Smoky Sunrise on Mount Wilson

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, Mount Wilson, San Juan Mountains, Wilson Peak, wildfire, smoke, smoky, sunrise
Smoky San Juan Sunrise : Prints Available

A smoky sunrise as seen from the summit of Mount Wilson (14,246 ft) in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Wilson Peak is on the left, Gladstone Peak near the center, and the Sneffels Range barely visible through the smoke in the distance.

On Monday morning my alarm woke me at 2:00am in my tent at Navajo Lake in the San Miguel Range near Telluride, Colorado. Groggy after only four hours of sleep, I started trudging up towards Mount Wilson under the light of the waning full moon. I could smell wildfire smoke in the air, and the stars were quite dim, but I didn’t think too much of it and continued on my mission to get to the summit for sunrise. Three or so hours later, after much rock hopping and a bit of airy scrambling, I stood on the 14,246-foot summit of Mount Wilson… disappointed with the view. My hopes of a glorious clear Colorado sunrise were crushed by the sight of thick smoke filling the valleys and shrouding the mountains. As I sat on the summit waiting for morning, I knew that my sunrise photo was toast and felt like my whole endeavor was a collosal waste of effort.

But then the sun rose as a red orb filtered through the haze like a lunar eclipse, becoming oranger as it rose higher and casting a warm glow over the smoky landscape. The surreal and somewhat apocalyptic scene wasn’t what I expected but it made for a unique photo opportunity after all!

I learned later that all the smoke came from an 800-acre wildfire west of Montrose. As luck would have it, the wind was blowing due south pushing all the smoke right into the San Juans. That’s a lot of smoke for a relatively small 800-acre fire!

This NOAA satellite image from Monday 7/30/18 shows the Bull Draw wildfire smoke blowing south into the San Juans in southwest Colorado (just above and to the right of the Four Corners). Notice numerous other wildfires above in Colorado and Utah.

2 thoughts on “Smoky Sunrise on Mount Wilson

  1. You could have done a lot worse, Jack. I’ve found that haze from smoke enhances the warmth of the sunlight you just can’t get without it. Really a terrific shot…well done and credit to you for getting up so early.

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