Traveling Alone, Personal Safety and Talking to Strangers
I had an interesting experience on New Year's Eve. I decided to spend some time at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico but since it was freezing cold, I didn't want my family's first experience there to be a bad one so I went solo to take some shots of the sunset before heading home.
The sun quickly drops behind the mountains around 5:15 pm and shortly thereafter, once the pastel pinks and blues have gone, it gets very, very dark. I hung around doing some shots in the dark before the park patrol came along to scoot me out, although with a few other stragglers.
As I was driving through the pitch black toward the exit, which was about 4 miles down the road, I saw a man in the distance waving his arms for me to stop. He came over to my car and tapped on the window. I was scared. He had a boy with him, who I assumed was his son, and against my better judgment I rolled the window down about two inches, there in the pitch black night, freezing temps and secluded sand-covered road.
He started to ask me if I'd seen his Prius parked anywhere because he was lost. He and his son wandered over the dunes and apparently lost their way, not realizing how far they'd wandered. Then of course nightfall came quickly.
I kept thinking, "Amy, I'm so ashamed of you, doing exactly what you tell your daughters never to do. You're talking to a stranger in the dark, rolled down your window and are engaging him.... what are you going to do next, give him a ride??"
I felt awkward and kept trying to make it not my business because I'm a woman alone out there in the middle of nowhere and every episode I've ever seen of Forensic Files came rushing back to my mind. "Uh, well, there were a couple cars parked down that way but it's a long way from here..... there's a park ranger coming through behind me... maybe he can help you."
Then he mentioned that he had no idea which direction to go, as I stuttered and stammered... okay, fine, I know I'm a Christian and I cannot leave this guy and his little boy out there in the dark of night with no flashlights or anything when it's 28 degrees Fahrenheit and windy. So I did the unthinkable. I asked if they'd like a ride to find their car.
I can't believe I just did that. How can I ever look my kids in the eyes and warn them about their safety when they travel alone after this? But my gut told me it would be fine. Maybe it was his young son he had with him.
He did not ask for a ride, probably because he was too much of a gentleman and understood the position I was in, but they were very happy to get inside my warm minivan and I did a quick 3 point turn to continue down into the park the way I'd just come.
I told him I NEVER pick up strangers and I'd hoped it was okay do to so... he said it was the camera equipment he had on his back that probably made it okay but I was too scared and it was too dark to notice that. It turns out he was also a landscape photographer working for a company that mentors and gives workshops to aspiring photographers. His son was so proud of his dad that he told me the company's website. I won't mention the company or the name of the gentleman because I doubt he'd appreciate being written about.
After quite a drive we found his car and he thanked me for helping him. It was my pleasure, especially since he wasn't an ax murderer.
What was really great was that a car that had been a good distance behind me as I was exiting followed me to this parking area with the photographer and his son in my van. He must have seen me flagged down, stopped and then taking these two strangers into my van before turning around. And they did the same. Once the two left my van, the car waited for me to drive away before leaving. One good deed was followed by another and I was happy someone would look out for me that way.
The next day I looked this photographer up on his website.. he's a GREAT photographer, by the way, and I let him know why I was so cautious about helping. Now we know each other on social media and all is well.
I've written before about traveling alone and taking precautions. I don't know... what would you have done? It turned out fine because this was a decent person but I violated every rule I believe in.