Each February, thousands of eager nature photographers crowd the paths of Yosemite National Park for a chance to capture what is known colloquially as the “Firefall.” This is the unique spectacle–made possible by a confluence of conditions only found in late February (if even that)–in which the sun glints off of the Horsetail Fall waterfall, making it appear as if the waters are flowing “fire.” We’ve covered it here at Resource Travel, with Taylor Gray showing us how to capture the splendor of this annual phenomenon.
However, this year in an effort to “reduce traffic jams,” Yosemite has decided to limit the number of visitors by “creating a restricted zone from Yosemite Valley Lodge to El Capitan Crossover,” where the falls are found. While visitors can still enter by foot, they will need to obtain one of 300 free permits to park a vehicle. The permits (250 of which can be found online, the rest only available on-site) last the full day, and are handed out on a first-come-first-serve basis. As per DigitalTrends, each day in this year’s timeframe, Feb. 12-26, is fully booked. If you don’t get the first come, first serve permits you can access the viewing location via a one mile walk from the Yosemite Falls parking area, which you can get to by free shuttle. Or, additionally, take Taylor Gray’s advice and find some unique locations that you may just have all to yourself.
According to Yosemite, the first known photograph of the “Firefall” was taken in 1973 by wilderness photographer Galen Rowell (1940-2002). While this generated notoriety for the falls among landscapists and “Yosemite aficionados,” it was not until the “rise of the internet” and “chain emails, photography blogs, and photo-sharing sites” that the falls become a must-see destination for thousands all over the world.
Experts warn, however, that just having a pass on one of the specified days is not enough to ensure one will get a glimpse of this natural phenomena. “If the conditions are not perfect,” one website warns, “the Yosemite Firefall will not glow.” In order for that to happen, it says, there must be: 1.) Enough snowpack 2.) Temperatures warm enough to melt the snowpack and 3.) A clear western sky at sunset. If all is right, the Firefall will light up for “about ten minutes,” an experience described as “almost supernatural.”
According to the Yosemite NPS current conditions, this might all be a moot point anyway, based on their ominous update. “As of February 6, 2018, Horsetail Fall is dry, with no precipitation in the forecast.”
In light of these new restrictions, it’s interesting to note one reported quote from Mr. Rowell, who–despite passing away before the advent of the iPhone, Facebook, and Instagram–was keenly aware of the threat that publicizing a spectacular landscape could have on its ecosystem. “I’m very careful,” he said, referencing his numerous publications of natural wonders, “not to mention specific locations.”
Editor’s Opinion: I fully support some type of permit systems for National Parks, especially in cases such as drastically overcrowded events such as Yosemite’s Firefall. The minimal amount of infrastructure, including roads, parking and campgrounds, have led to endless traffic jams, illegal camping, and all around usage that leads to accelerated damaged on these fragile environments. And as social media photos (including ours) keep inspiring people to go to our National Parks, this problem will only get worse, not better.
A permit system like this does have its problems though. While a good amount of people would be willing to make the one-mile walk, some may not physically be able to make the walk, especially in harsh winter conditions. While vehicles with handicap placards can park without a reservation, it is heartbreaking to know that those who wish to see the Firefall but are not able body may not be able to experience this phenomenon.
Images Courtesy Taylor Gray. Read Taylor Gray’s previous article on Resource Travel which talks about his photography inspiration. Also to see more from Taylor Gray, follow him on Instagram at @taylorgrayphoto or on his website.