Rare 'firefall' stuns visitors at Yosemite National Park

Rare ‘firefall’ formed just once a year by sun ‘back lighting’ 2,000 foot waterfall at Yosemite National Park stuns visitors who flock to capture pictures of winter light phenomenon

  • The firefall occurs when the sunset backlights the Horsetail Falls on El Capitan
  • Water flowing off the cliff face becomes illuminated and looks like a flow of fire
  • Yosemite’s firefall only occurs in the final weeks of February, and lasts minutes

A rare natural phenomenon stunned visitors at Yosemite National Park on Wednesday evening.

Water flowing off Horsetail Falls on the eastern end of the El Capitan rock face perfectly caught the light of the setting sun, leaving it glowing red and resembling a stream of flames flowing off the cliff. 

The event, known as a ‘firefall’ occurs at the park only on certain days towards the end of February when the setting sun back-lights the waterfall.

It has become such a popular event that park officials had to moderate how many people will be allowed into the park. 

Visitors wishing to drive into the park during the last two weekends of February need to book reservations, and as do some campgrounds typically available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The firefall lighting up from the sunset at Yosemite National Park. It only occurs in February

A crowd of spectators and photographers gather at the base of El Capitan to see the firefall

Wednesday brought a particularly clear evening and sunset to the California park and made for perfect viewing of the firefall.

Crowds of spectators could be seen watching in amazement at the sight, while professional and amateur photographers snapped away from rows of cameras rigged up on tripods.

 ‘When the sun drops at the exact right angle, it reflects upon El Capitan,’ public affairs officer for Yosemite National Park Scott Gedimann told AFP. 

‘It’s a combination of the sun reflecting on the water, clear skies, water flowing. If all of that comes together, it’s magical,’ he added.

The phenomenon only lasts a few short minutes while the angle of light is just right.

The falls drop 2,130 ft down El Capitan, and only flow in the wintertime when enough snow has fallen and temperatures have been warm enough for melt.

The falls drop 2,130 ft down El Capitan, and only flow in the wintertime when enough snow has fallen and temperatures have been warm enough for melt

A few of the sunset reflecting on the rock face where Horsetail Falls drops off El capitan

Photographers flocking to the park have gushed about the beauty of the sighting.

‘Based on how the sun sets up against the mountain or the rock, it creates a really good fire effect for photographers and you can get a beautiful picture of it,’ photographer Whtiney Clark said. She travelled from San Francisco to see the falls.

Terry Cantrell visited from Fresno, California, to get her own shots.

‘The pictures I’ve seen [of the firefall] are just gorgeous,’ she told AFP.

‘Everybody wants to have their own, so this is what I’m trying to do,’ she added.

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