We both woke up early due to the time difference, and mapped out our game plan over breakfast. Judging from the number of people arriving in Tusayan Sunday night, I expect all of them to go immediately to the park in the morning. It’s still snowing, and it’s pretty cold so we decide on a different plan.
We’re not ready to get back in the car yet, so we head for the pool. It’s a nice pool with a water polo goal at one end. We play and swim until mid-morning, while snow squalls continue to move through outside the pool room windows.
We venture out for lunch. Most of the snow has melted off the roads – hooray! After lunch it’s off to the park. On the way up from Tusayan, there are about three cars leaving the park for every one of us heading up. There’s a bit of congestion at the gate, but since we bought our pass the night before, we get to blow by everyone in line an head right in. There are cars everywhere, even parked along both sides of the road from Mather Point to Yavapai Point. At Yavapai Point, we decide this is best done on foot. We pull in, get a parking spot (lots of people leaving), and head out for our first good look at the Grand Canyon.
The first thing we notice about the Grand Canyon is, it’s really big. Really, really big. The second thing we notice is, it’s really hard to stop taking pictures of it. It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture of the Grand Canyon, but we learn it’s also pretty hard to take a great picture here. The canyon’s very bigness is the first problem. Then there’s lighting and tourists in the way, trying to shoot the canyon with their picture phones. (No kidding.) But we keep shooting any way. In order to get some good shots, Curtis starts to lose a little of his fear of getting too close to the edge. This is good and bad, as it’s pretty snowy along the rim and there aren’t many railings or anything to stop one from falling off. We take it easy and leave the reckless edge antics to the groups of college students trying to impress their girlfriends.
It’s getting sunnier as the afternoon wears on, and the clouds and haze in the canyon are clearing. Having walked from Yavapai Point to Mather Point, we decide to hop on the very-convenient shuttle bus and move deeper into the park. The buses are a great way to travel. There isn’t much car parking, so this is the way to go. We move around the park by bus, jumping off and on as something strikes us. We visit the Bright Angel Lodge, and walk out the back of Lookout Studio to enjoy the fantastic view of the canyon from there. At the bookstore, Curtis picks up a copy of “Over the Edge,” about people who have fallen into the canyon.
By 4pm, it’s pretty sunny out. The view is ever-changing, and getting better as the shadows lengthen. From the Lookout Studio, we see a California Condor soar by. At that moment, our camera is attached to a panorama head), which is attached to a tripod, so no luck getting that ungainly rig around for a condor action shot. We’ll just have to remember that.
On the bus, we loop around and eventually end up back at Yavapai Point and get back in the car. It’s after 5pm, and we have walked enough and seen enough for one day. The rim of the Grand Canyon is at 7,000 feet, and we’re feeling it.
It is here in this spectacular place that I learned my grandfather, Tagee Bengston, had passed away at age 100. If I were going to write a corny movie script, I’d put this scene in it. What better location to contemplate life and death, and one’s place along that continuum, than Grand Canyon?
Our dinner conversation tonight bounces from the spectacular scenery to funerals to the incredible life of Tagee Bengston. Curtis never got to know him as I did. Curtis only knew Grandpa Tagee once old age had ravaged his mind and body.
I was lucky to live in the same town with all my grandparents until I was fourteen. Later, when I was in college and Grandma Vayda had recently died, Grandpa Tagee and I got together quite often in Rockford. We would go out to dinner, and he’d tell me stories about his childhood, or anecdotes from his political career. He knew everyone in town, and I could easily shake hands with forty of his acquaintances by the time dessert rolled around. Our own dessert is finished, so it’s a quick walk back to our hotel. Most of the snow has melted.
Back in the room, Curtis is asleep before I get my teeth brushed. I shut off some lights and stitch panoramas, shot from behind the Lookout Studio. Then I fall asleep myself and dream of my grandfather.