Not my first time... quite.
"Are we too late?" I asked the attendant at the gate to the South Rim.
"Oh, no. Though you're probably my last paying customer," said the gate attendant in olive green, with a gold arrowhead on the shirt. "Staying overnight?" she asked, looking at the assorted gear in the back of our '89 Ford Ranger.
"Nope. Just passing through. We couldn't pass the Grand Canyon without having seen it," I responded.
"Well, you better hurry to the rim," she chuckled, giving me my change. "The sun is setting, and you don't want to miss that."
Indeed I didn't. My wife and I had been in transit from Eugene, Oregon to my house in north Texas, where we were going to marry in two weeks. This driving trip had turned into a de facto honeymoon for us. When we saw the turn-off to the Park entrance from I-40 in Williams, we stopped, unhitched our little U-Haul trailer behind a convenience store, and hauled butt north for an hour to go see it, all the time wondering if we were going to be too late, and if this wasn't a fool's errand.
My fiancee and I were a little snippy with each other, not the least because we had argued about leaving that trailer with most of her worldly possessions in it back at the turn-off. I had reasoned that it was a huge drag on the 10 year-old little four-banger, and we might save some gas and wear and tear for our side-trip. She felt that it was an unnecessary risk. When I found that the the tongue of the little van trailer, which we had loaded after putting it on the truck, was too heavy to lift, it only created more stress when I had to get out the jack to raise it off the trailer ball hitch. I am nothing if not stubborn.
The time it had taken to get the trailer tongue off the hitch had eaten up whatever savings we were going to make up in speed, so of course I had the hammer down as we flew up Highway 64, obviously consuming excess fuel, and risking a speeding ticket to boot.
So, while I chatted with the park gate attendant, my beloved passenger was silent. Go. Let's just go, was the mental message that she was sending me. So we hurried up to the South Rim from the gate in silence, and not really the good kind.
We parked close to the look-out, where there were only a couple of vehicles. As we walked down the trail into a surprisingly brisk north wind, we gasped. The sun was very low in the southwestern sky, now, and we were in the late minutes of The Golden Hour. As we came to a stop at the edge of a chasm, the eye was slowly drawn down into the deep pools of shadow, to witness the passage of a the ever-changing Colorado River. But not for long did we stare at the river below, because the long shadows of the setting sun were moving, quickly. Literally, the movement of the rays of light across the structures of the canyon rim would snatch our attention. The contrasts in color were markedly gold against purple. The distant desert horizon was a purple that filled the shadows of the canyon.
One of us ran to fetch my bride's old Canon 35mm SLR camera, and we took a couple of rolls worth of pictures. We first took them just of the canyon, then, reasonably, we took pictures of each other before the backdrop of the Canyon. In our ensuing move, we lost those rolls of film, never to be developed. I would pay a pretty penny for them, now, you may be sure.
After our most proximal star disappeared from view, we marveled at the distant river, now the star attraction. The purples became deeper, and deeper still, as the stars began to come out in the thin, dry air. Twilight gives way to full night fast in the desert. We got in the truck to continue our journey. We were silent again, but for a different reason. Awed. In love. Whatever our previous stress, it was completely forgotten.
We had been in the park for a litle more than 45 minutes.
So it is that we return, 12 years later, to see that marvelous place again. We leave first thing on Saturday morning, and I'm a little excited. If we got that kind of pleasure out of less than an hour there, what will we experience in the better part of a week?
I'm trying not to over-sell it to the kids. Because really, it simply can't be as great as I'm remembering it.