The Rocky Trail of Thankfulness

Ted Rigoni

I recently returned from teaching the Grand Staircase Escalante Master Class, with the help of two great assistants, Ted Rigoni and Mike Titus. As always, nothing is more rewarding than guiding workshop photographers to achieve creative breakthroughs as they create landscape art that is personal, significant, and ‘photography beyond the lens.’

But this Grand Staircase Master Class was truly special as I was able to return to the scene of the crime where I fell on the Peekaboo Canyon trail last April and broke my left femur. You can read about that HERE.

Yes, there was some anxiety before the Peekaboo hike, and I awoke several times with nightmarish dreams of falling again. As dawn approached, more than a few doubts swirled through my mind that threatened my confidence. But the only way to overcome fear is to face it head-on and ‘just do it”.

And I did it – we all did.

Needless to say, it was gratifying to finally enjoy the payoff of great surgery and hours of Physical Therapy as I safely navigated the steep, slick rock and gritty sand of the Peekaboo Trail with the click-clack of trekking poles.  However, the deeper sense of accomplishment came as I taught a full class of creative artists who trained their cameras on slot canyon stone while shimmying through tight crevices to photograph austere, jagged shapes, and water

scarred textures. In certain places, cracks above the canyon allowed flashes of morning light to break along the slot walls offering new opportunities to create images of personal significance, images that bloomed in post with subjective thoughts, interpretations, and unique insights.

For me, trekking through the narrow slot, and climbing over the boulder washes and up the brakes in the rocks was a joyful accomplishment and one that several months ago I did not know if I would ever be able to achieve. I am here, as we old-timers are fond of saying, in ‘God’s Country’

Marcia Levetown

and through the Grace of God, and the hands of tremendous surgeons, dedicated Physical Therapists at Stonehenge Cedar City and Pomona Valley Physical therapy. But the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is more than slot canyons – , especially in mid-fall.

Dee Grimm

The mornings are crisp with a sharp chill,  early sun rays backlight the mustard-colored Rabbitbrush, broom snakeweed bends to the warm afternoon sun, and fading sunflowers announce autumn’s arrival. Cottonwoods have reached peak gold, and at the end of the day, the slanted sun ignites flat cirrus clouds with a vibrant firelight of magenta and gold. The air is rich with the scent of road dust, sage, and petrichor from the drying cottonwood leaves.

I may have fallen here, but I also fell in love here with ‘the stair.’ So rewarding to work and walk with students in the HooDoo land of the Devil’s Garden, feel the light as a setting sun warmed the punch hole on Grosvenor Arch, explore the rich gold of the cottonwoods in the Big Gulch, and let the class roam through the abstract Bentonite formations along the North Cottonwood Trail.

Yes, I’m not fully healed but able to hike with camera and tripod, and reconnecting with my photography is like learning to speak again and to find one’s visual voice, one that has been too quiet for many months.
Dan Danahey

More importantly, during this time of healing, I experienced and am deeply thankful for the incredible support from our Master Class and First Horizon Students. During the Capitol Reef, Olympic, and Mt. Rainer Master Class I was blessed with great assistance but had to teach post from a walker. In the Grand Tetons, I improved and could work in the field with a hiking stick, and in the Grand Staircase, hiking abilities returned.

In every workshop, the photographers hung in with me and moved forward to learn, grow, and create their very best.  Likewise, I grew as well, for I realized how much my relationship with my subjects, my workshop art photographers, and their visual stories are often woven within my own.

Falling down a canyon and then returning to work six months later in the same spot with photographers who are learning to create landscape art photographs that are significant has made my art and my life experiences all the more significant as well.

About Author

Bob Killen is a nationally recognized Fine Art Photographer, Landscape Photography instructor, and artist. He is the Director of the National Park Photography Expeditions, President of the Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation, a National Park Service Friends Group, a national speaker on landscape photography and an Adobe Certified Instructor. His thematic work explores Western Americana landscapes with a focus on man’s obsession to abandon structures, places, and things across a shared American landscape. His work is owned by collectors in 20 countries.

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(1) Comment

  1. Marcia Levetown

    What a lovely love letter to nature, healthcare workers, your students abd to the soul of a gifted and generous teacher, with the iron will of a Marine. It is a privilege to know abd learn from you, Bob! Your encouragement and generosity are boundless. You inspire and enable us to become our best selves through your words abd deeds. Thank you!

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