(CNN) — When Carrie visited the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2001, she fell in love — twice.
First, she was instantly enamored with the vast vistas of copper-colored rocks and wide open blue skies that later bled into a burned orange sunset.
Carrie was 19 and passing through Arizona with her mother and stepfather, on their way back from touring Arizona State University.
The previous year Carrie had dropped out after a semester at a local college in Michigan. Her mother, concerned Carrie would decide not to enroll anywhere else, spent the trip trying to persuade her daughter of the perks of the college experience.
“She is selling this entire trip as this huge growth opportunity for me — ‘Look at all these people you can meet.’ She’s pointing out all the cute guys on the college tour,” recalls Carrie.
When the family arrived at the national park, Carrie’s mother continued her efforts. She zoned in on a young guy who was sitting, alone, on the edge of a rock at Hopi Point, on the South Rim of the canyon.
“She goes, ‘You know what? I want that picture. But I don’t want a stranger in my picture. I want somebody I know out there. So Carrie, go out there and sit with that guy so I can get a picture,’” recalls Carrie today.
Begrudgingly, Carrie agreed, and made her way to the edge of the rock to sit down next to the stranger.
Carrie and Kris met on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, in the US.
Dmitry Petrakov/Adobe Stock
This was Kris Sorensen, a 19-year-old from Denmark who’d recently graduated from an international boarding school in New Mexico.
Kris was also visiting the Grand Canyon with his parents, as part of a post-graduation US road trip before the family returned to Denmark.
Kris had spotted Carrie earlier that day, on one of the buses that ferry visitors around the national park.
“I’m trying, you know, to be very cool and try to catch her eye, as you do when you’re 19, 20 years old,” recalls Kris.
It hadn’t worked, but now the girl from the bus was walking towards him, and sitting herself next to him on the edge of the rock.
“Hi, my mom’s making me do this,” explained Carrie, awkwardly, as she sat down and peered out over Hopi Point.
It was a stunning view, but her attention soon switched to the person sitting next to her.
“We just started talking,” she recalls. “And I don’t think we got up for five hours.”
That’s how Carrie fell in love at the Grand Canyon a second time.
On the edge of the Grand Canyon
Carrie’s mother took this photo of Carrie and Kris on the day they met in May 2001, at Hopi Point on the Grand Canyon.
Courtesy Carrie Sorensen
Kris and Carrie say they talked about “everything” that day. They realized they shared a love of fantasy novels. They were interested in one another’s different cultural backgrounds. They talked about school and college and their life goals.
And they admired the view.
“It’s like a perfect curve in the canyon, where when you’re sitting there, you’re looking straight out at the Colorado River coming in,” says Carrie. “It was just a gorgeous spot.”
“We sat there for the sunset, and then it was time to go.”
Night was falling, the park was closing and their parents wanted to leave.
Carrie and Kris got up and paused for a moment, wondering what they should do next. It was 2001, so neither of them had cell phones, but they both used email, so they decided to swap addresses before going in their different directions.
Carrie spent the hours-long drive home in her own world.
“I was just in the back of the car, like, teenage girl daydreaming, staring at the stars going ‘Oh my gosh, this was just such an amazing day. I am sold on Arizona. I’m definitely going to go to college here.’”
Carrie emailed Kris first.
He jokes this was a good thing, “because her email address was actually completely incomprehensible and impossible to remember.”
Not that his own was much better.
“It was at the time when your first email was really embarrassing,” says Kris. “Like ‘Cooldude80’ or something like that.”
Kris was still road tripping with his parents when he picked up Carrie’s message from a San Francisco internet cafe.
“I don’t actually remember what it said,” says Kris. “But I do remember that there was this really intense feeling you get with butterflies, and just like that longing.”
Here’s a photo of Kris in a Californian internet cafe reading Carrie’s first email.
Kris’ stepdad took a photo of Kris reading that first email.
Meanwhile, Carrie’s mom developed her photograph of Carrie and Kris at Hopi Point. It turned out so well that she decided to blow the picture up and hang it on a wall in her house.
This was more because she liked the view, suggests Carrie, than because she figured Kris would be an important figure in her daughter’s life.
“My mom is pragmatic. She’s just like, ‘Whatever. It’s nice that you met someone you could talk to.’ She didn’t anticipate it going anywhere.”
Kris and Carrie started sending messages back and forth. Their correspondence continued through summer and into the fall, when Carrie started at Arizona State, and Kris relocated to Scotland to attend the University of St Andrews.
Months passed, and the emails continued. The dispatches were intermittent, but always welcome.
“Because we had this magical beginning, we just felt the ability and the safety to be able to share things with each other that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. And we weren’t sharing with other people,” says Carrie.
“I knew Carrie’s inner secrets, and she knew mine. And yet I had no idea what food she liked to eat,” says Kris.
The months rolled on. Carrie and Kris settled into college life, and stayed in touch — although Carrie still vividly remembers the hurt betrayal she felt when she found out Kris was dating someone in Scotland.
“As far as I know, we’ve had this massive connection. And then one day, all of a sudden, I see this other girl’s name plastered all over his social media.”
Carrie’s friend sent an angry email to Kris on her behalf, but more time passed, and Carrie started seeing someone else too.
She and Kris resumed their — now-firmly-platonic — pen pal correspondence.
“I remember being worried that my significant other at the time would not approve of the conversation, but he actually didn’t have a problem with that at all,” says Carrie. “Because again, it was a pen-pal situation. And he, I guess, had the same kind of mentality as my mom: ‘Well, it’s not like we’ll ever meet this guy. He lives on the other side of the world.’”
A Grand Canyon reunion
Kris and Carrie returned to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon when they reunited in 2008.
Dmitry Petrakov/Adobe Stock
Carrie and Kris’ email friendship continued over the next several years as the two graduated from college, started working, and remained in each other’s orbit.
Then in 2008, within six months, both their long-term relationships fell apart. In the midst of their respective break-ups, Carrie and Kris started emailing more frequently. Then they started video calling. As their correspondence increased, it was obvious the deep connection they’d always felt was still there, in some form.
But Carrie and Kris, now deep into their twenties, hadn’t seen one another in person since that afternoon on the Grand Canyon when they were in their late teens. It seemed surreal to think a connection formed in a few hours, years ago, could be something worth following up on. But as time went on, they both figured they had to give it a try.
Kris remembers calling his mother to say he was going to to visit Carrie in the US.
“I’m going to make this happen,” he said.
“You should. I can hear how important this is to you,” he remembers his mother responding.
Meanwhile, Carrie recalls waiting in the airport for Kris, running through all the scenarios in her head where the reunion didn’t go to plan.
“It was seven and a half years, eight years of building this up in your head, of having this incredible, long distance pen pal relationship where it’s seriously best friend material, right? And then all of a sudden, you have to meet the real person. And people are messy. Emails are neat,” she says. “So it was a little bit nerve-wracking.”
But the in-person reunion was everything Carrie and Kris could have dreamed of. They kissed at the airport, and then returned to the Grand Canyon, together, on the anniversary of the day they’d first met. They sat together at their spot, on Hopi Point, seven years later, reflecting on things coming full circle.
During Kris’ American visit, the two started discussing how a long-distance relationship might work, and that fall, Carrie came to visit Kris in the UK. They were looking into visas and immigration laws and figuring out a plan when, to their mutual surprise, they found out Carrie was pregnant.
This was “absolutely not in the plan,” says Carrie, but they were both delighted. They accelerated their plans, and got married in Carrie’s mother’s backyard in 2009, right after their son was born.
“It ended up being a gorgeous July day, and it so happened that the town festival was going on at the same time, so we got fireworks,” says Carrie, who took Kris’ last name following the wedding.
The couple still had to spend the first 10 months of their son’s life living in different countries, as they waited for Kris’ green card. This wasn’t an easy separation, but by late 2009, Kris moved to the US.
Moments of magic
Today, Carrie and Kris are married and live in California.
“It’s been really a journey of growth and personal development, relationship development for us,” says Kris of the fourteen years since he and Carrie reunited.
It’s not always been an easy journey.
“There’s been a lot of challenges, a lot of heartbreak,” says Kris.
Some years ago, Carrie and Kris had a daughter, who was stillborn. Working through their emotions following this tragedy was very tough.
“We are completely different people when it comes to grief and everything — he wants connection, and I just want to curl up in my blanket and be left alone,” says Carrie.
But the two found ways to look after one another and themselves, and today say they’re confident they can get through most challenges together.
“We know we can get through it,” says Carrie. “We know it’s going to be hard, it’s not like it’s magic, all the time.”
Carrie and Kris have three sons who they’re teaching Danish and American traditions.
There are still moments of magic though, Carrie says. She and Kris still enjoy deep conversations, reminiscent of that first afternoon they spent chatting overlooking the Grand Canyon, and their subsequent years of emailing. The difference is now, Kris also knows what food Carrie likes.
And while Carrie and Kris haven’t returned to the Grand Canyon since their reunion trip in 2008, they look forward to doing so when their kids are a bit older. In the meantime, the couple enjoy telling their children the story.
“There’s no doubt that the sort of magic of the Grand Canyon is very real in our household,” says Kris, who says it’s his “absolute favorite nature spot in the entire world.”
Carrie’s mother, meanwhile, still has the photograph of Carrie and Kris at Hopi Point on pride of place on her wall. The photo has only taken on more meaning as the years pass, and Carrie and Kris find themselves reflecting on what their teenage selves would think of their lives now.
“My 19-year-old self would tell him ‘I told you so,’” says Carrie, laughing. “I believe in the magic of meetings and all of that stuff. I do still tell him ‘I told you so.’”
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