(CNN) — When Carrie visited the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2001, she fell in love — twice.
First, she was immediately captivated by the sweeping vistas of copper-colored cliffs and wide open blue skies that later bled into a burnt orange sunset.
Carrie was 19 years old and traveling through Arizona with her mother and stepfather when they returned from a trip to Arizona State University.
Last year, Carey dropped out after a semester at a local college in Michigan. Her mother, a worried Carrie, decided not to enroll elsewhere, spending the trip trying to convince her daughter of the benefits of the college experience.
“She’s selling this whole trip as this huge growth opportunity for me — ‘see all the people you can meet.’ She pointed out all the cute boys on the college tour,” Carrey recalls.
When the family reached the national park, Carrie’s mother continued her efforts. She zoned in on a young man sitting alone on the edge of a cliff 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 in there. So Carrie, go over there and sit with that person so I could get a picture. A picture,'” Carrey recalls today.
Carelessly, Carrie agreed, and made her way to the edge of the cliff to sit next to the stranger.
Carrie and Chris met on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in the US.
Dmitry Petrakov/Adobe Stock
This was Chris Sørensen, a 19-year-old from Denmark who had recently graduated from an international boarding school in New Mexico.
Chris was also visiting the Grand Canyon with his parents as part of a post-graduation US road trip before the family returned to Denmark.
Chris had seen Carrie earlier that day on one of the buses that take visitors around the national park.
“I was trying to, you know, be very cool and catch her eye, like you do when you’re 19, 20,” Chris recalls.
It didn’t work, but now the girl from the bus was walking towards him, and she was sitting next to him on the edge of the cliff.
“Hi, my mom is making me do this,” Carrie explained awkwardly, as she sat up and eyed Hoppy Point.
It was a stunning sight, but her attention immediately turned to the person sitting next to her.
“We just started talking,” she recalls. “And I don’t think we got up for five hours.”
This is how Carrie fell in love for the second time in the Grand Canyon.
On the rim of the Grand Canyon
Carrie’s mother took this photo of Carrie and Chris the day they met at Hopi Point on the Grand Canyon in May 2001.
Courtesy Carrie Sorensen
Chris and Carrie say they talked about “everything” that day. They realized they shared a love of fantasy novels. They were interested in each other’s different cultural backgrounds. They talked about school and college and their goals in life.
And they admired the view.
“It’s like a perfect bend in the canyon, where when you’re sitting there, you’re looking right at the Colorado River coming in,” Carey says. “It was just a gorgeous place.”
“We sat there for sunset, and then it was time to go.”
Night was falling, the park was closing and their parents wanted to leave.
Carrie and Chris stood 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 exchange addresses before going their separate ways.
Carrie spent the hour-long drive home to her own world.
“I was just in the back of the car, like, a teenage girl daydreaming, looking up at the stars going ‘Oh my gosh, this was an amazing day. I’m sold on Arizona. I’m definitely going to college. Here.'”
Carrie emailed Chris first.
This was a good thing, he jokes, “because her email address was actually completely incomprehensible and impossible to remember.”
Not that his own were any better.
“That was when your first email was really embarrassing,” says Chris. “Like ‘Cooldude80’ or something like that.”
Chris was still on a road trip with his parents when he picked up Carrie’s message at a San Francisco Internet cafe.
“I don’t really remember what he said,” says Chris. “But I remember this intense feeling you get with butterflies, and that longing.”
Here’s a photo of Chris in an internet cafe in California reading Carrie’s first email.
Chris’s stepfather took a photo of Chris reading his first email.
Meanwhile, Carrie’s mom develops her photograph of Carrie and Chris at Hopi Point. It turned out so well that he decided to blow up the picture and hang it on the wall of his house.
Carrie suggests that she liked the scenario because she thought Chris would be an important person in her daughter’s life.
“My mom is practical. She’s like, ‘Whatever. It’s nice that you found someone you can talk to.’ She didn’t expect it to go anywhere.”
Chris and Carrie started texting back and forth. Their correspondence continued through the summer and into the fall, when Carrie started at Arizona State, and Chris moved to Scotland to attend the University of St. Andrews.
Months passed, and the emails continued. Dispatch was intermittent, but always welcome.
“Because we had this magical beginning, we just felt the ability and the safety to share things with each other that we wouldn’t have otherwise. And we weren’t sharing with other people,” Carey says.
“I knew Carrie’s inner secrets, and she knew mine. And yet I didn’t know what she liked to eat,” says Chris.
Months went by. Carrie and Chris settled into college life, and kept in touch – although Carrie still vividly remembers the tragic betrayal she felt when she found out Chris was dating someone in Scotland.
“As far as I know, we had this huge connection. And then one day, all of a sudden, I see this other girl’s name plastered all over her social media.”
Carrie’s friend sent Chris an angry email on her behalf, but more time passed and Carrie also started seeing someone else.
She and Chris resume their — now-firmly-platonic — pen pal correspondence.
“I was worried that my significant other at the time wouldn’t approve of the conversation, but he actually had no problem with it,” says Carey. “Because again, it was a pen-pal situation. And that, I think, was the same mindset as my mom: ‘Well, it’s not like we’re ever going to meet this guy. He lives on the other side of the house. The world.'”
Grand Canyon Reunion
Chris and Carrie returned to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon when they reunited in 2008.
Dmitry Petrakov/Adobe Stock
Carrie and Chris’ email friendship continued over the next few years as the two graduated college, started working, and remained in each other’s orbit.
Then in 2008, within six months, the two broke up their long-term relationship. In the midst of their respective break-ups, Carrie and Chris began emailing more frequently. Then they started video calling. As their correspondence grew, it was clear that the deep connection they had always felt was still there, in some form.
But Carrie and Chris, now in their twenties, hadn’t seen each other in person since that afternoon at the Grand Canyon when they were in their late teens. Years ago, it seemed surreal to think that a connection formed in a matter of hours could be something worth pursuing. But in time, they both thought they should give it a try.
Chris remembers calling his mother to say he was going to visit Carrie in the US.
“I’m going to be this,” he said.
“You should. I can hear how important this is to you,” he remembers his mother replying.
Meanwhile, Carrie remembers waiting at the airport for Chris, going through all the scenarios in her head where the reunion didn’t go as planned.
“It’s been seven and a half, eight years of building this incredible, long-distance pen pal relationship in your head, where it’s seriously best friend stuff, 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 nerve-wracking.”
But the in-person reunion was everything Carrie and Chris could have dreamed of. They kissed at the airport, and then returned to the Grand Canyon together, on the anniversary of the day they first met. They sat together in their place at Hopi Point, seven years later, reflecting on things coming full circle.
During Chris’ visit to America, the two began discussing how a long-distance relationship could work, and that fall, Carey came to visit Chris in the UK. They were researching visa and immigration laws and looking for a plan when, to their mutual surprise, they discovered that Carrie was pregnant.
“It wasn’t in the plan at all,” says Carey, “but they were both happy.” They accelerated their plans, and married in the backyard of Carrie’s mother’s house in 2009, shortly after the birth of their son.
“It was a gorgeous July day, and it just so happened that the town festival was going on at the same time, so we got fireworks,” says Kerry, who took Chris’ last name after the wedding.
The couple still had to spend the first 10 months of their son’s life in different countries as they waited for Chris’ green card. It wasn’t an easy break, but by the end of 2009, Chris had moved to the US. gone
Moments of magic
Today, Carrie and Chris are married and live in California.
“It’s really been a journey of growth and personal development, of relationship development for us,” says fourteen-year-old Chris after he and Carrie reunited.
It is not always an easy journey.
“There are a lot of challenges, a lot of heartbreak,” says Chris.
A few years ago, Carrie and Chris had a daughter, who was stillborn. Working through his emotions after the tragedy was very difficult.
“We’re completely different people when it comes to grief and everything — he wants connection, and I just want to curl up in my blankets and be alone,” Carey says.
But the two have found ways to take care of each other and themselves, and today say they are confident they can overcome most challenges together.
“We know we can get through it,” Carey says. “We know it’s going to be difficult, it’s not like it’s magic, all the time.”
Carrie and Chris have three sons whom they teach Danish and American traditions.
There are still moments of magic, Carey says. She and Chris still enjoy deep conversations, reminiscing about those first afternoons they spent chatting overlooking the Grand Canyon, and their subsequent years of emailing. The difference is now, Chris also knows what food Carrie likes.
And while Carrie and Chris haven’t been back to the Grand Canyon since their reunion trip in 2008, they look forward to doing so when their kids are a little older. Meanwhile, the couple enjoys telling stories to their children.
“There’s no doubt that the magic of the Grand Canyon is very real in our home,” says Chris, who says it’s “his absolute favorite nature spot in the entire world.”
Carrie’s mother, meanwhile, still has a photograph of Carrie and Chris in pride of place on her wall at Hopi Point. As the years have passed, the photo has become more meaningful, and Carrie and Chris 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,'” Carrey says, laughing. “I believe in the magic of meetings and all that stuff. I still tell him ‘I told you so’.”