Almost Missed The Alpenglow

Sheep Mountain at sunset.

Sheep Mountain at sunset: the sun’s rays still on the south face of the summit.

I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado after a long day of driving and photographing the awesome fall colors.

I was still three hours from home, had to get there and get a good night’s sleep. At the Pass I stopped to take a Photo of Sheep Mountain with a nice sunset brilliance on it and the clouds just above it.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Then alpenglow started. It’s an optical phenomenon when the just-set sun’s rays reflect off something (like clouds) above the landscape, most noticeably seen on mountain peaks, though I have seen it occur onto high desert cliffs, too. Since the sun is below the western horizon, its rays aren’t shining directly on the landscape in the east, they’re being reflected down from just above it.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

And this event was turning into an exceptionally strong one. Not just the clouds above Sheep Mountain, and not just snowy summit above treeline. But also a large red band across the spruce-fir forest below.

It also lit up Vermilion Peak to the north. It lingered for quite a while, then quickly faded.

Alpenglow on Yellow Mountain and Vermilion Peak.

Alpenglow on Vermilion Peak.

If I had resumed my drive home just a few minutes before I did, I would have missed the entire event.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, San Juan National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest, Dolores and San Miguel Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg