See winter solstice around the West

After the longest night of the year, earth tilts once again toward the sun.

  • Winter solstice sunset over Mutiny Bay, Washington. Taken on Dec. 21, 2011.

  • Dec. 21, 2015, in Anchorage, Alaska, where shifts in seasonal sunlight are especially stark.

  • Winter in Malibu, California. Taken on Dec. 21, 2013.

  • Dec. 21, 2010 in wintery Evanston, Wyoming.

  • Solstice morning on Mt. Hood, Oregon, taken on Dec. 21, 2010

  • Hoarfrost settles on pine needles in Utah on Dec. 21, 2009.

  • A solstice sunburst in New Mexico in 2012.

  • Solstice skating at Lake Mary in Arizona in 2015.

  • Dragon Teeth, Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii. Take on Dec. 21, 2017.

  • Two of these sun tunnels, built by Nancy Holt in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, align with the setting and rising sun during the winter solstice; the other two, during the summer solstice.

Light — or the lack of it — has a profound effect on ecosystems. As seasons change and sunlight disappears, leaves fall from trees, animals enter hibernation, and snow blankets northern landscapes. The changes hit humans, too: Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, which may be caused by a lack of sunlight and serotonin. 

Dec. 21 marks the shortest day of the year, and the official beginning of winter. Residents of Fairbanks, Alaska, will enjoy just 3 hours and 41 minutes of light on this day, but in another month that span will lengthen to 5 hours and 44 minutes. In this community especially, it’s easy to see why Westerners celebrate the winter solstice. These photos from across the region highlight the wonder the return of daylight brings.

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