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Waterfall on fire returns to Yosemite National Park
Posted on 21/02/2019

NatureUnited States of America

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The annual natural phenomenon known as the 'firefall' is back at Yosemite National Park. The second largest waterfall in the park, named Horsetail Fall, transforms into something that looks like a stream of lava falling from a cascade. This spectacle is visible when light from the setting sun hits the waterfall at just the right angle. This breathtaking scene occurs each year during two weeks in February.

How can a waterfall be made of fire?

How can a waterfall be made of fire?
© lorcel/123RF

Horsetail Fall doesn't actually catch fire. But, given the right weather conditions and the right angle, it will seem like it actually does! The firefall found at this California national park creates the illusion of lava flowing over a cliff. But in order for the magic to happen, several conditions must sync up.

Firstly, the weather conditions need to be perfect. Most importantly, there must be enough snow. Without enough snowpack, the waterfall won't flow. But, the temperatures have to be neither too warm, nor too cold. Temperatures must be warm enough to melt the snow a bit, and not so cold that the water remains frozen. Secondly, the skies need to be crystal clear at sunset. During cloudy days, the firefall won't appear. When everything comes together just right, the waterfall will appear like it is on fire, glowing bloody red, for around ten minutes.

Hundreds of spectators expected this weekend

Hundreds of spectators expected this weekend
© porbital/123RF

The annual firefall effect is happening now at Yosemite, but it won't last too long. Experts say that it will last until this upcoming weekend before it dissipates. Those who have witnessed it say that it is a purely magical experience to see it in person. Hundreds of nature lovers and photographers from around the globe flock to Yosemite hoping to catch a glimpse of this magnificent cascade of false molten lava.

Prepare your trip

Prepare your trip
© jeffbanke/123RF

This year, the trek to the Horsetail Fall is considered dangerous. The conditions are unsafe due to the the huge amount of snowfall the region is experiencing this winter. Visitors are being asked to be more cautious because the trek to the falls is trickier than it was previous years. "What would have been a 10-minute walk normally turned into a two-hour trek through waist-deep snow," one of the visitors told the San Francisco Chronicle. No reservations are required this year, but it is advised to come early before the park gets crowded. So bring your best camera, prepare some warm shoes and clothes, and you're ready to go!

In the past it was actually on fire

In the past it was actually on fire
© Phah Sajjaphot/123RF

During the late 19th century, the firefall we know today wasn't all that natural. A tradition of a manmade firefall existed here, made from real fire. Local hotel owners first started the tradition, which continued for almost a century. Their guests requested a fireworks show, so they thought of an extravagant spectacle. Burning hot embers were spilled from the top of Glacier Point in today's Yosemite National Park. David Curry, one of the founders, would stand at the beginning point of the fall and yell 'let the fire fall,' as a signal to start pushing the 'fire.' From a distance, hot embers falling to a valley 3.000 feet below, would look like a glowing waterfall. Dedicated to preserving the valley and returning it to its natural state, the performance was stopped in 1968 by the National Park Service.

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