Friday, June 03, 2005
THE FIREFALL: THERE'S NEVER BEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT . . .
Yosemite's Firefall: At 9 p.m. each evening in Camp Curry, the crowd which had gathered for the nightly campfire program, would fall silent and the call would go out to Glacier Point, high above: "Let the fire fall", and a faint reply could be heard from the top of the mountain, about a mile above. Then a great bonfire of Red Fir bark would be pushed evenly over the edge of the cliff, appearing to the onlooker below as a glowing waterfall of sparks and fire. This spectacle was the Yosemite Firefall, a nightly tradition in Yosemite National Park for some 88 years. The early history of the Firefall dates back to the late nineteenth century, and has been credited to an Irishman by the name of James McCauley. Glacier Point's Mountain House had been completed in 1873 and its guests were able to enjoy its stunning views of Half Dome and the High Sierras beyond. How McCauley wound up pushing that first campfire over the edge of the cliff is not clear, but those who witnessed the spectacle from the valley floor were delighted and amazed, and James McCauley had a hit on his hands. For many years each night at 9 p.m. the resounding command could be heard: "Let the fire fall." During the 1960's I worked in the park and the Firefall was a nightly event. The "after-firefall" traffic exiting the park was like the freeway at rush-hour. Attracting such large crowds is probably the main factor responsible for doing this extravaganza in. In 1968 the Park Service Director decided that the Firefall tradition should come to an end. He reasoned that since it was just a man-made attraction, and one which caused a great congestion in the park, as well as damage to the meadows from the trampling by onlookers, that it should be ended. A pale scar remains to this day, where the fire burned away the cliff's lichen. Someday that scar will heal, and after that, all those who remember the Firefall will also pass, and this colorful oddly magical tradition will remain only in the pages of history.