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Year in Yosemite: Worth the Wait - Explore

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Year in Yosemite: Worth the Wait


When I met the man who is now my husband, we started out our relationship very slowly. Some hikes, some dinners, a concert here or there. We spent a lot of time as friends, kind of, sort of hanging out together. Then, suddenly, one day, without either of us really understanding the how or why of it, we became a couple. How fitting then that we should spend Valentine's Day making plans to attend the Firefall Event near our home in Yosemite National Park. Because sixteen years ago, when I was wondering just what I was doing in this relationship, a very wise friend said, "Better a trickle to a waterfall, than a waterfall to a trickle."

Prior to meeting Jon, all of my relationships had been like the man-made firefall that wowed visitors to Yosemite for 88 years. A massive bonfire of red fir bark that was pushed off Glacier Point at 9 p.m. each summer night, it would light up the cliffs in a dazzling display, but by the time it hit the ground, it was just embers. That firefall was stopped by the park superintendent in 1968, cited for causing too much congestion as well as for being "unnatural and unnecessary."



But there is another firefall, made by nature—as natural and as necessary as love. Unfortunately, like love, it can be quite elusive. Chances for seeing it are best starting each year on Valentine's Day, then continuing through until the end of February. That's when the sun sits in just the right position to bathe Horsetail Falls in a fiery light as it shoots down the eastern buttress of El Capitan. But be forewarned. If the snow has all melted and there isn't enough run-off, it will not happen. If the sky is too cloudy, it will not happen. If the weather is stormy, it will not happen. Documenting this phenomenon takes patience. Being present at exactly the right moment takes luck. Photographers have been known to return every year for five years, yet they may only see the firefall once.

How fascinating that this most spectacular of phenomenon's (Yosemite's version of the Northern Lights) happens not like the man-made firefall—during warm summer nights when you could grab a drink, pull up a lawn chair, point your face to the sky and be guaranteed a reward. No, nature's firefall starts smack in the middle of winter. That means pulling on long underwear, sweaters, coats, hats, gloves and boots, finding a spot on a snowy meadow or icy road and waiting hours in the cold in exchange for one moment of perfection.


Small wonder it starts on Valentine's Day. This firefall takes commitment. Is it worth it? You bet. In spite of the potentially cloudy skies and the stormy weather. Because there's always the chance the sun will come out, the water will flow and the glow will leave you speechless. That's love. That's the firefall. That's Valentine's Day … Yosemite style.

(Photos by Charles Phillips.)

-- Jamie Simons

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city.(Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)


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