A High-Stakes Mission at Horseshoe Bend: In which my explorin’ ventures slightly beyond the Sonoran

click to enlarge A High-Stakes Mission at Horseshoe Bend: In which my explorin’ ventures slightly beyond the Sonoran
(Emily Dieckman)
Stopping by Horseshoe Bend on the way back from a trip to Utah.

I’m not a very spontaneous person, but I like to try, or pretend, to be one. So, when I drive by Horseshoe Bend on my way home from a trip to Utah, I think, “I still have six hours of driving until I’m home, but that won’t stop my adventurous spirit! I go where the wind takes me!”

In reality, this looks more like me doing a double take when I pass the sign, then pulling over to consider whether this is worth it. How long is the hike to this site the National Park Service website describes as a “social media darling” (ugh)? What time will I get home if I add this detour? Is it too hot? But I’ve been wanting to see it, and who knew the next time I’d be in the area? So I turn around. Viva adventure!

Having just come from a week of clambering around other national parks, I am more than prepared to do the 1.5-mile round-trip walk. Too prepared, actually. I change into hiking clothes in my car, strap into my hiking boots, and ready my CamelBak and water bottle.

Maybe I should have kept my cute dress on. On the hike (OK, stroll) out, I try to decide whether I feel superior to all the tourists around me because I’m so prepared, or like an idiot compared to the people around me because I am so overprepared. I am definitely not going to run out of water. But the women in cute outfits are definitely going to get cuter photos for Instagram, and they’re not going to run out of water, either.

A note about photographing Horseshoe Bend… I think a lot of the “social media darling” shots I’ve seen on the internet must have involved drones, because it feels almost impossible to get the whole bend in one photo, even while getting reasonably close to the edge. And I’m certainly not about to get unreasonably close to the edge. (I Google “Horseshoe Bend deaths” when I get home, and I do not recommend you do the same.)

I ask a friendly-looking woman if she’d mind taking a photo of me. I just want to send it to my mom so she can marvel at what a spontaneous, adventurous daughter she raised. The woman calls her tall boyfriend over and starts speaking to him in French, enlisting his height for the task. Oh no. These people came all the way from France to spend their vacation taking photos of an American. He takes a few with her careful coaching, and I thank them.

“Now us?” the woman asks.

Of course! I owe them. A pleasure and a privilege to repay this favor to my new French friends! I step back to take a photo and realize a little pile of stuff we made off to the side is now in the frame. “Let me move this!” I announce. I try holding my hands above my head to take a photo from higher up. Maybe that would get the whole horseshoe in the shot? Hm. It’s hard to take a picture when you can’t see what you’re capturing. I decide to just take a normal photo and adjust as needed from there.

As I’m helplessly piddling around, looking like someone who has never taken a picture of anything in her life, the man starts to lower himself onto one knee. Yes, reader. This man proposes to his girlfriend. And I am the engagement photographer.

I basically black out from stress. (I crumple easily under stress and happen to find almost everything stressful.) But I am conscious enough to hit the shutter button with feverish speed. We’re done trying to find the perfect angle. The perfect angle is anything where these lovebirds are in the frame.

The woman is shocked, and their interaction is mostly quiet, the way bliss sometimes is. I take somewhere between 10 and 10 million photos before I decide I should maybe just switch to video. Is that what they would want? Who knows? There! I switched to video. Now I can stop frantically touching the icon because “Oh my God. I forgot to press ‘record.’” (Luckily only a few seconds go by before I realize this, but I do not take this offense lightly. Those seconds haunt my dreams.)

I record the remainder of the interaction until the woman comes to get her phone back. Both of our jaws are resting at the bottom of the canyon. I congratulate her and ask if she wants any more photos. She shakes her head. Dazed, I congratulate them again and wander off.

It occurs to me I should shift from dazed wandering into frantic fleeing. What if the photos didn’t come out well? Did I just spoil an engagement? I speedwalk back to the car and try to reassure myself that at least one of the photos I took, or one frame of the video, is probably usable. And, worst-case scenario, the happy couple will have a story about the “américain stupide” who ruined their proposal photos/their engagement/their lives.

This was far too much spontaneity for one day.

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