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Last Tuesday, I got a call from a close buddy asking for some help.  The backstory on “Duckman” is too long for this blog post, but suffice to say that Duckman, his wife and the 7 Ducklings are considered family, so when he asked for some help the answer was a resounding “of course!”

He began to tell me about a plan he had been working on for more than a year, to do a complete kitchen remodel.  Through a series of opportunities, careful planning to acquire appliances and hide them in places his wife would not look on their ranch and having contractors come out to measure (numerous times) while she was out picking up kids from school, he was able to get everything lined up for 22 November.

I had a trip planned for that weekend down to their ranch to spend the weekend, so he figured I could help with the plan to get his wife out of the house all day on Saturday.  I told him I had a couple of ideas and that I’d give him a call back in a bit, once I had a fairly firm plan in place.  I have a client who is looking for a particular composition of Fisher Towers and despite many trips to Moab, Fisher Towers is one location I had yet to really explore.  Since their family had experienced a number of deaths this year, there was need for some time away to re-energize.  Lastly, I have built up a bunch of frequent stayer points with a number of hotel chains, so I was able to use that as part of the ruse as well.

I called Duckman back and suggested the idea.  He was totally in with the plan and suggested I call his wife to get her buy-in.  I called her and suggested that instead of driving straight to Durango, I could knock out some location scouting along with having them meet me in Moab for an overnight to use up some frequent stayer points and then spend the day exploring Arches National Park for a few hours, prior to returning to Durango for a benefit dinner for a little girl who had been diagnosed with Childhood A.L.L.

She was amenable to the idea, but wanted to clear it with Duckman and said they’d call after dinner.

A few hours later, the phone rang and we talked about the idea (pretending that Duckman and I had not talked earlier about the idea).  After a few minutes discussing, The plan was agreed to and I set my plan in motion, making hotel reservations and doing a bit of research on sun location for Fisher Towers around sunset on Friday, 21 November using desktop app & smartphone versions of The Photographers Ephemeris.

The next few days would be rough, hoping & praying she didn’t figure out what was about to happen…(oh yes, pins & needles!!!)

Friday morning came around quite fast and before I knew it, I was on my way towards Fisher Towers.

The drive out was uneventful; leaving Denver in the morning allowed for getting beyond the typical traffic choke points well ahead of the weekend ski crowd.  I arrived at the parking lot at Fisher Towers at 4:30pm.  Sunset at 4:59pm.  I spent a bit of time trekking around looking for the right spot.  Once I found a good spot, I created a few images.

Fisher Towers in Monochrome:
Fisher Towers in Monochrome

To try out a different technique prior to sunset, I put my LEE “Big Stopper” and circular polarizer filter, set my aperture to f/22 and started a 4-minute exposure.  What resulted was pretty cool!

4 Minutes at Fisher Towers:
4 minutes at Fisher Towers

As time to sunset approached, I set up my camera for sunset with a 3-stop graduated neutral density (GND) filter and circular polarizer and prepared for the shot.  Location for this particular shot was spot on, in my opinion, for sunset on this date.

Sunset at Fisher Towers:
Sunset at Fisher Towers

Knowing there was still more to explore, I trekked around for a bit while the light was still reasonable, then head back to the vehicle and into Moab to get checked into the motel while I awaited the Durango crew.  They arrived at 7:45pm and once they had luggage stowed in their room, we headed off to Zax for dinner.  Great food, good talk about things going on with the family and a short discussion about the plan for the next day.  We headed back to the hotel, sat in the lobby for a while having a cup of coffee and munching on chocolate chip cookies (lol).  Eventually, it was time to crash for the night and we said our good nights.

The next morning, after sleeping in and giving plenty of time to relax without their kids, the Durango crew and I headed to Love Muffin Cafe for breakfast prior to heading to Arches National Park.

We headed into Arches National Park and my duty as “tour guide” began as I have been to ANP many times and this was their first foray into the park.  Since we had to kill off sufficient time, I opted to drive out to Devil’s Garden, so we could walk out to Landscape Arch and then work our way back towards town.  The weather was fairly decent.  Mostly cloudy, +46F and a breeze of 5 – 10mph (guess).  Mid-day shooting at Landscape Arch isn’t really the best time of day, but with the clouds, my LEE “Big Stopper” and circular polarizer, I was set to try out the similar technique from the day before.  The goal here was to practice using the Big Stopper + CP combination to allow the camera sensor to capture even more detail.  Still a lot to learn with this technique, but the opportunity sure was fun to practice (knowing that the ruse Duckman and I were running was going to be quite the surprise once back at 7 Ducklings Ranch).

Long-Exposure Landscape:
Long-Exposure Landscape

To make it appear that I was truly ‘working’ to get more images, I removed the Big Stopper and replaced with the 3-stop grad + CP filters to shoot Landscape Arch a bit more.  This next image really came out nicely, despite a mid-day shooting time:

Moody Landscape:
Moody Landscape

As we left Landscape Arch, I took us back past Fiery Furnace and Wolfe Ranch parking (no trek to Delicate Arch today) to the viewpoint parking for Delicate Arch.  The short hike to the upper viewpoint and time spent shooting Delicate Arch from afar was fun.  There were a fair number of people who had hiked up to Delicate Arch this November day, which really added a nice touch to show off the scale of Delicate Arch.

Delicate People:
Delicate People

Time really flies when you are having fun and we were running low on free time.  We had to be back in Breem (west of Durango) by 5:30 or so for the benefit dinner and by the time we drove back to town, left them to their car and headed to City Market to pick up a cup of coffee at the Starbucks, we were about 20 minutes behind schedule.  Fortunately, traffic wasn’t bad on US-191 to Monticello, US-491 or C.R. 184 and we arrived about 5:35pm.

The benefit dinner was good and shortly thereafter was followed by an auction.  I knew about that auction, so I brought 31 12” x 18” prints I had from a number of displays to donate to the cause.  The auction raised quite a bit of money for this poor little girl.  I do not know the official tally for what my prints raised, but based on what I heard from final bid price, the prints raised somewhere around $750.

Finally, the payoff for this ruse was about to come into play.  We left the auction and headed to 7 Ducklings Ranch.  I managed to get inside a minute or so ahead, and along with their kids, we all awaited the grand entrance.

When she walked in, it did not register immediate…perhaps 10 seconds, then the floodgate of tears, tears of pure joy came (to the point where almost everyone was about to burst into tears).  The fact that the installation crew showed up at 9:30am and managed to get the job done by ~5:30pm was just amazing.  The job was perfect, amazing and done to perfection.

What did I learn from this ruse?  Besides the joy of being able to participate in this ruse, I learned that while some locations are “traditionally” not well composed during mid-day hours, you should try to overlook the normal information and take conditions into account.  The clouds and cooler temps allowed photographic conditions to really be pretty good and thus allowed for some creative photography.

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