The first time I ever went to Hawksbill Crag / Whitakers Point
Updated: May 5, 2019
My first time going to Hawksbill Crag was definitely an interesting experience. I was contacted about a month before by a man from Wisconsin wanting to propose to his girlfriend while on vacation and he wanted to surprise her again when they got home with a huge print of the engagement. I thought this was a great idea. We talked a few times on the phone and the date and time was locked in. Sunrise. 6 AM. Hawksbill Crag or Whitakers Point, is about an hour drive from my house and another hour hike. If I'm going to be in position by 6 A.M. I need to be awake and driving by 3:45 AM.
I didn’t to text him this early as they were camping at one of the many campgrounds nearby and they probably didn't have service and what if they did and his girlfriend woke up and the surprise was ruined??? He had texted me a few days prior letting me know we were still on and they were on their way to the Ozark Mountains. I get to the parking area and there's no one there. Great! I’m ahead of them. Perfect. The entrance to the trail itself is quite hidden and hiking it in the dark with nothing but your cameras flashlight is very scary at 4 A.M. You can hear every noise. Bobcats and Bears do exist in Newton County, AR. While I had never hiked this trail, I am familiar with the general area because my grandpa has a farm in Parthenon, AR near Jasper. So I’m hyper focusing on my surroundings. I didn’t know how far until i reached the edge so I wasn't going too fast. After about 45 minutes of non stop slow hiking, I check my phone. No service still. I tried to text the boyfriend and it wouldn't send. At this, barely more than halfway point. I am sure I’m lost. No clue if I’m in the right area. On the right trail. Totally lost in the dark. I decided to turn around and backtrack in case I lost the trail somewhere or missed a sign.
After about 20 minutes I see a few flashlights and think to myself “well that's probably them. Its ruined but at least I’m not lost wandering around the woods in the dark anymore.” They seemed kind of scared of me at first… I do not blame them. I was alone in the woods wearing a hoodie and a large camera bag backpack. I told them that I was looking for the spot everyone goes to and they knew the way. They were 4 or 5 college aged kids from Missouri who decided the night before to drive down and hike to the ledge for fun. I wish I knew their names. I explained to them why I was out there and they thought it was awesome. Once we finally got to the ledge, I found my hiding spot. I didn’t want to look too creepy so I wasn't completely hidden. After ditching my hoodie and taking a few test shots. I waited. And waited. About 20 minutes. A young couple starts coming up. I’m thinking oh that's definitely them. Right on time. The sun is JUST peaking over the far mountain.
They sat there next to each other for a solid 10 minutes watching the sunrise and then the man gets up and goes to his bag. Pulls out something and goes up behind the woman. He gets on one knee. I think to myself “great it is them!”
I take my photos. Get my gear all together and start to hike out before they do because that was the point. Hide. Take photos. Surprise new fiance with fancy wall art. As I’m leaving at about 7:30-7:45 AM. I pass one couple. I had an uneasy feeling. Surely it wasn’t them right. I can’t go ask the first couple… I can’t ask this couple… I decide surely not because the sun had been up for over an hour and the plan was 6 AM. I hiked out of there. Soaked in sweat and tired all over (Side note here, I have lost about 100 pounds since this hike. It was very difficult while carrying all that weight plus my camera bag.) I put on one of my dry work shirts that happened to be in the back seat and headed home.
At about 9 AM, I distinctly remember laying down with my phone and texting him “congrats man. That was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. She's going to love these.” throwing my phone on the charger and passing out. I woke up around 2 PM that afternoon and checked my phone. “Are you sure you got them? We were running late and we didn’t see you?” I don't remember my reply but I think I asked what he was wearing and he said a blue shirt. I said yeah at around 6:20 AM right? And he said no. His shirt was blue plaid. They were the ones I passed on my way out. I had no idea. He had no way of letting me know they were late as we both had no signal. After many apologies from me he told me it was fine and he was just happy she said yes ( I told him she would say yes! He was a super nice guy over the phone. ) About 4 days go by and I haven't touched the photos. It made me sick thinking about how poor the planning was on my part. As a result of this I now add my clients on Facebook and really like doing in person meetings. I tell people the story of how I shot the wrong couples photos and I’ll never forget. I was at my cousins house taking photos for my side job (product photography, she has a nice backyard) and I show her the photos in my camera. She said they were really amazing and suggested I try to find the couple in the photos.
So I went back to my office at work and edited them on my laptop and about an hour later, posted them on my page explaining the story and asking people to share the post to find the couple. Immediately it went viral. It got over 400 shares in 4 hours and that's when they found it. A local photographer had seen my post and the couple I had photographed had reached out to her but she wasn't available so they ended up not having a photographer. She immediately sent it to them and they commented. They were all the way from Dallas. I couldn’t believe it. After talking to them privately I gave them the photos free of charge. I thought it was a fun experience. News channels picked it up. Worldwide it was a news story… It was embarrassing but also kind of cool to see my photos all over the internet. I even got accused of faking the photos or the story. Nope. This was exactly how it happened. Even the Wisconsin man's fiance commented on the post saying they were beautiful and she totally wasn't mad because she hadn't really dressed for photos. So that's the story of my first time ever going to Hawksbill Crag. My suggestion to you if you’re wanting have surprise photos is don’t. Your significant other will not like it if they wore sweats or a ripped up hoodie in the photos. Not to mention if I hadn't needed to hide like a weirdo, I could’ve gotten closer and posed them and ended up with much better photos. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this story. I’ll add links to my original Facebook album and a few news stories if you’re interested. (P.S. I’m writing this almost exactly 2 years after this incident occurred. I may be getting some details wrong but this is how I remember it. Also, I used to shoot photography under the name JP Photography in case that threw you off)
The Southern Mosaic
Links: Original Facebook post.
The first new story
The Mirror (UK)