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The Waterfall That Glows: A Fine New Film from Yosemite Nature Notes

It's the waterfall that, for a few days a year, flows in a luminous shade of day-glo orange. It's Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park, and videographer Yosemite Steve (Steve Bumgardner) has documented the phenomenon for his latest installment in the park's splendid short-film series, Yosemite Nature Notes.

Horsetail Fall spills from one shoulder of El Capitan far above Yosemite Valley. As explained previously on The REI Blog, each February a just-right combination of late-afternoon circumstances briefly coalesce to transform the waterfall into what resembles a ribbon of fire. "It's pretty darn cool," Bumgardner says.

Bumgardner discussed his newest project with The REI Blog:
 
Q: How did you first learn about the this unusual view of Horsetail Fall?

A: Well, I'd seen the Galen Rowell photograph in a book at some point, probably in the 1980s. When I first started working in Yosemite (in 2005), I realized that taking a photo of this phenomenon was pretty popular.

Q: Conditions have to be just right to see the falls in full glow. Where do you choose to shoot, and how many visits to your filming site did you make in order to capture the footage shown in this production? 

A: There are really only 3 good, accessible places in Yosemite Valley to get the right view and angle on the fall. The most well-known spot is the El Cap picnic area. I spent at least 10 evenings these past few weeks shooting the falls. We had good light, but low water, around Feb. 14. By the 21st a storm had rolled in, so there wasn't much sunlight.

Q: Was any of the footage in this production shot pre-2011?

A: There's actually footage from 2008 through 2011 in this video.
 
Q: Long ago Yosemite used to host an event know as the firefall, where park personnel shoved a big pile of glowing embers off the edge of Glacier Point into the valley just for fun. Your video includes vintage footage of that old firefall, and it's just classic. Do you know when it was filmed?

A: I don't know the exact year, but I'd guess the 1950s.

Q: In your experience filming and photographing Horsetail Fall, how long does the optimal glow last?  How did this year's day-by-day display compare to those seen in past years?

A: The glow just keeps changing shape and color, but I'd say there are about 30 minutes of interesting light, and maybe 5 minutes of that deep red color. If there are clouds far to the west though, the whole thing can just turn off anytime.

Q: If someone wants to try and capture the glow on their own in the future, what tips would you offer them?

A: Plan on being available anytime from about Feb. 7 to the 25th or so, and watch the weather forecast, the webcams and whatever else will give you clues as to what's going on.

Q: Yosemite has lots of amazing views to see. This one only appears for 10 days or so each year. How special is it?

A: Most waterfalls are set into amphitheaters, so they don't get this isolated late light. I understand why photographers do come back over and over to try and "catch" it. Photographing it is already a very popular activity, and the busy Presidents' Day weekend can be pretty hectic with tripods. I'm sure this video will inspire others to come and try their hand at capturing this unique phenomenon. I just want to remind people that there are literally an infinite amount of amazing things in Yosemite that can be experienced anywhere at anytime.

Photo courtesy of Michael Frye

Posted on at 8:38 PM

Tagged: Horsetail Falls, Yosemite, Yosemite Nature Notes, Yosemite Steve, national parks and video

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