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Horsetail Firefall

Terry Mclaughlin


Behind the Shot

Until 1968, visitors to Yosemite National Park in California gathered every night (weather permitting) to watch the Yosemite Firefall. A massive bonfire fueled by red fir bark raged at the edge of Glacier Point, the overlook 3,200 feet up the granite cliff face that rises above Camp Curry. At exactly 9 p.m., the master of ceremonies at the camp below would dramatically yell to the firemaster above at Glacier Point, “Let the fire fall!”

The bonfire was slowly tipped, and a breathtaking shower of orange sparks poured down the smooth stone face, creating a firefall of glowing embers. Campers at Curry Village sang “Indian Love Call,” and visitors to the other campgrounds in Yosemite Valley sang “America The Beautiful.” While popular with tourists, this nightly ritual horrified naturalists, and placed the national park at great risk of forest.