Catch a glimpse of Yosemite’s firefall

Every February for a two-week period, nature photographers and tourists flock to Yosemite National Park in hopes of catching a rare glimpse at the color-changing phenomenon at Horsetail Fall.

The fleeting moment typically occurs in mid-February and requires conditions to be just right. So long as the weather cooperates and the sky is cloud-free, the sun will illuminate the waterfall causing it to resemble molten lava flowing over the sheer granite face of El Capitan.

The rare spectacle lasts for only about two minutes while the earth and sun are optimally aligned. Photographers line up in front of Horsetail Fall awaiting the natural phenomenon. Depending on the time and weather conditions, the lava colors can vary in intensity.

The Horsetail is a free-falling waterfall created from melting snow and is only visible in the winter and early spring. The late famous outdoor photographer, Galen Rowell, first recorded the event color in 1973.

Although Ansel Adams captured the fall as well, because his photographs are only in black and white, he didn’t capture its lava colors, and it’s unclear whether he ever noted it.

Park officials say the once obscure event, has grown in popularity due to Internet discussions in recent years.

The event is reminiscent of an actual fire fall of embers that was created every summer night in Yosemite from 1930 to 1968. Every night at sunset, park employees would create a huge bark fire atop Glacier Point. At 9 p.m., once the fire turned into glowing embers someone would yell, “Let the fire fall!” and employees would use rakes to push the red hot coals over the 3,200-foot cliff.

Park spokesman Scott Gediman told the Associated Press:

“There’s no comparison, and I’ve seen both. The natural activities and occurrences in Yosemite are far more amazing and more valuable than the human-made ones — everything from a sunset to wildlife to rainbows at Vernal Fall. There are a lot of amazing things, and they’re here year after year.”

Want to catch a glimpse of the lava waterfall? You have until February 24 to head over to Yosemite before the sun’s angle changes and the vibrant colors disappear for another year. Just look for the throngs of tripods and cameras situated at the El Capitan picnic area, a small pullout marked only by a sign with a table etched on it.