*This story was sent to me by Ben Radatz, who you may know as "Daredevil Photography. Ben is a wickedly talented photographer and a great storyteller. Any time I get to share something of his, it is a great honor! You can find some of his work on Instagram here: Dare_Devil_Inc I promise you will not be disappointed!*
You can listen to this story on The Iron and Steele Podcast, here:
I want to share the story of one of the stranger nights I’ve had in recent memory.

Nobody dies or gets abducted or goes to jail. It’s not that kind of story. It’s the kind where a bunch of completely random stuff comes together at just the right time to make a moment that just can’t be experienced any other way. And there are plenty of hot rods in it, so it’s topical.

This one happened in Kanab, a small town in southern Utah that survives on Grand Canyon tourism and Western film history. You’d drive through it in three minutes if you weren’t stopping for lunch or staying the night.
But there are some really good reasons to stop. Southern Utah is pretty remote and any small town is a welcomed break, but Kanab goes the extra mile and preserves its main street and mid-century motels. Film productions have used Kanab as a base camp for random Westerns and sci-fis over the years and have left a lot of fun history behind. The Rat Pack stayed here often enough that they paid to install a kidney pool in their favorite motel — the one from this story. The bungalows at the motel are named after the celebrities who stayed there. I had the Reagan room.

To get to Kanab though I need to back up to earlier in the day. Myself and my friend Lyndon (the incredible photographer @lensesandwheels on Instagram) joined up for a second time with Hooligans in Hot Rods, a Utah-based group founded by Chris Kiernan that organizes reliability runs along scenic routes in the area. This was the second day in a three-day run to the Grand Canyon and Utah’s southern parks, with about two dozen hot rods from around the West.

The first year we came out, Lyndon and I mostly drove together in my truck at the back of the caravan, and we alternated between driving and shooting. This year we spent more time car hopping, with just one of us or our new friend Fabian driving the truck.

As to be expected with this many vintage cars on the open road, things break. Fortunately, in a group of wrenchers, no problem couldn’t be fixed on the side of the road in under an hour. But with a caravan this big only about half the group would stay behind while the rest kept on to the next route point.

Earlier in the day Lyndon and I split up, with him and Fabian in the truck while I rode with Chris in his T roadster. Towards sunset the back half of the line had engine troubles and pulled off while Lyndon and Fabian kept on with the front. Even after that about half the back had to pull off again — overheating this time, I think. We’d been driving up a mountain before dropping into Kanab, our stopping point for the night.
We’d expected to get into Kanab around dinnertime. The front half of the group were on schedule, but by 8pm half of the rear were still on the side of the road an hour and a half out of town, while the rest of us waited at a rural gas station at the top of the mountain, midway between them and Kanab. It was getting cold and dark and phone signal was weak, making it hard to coordinate with the whole group.

We snacked at the gas station but didn’t spoil our appetites. We thought that the last cars would join back up with us soon and we’d all be on our way to Kanab for a late dinner. But after an hour of not hearing from them we realized a few things: that our chances of finding an open restaurant in Kanab were probably gone, that most of us hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and that the gas station diner had closed while we were waiting. It wasn’t looking like a triumphant end to the day.

It was another half hour before we heard from the last of the group: they were back on the road and coming to us. I had mobile service now too and called Lyndon to check on the front half. They were all just rounding up back in Kanab, and even better, he’d found one last open restaurant in town: a Pizza Hut, and we caught them minutes before closing.

Things were looking up. The last of the group met up with us at the gas station and we were on our way to Kanab. I texted our order to Lyndon as I rode with Chris in his roadster down the mountain under one of the brightest night skies I’ve ever seen.

The whole caravan finally met up at our stopping point, the Parry Lodge, at about the same time, like a hot rod version of the Simpsons opening. The motel lobby had closed hours before but the manager left keys for us in the mailbox. Chris distributed them while Lyndon and Fabian pulled up in the truck with a dozen pies.

With nowhere to eat we opened the boxes on the porch and had an improv midnight party. Music and beer came out. Everyone was glad to be off the road and winding down.

It was at Pizza Hut that Lyndon heard that Kanab was due for a town-wide blackout that night from 1-6am, and true to their word, at 1am sharp the whole town just powered off all at once. We’d expected it but weren’t paying attention to the time, and I don’t think most of us realized just how dark it would get. Without flashlights there was no chance of finding our way off the porch.

But of course that didn’t stop the party. If anything it gave us a reason to stay up longer. Work lights are turned on and more beers are opened. Now we’re a glowing orb of hot rod rowdiness in the middle of pitch-black Utah.

At about 1:30am we see a group of people walking towards us from far down the street. Not a small group either, about 10. We could only count them by their flashlights.

A few of us walked over to meet them, assuming they were locals coming by to see the cars or to ask us to keep it down. Instead — of all things — it’s a group of nighttime photographers, who had all come to Kanab that week for an urban nighttime photo convention. They were coming over with all of their camera gear. They asked us permission to shoot the cars and got down to setting up minutes-long exposures — the kind where you see the Milky Way and star trails. Lyndon and I talked shop with them as they waited on their shots. It’s about 2 am now.

It was strange enough that there was a convention in Kanab for such a very specific thing. It was stranger still that it just happened to be on the night of a full-town blackout, and with us there. But Kanab was still saving the best for last.

While talking with the photographers we see faint red and blue flashing lights on the other end of town. A minute later a lone police cruiser turns the corner and drives right down the middle of the street towards us. No sirens, just lights. We watch as it approaches, then see another turn the corner, and another. One of the photographers asks if they’re coming for us, and I think she means it. It does kind of make sense, when you consider the variables.

We watch as another few dozen cruisers turn the bend, followed by ambulances, fire trucks, and even more cruisers. The line seems to go on for minutes, all with their lights on.

If it’s hard for me to describe how strange it is to be in the middle of a town like Kanab during a full blackout, it’s even harder to describe how bizarre it is to see the town lit up by hundreds of flashing lights in near-total silence — almost like an unfinished video game level, or an old exaggerated memory.

It turned out to be a “midnight parade”, as they called it in the motel lobby the next day. A local high school team won a state tournament and they were getting a hero’s welcome back in town from first responders, except that nobody else was there to welcome them but us. We stood at the curb outside the motel as the parade came through and cheered for the players sitting on top of the fire trucks. Other than their engines it was the only other sound for miles.

Half the nighttime photographers scrambled to protect their long exposures from the lights while the other half turned their cameras to the parade. As a photographer myself I had a dilemma: do I capture this weird one-of-a-kind moment or put my camera down and just be present? I chose to be present. I don’t have much patience for nighttime photography anyways and the time it would have taken me to set up would have subtracted from the moment. And in pitch darkness this description is probably a lot better than my photos would have been.

We watched the line pass by and disappear around another bend. The random screams and flashing lights on the other side seemed more like a zombie apocalypse than a homecoming parade.

A few of us stayed on the porch a while longer, but for most that was the mic drop to end the night. The work lights dimmed around 2:30, the nighttime photographers packed up and the remaining group felt their way to their motel rooms — which is harder than it sounds in a dispersed motor court in pitch blackness. Most of us hadn’t been to our rooms yet and had no idea where we were going.

The next morning it was like it never happened. The power was back on, the road outside was busy with tourists and campers. Breakfast was hot in the dining hall and we talked about plans for the day as if we hadn’t all just entered a twilight zone for a few hours the night before. Our server made me feel out of the loop about midnight parades, like it was a universal small-town thing.  

After breakfast, those in the group that came in from Arizona said their goodbyes while the rest of us prepped for one last day on the route. We broke west on our way to Zion and they went south, both out on same road the parade had come through.

The last leg of the trip was every bit as memorable as the first — if not a little lonelier without or Arizona friends — so that night became just one of many stories from the trip. I still call bullshit on midnight parades being a thing though.


Dan Podobinski

Good stuff Ben! The hiccups during a journey always make for the best memories.


Ben, the midnight parade is because it is likely almost midnight by the time the local team gets home from road games. They likely turned it into a Kanab thing or maybe it is done in any remote small town with a high school team where they have a 2-3 hour drive home from anywhere.

Charlie Soell

Most amazing road trip ever. Good times, with good people, driving great cars.

Doug Nephew

A memory burnt into my story book to recount whenever a smile is needed.

Bart Hammack

I remember when we (myself, Travis, and Steve) pulled into Kanab behind you guys. We had stopped in the forest to take a break and ended up talking for about 30 minutes while Steve took off his header plates. We had stopped 5 minutes down the road from the gas station you were at. If we had come around the bend we would have found you guys. We ended up being the last of the group leaving the grand canyon. That I think was my favorite night of the drive.

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