Firefall Stuns Onlookers in Yosemite National Park

firefall Yosemite National Park February 2016

People stood, absolutely aghast, as what looked like flaming lava poured from the top of a waterfall in Yosemite National Park this month.  Some were just lucky to witness the event, while others had been trying to set eyes on it for years.

As it happens, the fiery liquid wasn’t lava.  In fact, it was melting snow; chilly water that couldn’t be further from lava.  But, what made it glow?

The Firefall Phenomenon

Yosemite used to draw visitors by pouring glowing embers from the top of Glacier Point.  Ironically, it never needed to create a waterfall of flame, since nature was already doing it.  The phenomenon known as the ‘Firefall’ is created by the last rays of the setting sun falling on the park’s Horsetail Falls.

However, this incredible sight doesn’t occur every evening.  It is subject to a very special set of circumstances which make the Firefall as rare as it is breath-taking.

On extremely special occasions, elements simply fall into place to create a perfect set of circumstances that leads to something great.  Some would argue that this is how the Beatles were formed, although this could be fiercely contended.  That being said, even the most jaded of onlookers surely would be moved by the sight of a glowing waterfall.

In order for Horsetail Falls to appear as though it is on fire, the setting sun has to line up at a perfect angle with the waterfall.  This angle is only correct in February of each year.  However, the Firefall is dependent upon more than just geometry.

In order for the falls to be strong enough, there needs to be a great deal of snow collected at the top of the falls.  This is usually not a problem in February, as this is the end of winter.  However, the weather needs to be warm enough to melt the snow – and make sure it melts the snow just around sunset.

The final piece of the puzzle is the weather.  If the sky is cloudy, which it often is in February, the sun’s rays won’t be strong enough to reflect off the water.  So, in order for the Firefall to work, the sky needs to be completely clear.

If all of these elements align, the magnificent Firefall becomes a reality.  However, these elements rarely cooperate.  There have been people going to the park for decades who have only seen the Firefall two or three times.

So, if the idea appeals to you and you want to see the Firefall, you might have a long wait ahead of you.  Fortunately there were some videos taken to help satisfy your craving in the meantime.

Image credit: