Along the Hole in the Rock Road a pre-dawn light filled the sky with high fidelity streaks of purples, pinks, and striking cloud formations. West of us blue shadows hugged the Kaiparowits Plateau of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and three times I pulled the 4-Runner to capture landscape photographs with Jonathan Hart who was with me for some post production training.

Waiting for help with angels

More miles down a wash board road to Twenty-Five Mile Wash and the Peek-a-Boo Canyon trail, our ultimate destination. We spent a few minutes rigging up our back packs, doing camera checks, and headed down a steep trail of slick-rock and sand. Light was ascending in the east and shadow details sneaked out from the rocks and sparse cedars. All was going well and then two thirds down trail I stepped on a patch of sand covered slick-rock, spun, and crashed onto the unforgiving granite.  Within seconds I knew the day was over.

Sharp pain in my left hip, unable to move my left leg, unable to sit up, labored breathing were all indicators of something broken or severely bruised. Jonathan, who has many years of experience leading Outward-Bound Classes and Cross-Country Bike Tours took all the appropriate actions— back pack removal, position stabilization, situational awareness checks, and water, were all critical tasks as we were many miles from help.

Laying there, unable to move and seeing more sky then ground, I realized I would need significant medical help. I could not stay here, and I began to contemplate if there was something that could be fashioned into a crutch that would allow me push or drag my way up the one-mile granite slope.

There was not— but an Angel arrived instead, and then many more.

Moments later Kayla and Carson Wright came down the rock face. Kayla is an ER RN and works in a Level One Trauma Center in Charleston WVA, and Carson is a hydrologist. They are an outdoor couple and spend their free time camping, hiking and capturing our amazing national parks with their cameras. But they were so much more— Kayla was an on-site Angel, and Carson jumped in to help Jonathan.

While Kayla examined and worked to keep me comfortable Carson and Jonathan hiked out to reach a 911 signal at the top of the mesa. Another hiker joined in, and hiked back up to guide the Sheriff’s Rescue Deputy.  The level of outdoor community support in the National Park and BLM back country is truly unmatched. As a landscape art photographer, I know you can roll up to any trail head, crag, or mountainside and form friendships in minutes that will last a lifetime, and so it was here.

Other hikers came down the slope too, Carson ran up canyon and down to bring Tylenol. A 1000 mg of commercial pain killer never felt so good as it moderated the pain. Soon we had a community of hikers holding me in place under Kayla’s direction. As outdoor people do many gathered around to talk about the fall, offer help, and discuss photography. To keep my mind off the pain I gave directions to others heading for Peek-A-Boo until Sheriff Budnick arrived. His quick assessment told us that I needed a rescue helicopter and he launched the call.

It was not long before another Angel arrived, this one with rotary wings, a Classic Air Medical Team helicopter began to circle above us in search for a landing zone (LZ). Since we were on a rock face, landing close by was not possible and the Pilot tucked the helicopter into a sandy draw down canyon.  RNs Terry and Mary hiked up the canyon from the LZ with a liter and medical supplies. They scrambled over the slick rock and found plenty of help from the hikers/photographers to slide me onto the stretcher board. Fentanyl or maybe it was morphine along with other meds was pumped in through an IV and the pain subsided to a tolerable Level 3. After securing me and doing the all-important vitals the S&R team and Volunteers grabbed onto the stretcher and bit by bit hoisted me over craggy rock faces and down onto the sandy trail. It was a long hike out and each of the Angles took turns with the stretcher carry. Brush slipped by and I could hear voices on each side encouraging each other, giving directions to step over this, dodge that and sense their heavy breathing as the rescue team worked their way to the helicopter. I could only see straight up and through a pain killing fog I noted incredible white clouds and it was then that I knew more than one Angel was watching over me.

Onto the snug helicopter stretcher I went, and I remember the Classic Air Medical Team, putting the headset over my ears and telling me we had a 45-minute trip to the Cedar City Utah Hospital. Dust surrounded us for a few minutes as the air ambulance lifted out of ground effect, then higher, and finally, we were headed west over snowcap mountains. Time evaporated into the clouds and pain meds and then I sensed our gradual descent and finally a gentle thump as we touched down on the ER pad at Cedar City Hospital.

The Air Ambulance door opened, and I was able to turn my head and the team awaiting me reminded of the Med Evac Troops in Mash 401. They whisked me into the ER and after more IV and X-rays, it seemed that with a time fraction too short to recall, I was introduced to Dr. Nakken, Orthopedic Surgeon, a man with a reassuring posture and voice full of confidence. “This is a bad hip break; its serious business, but we will get you back out on the trail, because it’s what I do.”

Onto the snug helicopter stretcher I went, and I remember RN Tracey putting the headset over my ears and telling me we had a 45-minute trip to the Cedar City Utah Hospital. Dust surrounded us for a few minutes as the air ambulance lifted out of ground effect, then higher, and finally, we were headed west over snowcap mountains. Time evaporated into the clouds and pain meds and then I sensed our gradual descent and finally a gentle thump as we touched down on the ER pad at Cedar City Hospital.

The Air Ambulance door opened, and I was able to turn my head and the team awaiting me reminded of the Med Evac Troops in Mash 401. They whisked me into the ER and after more IV and X-rays, it seemed that with a time fraction too short to recall, I was introduced to Dr. Nakken, Orthopedic Surgeon, a man with a reassuring posture and voice full of confidence. “This is a bad femur break; its serious business, but we will get you back out on the trail, because it’s what I do.”

Hospital visitors- Kayla and Carson Wright

I woke up in Pac U and then a transfer to Med-Surge and a team of wonderful nurses. Things were a bit of a blur that first day until the afternoon when I had two visitors- Kayla and Carson Wright with a bag of goodies.

Today I am in Stonehenge Rehabilitation and doing all the things I need to do with the therapy teams so that one day soon— I can get back out there.

I want to take a moment to recognize all the Angels who helped when help was needed most.

Jonathan Hart, Kayla Wright, Carson Wright, Chris Seesuh, Matt Pulsifer, Lisa Mattson, Andie Mattson, Deputy Dunson, Terry Conover, Brad Hawker, and Mary.

I am sure we have missed some, but we would like to thank every single one of you. Please let us know if your name is not spelled correctly.

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18 Comments
  1. David Bernal

    Bob I hope you are well and rehab is going well. May you heal quickly and out shooting again. Im headed for hip replacement soon. I hope to see you in Mojave

    Dave Bernal

  2. Ron Abbott

    Bob: Really sorry to hear about you tumble. Having had replacements on both knees and one hip, I can tell you hips are much easier to fix and recovery much faster.

    Best wishes

    Ron

  3. Hadley Johnson

    Bob, what a tough way to get a story line for a blog post. I’m sure you wish you had a different post. Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

  4. "CHUCK" HALL

    Bob,

    Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  5. Dave Ficke

    Bob, best of luck to you and get well soon.

  6. I’ m so glad that the angels came to your side, and that your healing is progressing well and quickly. Take care, and hope that you are back on the trails soon.

  7. Hey Bob!
    What an adventure! Wishing you a speedy recovery and that you are back out there soon! ???

  8. Jeff Schwedock

    So sorry to hear about this Bob. You should add writer to one of your many talents, as having been on that same trail last year, I felt I was with you every step of this untimely incident. Hope you get back to creating and inspiring other soon.

  9. Sally Kitson

    Hi Bob,
    Happy to see you are making the most of a bad luck/good luck situation. Your blogging skills are certainly not affected! Best wishes during your recovery.

  10. Jay Slupesky

    Bob,

    I’m sorry to hear about your fall but thankful that you have had such good care from the start. I wish you the speediest of recoveries and I hope to see you soon.

  11. Ted Rigoni

    Bob–you’ve now got one of those adventures to add to your history that will get bigger and crazier with time. Thank you for sharing this blog with us all and for the stark reminder that we need to take care when we are on backcountry trails–and even when we do, the unexpected can still happen! I’m thankful that the National Park “Angels” and your support team both on the trail and afterwards in Cedar City have taken such great care of you and are helping you recover and get back, literally, on your feet. Please take care and we hope to see you soon on the National Park Photography Expeditions trail and classroom in the near future.

  12. Dave Balding

    Heard your recent talk at South Orange County Camera Club and learned a lot.. thanks for that. Much more important, wish you well on your recovery. I have vivid childhood memories from many many decades ago of roaming the region around Boulder UT. Question: You think it was fall and break or break and fall?
    All the best. Dave B. Mission Viejo

  13. Lynn Ballard

    Bob, yet another adventure! I wish I could have been there but so glad you had many friends around you to help. Get well soon my friend. .

  14. Bill Christofferson

    Wow! Sorry to hear this, but glad you are safe in bed in rehab with a nurse, or something like that. Your first med evac (I think) 50+ years after Nam. I’ve alerted some Snuffies. Take care of yourself.

  15. Bob, just read about your fall! So sorry to hear of it! Good luck with rehab! Can’t wait for you to return, as I am planning an taking another class from you!

  16. Lynda Meier

    Heck of a way to add some intrigue to your presentations, Bob. Prayers for a strong and speedy recovery.

  17. Paul Beyer

    Wow. Bob! What a story! Glad you’re okay. I’ll be praying!

  18. Mary Ince

    Oh Bob, my dear friend, Bob….. I really hate to say but, your account of misfortune makes for very good reading. I hope by now you can have a chuckle with this. That said, I feel for you, but as Dr.Nakken said…. you will be back on the trail in time. Take time to heal and reflect!

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