By K. Nepsa

Recently, I was driving home from running some errands. As I rounded a corner, I was hit square in the eyes with a sunset so spectacular, it took my breath away. But this wasn’t my first and it certainly wouldn’t be my last show of lights here in Arizona. Our state flag is a proud testament to the kinds of sunsets we often enjoy, but may take for granted. Why do we get such gorgeous rays of sunshine here in our beautiful State?

It turns out, there are a few factors that contribute to our spectacular sunsets. Weldon B. Johnson with interviewed Keith Meier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix, who said the answer starts with basic physics. He said light is made up of different colors and that particles in the air, such as dust and moisture, can filter out some of those colors. “In the case of someone seeing an orange or red sky, certain particulates, whether dust or other things in the air, are filtering out the blues in the spectrum of light,” Meier said. “So what you see is more oranges and reds and yellows at sunset.”

It’s not likely that local pollution, or the brown cloud as it is commonly called, has much of an effect on the look of sunsets (or sunrises).

Meier explained that the sunlight seen very early or late in the day is viewed through more of the atmosphere than at midday because of the angle of our spot on Earth in relation to the sun. Because of that angle, the light we see may be filtered through particles hundreds of miles away.

Mr. Johnson suggests that it also may have something to do with the “framing” of the sunset as much as it does physics. In this sentiment, I completely agree. The colors can be amazing and I’ve seen an array of red, pink, orange, purple, blue and even green hues. However, the darkened backdrops of majestic mountain tops, or the towering and timeless saguaros scattered across a vast and breathtaking desertscape may provide the perfect framing for these jaw dropping and vibrant visual treats.

Whatever the reasons for them, we can’t seem to get enough. People pay homage to this natural wonder through brush strokes of their art work, lyric in their songs or the lens of their cameras. And the best part about living in the land of light is that there are never two sunsets exactly alike. The desert is full of natural gifts if you look up once in a while and now we have one more reason to enjoy windy days!

Weldon B. Johnson, The Republic,, published January 30, 2015, accessed January 11, 2022,

K. Nepsa has a B.S. in Geology and a Master’s in GIS. She has lived in Arizona, HI, CA and Shanghai, China. Her hobbies include enjoying the outdoors via Jeep, Kayak, horse or foot. She has been a Vail resident since 2005.

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