Sleeping Bear Magic

Late one night, a photographer witnessed the awakening of one of Mother Nature’s most rare and spectacular treasures
Aurora Borealis
Photo by Tyler Liepprandt

On Sunday night, Sept. 4, 2022, I was planning on leaving home late to head up to St. Ignace for the Labor Day Bridge Walk. My goal was to take a time-lapse photograph of the entire walk from the lookout at Straits State Park. Before I left, I noticed that the Aurora Borealis had a good chance of making an appearance that night, so I decided to head to my favorite spot on the Empire Bluff Trail, even though it was going to take me an additional two hours of driving to get to my end destination.

After walking the mile-long Empire Bluff Trail in the dark, I got to my spot and began setting up. With the naked eye, I could see a faint glow above the dunes. I began taking a time-lapse image with one camera and taking photos with another.

At around 11 p.m., the sky above the Sleeping Bear Dunes woke up and put on an incredible show that lasted almost an hour. I sounded like a broken record player as I kept saying, “Oh my gosh!” every few seconds. The Aurora was so vivid, the pillars were so tall, and the sky was literally dancing like I’ve never seen before. 

By 11:30 p.m., the top of the sky was filled with what scientists call a STEVE, for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. It’s different than the basic Northern Lights, and a lot rarer. A STEVE will appear as a picket fence featuring tall columns of green light reaching high into the sky; an Aurora consists of shimmering ribbons of light. Many people chase the Aurora over their lifetime, but it’s really rare to see a STEVE. 

Tyler Leipprandt is based in Traverse City and owns Michigan Sky Media, 

P.S. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, based in Empire in the Lower Peninsula, hugs the northeast shore of Lake Michigan and includes South and North Manitou islands. The park is known for the huge scalable dunes of the Dune Climb. Look for bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan! For more information, call 231-326-4700.

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