December 3, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Where’s the Sun?

"For hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders, it means that trails that might be in sunshine during summer are shaded instead, so it's colder and ice or snow lingers to threaten your footing"

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.

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It happened again this week: I found myself hoofing it to the Jeep as the sun set, still about 20 minutes away from the trail head.  I know it's December, I know the days are shorter, but I've been lulled into thinking otherwise by the unusually balmy weather of late.

I've lived and visited other places much farther to the north (Sweden, Canada, northern Minnesota) and the differences between day length in winter and summer closer to the poles is hugely dramatic.  But if you're an outdoor person, you certainly notice it in Santa Fe, too.

Curiosity drove me to research the difference for Santa Fe.  According to the U. S. Naval Observatory, we receive a minimum of 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight at the time of Winter Solstice, December 21.  But at Summer Solstice, June 21, we enjoy a whopping 13 hours, 34 minutes.

That's nearly five hours difference.  It's no wonder we notice those winter days where you get up and go to work in the dark, finish at 5 p.m. then drive home in the dark.

Adding to the difference is that fact that the height of the sun over the horizon is a mere 30 degrees instead of nearly 75 degrees (low on the horizon instead of high overhead) and it feels like sunset for most of the day.  For hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders, it means that trails that might be in sunshine during summer are shaded instead, so it's colder and ice or snow lingers to threaten your footing.

We're all programmed to respond to these differences, too, whether we admit it or not.  Plants flower according to how much light they receive, while animals undergo changes in their metabolism and behavior.

So if you're feeling a little unsettled, blame the solar system.  Get out in the middle of the day when you can.  And when you can't, have a nice hot cup of something and wait for the sun to return to full strength.

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