THE IDYLLWILD SKY
Beautiful sunsets can be experienced anywhere in the world, but there are some places where the setting sun creates particularly dramatic light shows. Idyllwild, California is one such place.
So why does Idyllwild get such spectacular sunsets? It has an amazing geography, where a unique set of natural features combine to produce breathtaking evening skies whatever the weather or time of year.
Idyllwild is a mile high town at an elevation of 5,303 feet. This means that the sun sets at a slightly different angle to that at sea level and into crystal clear air. Even before the sun gets anywhere near setting, most visitors comment on the deep blue of the sky. With no pollutants and lower air pressure, the sunset colors are both vivid and intense.
It can be easy to forget just how far south Idyllwild is. Only two hours from the Mexican border, it is on the same latitude as Casablanca, further south than the entire continent of Europe. The sun in this part of Southern California is strong, bright and dependable - it’s why the movie industry located here.
The amount of water vapour in the air has a major influence on the brilliance and intensity of sky colors. As the humidity rises, colors become more muted. For much of the year, Idyllwild has a very dry atmosphere when the humidity can be as low as 15-20%. With so little moisture in the air, sunset colors remain bold and strong. When the winter and fall storms arrive with their moisture bearing clouds, the humidity levels rise dramatically. This is the time of year for metallic grays and soft, autumnal hues.
Idyllwild has a storm based weather system: quiet and beautiful for most of the time, but every now and then huge storms roll in from the Pacific. These well-travelled storms build up monumental clouds from all the water vapour they have picked up along the way. These infinitely varied formations provide the perfect textured surface for the light from the setting sun to play on. If light is the paint then clouds are the canvas, and it is cloud formations that create really dramatic sunsets. Idyllwild, because of its unique geography, is blessed to have an endless supply of virtually every kind.
The Summertime Haze
During the summer months there are days when the Idyllwild atmosphere contains a lot of dust particles, blown up from the desert valleys that lie below the mountain. This dust reduces the total amount of light reaching the ground creating softer and more muted sunsets with their pastel pinks, magical lilacs and subtle oranges.
The southerly latitude, the altitude, the purity of the air, the humidity range, the clouds and dusty summer days, all these factors create a very special quality of photographic light in Idyllwild. Added to this, there is also a high reflectivity index at work here: from the high-baked, dusty and rocky landscape in summer, from the pristine mountain snows in winter, and, just to the west, from the largest reflective surface on the planet, the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, there is Idyllwild itself. Of course, the town doesn’t affect its sunsets in the meteorological sense, but it does affect its sunset photographers. It’s always good to have a great little town to head for once the sun has gone down. It completes the evening’s experience: magical sunsets then a magical place to review and relive them in the company of great friends, great food and great wine.
Idyllwild, spirit of the San Jacintos, this is your evening sky . . .