For as long as my memory stretches I have seen movies and television shows set at the Grand Canyon. I have seen countless photographs full of color, shadows and light shot by world-class photographers. I have read about the mule trains and the meandering Colorado River. I have flown over this enormous slash in the earth, looking down at its jagged edges and deep ravines from 35,000 feet. So I assumed an actual ground-based visit would only confirm what I thought I knew: the Grand Canyon would seem as familiar as the New York skyline.
The Grand Canyon Railway deposits travelers near the famous El Tovar hotel. A climb up a couple of stairways takes you to the hotel entrance with the south rim of the canyon looming a few hundred feet north. From this distance I already realized I seriously underestimated what I was about to see. As I continued toward the rim the canyon’s majesty hit me like a roundhouse kick. I felt the tears start in my abdomen, push their way up past my pounding heart, then squeeze through my larynx on a march to my eyes. I am not one who likes to cry in public, so I gathered myself as best as possible lest I start blubbering right there among the other tourists. Yet a few tears escaped because some things just cannot be contained.
In the past I listened to people talk about how the canyon assumes a new face each season, how each day the shifting clouds reveal hidden secrets, how no two visits are ever the same. I listened, but did not hear. A few hours at this one small area of the Grand Canyon illuminated everything they said. One, two or three visits are not enough. A week, a month is not enough. A lifetime is not enough if you hope to fully appreciate what an unbelievably awe-inspiring miracle of geological evolution this is.
As you grow older reality exceeds expectations less and less. Sometimes you doubt it ever will again. I am glad my doubts were crushed and I felt that beautiful sensation one more time. Even if it meant shedding a few tears in public.