Tag Archives: mystery-stones

A Sunset to Remember from the top of Strawberry Canyon


Hello friends of Berkeley, Naturally!  I hope everyone here in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving holiday! For some time I’ve been intending to post some images of an incredible sunset I saw from the top of one of the Berkeley Hills, but I didn’t get around to it.  I can’t believe that it’s been a little over a year since I saw this wonderful atmospheric display over the San Francisco Bay.

So, here is a visual record of what I saw. The date was November 19th of 2009.  Late in the afternoon,  I had made may way up a fire trail to one of the tallest hills that look down the length of Strawberry Canyon.   If you know some of the secrets of the Canyon, this is the hill with the beautiful and mysterious rock patterns at the top.  (More on this at a later post!)

[Note:  you can click on any of the images below to see and download full-sized 1600 x 1200 images!]

The Mysterious Stone Spirals of Strawberry Canyon

The view, as  always, was spectacular!

Looking across the Bay at the low bank cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, I had a pretty good idea I was in for something special.  The clouds weren’t too dense, and the location of the clouds was perfect.  The sunset quickly went from this:

to this:

to this:

With each passing minute, the intensity of the reds and oranges kept increasing, and the Sun became a fiery ball above just to the north of downtown San Francisco:

The Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge looked so beautiful in the deepening reds and oranges:

As the colors continued to intensify, I took shot after shot, wishing I had a camera that could better handle the amazing hues and contrasts.  Soon, the disc of the Sun began to dip below the horizon:

In these next two images, notice how atmospheric refraction has caused the top of the sun’s image to separate.  For a brief instant, the top of the Sun’s image was completely separated, but I didn’t click the shutter in time to catch it:

Just before separation:


…and smaller still…

…and finally…just a fiery dot of light….which in blink was gone!

The final vestige of the Sun slipped below the horizon.  Actually, as we all learned in school, the Sun had physically set well before its image dropped below the horizon.  This is due to refraction, the bending of the Sun’s image by the Earth’s atmosphere.  The Sun’s disc is actually about one diameter below the horizon when we see its image disappear.

It’s interesting to realize that not one of us—indeed, no human being in Earth’s history—has ever actually seen a sunset, just the image of one!  Sunset (and sunrise) are actually a kind of optical illusion. The first humans to see sunsets and sunrises in “real time” were the cosmonauts and astronauts in space.

It was then that I noticed a beautiful new crescent moon in the sky—as if the sunset itself wasn’t amazing enough! When you click on the next image to see it full-sized, notice the lovely crescent in the upper left hand corner:

In this image, I turned south toward Oakland, because the southern sky was such an incredible blue and the thin cirrus clouds made such a beautiful contrast.  Notice, again, the crescent moon is just above the clouds on the right two-thirds of the image:

As the dusk deepened, the western sky then went into a very dramatic and rapid intensification of the reds and golds:

In this next image you can see the crescent moon again in the left top third of the image.  The crescent is even more dramatic because of the darkening sky:

Here’s a wider angle view, looking more north:

Every time I thought the display of brilliant colors would surely start to diminish, it seemed`like the whole sky would suddenly intensify in color and take on new hues:

After a final burst of gold, the sunset went into its final, darker red phase:

I loved the appearance of a brilliant gold jet contrail streak that suddenly began to stand out as the lower clouds deepened into darker reds:

Here’s another peak at the crescent moon on the left part of the sky:

And there’s that contrail streak again:

As it got darker, and the lower clouds got redder, the jet contrail got even brighter:

At this point, twilight was ending and it was starting to get really dark in the Canyon, but it was so hard to leave the hill top with so much beauty left to see.

With regret, I started down the small trail from the mysterious rocks hilltop to the main fire trail below.  Before leaving, though, I took one last picture of the Bay:

As one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen continue to fade in the west,  I realized how fortunate I was to have been at the top of that hill in Strawberry Canyon when this particular sunset began.   Heading home on the fire trail in the thickening dusk, I once again felt so blessed to live in such an amazingly beautiful area!

As I neared the end of the upper fire trail near access to Panorama Way, I looked out to see the lights of my beloved Berkeley below and the final reds of a sunset I’ll never forget.

I hope you got to see something of this magnificent display last November.  We’ve certainly had many beautiful sunsets since.  I urge you to make plans to take a trek up with family or friends into the Berkeley Hills in the late afternoon when the clouds and western sky look promising.  Many a twilight, you will be rewarded with a sunset you will never forget!