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Interview: Inside the Making of 'Rockfall'

Nature video fans, take note: Rockfall is a new installment available in Yosemite Nature Notes, a noteworthy short-film series created by park videographer Steven Bumgardner.

Ever hike past huge, isolated chunks of stone along a trail and wonder how they got there? Credit a combination of erosion and gravity, then imagine the colossal, concussive moment that put such massive tumblers in their place. This is the story told in Rockfall.

Featuring Dr. Greg Stock, Yosemite's first-ever park geologist, Rockfall examines this history of airborne rock in Yosemite Valley, which is believed to have more documented rockfalls than any comparably sized area on earth.

On Oct. 7, 2008, a section of granite below Glacier Point unexpectedly broke free, fell more than 1,000 feet and mashed an empty tent cabin in Yosemite's popular Curry Village. Remarkably, no one was injured. The following day another slab snapped off, several times larger than the previous day's rockfall, and hit 17 tent cabins yet caused no serious injuries. One-third of Curry Village was subsequently closed.

A 2009 rock slide across the valley from the Royal Arches formation forced the evacuation of 300 guests from Yosemite's famed Ahwahnee Hotel. In 150 years, just 15 deaths attributable to rockfall have occurred in Yosemite.

Rockfall is the 10th film in the Yosemite Nature Notes series. Bumgardner (aka Yosemite Steve), in his fifth year as park videographer, discussed his latest project for The REI Blog:

Q: What led you to choose this topic as the latest in the Nature Notes series?

A: Greg Stock and I have been wanting to make a video about rockfall for a couple of years, and after park visitor Bob Atkinson caught one on tape in 2009, we finally had some footage that we could use to the this story.
Q: Have you personally experienced significant rockfall in Yosemite?

A: I have yet to witness anything bigger than gravel size rocks falling in Yosemite.
Q: During filming, did you employ any special cameras or techniques?

A: We did have to rappel off the top of Glacier Point to get footage of Greg Stock measuring some of the fractures in the granite face which, despite all my vertical experiences, was still just a little airy and scary, with a drop of around 3,000 feet.
Q: What makes filming such mini-documentaries about a national park satisfying to you?

A: I love looking for stories that haven't been told about Yosemite and sharing them with the world. And of course, I love getting out and shooting in the park, especially when we go out to unique locations like the side of a cliff.
Q: Do you come up with your own ideas for your films or are they suggested to you?

A: I select the stories that I tell based on the personnel and the footage available, and those topics then get approved from the powers that be. Sometimes I have to change the topic at the last minute, due to someone's schedule or a seasonal change. That's how the Frazil Ice episode came to be. I had some footage from a previous season available, and we were getting cold temps in April, so I knew that it would be flowing again, so we went for it. I didn't expect it to become the popular episode ever.
Q: What subjects are you considering for future productions?

A: Up next for 2010 are Big Trees, Owls and Night Skies. If I get continued funding, I'd like to cover Snow Plants, Horsetail Falls, Moonbows, Bears, Fire, the Merced River and Glaciers. The list is neverending.
Q: What's your biggest plan for the remainder of summer?

A: I've been out this past week shooting from dusk to dawn for the Night Skies episode. There's only a few more new moon cycles left where the Milky Way is really bright this year, and I'm trying to catch them using some pretty neat time-lapse techniques. Other than that, I might end up swinging around in the forest canopy for the upcoming Big Trees episode.

Posted on at 5:31 PM

Tagged: Curry Village, Steven Bumgardner, Yosemite, Yosemite Steve, national parks and rockfall

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I was there that day in October 2008 getting ready to head out from Curry Village for a day of photography with my group from Nikonians.Org. When the rock slide occurred, it sounded like a huge thunder clap and when I spun around I saw the dust where the rock face had split. Then all heck broke loose with a huge dust cloud working its way towards the village and people screaming and running away from the camp ground tent area and then the cabins. My friend Jim Nichols and several others took pics from above as they happened to be at the top of Glacier Point when it happened. My pics from below are at the following link, many of which ran worldwide in print media.!/album.php?aid=12239&id=1131222535


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