Yosemite National Park is filled with natural wonders all year-round, but if you happen to visit during the last few weeks of February, and if conditions are just right, then you could be rewarded with the incredible sight of the Horsetail Fall turning into a glowing river of lava - or, at least, that's what it looks like.

In reality, the phenomenon is the result of an optical illusion, and the falls only appear like this for approximately 10 minutes each day around sunset. But it continues to draw the crowds (most carrying cameras) year after year. And this year, thanks to heavy rainfall in the Sierra Nevada, the waterfall looks especially fiery.

"In the over 20 years I have been photographing the firefall and leading workshops there in Yosemite, I have never seen a more spectacular one," Michael Mariant, a photographer from Morro Bay, California, told The New York Times.


*** Night On Earth *** As you may know this past weekend I was in #YosemiteValley in hopes of catching the great #Firefall phenomenon that occurs only about 10 days a year when the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Falls for a few minutes, giving the impression of lava flowing down the side of El Capitan. Conditions did not come together on Friday, but Saturday night was truly special. I saw what I believe was "Firefall Actual" 🙂 the orange glow on the Falls was truly stunning to see in person. Also stunning was how crowded it was. 1000s of photographers packed along the coast, many who camped out from 8am in the morning. Luckily i had my waders with me on this trip so I simply stepped a bit into the Merced River for this view 🙂 Shot alongside and met up with some amazing photographer folk this weekend including: @kurtzmanos @77slade @laly0021 @taylorgrayphoto @mazmanphotography @jennkichinko @jude_allen @csharrison and @_jonathanmitchell_ and 1000s of others!

A photo posted by Vincent James (@vjamesphoto) on

So what causes this effect? To see the falls in full fire-mode, you need to have just the right combination of weather conditions. The Horsetail Falls flow from the El Capitan mountain, and in order for there to be enough water to put on a show, there first has to be heavy snow and rain in the Sierra Mountains.

Thanks to a tumultuous El Niño season, there's been plenty of that in 2016, with metres of snow falling at a time (up to 4 feet) in the high Sierra mountains earlier this year. All that melting snow makes its way down the mountains as conditions heat up, and eventually reaches El Capitan, where it cascades down to the valley below.

That sight in itself is impressive - and rare during the drought of the past few years - but because of the position of the Sun during these last few weeks of February, the light at sunset hits the waterfall in just the right way to set the whole thing alight, creating the illusion of tumbling rivers of lava.


Of course, in order to get the full effect, you also need to be lucky enough to visit when there are clear skies, which these photographers managed to do. The best vantage point is to the east of El Capitan.

If you've missed it, don't worry, the phenomenon should be viewable for a few more days this year, and hopefully it might be back in 2017. Just to remind us that we live in a world where water really can catch fire - even if just for a few minutes a day.


front row at Firefalls

A photo posted by Ꮯ Ꭺ Ꮢ Ꮮ Ꭷ Ꮥ (@t3nthirty1) on