The Original Yosemite Firefall Was a Bonfire Pushed Off a Cliff

The Original Yosemite Firefall Was a Bonfire Pushed Off a Cliff


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Yosemite’s “firefall,” a temporary period every single year when the late-wintertime (and often tumble) solar backlights the park’s Horsetail Falls creating it to glow shiny orange, has grown into a main event. Just about every yr, 1000’s of visitors appear to snap pictures of the magma-like torrent in 2021, the Covid-era crowds grew so significant that the park provider required reservations. But a century in advance of site visitors figured out of the now-famous illusion, they arrived to see a extremely different, and a lot hotter, firefall: A large bonfire pushed off just one of Yosemite’s optimum cliffs.

The first firefall commenced someday close to 1872, decades prior to Congress designated Yosemite as a nationwide park. James McCauley, the proprietor of the Mountain House hotel on top rated of Glacier Place, reportedly invented the custom as element of a Fourth of July exhibit he set on for attendees. As Nathan Masters described on California’s KCET in 2017, McCauley crafted a bonfire at the edge of the cliff soon after nightfall, he would force it more than the edge, main to a torrent of embers and sparks that tumbled some 1,400 feet down to a rocky ledge underneath. The stunning became so well-liked that McCauley started charging $1.50 a head for site visitors to observe. The firefalls stopped in 1897, when McCauley dropped the resort he would afterwards die in 1911 in a horse-drawn carriage incident in Yosemite Valley.

The spectacle returned in the early 20th century when David Curry, the proprietor of Camp Curry, revived it. Under Curry’s route, the firefall became a bona-fide ritual, with a “fire master” on top of Glacier Issue shouting instructions again and forth with Curry before pushing a bonfire made of purple fir bark (preferred due to the fact it produced the best embers) off the edge of the cliff at 9 p.m. each and every night.

When the thought of pushing a blazing hearth off of Glacier Point in the drought-stricken west may possibly make present day hikers’ mouths go dry, it was changing philosophies around wilderness, not wildfire hazard, that finished the firefall. In 1968, the then-head of the National Park Company, George Herzog, told Curry’s heirs that he was placing a quit to the occasion. In a letter that 12 months, he claimed that the firefall and similar ‘vaudeville’ amusement at Camp Curry was inappropriate for a nationwide park and proposed increasing the park’s interpretive programming, like ranger-led walks. 

On January 25, 1968, the hearth fell for the past time just 5 yrs later on, photographer Galen Rowell snapped the initially-recognized picture of the purely natural firefall at Horsetail Falls soon after encountering it by opportunity, environment the phase for the rise of the fashionable Yosemite firefall. (The park estimates that this year’s firefall will commence on February 10. Compared with in 2021, readers won’t need to have an advance reservation.)

Even though the original blazing firefall is extended absent, some films of it keep on being. Below, watch a recording of a single of the afterwards performances from the 1950s.



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Genie Mathena

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