’s approximately 3000 such “past life” case reports from all over the world, and these accounts are in an entirely different kind of parapsychological ballpark than tales featuring a middle-aged divorcĂ©e in a tie-dyed tunic who claims to be the reincarnation of Pocahantas. More often than not, Stevenson could identify an actual figure that once lived based solely on the statements given by the child. Some cases were much stronger than others, but I must say, when you actually read them firsthand, many are exceedingly difficult to explain away by rational, non-paranormal means. Much of this is due to Stevenson’s own exhaustive efforts to disconfirm the paranormal account. “We can strive toward objectivity by exposing as fully as possible all observations that tend to weaken our preferred interpretation of the data,” he wrote. “If adversaries fire at us, let them use ammunition that we have given them.” And if truth be told, he excelled at debunking the debunkers." *

"I’d be happy to say it’s all complete and utter nonsense—a moldering cesspool of irredeemable, anti-scientific drivel. The trouble is, it’s not entirely apparent to me that it is. So why aren’t scientists taking Stevenson’s data more seriously? The data don’t “fit” our working model of materialistic brain science, surely. But does our refusal to even look at his findings, let alone to debate them, come down to our fear of being wrong? 'The wish not to believe,' Stevenson once said, 'can influence as strongly as the wish to believe.' " *

"Towards the end of her own storied life, the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf—whose groundbreaking theories on surface physics earned her the prestigious Heyn Medal from the German Society for Material Sciences, surmised that Stevenson’s work had established that 'the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming … that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.' ”*

Christianity and Reincarnation

Reincarnation was a common idea around the time of Christ among the Jewish people.  It was a fairly foundational concept within Jewish Mysticism like Kabbalah.  

"The Zohar and related literature are filled with references to reincarnation, addressing such questions as which body is resurrected and what happens to those bodies that did not achieve final perfection, how many chances a soul is given to achieve completion through reincarnation, whether a husband and wife can reincarnate together, if a delay in burial can affect reincarnation,18 and if a soul can reincarnate into an animal."**

"The Bahir, attributed to the first century sage, Nechuniah ben Hakanah, used reincarnation to address the classic question of theodicy -- why bad things happen to good people and vice versa"**

Reincarnation was also very common among the Greeks.  No doubt Luke, an author of one of the three synoptic gospels, was also familiar with the concept.

Prominent early Church Fathers like Origen taught metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul, now better known as reincarnation.

" .... 'On First Principles', which is the most systematic and philosophical of Origen’s numerous writings. In this work Origen establishes his main doctrines, including that of the Holy Trinity (based upon standard Middle Platonic triadic emanation schemas); the pre-existence and fall of souls; multiple ages and transmigration of souls; and the eventual restoration of all souls to a state of dynamic perfection in proximity to the godhead." ***

Certain Bible quotes also suggest that not only was the idea common, but that discussion centered around it was not anathema.

John, Chapter 9:1-3
"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."

How can a man sin before he is born?  This sounds more like "karma" from a past life than anything.  Also, Jesus did not repudiate them for intimating at reincarnation, which would be surprising if reincarnation was a taboo, off-limits topic, as it it considered to be today in the Christian tradition.

Matthew 17:10-13
"The disciples asked him, 'Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?'  Jesus replied, 'To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.' Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist."

Once again, this sounds like a clear case of reincarnation, specifically dealing with John/Elijah.  Not only was it not repudiated by Jesus, he played a part in the suggestion!

Let's not also forget that reincarnation becomes an obvious theme when reading the theories within the Bible on just who Jesus was, as thought by the people of the day.

Mark 8:27-28
"Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, 'Who do people say I am?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.'"

All the theories here presented in Mark 8 clearly involve reincarnation.  Herod was also left confused by the theories he was hearing.

Luke 9:7-9
"Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, 'I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?' And he tried to see him."

Modern Day Accounts

Modern day accounts of reincarnation persist, even in cultures like our own where reincarnation is not an accepted belief.  The following is perhaps one of the more popular stories of a young boy who presumably remembered a past life, despite his parents being traditional Christians with no belief in reincarnation.  Some of the details are rather remarkable.

Here's a few more videos on this particular case:

Case for Reincarnation - Part I 

Case for Reincarnation - Part II


The idea of reincarnation has been a very wide-spread belief across many cultures throughout time.  Why it waned within Western culture is a complex discussion I might try to tackle another time.  However, it can be found within the seeds of our beliefs, even if it is hiding at times.  It is a recurrent theme in modern day Mystical Experiences and Near Death Experiences.  Despite the fact that the evidence could be claimed to be anecdotal, I think the sheer volume suggests that it would be best to at least keep an open mind when it comes to reincarnation.  And, if studies like AWARE end up showing that consciousness can exist independent of the body, concepts like reincarnation may suddenly become rather plausible.

Here is a video by Jim Tucker who is continuing Stevenson's work at the Division for Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.  He provides a nice summary of Stevenson 's work where one can also start to get a feel for the rigor of the work and the amount of systematic studies that have been done.


*Scientific American: Ian Stevenson’s Case for the Afterlife: Are We ‘Skeptics’ Really Just Cynics?

**Reincarnation and the Jewish Tradition

***Origina of Alexandria

University of Virgina School of Medicine, Division of Perceptual Studies

Friday, November 1, 2013

Crystal Crag, North Arete, 5.7

This was a memorable trip and part of the effort I have underway to get some retrospective trip reports up here.  I guess I'm getting into this blogging thing rather late in the game!  Crystal Crag was a really nice climb in a beautiful setting and it was also our first multi-pitch climb in the Sierra.  Crystal Crag sits just outside Mammoth Lakes, CA and is a rather striking peak from several angles.  It's a fairly tall, narrow, impressive looking fin of granite.  Although not quite as impressive as some other pieces of granite in the Sierra, the close proximity to Mammoth and all the nearby lakes adds something special to it.

The North Arete climbs the steep right-hand skyline seen in the picture above, which is then followed by an aesthetic, scenic ridge traverse to the summit.  It was quite an accomplishment for us given that I was still coming off of the lower back injuries/surgery and was also having some problems with my upper back!  At the base of the climb, I was having some discomfort even when I would breathe in, so it probably wasn't the wisest decision to go on with the climb.  Despite all that, everything turned out great.

We spent the night in Old Shady Rest campground in Mammoth and opted for an early pre-dawn start.  Rumor had it that the top of the climb was loose and the last thing we wanted was parties ahead of us kicking rocks down on us.   As luck would have it, not only were we the first ones on it that day, we were the only ones on it all day!

We climbed the N Arete in three pitches.  The first pitch is rated 5.7 and is the crux of the whole climb.  The crux move itself was pretty fun and interesting.  It required transitioning out of the chimney the climb starts in and onto the face just right of it .  However, it was actually the move shortly after this which grabbed my attention the most.  The next piece of pro I was able to place wasn't exactly what I would call bomber.  Right after this, one traverses slightly left to gain the crack system going up the Arete.  The traverse involved a foothold, which was nice-sized, but oddly angled and a bit slippery.  Along with the bad handholds here and the less-then desirable pro, I was glad to gain the crack system, which then provided a fairly easy, fun cruise to the top of pitch one. The second pitch was mostly class 3/4, with a few small class 5 moves thrown in for fun.  Some great views of the lakes below start to open up on this pitch.   The third pitch has another small section of 5.5/6 crack climbing.  The following picture shows these bottom pitches, although it has the usual "shrinking" effect on the upper pitches, making them look shorter than they really were.  There are many variations on the climb, but it sounds like the difficulties most folks encounter are fairly equivalent on average.

We had a bit of an incident on pitch 3, which turned into one of those valuable learning lessons.  When I started out on pitch 3, the first 30 feet or so were rather circuitous followed by a move back into a deep-set chimney.  At the bottom of the chimney, I had a feeling I should bring Rebecca up and just make another pitch out of it.  I didn't listen to my gut instinct and part way up the chimney the rope drag got so bad I could barely climb forward at all.  I ended up making an anchor and used my body weight to overcome the drag, while Rebecca lowered me back down to the bottom of the chimney.  I built another anchor here, brought Rebecca up and then tackled the chimney and with much less rope drag this time!  I guess, perhaps, this really made our climb 4 pitches.  Lesson learned: listen to gut instincts and don't be lazy!

Crystal Crag, N Arete is Along the Sun/Shade Line

Crystal Lake

Rebecca Coming Up The First Pitch
The most talked about part of this climb is the Crystal Pitch at the top.  Crystal Crag is named for the amount of crystal quartz found on the peak and this pitch is 100% all crystal quartz.  At first, I thought it would be very slippery, but it actually was pretty gritty supplying all the friction one needed to climb through this section.  It was a pretty short pitch, but kind of surreal while it lasted!

The "Crystal Pitch" Just Below Summit Ridgeline

Rebecca At Top of "Crystal Pitch"
Next up was the summit ridge traverse, which was as much a blast as it was reputed to be.  It had one semi-long, exposed Class 4 downclimb, but other than that not too bad.  After this, one arrives at a notch for the final bit of ridge to the summit.  Rebecca and I decided to call it quits here.  There was a ferocious wind at this point, making the exposed, balancy moves rather scary.  We were also both tired and neither one of us felt like getting the rope out again!  So, we leisurely made our way down the Class 3 East Face to Crystal Lake below where we relaxed with a hard-earned snack.  The hike back was beautiful, as the trail meandered along on a hillside above all the lakes.  On the way home, were also treated to a beautiful desert sunset.  A very nice day and a highly recommended climb.

Rebecca On Crystal Crag Summit Ridge Line

We made a video for the trip, but it's just a slide show containing several more photos not pictured above.