Staying Up All Night for 6 Minutes of Awesomeness

Alaska, Photography

On August 25th the night skies over Denali National Park were ablaze with the Aurora Borealis. I know this because the next day at work everyone said, “Did you see the AMAZING northern lights show last night? It was AWESOME!”

I did not see them. I was asleep.

My co-worker Kevin posted some excellent photos on his blog and my friends blew up Facebook with pics. Some people went so crazy howling at the sky that security had to be called. The lights drove people crazy, it seems. This natural phenomenon was the talk of the community and I missed out.

The next evening, determined not to miss out again, I decided to stay up to see the Aurora myself.ย I went out at midnight with camera batteries charged and tripod in hand, ready to capture one of the 7 wonders of the natural world.

I waited. I took some long exposure photos of the northern sky.


And I took some more.


Then I went inside and drank hot chocolate and came out and took more long exposures out of boredom.


I contemplated the meaning of life. I had a chat with the night agent at the hotel. I pondered whether I’d ever be a 32-inch waist again. I wondered what I’d eat for breakfast. I thought about Congress and the President, and felt sorry for Boehner and Obama. And then I took photos of random things.


Once as I was waiting, looking up at the sky, I heard something in the tree next to me and felt the warm surge of adrenaline course through my veins. I was sure, for whatever reason, that it was a porcupine. I just knew he was eyeing me, ready to attack. Probably because earlier this summer I had a close encounter with a porcupine.

A huge porcupine who threatened to attack me in the spring.

A huge porcupine who threatened to attack me in the spring.

My eyes played tricks on me. I thought I saw Aurora when I didn’t. I thought I saw a bear or dog in the darkness, but it was just a rock. These are the things that happen late, late at night when you are (mostly) alone in the wilderness, in the dark. I wondered for a second if I’d accidentally eaten one of the crazy-ass mushrooms that are growing in Denali right now, and if that was causing my paranoia.


The crazy-ass mushrooms growing in Denali right now. Evidently they have unpredictable effects if eaten. It ranges from a feeling of being drunk, to hallucinations, to death. I think I will pass.

Then it happened. At 2:43 AM the night sky erupted with the northern lights. The tourists and co-workers of mine who were on the deck about 20 feet from me burst into oohs and awes of amazement. Some things in life are cool when shared with other people, and this was one of them. I was off to the side taking photos, but the amazement and joy of those seeing the spectacle for the first time delighted me.

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The spectacle was awesome, in that it inspired awe. It only lasted about six minutes, according to the metadata on my camera photos, but it was worth the wait.


Have you ever seen the Aurora Borealis?

Have you ever stayed up all night in an attempt to get 6 minutes of pleasure?

If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Posted by

Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

27 thoughts on “Staying Up All Night for 6 Minutes of Awesomeness”

  1. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    Yeah, you definitely got a fantastic view of the lights. Sorry I missed them that night. And of course tonight when I’m sleepless in Denali it’s RAINING.

    And those mushrooms? In Colorado they like to share space with Boletus Edulis. Otherwise known as Porcini. Mmmmmmm.

    • I don’t remember this many mushrooms from years past. I want a chef and a crazy person to hang out with. A chef to cook the edible ones, a crazy person to eat the red ones.

      • Adventures in Kevin's World says:

        This is perfect mushroom weather. If this was in Colorado I would have made $1000 in the last week selling to restaurants. I miss that extra income (getting paid to hike!)

      • Did you sell hallucinogenic mushrooms to college students? That was a great way for extra income when I was younger. Oh, you probably mean edible mushrooms. Too bad I can’t unwrite what I just put on this reply.

      • Adventures in Kevin's World says:

        I’d probably have more money in the bank (or be in jail) if I had been selling edible mushrooms…

      • Adventures in Kevin's World says:

        Whoops. I meant I’d have more money if I had sold hallucinogenic mushrooms…

        I can tell I haven’t eaten in 7 hours!

  2. Another well-told adventure. Great shots of that wonderful sky. I have seen some northern lights but nothing like that. So do I correctly infer that you went to bed after those six minutes and missed all the rest of them that nite?

    • I waited another 15 minutes and saw nothing. I had to work in a few hours and there was new light pollution so I called it a night. I did not hear any reports of amazing lights later on, so I think I am okay.

  3. Linda Howell says:

    I stayed up all night in Denali and did not see northern lights. They had been seen the night before. Quite disappointed.

    • It is a frustrating experience if they don’t come out, especially if you have to work early the next morning. And especially if EVERYONE saw them the night before.

  4. UGH Jeff…it is things like this that infuriate me. Despite all my efforts to see them I only saw one tiny glimmer of the lights in all 4 of my summers in AK. Great pictures though, I almost, ALMOST, feel kinda sorta like I may or may not have been there…

    • That is probably because you were asleep very early getting a good nights rest before work the next day. I am glad that you almost feel like you were there. I should have posted larger photos, that might have done the trick.

  5. Jeff, So cool that you saw the Northern Lights – I am so jealous! Our coolest stay-up-all-night adventure was in 1986 when we lived in Khartoum, Sudan. James and I drove out into the Sahara Desert, away from town, set up 2 lawn chairs and watched Halley’s Comet cross the sky. It was spectacular … and such a life memory! Since it only appears every 75-76 years we counted ourselves pretty lucky. It won’t return until mid-2061 … maybe by then I will have seen the Northern Lights! ๐Ÿ™‚ ~Terri

    • That is a cool adventure, likely enhanced by the fact that you were in the desert in Africa! Very cool. Come to Alaska this winter and you should get to see the northern lights. Bring warm clothing.

  6. So worth it! And I really enjoyed your sense of humor in this post. It had me laughing and then holding my breath even though I was pretty sure you were going to get to see it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It has been all the more worth it since it has been pouring rain ever since. I only get a few chances to see the lights before I leave Alaska for the winter so I was lucky to see it that night. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. Amazing Pics. I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights. Will need to accomplish two things to see them: get north and stay awake past 10 p.m.

    Love the porcupine!

    • The northern lights are one of the true mind-blowing experiences in this world. We do a northern lights wake-up call at the lodge I work at, so people can go to bed early and we call them if they come out. You could try that and get the best of both worlds.

  8. Pingback: 12 Popular Destinations I Have Little Interest in Visiting | Planet Bell

  9. We have to endure a lot of waiting to be able to see such spectacular display, it’s part of the game, so it doesn’t bother me that much ๐Ÿ™‚

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