“Oh. My! This is ... I mean, there’s no way to ever see this in a picture,” said my sister when she saw the Grand Canyon for the first time.
We perched together on the South Rim, staring into the abyss. I basked in her astonishment. Somehow she’d simply missed this natural wonder, despite all the family drive-bys on our annual trips to the Midwest.
So I had lured her out from South Carolina with this anxiously planned trip to see the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff and Jerome — hoping in the process to reconnect. Just as she had missed seeing the Grand Canyon, I had in adulthood missed getting to know my sister. Sibling rivalry had cast a pall over any friendship we might have developed in the last 20 years.
Now we stood at the edge of the grandest example of U.S. geology, sharing a moment of pure joy. A monsoon storm had just moved from South Rim to North and now the sun shone through the distant sheets of rain, gleaming in the arch of a rainbow.
“It’s so beautiful! Thank you,” she said.
My heart also swelled with gratitude. I had forgotten how good it felt to stand next to her joy.
Growing up with two years age difference, we’d been inseparable. During those long summer car trips, we had shared toys and survived car breakdowns. We waged innumerable tickle fights and splashed together in hotel pools. We sat in the back seat and giggled at things no one else understood.
But somehow after college, we had drifted away from one another — separate coasts, different careers.
Secretly I resented her. She had a sizable salary, a home, a stable marriage — I had no home, no career and a failed marriage. I felt not good enough and jealous of her success.
But she was the one who suggested I take my two girls and my shattered life and move to Payson to live in my grandparents’ empty home. She thought I could start fresh. She was right. Here I found peace and purpose.
Now I wanted to blow her mind with the secrets of Arizona that had captured my heart and focused my life. Maybe even make her a little jealous.
As hoped, the forests, the greenery, and the layered rock formations stunned her.
“I never knew this was in Arizona ... I just never knew,” she kept saying — over and over and over.
I secretly smiled: This was my treasure to share and maybe tear down my feelings of inferiority. But I also made note of her rainbow joy.
Arizona surprises. Most expect a sun-blasted desert. But Arizona has the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world. It also has picturesque lakes, deep rivers and cheerful streams that flow chattering down stunning canyons. Arizona even has enough water to host a floatplane business.
I love surprising people with the lushness of Arizona. But instead of simply gloating, I found myself unexpectedly enamored with my sister. For the first time I found myself appreciating her joy in details, her recognition of natural beauty, her generous appreciation of my planning efforts.
As she saw Arizona with fresh eyes, I found myself seeing her afresh as we ambled from Payson, up to the Rim, over to Lake Mary Road and on into Flagstaff.
Just pronouncing the name of the Rim offered solid sibling entertainment.
“I thought it was Mong-gol-ian Rim,” my sis said, “but I’ll remember it by saying Moo-goo-gai-pan ... Moo-goo-lon Rim.”
We giggled together. I suddenly remembered the sound.
As we passed by the valley of Mormon Lake and then Lake Mary, I told her the story of the farmer who drained Mormon Lake when he drilled for a well.
“Really?” she asked. “What was he thinking?”
“He just wanted water,” I said.
We stared at the dry lake bed field of wildflowers and grasses surrounded by ponderosa pines.
“See Mount Humphreys over there?” I asked. “It looks like three peaks, but it’s actually one volcano with its top blown off. We’ll spend the night under that mountain tonight.”
We spent the night in the haunted Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, without quite enough time for the side trip to see the 1,000-year-old Sunset cinder cone nor the red stone ruins of Wupatki National Monument. We had managed to carve only two days out of our harried lives and I knew she’d want to see Flagstaff, Sedona and Jerome. Turns out, I still know my sis: She loves shopping and good restaurants.
First though, the canyon.
After marveling at the rainbow, we walked the two-mile geological trail, with polished cutaways of every rock layer in the mile-deep canyon displayed along the route.
My sis and I touched every rock.
“My favorite is this Rama schist,” she said.
I snapped a photo.
“I love how red and black it is,” I said.
We grinned at each other.
We ended up with a window seat at the El Tovar hotel overlooking the canyon.
The food, the service, the craftsmanship of the old hotel surprised and pleased my sister. I couldn’t quite suppress a gloat.
“I had no idea this would be here! It’s so good!” she gushed, the chocolate mousse taco balanced on her fork as the finale for a delectably flavored meal of salmon and buffalo.
We left the restaurant just as the sunset started its show. She turned to me and said, “I just had no idea Arizona had so much to it.”
And I had no idea my sister had so much to her.