Aurora borealis mixed with clouds and predawn sky from Echo Bend, Eagle River Nature Center. This is the last image I created during my all-night aurora adventure last weekend.
The expedition began at the viewing decks just before midnight but was cut short when clouds rolled in from the west. It was apparent that my best chance at success lie further up the valley, chasing the lights and clear skies to the southeast. Before embarking, I ran back to the visitor center (where I live) to swap my rubber boots for hikers, grab a bit more food and brew another cup of tea. I packed a radio in case of emergency and a can of pepper spray - the bears have most certainly risen from winter slumber by now. The first location I stopped to shoot from is a place I had scoped out as a possibility for sunrise photos, a little off the beaten path with a nice view of the open valley and surrounding mountains. Shortly after setting up, the sky erupted in a multitude of colors and dancing beams of light. This was the most intense, albeit short-lived, portion of the display.
With the aurora subsiding and clouds closing in on me, I resumed the three-mile trek out to Echo Bend. I could see the sky was continuing to cloud up but since I was more than halfway to my destination, I decided to continue and if nothing else, get out of the thick forest and onto the open riverbed. It was a dark, moonless night after all and I was alone and unarmed in the heart of bear country. Arriving at the river I could see a good distance in all directions, which was somewhat comforting. With the skies socked in and no visible auroras, I kicked aside rocks and cleared a small area on the gravel bar to lie down and rest, hoping the clouds would pass.
Within an hour the skies began to clear and I rose from the cold ground, shook off the chill and set up to shoot over a small pool with a nice reflection. The resulting image is unique representation of a familiar scene and possibly the culmination of a three-week creative burst that began with a beautiful sunrise and a pair of swans.
Once it was light enough to find the trail without my headlamp I made my way home, walking in the door shortly after 7 am and feeling completely invigorated with the sense of satisfaction that only comes from complete physical and mental exhaustion after accomplishing a personal goal. Throughout the night I kept reminding myself that, should I ever begin to question my direction in life, just remember that I am alone in a beautiful mountain valley in the middle of the night, chasing auroras and sleeping on a riverbed in grizzly bear country, I am right where I need to be.