Sunrise in Larkin’s Garden

The sunrise casts warm light and shadows across the canyons of the Colorado River in southeastern Utah

This image was the subject of a blog post at a previous website of mine which I no longer maintain. It is reproduced here to keep the story behind this image, and the memory of the individual behind the story, alive.

Most images you see of Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah, are taken from the observation deck at the top of the cliffs overlooking the Colorado River as it continues to carve its way through the sandstone of Eastern Utah. This was my first visit to this location, back in 2009, and I arrived in the darkness just before dawn, knowing that I wanted to look for a composition somewhat different than what everyone else takes.

As soon as the sky began to brighten enough to begin to make out the landscape around the observation platform, I noticed a tree growing right at the edge of a ledge about 10 feet below the platform and I was determined to find a way down there to use the tree as my foreground subject. The result is the image you see above. I love the way the shapes of the clouds mimic the shapes of the canyons below and the bend in the tree is an echo of the bends in the river.

After taking my image, I began to explore a little and noticed some words carved in a sandstone boulder that is just out of the frame of my image to the right. The words were “Larkin’s Garden.”

“Larkin’s Garden” carved into the sandstone boulder

The thing about carvings in sandstone is that you can never tell how old the carving is. It could have been carved a hundred years ago; it could have been carved yesterday. I left Utah knowing I had an excellent image and absolutely no idea who might have carved those words.

I posted the image on my original website’s blog and wondered in the post who Larkin was and when those words might have been carved in the rock. A brief search on the internet showed that Larkin is a fairly common name in the Utah Mormon community, so it was unlikely that I would be able to discover anything about it.

And that’s where the story stood for about 6 months until I got a comment on my blog post from someone claiming to know the history behind those carved words.

The commenter told me the story of a Salt Lake City high school classmate of his named Chris Larkin Hancuff, Jr. and there were two very important details about this young man in relation to my blog post: Chris had been in a band called “The Garden” and he had passed away from cancer in 1993.

The Make a Wish foundation had approached Chris towards the final stages of his cancer and his wish had been for The Garden to record a CD. Unfortunately, Chris passed away before the CD could be recorded, but the foundation and the band followed through with the wish in Chris’s memory after the band renamed themselves “Larkin’s Garden” in his honor.

Another important detail was shared by my commenter: other members of the band were 4×4 enthusiasts who frequented the Moab area and likely carved those words into the sandstone.

It amazed me that my blog post was actually discovered by someone who had information regarding the mystery of the carving, but what happened on New Year’s Eve, 2011, two years later, completely blew me away.

The afternoon before 2012 made its appearance, I received a phone call from none other than Chris Hancuff, Sr., who was calling to tell me that his daughter had been browsing the internet and had come across my blog post, and the comment, and shared her discovery with her father. They could not get over how pleased they were that this image existed and how it could serve to continue the memory of Chris Jr.

We had a good conversation about Chris Jr. and his life and, as I was planning to return to Utah that Spring, we made arrangements to meet where I was able to provided the family with prints of this image and, honestly, I have never been more proud to give prints to anyone in my life.

And there you have it. The power of the internet to bring people together made real. I certainly never could have guessed where that image would take me, but I am glad it did. And I’m proud to keep the memory of Chris Larkin Hancuff, Jr. alive. He was a remarkable young man and the world is poorer for his passing.

Thanks for taking the time to allow me to share this story with you.

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