Failed Firefall

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One of the most elusive natural phenomenon is the Yosemite Horsetail Falls….at sunset. Frequently dubbed the Firefall, it is only visible for less than 10 minutes per day in less than a two week time span. Many people have claimed this to be the hidden secret of Yosemite but in the last decade, this secret isn’t such a secret anymore. Hundreds of people gather in specific places of the national park just to get a small glimpse this feature. The idea here is the redness of the sunset will illuminate the waterfall, thereby making it look like the waterfall was on fire. Some describe it as lava…others say its such a bright orange glow. I, for one, couldn’t tell you…..at least nothing that I had experienced in person.

The photo above is one of the many different locations that you can be at when the spectacle happens.  Unfortunately, that is the only view that I get to have the entire time.  As the sun sets down on the right hand side of the photo, the light hits the rock...and hits Horsetail Falls, which would cause the illumination.  Unfortunately, I had clouds.  Lots and lots of clouds to prevent this from happening.

All of my Firefall experiences have been on other people’s photographs. But as timing as it for me, two years in a row now, I have yet to see one in person. The horrible thing about that is that I’m waiting…and waiting….and waiting. What can affect it? Well…the most obvious is clouds. If it’s a cloudy day, then forget about it. The second thing…and quite possibly should be the first reason…is that there was no water fall this year! Our winter season wasn’t much of a winter thus bringing in very little rainfall and snowfall in certain regions. Without the falls, then it just looks like a bunch of shiny orange rocks….that is, I am assuming that is what it looks like because each time I’ve been to the location, it was always cloudy.

The photo below was from another location...the day previous!  Talk about a microclimate of change!  Needless to say, I didn't get a good view of the falls at all.  Heck, I can't even see El Capitan anymore in the photo!

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However, its not to say that the visit to Yosemite was a failure. Yosemite is such a wonderful place that it doesn’t matter if there is a Firefall or not. The majestic beauty of Yosemite is enough to keep people going back. In some ways, it is such a great offset to the lives we live. Surrounded by high tech this and computers that, living in a concrete jungle and fighting through traffic, for us city folks, its nice to be able to visit a place such as Yosemite to feel grounded back with nature once again. I envy those who live in the countryside because, I would assume, they feel a sense of peace without the rush to the office.

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As the sky kept getting more and more gray, the snow kept falling harder.  Luckily, majority of us were able to get out of there without any problems.  Not bad for a 15 year old front wheel drive vehicle with street tires!  I didn't have to put on any chains when I left the park but the morning after when we returned, the snowfall formed some severe black ice.  The park rangers did their best to inform people to put on snow chains but I found it very shocking that so many people did not know how to put on snow chains.  In my opinion, think learning how to put on chains should be a staple learning point, just like how to parallel park a vehicle.  I probably spent an extra 10 minutes giving advice to people on how to put them onto their own vehicle.  Naturally, I could have probably spent all day there...but I couldn't.  The Valley floor was calling out to me to take photos!

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One of the most commonly photographed angle of Half Dome is the shot above.  This was easy to obtain because there was a pedestrian bridge that gave you this angle if you stood on the apex of the bridge.  A sign tells you about the history of Half Dome and its significance.  As common as this photo is, the ability to add this to my own portfolio makes me happy.  Shooting at just 24mm, I kept this at f/8 for 1/200 of a second.  Some people like to use ND filters and do somewhat long exposures.  But I don't like that "muddy" look on the waters since the water here was moving ever so slightly.      

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Trying to think outside of the box, I was looking for more than just natural landscapes and decided to comingle human creation into the mix.  I saw this bridge that crossed over a semi dry water source.  While there was water, it was not enough to create a nice lake-like photo.  Not only was the lake level lower than average, but majority of the lake was actually frozen.  In looking back at the bridge, I have always been a fan of symmetrical objects.  In the photo to the upper left, I placed the camera about a few inches off the ground and shot it at 24mm using f/8 at 1/200.  In post, I applied the lens profile correction to remove that "bubble" effect common in shooting so wide. 

The photo to the upper right was just an opportunity to see the bridge from a different angle....the lake angle!   Since its not too often that many of us get to walk on water, I walked to the edge of the solid dirt...not frozen water!  With my luck, I would have fallen right into the water and although it would be ankle deep, I would have had cold, wet ankles for the remainder of the trip.              

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Another year in the books and another missed opportunity for a chance to see the Firefall.  It's so heartbreaking to have this planning performed and ultimately to have the weather ruin it in the end.  But perhaps this is just another reason for me to plan again...something to look forward to when coming back to Yosemite.  Not only is Yosemite beautiful during the winter times, but it is also gorgeous during the summer....and the fall...and the spring!  Who knows? 

Third time is a charm? 

We'll see next year!