Most photographers know about the golden hour, that period of time just after sunrise or just before sunset when the light is long and colors are magical. In the Land of Enchantment however, our golden hour is often cut a bit short.
The amount of light one has during that last hour varies greatly with latitude. The closer you are to the equator, the faster the sun sets. New Mexico is not anywhere near the equator, but it’s a lot farther south that where I used to live in Michigan.
At any rate, what started my quest on New Year’s day is the kind of site you find in this photo.Some might call it the Alpen glow on the mountain, others say that the name of the Sandias comes from the Spanish word for watermelon because of the color of the mountain at sunset.
Hiking on the mountain in the late evening after a fresh snowfall gives one the unique experience of watching the landscape turn from white to gold to pink. These were the colors I set out to try to capture with fresh snow on the mountain.
I checked the weather, started dressing in layers and loaded up my car with all of the clothes I would only put on in the parking lot of the tram. There is no need to overheat on the way.
I had been contemplating the hike all day, but waited to leave for the summit until it was clear that the trailing edge of cloud cover would dissipate and I would have sun on the summit. I didn’t leave the house until well after 3:00. I knew that I would not have a lot of time on the summit, but I was hopeful. The connecting trail from the Tram to the LaLuz trail was not in what I would call really bad shape, maybe just bad shape. It was obvious that the few people who had broken the trail did not use snow shoes, so it was quite rough and uneven. The freeze-thaw cycle made for a rutted hike. Even though the snow was only inches deep on some of the wind-blown corners, I decided that I would put on my show shoes so that I could help level out the deeper snow for the next time I came up to hike. The connecting trail that runs north from the tram is one of my favorite places to hike in the Sandias, primarily because I almost always walk from north to south and it’s almost always a “new” trail for me. Besides, it has some of the most dramatic views in the mountains. As I started shooting I ran into a problem that I had not encountered with my previous “hiking” camera, that is that I was not using a wide-angle lens to be able to capture all of the scene that was in front of me. I ended up shooting a lot of vertical images which were then stitched together to make vertical panoramas such as the one below.Because of the fact that I had to fight with the trail for a good portion of the hike, I only ended up somewhere between one half a mile and three-quarters of a mile from the tram. Since I knew that the sun would set quickly, I turned around and headed back, anticipating a rapid drop in temperature once the sun set.
As it was, the winds were not heavy, probably around 10 -20 miles per hour, but the temperature was only 17 degrees F. Once the sun sets the temperature drops another 10 degrees sometimes in an hour.
I hoped for good photos, but I also was realistic about returning before it got dark.
The snow has begun dim in the late light as I have turned back toward the tram. This panorama is now my computer background, spanning both of my monitors. It’s great on two screens.Now come some of my favorite moments, the time when the mountain turns to gold as you watch. Wisps of pink can be seen in the cloud just behind the tram.Perhaps there was some cloud on the horizon interfering with the sun, or maybe there was not enough dust in the air for a truly pink sunset. But as the sunset proceeded into its last gasps, a tinge of pink crossed the mountain.I suspect that if there had been more snow to reflect the light, there might have been more pink in view. No matter what, it is fleeting, lasting for less than five minutes on the top of the mountain. I grabbed my first sunset shot of 2015, not full of drama, but the artist behind all of the enchantment in my images.
Although this trip was not as dramatic as some of my expeditions to the summit, I count it as a success.