Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park, California
Here’s how I described Yosemite’s amazing ‘Firefall’ after first seeing it back in 2010:
“Horsetail Falls is a small seasonal waterfall that only appears in late winter and early spring. It flows over the east side of El Capitan, so as a backdrop it has one of the most impressive walls of granite in the entire park. Then – only for part of February, and only when the sky is clear – the very last sunrays of the day selectively linger on the falls, lighting it up with a golden glow that makes the water look like lava.”
It’s an awesome sight. The full Firefall effect hasn’t come together in a while, thanks to dry winters preventing Horsetail Falls from flowing, but El Nino built up a solid snowpack this year.
Marie suggested we make a quick trip to Yosemite to check it out. Her original idea was to go on Friday 2/12, but I suggested we go a week later, when the effect should be a little stronger. (Naturally then on 2/13 I saw a bunch of great Firefall photos on Flickr that had been taken the evening before.)
We timed our drive to arrive at Yosemite in the early afternoon, thinking that would give us plenty of time to scout out a location with a good view. Unfortunately I’d dramatically underestimated how popular Firefall has become with photographers. By 2pm all the best viewing spots were already packed with tripods. Some of the photographers said they’d set up as early as 7am. What a zoo it’s become.
We managed to find a decent view alongside a log on the southern bank of the Merced. Worrisome clouds lingered in the west. If the sun was blocked at the critical time just before sunset there would be no Firefall that evening.
As we waited a bald eagle soared overhead and landed on a tree branch on the other side of the river. I’d never seen an eagle at Yosemite before and hoped it was a good omen.
Around 5pm the sun broke through the clouds, sending a wave of optimism through the crowd. Twenty minutes later the amazing golden glow began to appear on the falls and the clicking of hundreds of camera shutters rose into the sky.
At about 5:25, before the Firefall effect had reached its full intensity, the clouds decided we’d had enough. The golden tones faded to gray and the show ended. Still, not bad! We were lucky to see as much as we did.
The next morning we caught sunrise from the Tunnel View before driving back to the Bay Area.
The morning after that I packed up my car and hit the road. The past week had been a hectic blur and the simplicity of beginning a long drive felt great. I arrived in Death Valley in the mid-afternoon and wandered right out into the dunes.