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Morning Glory

Morning Glory, aurora borealis photo from Alaska
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The "Morning Glory" Experience

It's all about the peak moment, that brief and somewhat elusive period of time when nature unleashes her beauty in an extreme manner. Timing is everything, whether it's planned, or stumbled upon by pure luck. "Morning Glory" is a little of both.

Late February 2003 found me aurora hunting around Denali (Mt. McKinley) when I saw the first near-dawn moonset. The timing had been wrong for a photo opp. The Alaska Range was still in the earth's shadow as the moon, one day away from being full, set prematurely behind the dark peaks. On average, the moon sets 50 minutes later every day, so a quick calculation suggested the next morning held promise for a dynamic play of light. I put away my gear and got a good day's sleep. Tomorrow, I foresaw an opportunity to fulfill my Mission Statement: Be there. Preserve it on film. Share it.

Be There

From a vantage point near Hurricane Gulch Bridge on the Parks Highway I watched the clear northern sky all night long. Mt. McKinley was on my left to the west. As minutes turned to hours there was not even a whiff of an aurora, so I kept myself entertained by watching the big, now full, moon slowly arc its way up and over the sky. Around the wee hours of the morning time began to speed up. The moon was heading down to the west at an angle and the eastern horizon began to lighten. I wanted to align the moonset with Denali, but the angled path of the moon revealed that I was too far north. I fired up the truck and drove southward. The sky transitioned from black to a deep blue. I picked up my pace. Where's the optimal photo location?! Ten miles later the timing was becoming crucial, but a wall of tall spruce trees was impairing my view. Any further and the view would become completely obliterated by a closer set of mountains. I rounded a bend and saw a window in the roadside trees with Denali shining through. Shining?! At 20,320 feet, nearly four miles higher than me, the mountain was experiencing a glorious sunrise. I pulled off the side of the road, scrambled to the roof of my camper with tripod and camera in hand, took a deep breath . . . and began shooting.

Preserve It On Film

The rosy alpenglow was creeping down the sides of the mountain, basking every crevasse and cornice along the way with filtered sunlight. Due to the low angle of the incoming sunlight only the long wavelengths of red and orange, the warm tones, penetrate our atmosphere. High in the sky, the scattered short wavelengths of blue light were reflected in the deep shadows. All the while, the full moon was getting blasted by the full spectrum, which combines to form white light. What a play of sky, mountain and moon light! For those few brief minutes it all balanced out enough to be preserved on film.

Share It

The moon dipped out of sight behind the mountains and the alpenglow gave way to the bright sunshine of a new day. I gave a moment of thanks, and then crawled down from my perch, still feeling lofty as ever. This peak moment involved hours of growing hope, minutes of a spiritual experience, and the timeless afterglow of sharing it. Thanks for taking the time to share this experience with me.

Photograph Information:

Year: 2003
Shot with a Nikon FM
Todd