Catalina Island Inspiration: Finding Faith on a Zip Line

It’s interesting how close you can come to complete trust in your connection to the universe and still hold back just that little bit. I don’t belong to any organized religion, but feel a deep connection to the divine energy that connects us all. I have had all kinds of evidence over the years that I can trust in the support and guidance of that divine energy, but I still often hesitate in fear. What if I leap after my dreams and the universe doesn’t support me? Ever had that feeling?

I ponder the thought from a wooden platform high in the hills of Catalina Island with a hint of a view of Avalon Harbor.

Catalina Zip Line

View down the line on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

It was already on my mind when I was invited by the Catalina Island Company, which owns most of the private portion of Catalina Island that’s not part of the Catalina Conservancy, to join a few other writers for a night on Catalina sampling some of the island adventures. It sounded like it could be fun, but wouldn’t really move me toward my goals as the newly minted children’s singer/songwriter, Auntie Kayte.

Rather than agonize over the decision, I checked in with the universe and asked if I should go.

It said yes. Go for it.

I was surprised. I expected a quick no, and I’d move on with more music-related activities.

I asked again and still got yes.

That made me kind of curious, and I really do trust my connection to the universe, so I accepted the invitation. Maybe I would meet someone I needed to know on the trip. Maybe I just needed a break.

I wasn’t really expecting to end up here on this platform.

The invitation offered a choice of activities like a Hummer tour, helicopter tour, zip lining, Dolphin Quest, Undersea Adventure, kayaking, and more.  I thought I’d have a chance to choose my specific adventures, but arriving on the island, I received my itinerary which included the Hummer tour and a helicopter tour for all of us and a separate more active itinerary for me and another Kate who also wanted to spend some more time outdoors. The bonus adventures they booked us were the Dolphin Quest at 11 am and a 2:30 pm Zip Line Eco Tour.

Uh huh. Even though I’m pretty adventurous – white water rafting is one of my favorite activities – in some cases I’m more adventurous in my fantasy than in my perceived reality.

I have no interest in bungee jumping or sky diving, but zip lining was a gray area. I like to think of me being that adventurous, but the idea of stepping off a platform and trusting a cable to carry me across a canyon is pretty intimidating. Yet here I am.

A couple years ago to test my mettle, I tried the zip line across the LA Convention Center at the annual LA Travel Show. I survived (the climb up was pretty scary), but it didn’t make me want to book a trip to Costa Rica to zip through the rain forest.

When looked at the itinerary with the Zip Line Eco Tour, my first thought was “……..zip lining….what have I gotten myself into?” followed more slowly by, “I did it in the convention hall. I can do this.”

When I checked into my room at the Pavilion Hotel, I quickly pulled out my laptop to look up the specific activities on my schedule. Dolphin Quest turned out to be a speed boat ride looking for dolphins wherever they’ve last been spotted in the bay. It’s “not recommended for people who get motion sickness.”  Good thing I brought along some Bonine and my anti-motion sickness wrist bands.

My research continued to the Zip Line Eco Tour. Two hours zipping down 5 different lines from platform to platform from the summit down to the beach. Five lines. Not one. Five times stepping off a platform and trusting that I won’t fall to my death or make a crash landing at the next platform. Neither of those outcomes particularly concerned me. I was more afraid of that free-fall stomach drop you get in an amusement park drop ride. I avoid those rides.

Since it was scheduled toward the end of the 2nd day, I still had time to chicken out altogether.

The Hummer Eco Tour of the East End was great fun. Our driver, Bear, made a point of perching us precariously close to the edge of the dirt road with a shear drop into the canyons to take in each stunning view. I felt perfectly secure belted into the open Hummer inches from the precipice, but the passenger seated behind me was squealing in fear (although she wasn’t scared enough to move to an interior seat).

Hummer Touor

Visitors on the East End Hummer Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Bear gave us a detailed description of the island’s history and ecology as he drove, from the American Bison herd left behind after a 1920s movie shoot, to the reintroduction of the bald eagle after DDT destroyed the original population, to the 19 varieties of eucalyptus trees. Periodically he reached out the window and pointed out a bit of dessert paintbrush growing next to the dirt road or the abundant white sage used by the Native Americans for purification and spiritual cleansing, or as “cowboy cologne” to mask less pleasant odors.

We broke out of the overcast as we climbed to the summit. We could see the tiny town of Avalon far below to the east. Fingers of cloud rolled over the hills to the west, giving Bear a moment’s pause before deciding to continue in the direction we were heading – through the clouds and past the Zip Line Eco Tour entrance.

 Hummer Tour on Catalina Island

The East End Hummer Tour on Catalina Island, CA

“What’s that trail next to the platform?” I asked. “That’s the bail out trail if someone chickens out and doesn’t want to jump,” said Bear. I found the idea reassuring.

We awoke the next morning to a fine drizzle (what do they expect when they invite Rainy Day Traveler?). With a helicopter tour, a bumpy boat ride and zip line tour ahead of me, I added a dose of Bonine to my coffee, fruit and croissant from the breakfast buffet.

Exclusively for guests of the Pavilion Hotel, the Catalina Island Company now offers Heli-Hiking and Biking options where a helicopter will fly you to a spot above Two Harbors at the other end of the island, and pick you up after you hike down to the town, or it will drop you at a location in town where you can ride a mountain bike into the hills and back. We got the 18 minute ride, without the hiking or biking, which was just as well, since it would have been wet and muddy in the mist.

Helicopter View of Catalina

Rainy helicopter view of the isthmus at Two Harbors on Catalina Island, CA

It wasn’t the best visibility for flying. In fact it was complete white-out conditions on the north side of the island, so we headed back the way we came. It was fun getting a bird’s eye view just the same, and the ride was smoother than I expected.

Dolphin Quest, on the other hand, was wildly bumpy. It’s so jarring that they seat you straddled, like on a horse, so you can stabilize yourself with your legs over the big waves and don’t go flying around the boat. Our quest took us south of Avalon and then north, with no dolphins to be found. We did get to see hundreds of sea lions on a beach near the quarry and on a large buoy in the bay. On the way back to the pier we ran into another posse of 20 or so sea lions out cavorting in the ocean.

Sea lions

Sleeping sea lions near Catalina Island, CA

The bouncy race over the waves was exhilarating, like riding whitewater, but I could have used a winter parka rather than my little rain jacket given the wind chill factor. Kate was bundled in blankets against the cold. We were the only two passengers on a boat that holds six to 12 so there were no other bodies to help keep us warm.

Dolphin Quest Catalina

Wrapped in a blanket against the wind on a rubber speed boat on a Dolphin Quest from Avalon, Catalina Island, CA

As much as we enjoyed the heli-tour and the Dolphin Quest, we both agreed they would make better afternoon activities after the sun has time to break through the marine layer.

After lunch it’s time to face my fears. Sarah joins Kate and I and 7 other adventurers as we receive our orientation from our dashing and entertaining young guides, Jake and Doug at Zip Line Eco Tours.

As we line up to get fitted in our harnesses, a young man turns to me, “You’re going too?” he asks surprised.

OK, so I guess at 5’5″ coming in just barely under the weight limit I don’t look the part of the great adventurer. As Jake is fitting my harness, I’m wondering if these straps are going to aggravate my bursitis, which I’ve finally gotten under some control. “You’ll be fine,” comes from my Trusted Source and the pain potential vanishes from my thoughts.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Jake demontrates the rig during orientation at the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

In addition to the heavy metal rig that attaches us to the wire that we each have to carry, I’ve got a 5 pound camera-lens setup with me as I join the others on the bus to the top of the course. I have no illusion that I’ll be able to shoot from the line, but I can at least get some action shots of my companions from the platforms.

So now here we are, geared up and ready to go, high up near the summit with the ocean barely peaking around all the hills below.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Platform 1 on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

In addition to our trio, the group consists of a couple young guys from Malaysia, another Katie, in her 20s and her dad, a tall woman named Kat in high fashion boots and fishnet sweater who decided at the last minute this would be a great way to help her boyfriend get over his fear of heights, and Ethan, a 15-year-old with plenty of zip line experience  whose T-shirt declares quite truthfully “I am awesome.”

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Our crew on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Doug zips down the line first to set up catch position at the next platform. Then Jake attaches young Ethan to the line to show us how it’s done. Jake explains that one hand should be kept on the handle to keep you from spinning and getting tangled, and that upside down probably isn’t a good idea. Other than that, we’re free to move around.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Doug zips ahead to set up catch position at platform 2.

Ethan takes a running leap off the platform. He twists this way and that, waves for my camera, then strikes a superman pose for a second before turning back to landing position.

Zip Line Eco Tour Catalina

On the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Yeah, sure.

Sarah and Kate have each zipped before. Kate steps up next. She steps off conservatively and gets her bearings before letting go with one hand and turning back to us with a smile and a big scissor kick. Sarah’s orange shoes stand out against the sage chaparral of the canyon as she zips down the line.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Kate on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Now it’s my turn.

I step up onto the platform to be attached to the line, securing my camera. I have no intention of letting go of the two handles to take pictures. Jake fastens my rig to the line.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Jake fastens my rig to the line on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island

Some of the others stepped off the edge; some leapt. I can’t just step off the platform. I fear that stomach plunge. So I move carefully down the couple steps and sit down in the harness until I can feel its support. Once I can feel the line go tense, I lift my feet, Jake gives me a little push and I soar straight down the line. Hands gripping, legs straight out in landing position from the get go.

About half way down I let out a tiny “weeeee!” that carries across the canyon. But my eyes don’t stray from my goal. At full speed, it’s hard to imagine that the brake will be able to stop me, but it does, gently, and Doug reels me in and unhooks me.

I did it! One down. Four more to go.

At each platform there are interpretive panels about the flora and fauna of the area . Jake expounds mostly on the fauna, but only as long as we continue to express interest. He fills in more detail on some of the stories we heard the day before from Bear, like where the birth control came from that they’re now using on the bison to keep the herd size down. Doug doesn’t talk much other than a hearty “great job!” as you land.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Kat is all style on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Time for the second run. I get a little braver and move a little closer to the edge before sitting into the harness, but I still need to feel that support before I take off. This time I experiment with the idea of taking one hand off the handle, but as the wind starts to spin me, I grasp for my strap to keep from completely spinning around and return both hands to the handles.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

It’s easier to shoot video one-handed with a point and shoot camera

On the third run, the longest at 1100 feet, I think about trying to take a photo, but again the wind is too strong for me to keep from spinning, much less to aim 5 pounds of camera one-handed.

From the 4th platform, I snap a photo of a mule deer grazing below. One of the last few non-native species that they’re trying to figure out how to get off the island, according to Jake. The non-native American bison are staying.

Mule Deer on Catalina Island

Mule Deer on Catalina Island

The line on run four is a little closer to the platform, so Jake encourages me to get all the way to the very edge, humoring me as I put my weight into the harness before taking off. I’m finally feeling comfortable enough to look around and enjoy the scenery and not just look at the next platform. From here, we’re starting to see the Avalon Casino peaking around the hill below.

Avalon Harbor

Avalon Harbor from the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

On the final line we get instructions on how to pose for the camera, which takes a photo almost at the bottom of the line. We see it flash as Doug goes down ahead to take up his catching position.

It’s the last run. I dig out my cell phone, set it on video and hand it to Kate to shoot me going down. Jake fastens my rig to the line. I walk forward to the edge of the platform. I finally trust my harness and don’t need to test it. I step right off, flying down the line. My triumphant “Woohoo!” echoes across the canyon as I let go my left hand and give a giant smile for the camera.

Safely back at sea level, I reflect that my zipping experience has been a metaphor for my connection to the divine energy of the universe that some people call God. Testing. Testing. Testing. Testing. And that the lesson I needed to learn was in that final fifth line. Letting go of doubt to take the leap, trusting that the support will be there.

Heading home on the Catalina Express at sunset, those streaks of sunshine sometimes called “God rays” reach down and spread out from a small gap between the island and the dark clouds just above it, reminding me of that moment of complete trust. I take a moment to look into the sunbeams and thank my divine guidance for sending me to Catalina.

Catalina Island Sunset

Sunbeams bid farewell with a Catalina Island Sunset

Read more about the Top Catalina Island Adventures on my LA Travel site on About.com.

****************************************

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was a guest of the Catalina Island Company and Catalina Express, who provided transportation, accommodations and activities. Divine inspiration provided by a Higher Source.

Tapatio Hospitality Revisited

Tapatios, the people of Guadalajara, Mexico, are known for their warmth and hospitality. I first encountered their friendliness during a summer semester abroad program in college. Arriving with my guitar and blond and Black roommates made it especially easy to meet people, since our crew stood out.

Las Calandrias

American students at Las Calandrias in Guadalajara

My first week in town my classmates helped celebrate my 21st birthday at La Copa de Leche, a 2nd floor restaurant with balcony seating overlooking the street. After dinner, we went upstairs to Las Calandrias lounge, named for the horse-drawn carriages that tour the city. Musicians Fernando and Chavo were performing popular Mexican and Latin American ballads on guitar and piano. When they took a break, the two young men were drawn like magnets to our obviously foreign group.

Fernando y Chavo

Fernando and Chavo perform at Las Calandrias

Chavo set his guitar down next to me. I started fingering a few chords. Before you know it, I was a regular part of the late night set at Las Calandrias, singing Spanish and American pop and folk songs for drinks.

Tapalpa

Fernando exploring the boulders of Tapalpa

The blond found another handsome distraction, but the dynamic duo of Fernando and Chavo became part of our crowd, taking us swimming at a local pool, or for picnics in the country with appropriate musical accompaniment. They introduced us to many places we probably wouldn’t have discovered on our own. I was sorry to have to leave when the eight weeks was up.

Las Calandrias Crew

The Las Calandrias crew, Kayte, Chavo, Carol, Fernando and Karen

With such special memories, I had some trepidation returning to Guadalajara years later. How could the Guadalajara of today compete with such great memories? I was traveling with a camera instead of a guitar, and I was on my own, sans blond beacon. On my own, I blend in pretty well.

I arrived at the Quinta Real Hotel, a colonial-feel luxury complex near the Minerva Fountain on Calle de las Americas. I knew I was coming in at the end of the Fiestas Octubre arts celebration. I was too late for the grand processions of the morning, but I was hoping to catch some photogenic folklorico dancers or other activities happening that evening.

Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

As a working travel photographer and writer, I don’t worry about traveling incognito. Loaded with my heavy camera gear, I approached the young man at the concierge desk to see if he had a festival schedule.

Quinta Real

The Lobby of the Quinta Real Hotel, Guadalajara, Mexico

The concierge was a dapper 20-something young man in suit and tie with slicked back hair. His name tag identified him as Adalberto. Despite his impeccable English, I chose to revive my rusty Spanish in asking for guidance. At my request, he pulled out the day’s newspaper and checked the program for the festival. I was in luck; there were folk dancers and mariachis scheduled to perform downtown in the Plazas that evening.

Just then the sales manager, Arturo, came by to talk to Adalberto. When he heard that I was heading downtown to the Fiestas, he volunteered to give me a ride. He was new to Guadalajara himself and hadn’t seen any of the festivities. Adalberto decided he didn’t have anything better to do either and he was about to get off work, so he came along as well.

I don’t know if it was the big camera having a similar magnetic effect to a guitar, or simply Tapatio hospitality at work, but I set off with my two companions for the Centro.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Adalberto and Arturo at the Plaza de Armas in Guadalajara, Mexico

We found the Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara playing in the gazebo or kiosko at Plaza de las Armas. They were just getting started as twilight was darkening to night. The lights of the gazebo framed the mariachis with a backdrop of the cathedral lit up against a sky that went deep cobalt for a few moments before settling into black. The sound of trumpets, guitarrons and voices filled the air. A perfect Guadalajara moment.

It lingered until the last notes of Jalisco no te Rajes extolled the virtues of Guadalajara as “the rarest pearl” of the state of Jalisco, whipping the crowd into a rousing final chorus an hour later.

Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara

Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara performing for Fiestas Octubre in the kiosko at Plaza de Armas, Guadalajara, Mexico

Colonial Guadalajara is laid out with four plazas forming a cross around the Cathedral along Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida Alcalde. The Plaza Guadalajara is in front of the church to the west, the Rotonda on the north side to the left and Plaza de Armas to the right. Behind the cathedral, the two-block Plaza Liberacion makes up the long branch of the cross with Teatro Degollado at its base.  Beyond the theatre to the east, Paseo Degallado is a 3-block pedestrian shopping zone built up over the last couple decades, adding kitschy tourist attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not to the traditional colonial offerings before ending at Plaza Tapatia.

After listening to the mariachi concert, we decided to walk around the Cathedral to Plaza Liberacion, where we found stone carvers competing in the National Stonework Competition. Some of them had taken off for the night, but others were still hard at work chiseling massive rocks into abstract shapes, bears, lions, Madonnas and other religious figures.

Stone Carving Competition

National Stone Carving Competition for Fiestas Octubre in Guadalajara, Mexico

We continued past the Teatro Degollado with its European-style allegory above the front colonnade, and in the next block found a temporary outdoor stage had been set up at the beginning of the Paseo Degollado. For the next hour we enjoyed a spectacle of folklorico dancers. Raven-haired beauties in jewel-toned blouses swirled their flowered skirts; charros in cowboy hats kicked up their boots; masked viejitos in serapes shuffled in circles; and nimble dancers wielded machetes for our nail-biting entertainment.

Folk dancers at the Fiestas

Folk dancers at the Fiestas Octubre in Guadalajara, Mexico

My two escorts were reveling in their spontaneous immersion into their own culture, away from the day to day of hotel business. The music followed us back to the Quinta Real, where, in no hurry to end the evening, we went to the restaurant and enjoyed a late dinner with a background of original compositions by local pianist José Luis Altamirano.

José Luis Altamirano

José Luis Altamirano plays dinnertime piano at Quinta Real in Guadalajara, Mexico

Over dinner, I shared tales of my time as a lounge singer at Las Calandrias, only to be told that the restaurant and bar were long gone, replaced by a new university building. That chapter in my history firmly closed, to be revisited no more.

In the morning, Arturo introduced me to his boss, Carlos, the hotel’s general manager. “Carlos loves to sing,” Arturo told me. “I told him you know how to sing Spanish songs.”

“You should come with us tonight,” Carlos invited, “Some of the managers are having an informal meeting at a great Cuban Bar.”

So after a day of exploring Guadalajara on my own, I joined the Quinta Real crew at La Bodeguita del Media, a two-level Cuban restaurant and nightclub advertising 2 for 1 mojitos on a yellow banner out front. In addition to the lethal rum beverages, the draw of the Bodeguita was the music.

Two different roaming bands of musicians moved from table to table taking requests, one upstairs, one downstairs. Then they’d switch.  When the musicians came our way, Carlos was ready with his first request – a song I didn’t recognize – which he sang along with gusto. Since the band played predominantly Cuban music, I didn’t recognize much besides the rhythm.

Bodeguita del Medio

Bodeguita del Medio Cuban Bar and Restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico

Others at our table joined in for a few songs, but I could only sing along on a few choruses, so Carlos insisted that I make a list of songs that I know in Spanish to see if the musicians knew any of them. Since I know mostly Mexican mariachi, folk songs and ballads, they didn’t, but Carlos did, so we traded a few choruses across the table after the musicians had moved on. This was how I remembered Guadalajara – warm welcoming people making music together. I felt right at home.

Bodeguita del Medio

Singing along at Bodeguita del Medio Cuban Bar and Restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico

The next night I found out that Carlos had an ulterior motive when asking for the list of songs I knew. After most of the patrons had cleared out of the hotel restaurant and bar, Carlos approached me.  Nodding toward the smiling guitarist who had been entertaining us for the last couple hours, he said, “He knows how to play Como and El Quelite,” – two songs from my list. As it turned out he also knew some Beatles, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel and a lot of other songs Carlos and I could join in, so we kept our little jam session going into the wee hours of the morning.

Sing along at Quinta Real

Late night sing along at Quinta Real hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico

As I headed reluctantly to the airport the next day, already feeling nostalgic and grateful for the wonderful memories that I would have from this trip, the last verse of El Quelite kept running through my head, defining my relationship with this beautiful city and its people.

Yo no canto porque se, ni porque mi voz sea buena. Canto porque tengo gusto en mi tierra y en la ajena.

Mañana, me voy mañana. Mañana me voy de aquí.  El Consuelo que me queda, que se han de acordar de mi.

 

I don’t sing because I know how, nor because my voice may be good. I sing because I enjoy my country and others too.

Tomorrow, I go tomorrow. Tomorrow I go from here. My only consolation is that they’ll remember me.

After all, how many gringas show up knowing all the verses to El Quelite?

Read more about Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Guadalajara.

CERN: The Source of the Matter

CERN

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons opens in Geneva, Switzerland with a murdered CERN scientist and a missing canister of antimatter. Standing on top of the 27 km (16.8 miles) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), outside the glass-walled control room of the ATLAS particle detector, where scientists are intent on their banks of computer screens, it’s not that great a stretch to imagine that this benevolent academic setting could mask a hotbed of intrigue. World-changing things are happening here.

Scientist at work in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN

Scienists working in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

It doesn’t really matter to me that I can’t SEE the particle accelerator under the earth. There’s something fascinating about being at this place where scientists are analyzing the most profound scientific discovery in decades – a potential clue to the source of existence.

I can’t say that I traveled to Geneva specifically to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, but as soon as I knew I was going to be in the neighborhood, I made it my top priority to get on a tour.

I’m more of a social scientist than a physical scientist. I actually dropped physics in high school, because I just didn’t get it. But I’ve take an observer’s interest in this particular pursuit of the source of our existence.

The CERN Visitors Center is just a few steps from the tram stop that brings you from downtown Geneva to the outskirts of town. English tours are scheduled mornings at 10:30, and French tours are afternoons at 3. Guides are volunteers from among the scientists, so your experience will depend on how well your particular guide can explain what’s going on for a lay audience.

Visitors Center at CERN

An inlaid sculpture lights up on the floor at the Visitors Center at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

I was on the afternoon tour in French with my friends JB, a scientist, and Corinne, a marketing professional. The rest of the group seemed to be made up of fellow science fans from high school students to adults. The tone of the orientation film and our guide’s multimedia presentation assumed a moderate understanding of physics in the audience, and I was happy that JB could simplify some of the jargon for my benefit.

Scientist Tour Guide at CERN

A physicist explains how a particle acceleration works on a tour of CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

In basic terms, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a giant, miles-long underground tube, frozen to unbelievably cold temperatures, designed to create a particle environment equivalent to conditions before the Big Bang in order to see whether the theory of physical mass being created from energy particles can be proved.

They send protons racing through these tubes at nearly the speed of light, crashing into each other 30 million times per second to see whether they can catch a picture of the hypothesized Higgs boson, sometimes referred to as the “God particle,” which is the bit of physical stuff that must exist to prove the theory. Something that is presumed to be everywhere, and yet hard to perceive.

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

Thirty million collisions per second produce an almost inconceivable amount of data that it takes years and massive amounts of cloud computing memory across the globe to analyze (on a side note, the World Wide Web and the first web browser were originally created at CERN in 1989 as a way for scientists to share research data).

Simulations of particle collisions can be observe in the Universe of Particles exhibit inside the dome, where the guided tour ends. It is an immersive experience where you enter a dark world with lit particle orbs. Some of these orbs have interactive multimedia tabletops. Others are pods that you sit inside to listen to audio presentations.

The "Universe of Particles" exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The “Universe of Particles” exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The Microcosm, located at the Visitors Center, is another exhibit you can explore on your own that presents more concrete and hands-on displays of the science behind the particle accelerator with models, segments of retired accelerators and photos. It features each of the experiments currently active at CERN. It also includes an exhibit on the history and development of the technology that led to the internet and the World Wide Web.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

From experiments begun in 2008, researchers reported the first signs of particles with the attributes of Higgs boson on July 4, 2012. Scientists were quick to point out that although they have found a particle that seems to fit the criteria for Higgs boson, and champagne corks certainly flew, they still don’t know what exactly they’ve found or whether it will prove or disprove the Standard Model of particle physics, so the analysis continues.

Unlike your local science museum, which has exhibits to help young minds grasp basic scientific concepts, the CERN visitor experience assumes you have an interest and some basic familiarity with the subject matter.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

There is no charge for the guided tours, but an advance reservation, available through their website, is required. You can also visit the Microcosm and Universe of Particles exhibits for free without a reservation, and there is a physics-themed sculpture garden behind the Visitors Center. Children under 8 years old are not allowed on the guided tours, but can enter the public exhibits.

For more information, to explore the current state of CERN research or to schedule a visit, go to http://home.web.cern.ch/