The Seven Day Sunset Challenge: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Edition

Most mornings I wake up. This is not out of the ordinary. I have done it for the overwhelmingly majority of my time alive. Out of the 14,000+ days of my life, the one at the start of each week has notoriously been the hardest. Garfield famously moans, from his bed that is shaped like a miniature covered-wagon, “Mondays.”

While we may never know why an animated cat dislikes the day, I dislike Monday mornings because they feel the farthest from adventure and nature. To solve this feeling of emptiness, I started setting goals for myself most Monday mornings. This past week, my goal was to catch every sunset. 

Sunsets are a chance to escape stress of the day for a few moments, losing our thoughts to the clouds and colors. Sunsets are typically experienced briefly and almost by accident. Leaving work, running errands, the sky suddenly illuminates in hues we didn’t know could exist. Nameless colors painting everything above, causing us to pause from the daily grind to take notice. We snap a picture, post about it on social media, and bask in its glory for awhile. if we could, we would do this every day. Sadly, we are busy people and the weather at sunset isn’t always ideal for jaw-dropping sunsets. But that wasn’t going to stop me. 

I wanted to experience every single sunset outside in the elements. Rain, shine, snow, wind, bears falling from the sky holding icicles; whatever the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem could throw at me, I would be outside watching a sunset. I had no idea what that would look like, or if I would even have one truly gorgeous sunset, but I wanted to try. I had a schedule that allowed me to be free during the 440PM MST sunsets of early December of 2019, so I went out. This is what I saw:


December sunset over Livingston, Montana. 2019

Monday 

On Monday, I ended a run on a hill above the town of Livingston, Montana, right at sunset. My view was of the historical mountain west town, the trees along the Yellowstone River and the start of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. I timed my run to end at sunset by design and was pleased that I had found an easy way to kill two birds with one stone. I have always loved about running around sunset and on this day, I was pleased with the results. Clouds to the west prevented a great color display, but the clouds were glowing and the fresh snow on the mountain peaks made me happy to see. The golden grasses and white snow of the prairie complimented each other so much that it was a bit flirty. It caused the underside of the puffy clouds to blush, just a little.


December sunset over the Yellowstone River at Mallard’s Rest. 2019

Tuesday 

Tuesday rolled around and the weather around 3:30pm looked like it could give a good sunset. A few clouds streak across the otherwise blue sky, so I decided I would go somewhere a little special for the second sunset of the week. I drove down to Mallard’s Rest in Paradise Valley, Montana. Just 10 miles from I-90 and the town of Livingston, Montana, Mallard’s Rest is campground, boat launch and viewpoint. Along the Yellowstone River, where it bends in a perfectly picturesque way, I watched one of my favorite sunsets of 2019. The clouds to the northeast and southeast turned a pinkish yellow, while the snowy mountain tops turned a salmon hue. The colors of the river, the clouds and the mountains all worked together so well that despite not having incredible colors, it was still breathtaking.


A December sunset at Calcite Springs in Yellowstone National Park. 2019

Wednesday 

On Wednesday, I was working on a project in Yellowstone National Park and tried my best to catch sunset at the Calcite Springs overlook in Yellowstone National Park. To reach this view over the Yellowstone River, I would have to snowshoe five miles round trip, gaining a little less than a thousand feet in elevation in 25 degree weather. I was pushing my luck to reach the overlook by sunset, as my project took longer than I had planned, but I raced up the route as fast as I could. Seeing a burst of colors as I rushed to reach the view, I stopped myself from getting upset. The goal of this wasn’t to take a picture of every sunset, it was to appreciate each one. I slowed my speed and enjoyed the fading colors, reaching the overlook in time to catch a few clouds glowing pink as steam rose from a thermal vent along the Yellowstone River. Standing at one of my favorite spots in Northern Yellowstone, with out a person around for miles I took my time and enjoyed the sounds, sights and smells.


A December sunset from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana. 2019

Thursday 

On Thursday, I returned to my running at sunset plan and caught a beautiful one along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana. Looking south toward Livingston Peak, the thin, wispy clouds turned pink and reflected off the ice along the river. While downright gorgeous, the view to the west is where the action was. Best viewed over a small pond in Livingston’s Sacajawea Park, the setting sun gave off a golden blast, interspersed with rose colored clouds and black outlines of the cottonwood trees. The frozen pond added to the uniqueness and I was happy to be outside and enjoying this.


A December sunset over Livingston, Montana. 2019

Friday 

The weather started shifting on Friday and I knew that having a truly spectacular sunset was a long shot. The clouds were expected to be moving in from the southwest. Because of this, I stuck around in town and tried to time another run with the end of daylight. I reached the hill above the town of Livingston, Montana right at sunset. A few layers of clouds drifted east, pushed by the strong winds. The mountains and town were extremely pretty, but the colors above never showed up. I wasn’t bummed at all though, the last rays of light from this viewpoint are always worth the quick climb. The moon was bright and everything was alright.


A December sunset along the Yellowstone River at the northern tip of Paradise Valley, Montana. 2019

Saturday 

The weather on Saturday was challenging. The day started out sunny, but by 2pm, the edge of the incoming storm had arrived. I was debating staying in town once again, but I had no reason to not try to catch a sunset somewhere. Because the weather was far from nice, I went to northern tip of Paradise Valley, Montana, just a short drive from town. At the boat launch, I weathered the winds and walked along the Yellowstone River, hoping that the clouds above would turn to any shade that wasn’t white, gray or black. Looking down into Paradise Valley, the scene was painted with the colors of a subtle Easter celebration. Light pinks, soft blues, off-whites and a splash of peach covered the sky, while the mountains below looked cold and gray. An arrow made of rock pointed upriver and toward the colors, as if to tease me about how much better it was down near Yellowstone National Park.


A snowy December sunset in Livingston, Montana. 2019

Sunday 

The storm arrived in full force on Sunday afternoon, dumping snow on Livingston. Despite the windchill of 12 degrees, I went out running during sunset. Predictably, this was the least colorful sunset. An inch of snow fell during my 45 minute run and from the overlook on the hill, visibility was extremely low. Even, or especially, with the snow, this was a cool sunset to see and one that I wouldn’t have seen if I didn’t set this goal for myself. Clouds hung just overhead and falling flurries obscured the mountains and edge of town from sight. The white turned to gray, the gray turned to black and just like that, my week of sunsets was over.


A December sunset over Emigrant Peak in Montana’s Paradise Valley. 2019

Take the Seven Day Sunset Challenge

For the next seven days, I challenge you to go out and watch every single sunset. What started as just a random project to collect pictures became an engrained ritual. I am now somehow more addicted to sunsets and I want you to be too. For the next seven days, be outside for sunset. You don’t have to explore a National Park or drive to scenic areas for sunsets. Just go on a short walk, be it down the street or to a park for sunset. If it rains, wear a jacket. If it snows, layer up. No matter what, just be somewhere outdoors for sunset.

That is it.

For seven days. You don’t need to take pictures or write about it.

Just try it for a week.

I enjoyed it and think you will too.