Normally when I say I’m chasing Aurora, I’m referring to my adorable 2.5 year old ball of energy. Matter of fact, whenever I mentioned last week what I had planned for my Friday night, I would almost stumble over the word. But for me, calling them the “northern lights” doesn’t sound right either. Those are what you find by the north pole. The Aurora Borealis, however, can be seen further away… or in my living room, depending on the variety you’re referring to.
Seeing the Auroras is definitely high on my bucket list. Someday I plan on making a carefully scheduled trip to Alaska during one of the peak solar activity years when my own Aurora is old enough to appreciate the site. But when the news media blew up last week with stories about how they might be visible as far south as northern California, I couldn’t resist. So we packed the family up and headed out to find dark skies.
After some research, I’d decided that Shannon Lake would make a nice location. It was south of Mt. Baker, with a view of the peak, meaning that I would get some cool shots regardless of whether the lights showed up or not. Being just about an hour away from home, it wasn’t too far away to make the drive back once the hunt was over, either. It seemed like the perfect spot.
The one thing I didn’t expect was the last 4 miles or so of the drive to get to the accessible part of the lake. There were signs stating “Primitive Road No Warning Signs”, and the narrow road with no barriers dropped off into the inky blackness in more places than not. My knuckles were white, and we kept having to tell my nephew to quit talking in the back seat. At one particularly creepy spot, where bare-branched trees arched over the road creating a sort of tunnel, Mike pops up that he really wished he hadn’t recently binge-watched horror movies on Netflix. It was the longest 3 miles I’ve ever driven.
When we pulled into the lot, a single light brought a small amount of illumination to the area. Once my eyes adjusted, I could sortof see where I was walking, but we broke out the flashlight for the safety of our equipment as we walked down the gravel and sand lake bank to our “spot”. I’ve never felt so surrounded by darkness. The moon hadn’t yet risen over the hill behind us, though we could see some of it’s light reflected in the wispy clouds above it.
I set up my camera and took my first shot. It was a little darker than I wanted, but I was super excited about what was happening. Stars were popping, and the mountain and lake were showing up beautifully. I kept playing with my settings, waiting and watching in between for the elusive Auroras to show. Shots from an automatic weapon began echoing off the hills from across the lake. 6 shots. 8 shots. 7. It was a bit unnerving. I focused on my photos and kept watching the skies.
At about midnight, the moon crested over the hill behind us. It was a little over half full, and super bright. I actually had a shadow. At midnight. In the middle of nowhere. It was pretty clear that any chance of seeing the light show was fading as fast as the bitter coldness was moving in. We decided to pack it in and call it a night. In the car on the way home, I reviewed what I’d taken. I may not have checked anything off my bucket list, but the night was still an overall success. You can’t be mad when you got pictures like these!