An Unforgettable Sky – Death Valley National Park November 2002
While photographing Death Valley in November 2002 I was treated to an unusual celestial display. As I waited at Zabriskie Point for the sun to illuminate Manly Beacon and the mud formations at Golden Canyon, rays of light appeared in the sky above the Panamint Mountains. The rays of light emanating from the west made it appear as though the sunrise had been reversed. I later found out that this phenomena has a name. It is called anticrepuscular rays.
The rays of light commonly seen at sunrise and sunset punching through holes in the clouds are known as crepuscular rays. When conditions are right these rays can travel across the sky and re-converge opposite the sun forming anticrepuscular rays. The rays are actually parallel shafts of light traveling through the sky in a straight line. They appear to converge on the horizon due to perspective. Think of it this way, picture yourself standing on a straight set of railroad tracks. As you look toward the horizon the tracks appear to converge at a distant point. Turn around and look the opposite direction down the tracks and you will see the same effect. The point at which the anticrepusular rays re-converge is called the anti-solar point.
The rays lasted only a few minutes, but I was rewarded as the sun rose with some very dramatic light on Manly Beacon.
This was truly an unforgettable experience. Now, whenever I am photographing a sky resplendent with blazing shafts of light, I always turn around and look behind me hoping to see the rays converge on the opposite horizon.