One of the things that draws me back to Zion National Park time and again is its famed 9 mile round trip hike in to ‘The Subway’. Not for the faint of heart, this trek has no actual trail… the stream bed is your guide. It is better described as ‘bouldering’ in my mind, as you spend more time picking your path scrambling over rocks, boulders and trees than you do walking on anything that resembles a ‘trail’ in the literal sense of the word. If you’ve never done this hike before you may end up about half way through the journey beginning to doubt yourself, thinking that you must have lost your way. I believe the National Park Service advised a six to eight hour hike time, even if you move at a good pace and are physically fit. Though it takes a lot of commitment, the scenery along the way and the destination are well worth every step. I began this particular trip in the pre-dawn light. In rather a hasty manner I set off, eager to get there before the sun got up too high. My goal was to get in to ‘The Subway’ early enough to shoot in the morning light as well as making use of the afternoon reflective sun. As I made my way I was continually struck by the beauty surrounding me on all sides. There were three shots in the first mile or so that I really wanted to set up for and shoot, but in my haste I passed them up. By the time I was into the second mile of my journey the sun was starting to play off the canyon walls and I was seeing the sweetest bounce light on the pools of water in my path. I paused in thought for a moment and realized that there was no way I could ignore the images I was seeing, despite my former ambitions. I resolved that even if it meant that I missed shooting ‘The Subway’ in the light I had hoped for, that I could not miss the opportunities that were staring me straight in the face.
I didn’t make it real far before I saw another pool with flaming orange reflections lighting up the surface of the water from the sunlight bouncing off the canyon’s red rock walls. Out came my gear and I was rewarded with a stunning image. This pattern continued for the remaining three and a half miles of my hike, each time I saw a setting where the light was right I took my time to capture the scene. Finally I reached Archangel Falls and knew my destination was very close. Just around the bend from Archangel Falls there is a channel in the rock of the stream bed where the water rushes through, and just beyond that is ‘The Subway’. Seeing this rock channel I decided to capture an image of it. I set up my camera on the tripod and took a few steps away towards the river bank to set down my hiking pack. No sooner had I moved away than I heard a horrifying ‘SMACK’ sound. I turned around to see that my tripod had fallen over, my camera was in the water and my 24-70mm lens completely snapped in half! At first I just stood there in utter disbelief. I soon collected myself and quickly ran to retrieve my damaged gear from the river. Waves of disbelief continued to crash over me as I stared at the broken pieces in my hands, and then it hit me… What if I hadn’t stopped to shoot all those images along the way in when the light was perfect? I would have had nothing to show for my journey! Just as suddenly as the feelings of frustration had overtaken me, a sudden deep feeling of thankfulness replaced it. Contemplating all this with a grateful heart, I took the memory card out of the camera body and slowly returned my broken equipment to the hiking pack. I comforted myself with the fact that I’ve always carried insurance on my gear so replacing it was not a problem. I stood up and walked the last couple hundred feet into ‘The Subway’, thinking as I went that on the bright side it meant I would need to come back in the fall to do it again an that is exactly what I plan to do. Was I sad as I stood inside ‘The Subway’ without my real camera equipment to capture this iconic location, of course I was, to say anything else would be an outright lie… but even more so I was thankful that I had taken the time to shoot when the light was right. I encourage you to do the same.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
– Nathaniel Smalley