One of the most spectacular things to experience at Yosemite is the Firefall. Towards the 2nd week of February, the waterfall at Horsetail Falls glows orange and red as if the water turned to fire. The conditions for this must be absolutely perfect. The winter’s snowpack must have been enough to supply the waterfall, the temperatures in February must be warm enough for the snow to melt, and the sky must be clear at sunset. Then you can view the Firefall for about ten minutes of total wonder.
The phenomenon wasn’t documented until 1973, but it wasn’t the first Firefall that happened at Yosemite. In 1871 before Yosemite was a national park, James McCauley was able to build a hotel at Glacier Point that had beautiful views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. As legend has it, McCauley set up a fire in the evening at the top of Glacier’s Point to cook dinner for his guests, but no one came. Angered, McCauley flew into a fit of rage, kicking the embers over the cliff. This delighted the guests staying in the valley below. By 1917 the park had a nightly ritual. In the summer evenings, the people at the top of the cliff would call down to Camp Curry below, and those below would call up to “let the fire flow!” As the embers cascaded down the cliff, the campers below sang “Indian Love Calls,” then the Rangers would give a program. It was eventually discontinued. The man-made Firefall is no longer taking place. Still, you can stay at the campground below and imagine a pleasant summer evening in the mountains and calling up to the cliff, “let the fire fall!” Better yet, see the real thing in February!