Yosemite Firefall
A History and a Memory
Yosemite Firefall, Mt. Clark (background), and Nevada Fall (lower left corner).
Photographed by Richard Marklin on May 18, 1963.
At 9:00 each evening in Camp Curry, the crowd which had gathered for the nightly campfire program, would fall silent. A man would call out to the top of Glacier Point "Let the Fire Fall!", and a faint reply could be heard from the top of the mountain. Then a great bonfire of red fir bark would be pushed evenly over the edge of the cliff, appearing to the onlookers below as a glowing waterfall of sparks and fire.

The spectacle was the Yosemite Firefall, a nightly tradition in Yosemite National Park for some 88 years. I witnessed the Firefall myself as a child and still remember it with uncanny vividness.

At about the time of the 30th anniversary of the very last Yosemite Firefall, I felt compelled to compile this history and recollection as a tribute to the lasting impression the Firefall has had on me, and on countless others who have visited Yosemite during its first century as a National Park.

My intention was to present more than just a formal history, but to also provide a mechanism through which others could contribute to the site by recounting their own memories of the Firefall.

These contributions have been compiled in the last chapter of the history. In addition, there is even a contribution embellishing this opening page -- the photo at the top of this page. Read below for a description of how this unique photo was taken.

I'd like to thank all those who have contributed to this site so far, and welcome any new readers to do the same.

About the photo:

The Firefall picture above was graciously contributed by Judy Simpson whose father, Richard Marklin, took the photo in the spring of 1963.

On careful observation, you might question why the sky was light in the photo. The Firefall, as you'll learn in the history, was always presented in the evening after nightfall! Marklin explains how the image was captured:

The picture was taken with a Stereo Realist camera using 35mm Kodachrome with a film speed of 25. The picture was a double exposure. The background mountains were taken one or one and a half stops underexposed at about 6:00 PM. The camera was left in position on a tripod until 9:00 PM when the Firefall was started.

The camera lens was left open for the entire time that there was visible fire coming down the face of Glacier Point. It would be difficult to describe the exact location from which the picture was taken because it was a lateral off of the original shortcut trail from Camp Curry up to Glacier Point. This shortcut trail is now intentionally obscured by the park rangers because of at least two deaths caused by reckless hikers running down the trail and getting themselves killed by going over a cliff.

The slides were in very good condition for being 35 years old. However there was some amount of retouching required. I was faced with a decision between attempting to prepare both the left and right sides of the stereo image for presentation, or combining the two images into one. I decided on the latter, and combined the left slide, which included Nevada Fall, with the right slide which included more detail at the top of the cliff.

Consequently, the photo was created with the age-old photographic effect of double exposure, then prepared for publication using the rather newer techniques available in present-day image enhancement software to combine the two images into one. I was very happy with the final product, and am quite proud to open the Yosemite Firefall site with such a unique and fitting photo. Thank you Judy Simpson, and Richard Marklin for your contribution to the Firefall project.

This history was posted on Jan 25, 1998 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the last Yosemite Firefall.