On May 16th, 2012 my camera bag was stolen from the trunk of my car at a Motel 6 in Kingman, AZ. In it was my telephoto, wide angle, and macro lenses. Not only did the thief steel over 1,500 dollars worth of equipment they also got 7 memory cards which had a week’s worth of travels on them.
My Southwest trip did not begin at The Hilltop; it began at Arches National Park. I had been planning this trip for the better part of a year. It was to be my loop-around-the-Grand Canyon-trip, my own take on the famous Grand Circle tour. After everything, it still was, but I only have half of the photos to show for it. I considered blogging about the lost places and specific hikes but without the photographs it just wouldn’t be the same.
Strangely enough, I am an extremely careful person, almost to the point of being in a slight state of constant paranoia when it comes to the things that mean the most to me. I always worry about what might happen when camping and being so vulnerable to the evils of man and the forces of nature. But ironically, night after night of camping in the middle of nowhere and next to busy freeways brought me nothing like this.
What is even more painfully ironic is that if it wasn’t for the Havasu trip, this probably wouldn’t have happened. I let my guard down because I was in a state of delirium and exhaustion. The 12 mile hike, the burning desert, the joy of being back into the world that I am familiar with, all coinciding to brew up the perfect storm; to shut the heavy door of a motel room and not even think twice about usual precautions, to fall into a dead sleep and wake up to find the world overturned.
Do the safest thing possible for yourself and your belongings at all times, no matter where you’re staying or what you’re doing. You never know when something will happen. That one time you choose to be careless is the one time that something like this will happen to you. That’s just the way the world works, somehow.
It’s also a good idea to insure your equipment especially if you’re going to journey around the country with it. I would also suggest registering every piece that you own, from your camera body to your smallest memory card; that way if someone tries to sell a stolen item of yours, it will turn up as registered in your name.
The only real comfort I have about the situation is the fact that memories cannot be stolen. Experiences cannot be taken away. Even though I don’t have the pictures and I have no real hope of ever getting them back, I can still remember almost everything about that first week in the Southwest.
How could I forget standing under Delicate Arch as it was emblazoned by the light of the sunset, or getting up early enough to count the stars while we hiked to Landscape Arch just in time to see the sunrise illuminate it in the sort of pink glow that you only find in the desert?
I watched a storm break over the Green River in Canyonlands, where a ray of isolated light broke through the clouds and delivered a slice of heaven onto the abysmal cavern below. I studied hundreds of petroglyphs on a single wall at Newspaper Rock. I stood on the lone roads in the Navajo Nation, those roads that stretch to infinity and disappear into the Valley of the Gods. I watched the stars come out over Monument Valley and shadows on mountainsides fade into pure blackness. I walked down to the White House Ruins at Canyon De Chelly and stood in the same place as Ansel Adams once did when he created one of the most famous black and white photographs of all time. I spent five hours on a boat on Lake Powell, the light shining up off the water like a second sun, until we got to Rainbow Bridge, one of the most elegant and desolate sights to behold in the US. I watched the very last beam of sunlight disappear over the canyons at Horseshoe Bend, standing on the edge of the cliff with my beloved 10mm wide angle lens to get every inch of the river into one shot, the torrential wind whipping up the length of 1,000 feet, taking my heart right up through my chest in a dizzying moment of fear and wonder. I spent three days at the Grand Canyon exploring the rim away from the crowds where Brett and I staked out our “secret spot”. There we watched the sunset and waited until the canyon was filled with violet haze, feeling like the only two people on the planet.
This has been one of the hardest experiences of my life as I am someone who associates the photographs I take with the memories that go along with them. I am a fool for nostalgia and sometimes in the worst way. But it’s that nostalgia that drives me to capture each evanescent moment that I want to keep forever. A photograph will always be more to me than pretty shapes on paper; it’s life.
The photos and lenses that I worked so many long hours for are gone, but the experiences are not and I have to remember to be grateful for all that I have, despite the tragedy of what happened. There will always be more to be said about a memory. Through time, it can become warped and faded, but it cannot be stolen. I’ll always remember those days as some of the happiest of my life. No one can take that away.