Skilled technicians with the right equipment can create concert and video light shows that bedazzle audiences. An important component of such expertise is that anyone, anywhere can ooh and aah at color and light shifting like an on screen kaleidoscope. Fortunate Kansans don’t have to wait for the light show to come to town. They only have to look west each evening to enjoy Oscar winning productions the setting sun and our clear atmosphere combine to create daily.
My grandfather, a lifelong western Kansan, first introduced me to Kansas sunsets. I’m not certain who acquainted him with shades of gold shifting to deep purple, lavender, rose, orange, and magenta, but he was a sunset addict. Once he acquired a camera, he photographed thousands of sunsets that he turned into slide shows to entertain visiting grandchildren.
As our family car headed home to Kansas each summer, I sat in the back seat and wondered about Grandpa’s incredible sunset pictures. To pass time, I imagined rose fingers piercing dusk’s lavender or bright yellow rays fanning across a backdrop of deep red-orange. I knew I could ask Grandpa to play his entire repertoire of slides over and over again.
During my visits, he invited me to help him capture a few sunset photos. I don’t know if my cousins liked joining Grandpa to watch that golden orb drop into the western horizon, but I loved those moments as much as I loved watching his slide shows before bedtime.
What I have learned since is that Kansas’s pure atmosphere contributes to these remarkable sunsets my grandfather loved to photograph. Light reflects best in an unadulterated atmosphere, which explains why Kansas produces so many photo ops for photographers and painters. Kansas doesn’t produce much smog, a result of frequent winds that clear the air.
Occasionally, media spokespeople say dust and pollution create lovely sunsets. Actually, scientists say dust and pollutants mute color and reflection. That explains why prairie sunsets amaze Los Angeles, London, or New York residents. They are used to seeing muted colors as the sun dips into the distance instead of the brilliant hues that Kansans enjoy often.
One exception to this sunset rule involves volcanoes, which can affect Kansas sunsets. The amount of dust and particulates volcanoes shoot into the stratosphere creates a unique afterglow unrelated to industrial pollution or smog. Sunsets following major volcanic eruptions make happy Sunflower State photographers and sunset junkies.
As a kid, I never wondered if my grandfather was taking photos of sunsets produced by pure Kansas air or if some of his photos captured the afterglow of volcanic dust. What I did learn from both his slides and opportunities to join his photo adventures was to appreciate something many take for granted. As I look west each evening, I enjoy not only the sunset but also the memory of a man who shared his love of the setting sun with me.