I Totaled My Car Getting This Photo and It Was Worth It. Here's Why.

It is so important to be spending the majority of your life doing something you love. This is why I continue to spend time in nature and make the effort required to create images that will help others care more about wild places.

For me 2016 passed by in a blur. It was a busy year, an adventurous year, a dangerous year, but most of all, one of the best years of my life. It was the first year that I was able to live solely off of money made doing photography and I could finally dedicate myself to landscape photography full time. With this came many challenges, setbacks, discouraging events, hunger, struggles, and life lessons. But it was definitely all worth it.

Last year I frequented this location many times trying to get certain shots I had imagined in my head. The last time I went, I took a friend with me and we decided we would just camp there for a couple of nights, or however long it took me to get the right conditions for my photos. We arrived in the afternoon and it was absolutely pissing down. We sat in the car and waited for the rain to stop. When it finally did, we hiked out to this location and waited for something to happen. The sky exploded with color as sunlight burst through an opening in the horizon and I was able to get one of the photographs I had envisioned. Piece of cake.

The next morning looked promising as well, we went out to this cliff edge and waited for the light. The air was crisp and chilly and antelopes bounced around in the fields of sagebrush and cactus near by. The sun rose and the desert awoke with great beauty as the light made the landscape come to life. I shot this photo and then joined my friend on a rock to continue watching the light and shadows appear around us. It was a beautiful day. 

We got back in my car and headed towards Capitol Reef, NP where we would spend the rest of the day hiking and then return back home in the evening, since I had already gotten the images I had been hoping for. We got out to the highway when my friend realized she had left her phone where we had been that morning. I headed back to the spot, down a good 10 miles of dirt road, frustrated that we would be losing the morning light doing this instead of being somewhere shooting some more. We found her phone and got back in the car. I speedily headed back the way we came, hoping to make it to the next location while we still had some decent sunlight. Going around a sharp turn, one of my tires blew out and I began to slide sideways, towards a big rock wall. I corrected and turned hard in the other direction, which then sent us sliding the other way, towards the edge of a cliff. We went flying off the edge, rolling at least once if not twice in the air before hitting the side of the cliff, and then we continued to roll downhill several times more. Glass, camera equipment, camping gear, shovels, tripods, loose change, everything was flying all over the vehicle like a tornado. We finally hit the ground with a big thud, at the bottom of a wash, 30ft or so below the highway. We had landed sideways, laying on the passenger side of the car. There was glass and other loose bits and pieces of who knows what all around us. Dirt and weeds were all over inside the car as well. I could smell dust, burning rubber, and oil. I immediately began to call my friend's name to see if she was ok. She responded that she was and I looked over at her, she had blood all over the back of her neck and shirt. I couldn't see how bad it was, so I assumed the worst. I unbuckled my seatbelt and I stood sideways on the side of the passenger seat. It took several attempts and all of my strength to be able to pry open the dented, driver door above us. I got it open and I helped give her a boost out of the car, then I pulled myself out, which is surprisingly really hard to do when your car is positioned like this. 

We checked out the car to make sure it wasn't going to light on fire or something, then I went back inside and tried to find what was necessary. I could only find my phone and a pair of shoes for my friend. It would have to do for now. I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my friend's head to try and stop the bleeding. I felt around my own body and was surprised to not have a single scratch or bruise anywhere. Crazy. We hiked several miles out to the highway. By now it was the early afternoon and it was beginning to get very hot. All of our water had spilled in the crash so we didn't have anything to drink for the hike in the middle of the desert. The whole time we walked I asked my friend questions to keep her conscious, fearing she had suffered a major concussion and would pass out at any moment. 

After an hour or so we made it to a main highway. We waited for about 10 minutes until the first car drove by. We tried to wave it down but it just kept on going. After a few minutes another car passed, but would not stop. Then another, and another. Finally, one of the cars that had passed us came back around to see if we were ok. They gave us a ride into town where paramedics checked us out and we were able to get a tow truck back out to my car. Luckily my friend had just been cut on her head and didn't have a concussion or anything major, it had just bled a lot. Somehow they were able to pull my car out of the wash and back up onto the highway and then tow my obviously totaled car to a nearby shop. My parents came and got us and we finally got back home by nightfall. I remember sitting in the car on the way back home, in shock, just staring out the window, so happy and so grateful to be alive, but so unable to connect with reality and accept that it was all real, it felt so much like a dream, the whole day was so surreal.

To this day I still can't believe that it happened, that we were not killed, and that neither of us have any kind of a serious injury or scar to show for it. I am super grateful that we were protected and came out of such a potentially life ending situation so luckily. But what I am most grateful for, is the experience. After something so traumatic, you tend to reevaluate what you are doing in life, and think about if it was really worth it or not. It turns out it was, and by the following week I was back on the road again doing what I love, creating images of nature. 

If I had been out doing something else that I didn't care about or didn't like, then I would have viewed the whole experience completely differently. If I had been working as a mail or pizza deliveryman and crashed and almost died, or if I had been on a business trip that I didn't give a damn about, or just doing anything that I didn't truly feel improved my life experience, then I would have been much more negative about it and probably would still be bummed today. When you are already doing something negative, the negative things that happen to you just make it all that much worse. But when you are doing something that is a positive experience for you, the negative events just become part of the process and you can use them to learn and grow. This is why I cannot stress enough that it is so important to be spending the majority of your life doing something you love. This is why I continue to spend time in nature and make the effort required to create images that will help others care more about wild places. To me, it's worth whatever the cost may be.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Eric BennettExplorer

Instagram: @bennettfilm Videographer, Photographer from San Diego, CA currently living in Provo, UT