For a certain type of traveler, it’s all about the chase. And seeing – and successfully photographing – a natural phenomenon that requires ideal weather conditions is about as tough as it gets. James Kaiser has spent the past 10 days in Yosemite National Park blogging about his experience trying to photograph the Firefall, which occurs in late February when the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley. When everything goes just right, the waterfall will glow orange and red for about 10 minutes, creating one of nature’s most amazing spectacles. It literally looks like a cascading waterfall of fire, hence the name Firefall.
Last year, Kaiser, author of Yosemite: The Complete Guide, saw the Firefall and was able to capture it on film, as you can see above. This year he hasn’t been so lucky… Here he tells Travelogged all about his quest to see the Firefall in 2011 and why everyone needs to visit Yosemite.
So no Firefall for you this year, huh?
Unfortunately, my quest to photograph the Firefall this year has not gone well. If the sun isn’t shining, the waterfall won’t light up. For the past nine days, I’ve contended with rain, snow and clouds. Even on days that started out perfectly clear, clouds moved in around sunset, ruining the shot. That said, a big snowstorm turned Yosemite into a winter wonderland last week, and I took some of the best winter shots I’ve ever taken (see below). So, even though I haven’t seen the Firefall this year, it’s still been an amazing trip, photography-wise.
But last year’s Firefall trip was much better right?
Last year’s Firefall was definitely better for me, because I actually saw it! Of course, I waited for a full week before I finally got the shot. This year, the Firefall lit up the day before I arrived, but nothing’s happened since then. That’s what makes it so special. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see it. So when you do finally see the Firefall, it feels like you’ve won the lottery.
How many people came to see it this year?
There were hundreds of people trying to photograph the Firefall this year. On Presidents’ Day Weekend, the parking areas near the popular viewpoints were packed. It definitely seemed like there were more people than last year. I talked to photographers who flew in from Switzerland and Japan. As photos of the Firefall have spread around the world, it’s become more and more famous.
Will you try again in 2012?
I would love to return next year. The Firefall is one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. I would love to be able to photograph it again.
What’s your top tip for people attempting to photograph the Firefall?
Be lucky! Also, use a tripod and a powerful lens. (See more of James’ Firefall photography tips here.)
What makes Yosemite so special?
Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of the national park system because it’s home to the most dramatic alpine scenery in America. There are 3,000 foot cliffs, 2,000-foot waterfalls, glaciers, meadows, lakes — you name it. And let’s not forget the giant sequoias — the largest living things on Earth!
What do you recommend that a first-time visitor see at Yosemite?
No matter when you visit Yosemite, the best thing to see is Yosemite Valley. It’s just spectacular. Although the Valley is tiny — just one mile long by seven miles wide — it’s home to dozens of waterfalls, including three of the tallest waterfalls in the U.S. Head over to Tunnel View and you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular views in the world.
What’s your favorite part of the park?
My favorite part of the park is the High Sierra, which is the alpine wilderness above 8,000 feet. It’s home to some of the best hiking and backpacking in North America.
Learn more about the Firefall on James Kaiser’s website, Firefall Yosemite.