There was an urgency on the roads, vehicles darting in and out, battling for the lead.
I tried to stay out of their way. We were en route to the Grand Canyon, but I was in no hurry. I was already in a peaceful state of mind.
Summer vacation had ended and school was well underway, but then Labor Day weekend came along to give us one more hurrah before settling in, and my wife and our 14-year-old son decided to submerge ourselves in one of the most stunning, serene and calming landscapes in the world.
We made the trip with my mom and stepdad, my brother and his wife.
“A single moment can last forever,” said one of the subjects in Ken Burns’ documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” I’d binge-watched the six-part, 12-hour PBS special to prepare for the natural splendor I was about to experience, and I learned that when I got to the canyon I’d become one with nature.
But there was this big rush to get there—a big rush to eventually take it slow. The roadways were full of folks with campers and boats and National Park stickers adhered to their vehicles. Everyone, like me, wanted to take it easy for the weekend, but these others couldn’t wait to get there.
When we arrived just outside the gates of the canyon, we tuned into park traffic on the radio. According to the announcer, we’d be waiting in an hourlong line just to get into the calm zone. Then the guy informed us that we’d be lucky (and I swear he chuckled) to find a parking spot.
Motorists were white-knuckling it into overflowing little parking lots surrounding the south rim of the canyon, praying they wouldn’t have to move to another lot. After all, there was peace to be had, and they needed to have it before the hot Arizona sun really turned the heat on.
I followed a guy with the most National Park stickers on his car and found a spot in the first lot we tried. Then we figured we needed some rest following our road trip and all that road rage, as well as a moment to prepare our minds for the ultimate quiet and tranquility we’d soon be undergoing.
We went to the gift shop.
The canyon was breathtaking! In pictures, posters, postcards and books, I could see why the people in that National Parks documentary I watched were so in awe.
And just steps away from the register, where a cashier in park ranger attire rang us up for much-needed Grand Canyon hats, tear-tough maps, waterproof guides and, yes, a Grand Canyon National Park sticker to put on my own vehicle, lay, according to Wikipedia (a known source of information), the “viewer-chosen eighth wonder of the world.”
My expectations soared. I only hoped they weren’t too high—I hate disappointments.
And then as I, along with 200 other people ready to face the ultimate solitude, approached the miracle in the ground, we simultaneously glued our cameras to our eyes and shoved our lenses in our loved ones’ faces.
We weren’t at peace with nature; we were at odds with our technology. We jockeyed our subjects around the canyon rim, trying to capture the perfect pose with the right angle on the vast gorge.
The vastness could not be contained. I couldn’t believe how the creator of the canyon had done such a good job re-creating the Disneyland Railroad Grand Canyon diorama.
I joke, but it did remind me of the Disney attraction. It also, finally, made me understand why in “Superman III” Richard Pryor’s character turned down a ride into the Grand Canyon on one of those cool hovercrafts and took a pack mule instead. Looking over the edge is not unlike looking down the side of a skyscraper; I’d take the mule, too.
With Disneyland and “Superman III” on the brain, I knew I wasn’t at peace. I was distracted. It was time to start living in harmony with the earth.
But first, we needed to eat.
They had a place right near the gift shop, and my family and I sat down and talked about what we’d encountered so far and how special it was to be taking in such sights for the first time together.
Then we were back to the canyon, taking a bus from one vantage point to the next, something like nine stops, getting off, getting back on, moving on to the next stop and then the next, looking for the ultimate place for peace. There was a hustle to it all, and it was really hot. But the bus was air-conditioned.
In the days after our trip, back in our daily grind, friends asked what we did and didn’t do. We didn’t hike to the bottom of the canyon, didn’t walk on the glass skyway above, didn’t go rafting and never were one with nature.
We were one with family, except that in our rush for peace, we never got one picture of the family together there. We got about 600 shots of our son instead.
He and the canyon look great!