This image is the greatest sunset I have ever witnessed in the United States - and I've seen, and photographed, a lot. One of my favorite mountain areas for hiking and exploring in the Rocky Mountains is the lesser-known Snowy Range of Wyoming, part of the Medicine Bow National Forest. While it's small in size, it packs a huge punch of craggy mountain peaks, dozens of alpine lakes, beautiful wildflowers in season and endless hiking. I took this image in mid-summer, a time of year famous for near-daily thunderstorms.
On this day, the storms fired early in the day, passing on by mid-afternoon. Using all the available tools I had, both lingering clouds and re-forming storm cells from the west gave me hope for a "good" sunset. Even in mid-July, snow is still very prevalent here, and the trail I planned to hike still had a lot of snow on it, with the entrance gate on the gravel forest road closed to vehicles a mile further away from the trailhead. I set off in late afternoon and as I hiked, the clouds built in thickly again and it became very windy. Knowing that more thunderstorms could form, I set off hiking by many alpine lakes surrounded by fields wildflowers, and the few hikers I met were heading back to their cars. By the time time of sunset, I was all alone in this beautiful, rugged place, hoping the sun could penetrate the thick cloud bank while hoping the rain and thunder and lightning would hold off just long enough.
Just when I thought perhaps there wouldn't even be a sunset, I saw the familiar golden glow start to build over Medicine Bow Peak, the crown jewel of the Snowy Range. I positioned myself by this lake and waited to see how good the light might get. I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams what I was about to witness. While the wind howled and the skies continued to look threatening, the light go brighter and more vivid, going from gold to orange to red to fuschia, and lasting nearly 30 minutes - an eternity for a sunset in this part of the world. I rushed to the shore of the lake, both in awe of the incredible light display I was seeing, and almost shaking with excitement. Through all of that I had to be certain I was getting crisp images and I came away with dozens of beautiful photographs by the time the late faded away. Even though it was incredibly windy, the light was so colorful and so bright that it created a reflection on the lake surface.
As the light faded away I packed my gear up, still abuzz over what I just saw and photographed, the rain started pounding down. The mile plus I walked back to my car in the soaking rain was well worth what I had just experienced, and with an even greater satisfaction that, aside from maybe the solitary backpacker I saw earlier in the evening in the backcountry, I was the only soul to see this incredible sunset.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor