"Winter's Fire": Firefall 2019 by sangeeta dey

Let the Fire Fall! The Firefall season has arrived in Yosemite, and Feb. 11th was the first show of the season. This is the Horse tail waterfall in the Yosemite National Park. Every year for a few days in February, the sun sets at a certain angle and illuminates the waterfall in luminescent orange and red, making it look like a molten lava. 

As snow and rain were suppose to be back for the rest of the week, I took a chance to drive out Monday morning. What was supposed to be a quick day trip, turned out to be a harrowing 12 hour round-trip. My GPS took me to the wrong road for the park entrance. After putting and taking off tire chains twice, my first time doing this alone, and then driving at 15-20 miles/hour due to snowy and icy road conditions, I was happy to enter the valley after 8 hours, but then I had to drive twice through the loop around the valley as I could not find a place to park my car. The snow was piled up really high alongside the roads, making it almost impossible to get any good perspective. Finally, when I looked at the waterfall, there was barely any flow because it was too cold. However, the sun on the western sky was shining bright so I had some hopes. Much to my delight, the water started trickling along with a few avalanches mimicking the waterfall. 15 minutes before the sunset, my camera stopped working. It was cold, and the batteries were dead. A battery tucked away in the warmth of my jacket pocket did the trick at the last minute. Finally, when I looked though my lens, there was this snow covered beauty all around me. So, I did something differently this time. Instead of zooming in, I decided to use a wider angle to capture the breathtaking beauty surrounding it. I have seen two Firefalls before (2016 & 2017), and this was likely the less “fiercest” of all, but I have to say this was one of the most beautiful given how it looked surrounded by fairy-tale like snowy atmosphere.

Firefall 2019 :  Shot the day after major snow storms

Firefall 2019: Shot the day after major snow storms

Firefall 2019

Firefall 2019

Firefall 2019 :  You can see in this close-up shot that the flow of water was very little compared to 2016 and 2017

Firefall 2019: You can see in this close-up shot that the flow of water was very little compared to 2016 and 2017

I have been getting a lot of questions on social media about this phenomenon. As it is getting hard to respond to every message, I decided to address them here for everybody. Please be aware that my answers are only relevant to my experience this year (2019).

  • I am seeing so many pictures of Firefall on social media this month. Is it over?

I have no idea how to say this in a nice way. Every single year, come Jan or Feb, a lot of photographers start posting photographs of Firefall from previous years. I really never understood why they need to post these old photographs when it confuses the general public into believing that it is from this year. 

  • What about Permits?

Unlike last year, no permits are needed this year. I think the park has been extremely busy cleaning streets and repairing damages from the snow storms. They might not have the bandwidth to manage the permit situation.

  • How about parking?

Great question! Unlike previous years, when one of the lanes on the Southside road would be dedicated to parking, there is no such provision this year. Please don’t leave your car there unless it is a designated parking space. Yesterday, based on my previous year’s experience, I tried parking my car on one of the lanes, and was immediately honked and shooed away by one of the park’s busses. This could be due to the fact that the roads get cleaned after snow storms, and the huge pile of snow needs to be plowed away towards the side of the streets. So, the parking is fairly limited. Be prepared to walk for up to a mile. 

  • Where to shoot?

I tried driving to the Northside first as I have never shot from there. However, I could not even get to the spot as the snow was piled up so high that I didn’t know where to park the car, much less find a vantage point. I drove to Southside, but due to snow everywhere, I had a difficult time orienting myself. Unlike a lot of people who know Yosemite very well, I am fairly unfamiliar with all the roads. As a result, I ended up missing the spot on the southside and drove away without even realizing it. Finally, I did come back and found a parking spot on the southside, but honestly, I have no idea where exactly I was on that road.

  • Do I need car chains even if it is not snowing on that day?

Yes, yes and yes. I saw so many people sent back from the park gate as they were not carrying car chains. While I was there, chains inside the park were mandatory. Honestly, I would not be alive if I didn’t have chains on. Because of major snow storms and cold temperatures, there is snow everywhere. All of that snow is not going to melt away because of one non-snowing/sunny day. Even if the weather is predicted to be clear and sunny, please bring car chains. Also, if you drive an SUV, please be patient with the cars in front of you. 

  • I was told that it is too cold so Firefall will not happen this year

Yes, it is cold, but you may want to ask the people making these predictions that what qualifies them to say that. Specially, these are some of the same photographers chasing firefall in Yosemite. Just because they didn’t catch it during their stay, they have been dissuading everybody saying that it will not happen this year. We have been fortunate with a lot of snow this year. We just need the weather to warm up a little. What I got was not a “roaring” firefall, but I am still happy with what I saw, specially with the snow.

  • Anything else

Please bring snow boots, gaitors,, hand warmers and whatever makes you comfortable walking in knee-deep snow. I even brought my micro-spikes, but didn’t use them. However, things get “icy” right after sunset so please bring head lamp and use caution when walking towards your car.

Importantly, I had a difficult time visiting the park even when the park was open. I shudder at the idea of another government shut-down. If that were to happen, I am not sure if it would be safe to enter the park. 

More information on this phenomenon in the links below:



I will keep updating this section as more questions come along. Please stay tuned.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sangeetadeyphotography/

#Firefall #Firefall2019

My Podcast Interview by sangeeta dey

It is one thing to express myself while typing away on a keyboard, and entirely a different experience getting interviewed on a podcast. I did my very first podcast interview with Matt Payne of F-Stop Collaborate and Listen. If you get a chance, please take a listen and let me know what you think. It is also available on itunes and Spotify. 


“Parts Unknown” by sangeeta dey


I wonder if the title of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, was about the show, or was it really about the person himself, who we only knew through the show…a fascinating guy who was not afraid to express his views or travel to lesser known destinations. Regardless, it is hard to ignore the irony in the name of the show. It also tells us that the entirety of America’s favorite traveler--or any person for that matter—was not captured by what we saw, or we thought we saw. There will always be parts unknown. A lot of people hailed him as their role-model or a hero when it came to travelling. I will not say the same. He was not my hero in that sense. My travels to these little know destinations had begun years before Mr. Bourdain’s first travel show ever aired. Like Mr. Bourdain, I was never afraid to sit on the side of the street on plastic stools to share a meal with locals, whether it was in a tiny town in Myanmar or a street side stall in a small village in Bolivia where fresh catch of the day was less than 10 cents. What Mr. Bourdain did do for me was he normalized the experience of people like us who chose to go to destinations that nobody would. His empathy and fascination with other cultures made it easier for the western world to be a little less judgmental about people we know little of. In that sense, I saw him as a brand ambassador for fearless travelers. 

His sudden demise was shocking, specially as it came right after the news about Kate Spade. Most of the posts that popped up grieving their loss were more like, “but why, they had it all?.” A few weeks ago, I had read an article about what happens when a person is drowning. I was shocked to read that unlike Hollywood representation of drowning that shows a person kicking and screaming for help when they are drowning, most of the drowning happens silently. It happens so quickly that people who are even a few feet away would not be able to realize that a person is drowning or just drowned. I wish our society would understand that certain mental health issues are somewhat similar to drowning. Our society is to blame to make the term “depression” so much a part of our regular vocabulary that we fail to recognize that it is a serious disorder, something that is beyond the control of the person dealing with it. Clinical depression is not the same as someone reporting that they are feeling depressed because of bad weather, or they found a certain movie too depressing. Depression, specially treatment resistant depression is seriously disabling. The neurotransmitters in these brain are constantly telling the person that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and the only way out is by ending one’s life. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade didn’t have depression. Depression had them. 

A lot of posts provided hotline numbers for depressed people to call for help. We all know that people like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams knew that they can call someone, but they couldn’t. It is like expecting a drowning person to call life guards or call 911. Yes, they had it all, but they also had a severely debilitating condition that they were unable to find a way out of, not at that moment. There are so many public health policies that need our attention to address mental health issues, but we can start by educating ourselves with signs and symptoms of this disorder. As a mental health professional, I can tell you right away to never ask these people to “cheer up”, as it just shows that the person’s depression is something that they are in control of. They are not. Let’s start by showing empathy, acceptance and understanding to people who are struggling with it, and not just by posting a hotline number.