I realize there are exceptions to every rule. However, most of you reading this know that it’s our out of town relatives and friends who force us to be tourists in our own state. C’mon, how many New Yorkers have been to the Statue of Liberty? How many San Franciscans have taken the ferry to Alcatraz? How many Angelinos have pretended to put their hands in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard?
On that note, how many Arizonans have peered over the rim of the Grand Canyon? My first visit to one of the most remarkable natural wonders of the world was in September 1996. I had just moved to Arizona to become the main anchor at ABC 15. Only days after arriving before I even went on the air, my news director informed me that my first assignment was to cover President Clinton’s visit to the Grand Canyon. My head was spinning, my stomach in knots and I could barely contain both my excitement and my nerves.
I was going to interview a President, or let me rephrase that squeeze through a crowd of other journalists, attempt to stick my mic out and yell a question he most likely would not answer. Turns out, as I stood on the edge of this magnificent and humbling National park, I was able to shout a question to the President asking him to describe the Grand Canyon. He answered in one word, “indescribable.”
Eight years later, during my first season of Arizona Highways Television, I returned to the place that President Clinton struggled to find the words to describe. On this trip, I wasn’t worried about Secret Service or where I would strategically stand to get that elusive sound bite. Instead, I had plenty of time to quietly marvel at nature’s creation and in that solitude, I understood why mere words don’t do it justice. It is truly an emotional, powerful and thought-provoking experience. Since then, I have been fortunate to go back many times to do features for Arizona Highways. I’ve biked the rim, rode the mules, done features on El Tovar, the famous hotel overlooking the south rim, the Hopi House designed by famed architect Mary Coulter and a story on the Kolb brothers who built a studio in 1904 hanging over the canyon. Each visit has been different and I’ve enjoyed them all but it wasn’t until last week that I actually made a trip to the Grand Canyon as a tourist rather than being on assignment.
My family was visiting from the East Coast and on their bucket list, of course, was to see this natural wonder. I was actually thrilled to be a tour guide, especially given this would be my daughter’s first trip to the Grand Canyon. We decided to begin our journey in Williams, aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, an adventure in itself. After two and a half hours of laughter and musical entertainment, we arrived at our destination. Now, I’m a full believer in the saying that it’s the journey, not the destination. But in this case, the journey was fun and fantastic but the destination wins the top prize.
For a moment, I felt perhaps like a movie director who has an emotional connection to a script or a film and wonders how their audience will react when sitting in the theatre. Maybe someone else might think, what’s the big deal, it’s just a big hole in the ground. Needless to say, there were few words and even some tears and I realized that regardless of age or where you come from, there is an emotional connection we all share when we witness something so extraordinary.
As Teddy Roosevelt declared in 1908 when he exercised the right to make more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon into a national monument, “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you, as the one great site every American should see.”
Mr. President, I think we all agree.
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning Arizona Highways Television.