No, I'm not talking about that misguided late-19th and early-20th-century phenomenon of folks who dumped burning embers off Glacier Point into Yosemite Valley just for the heck of it. I mean the rare occasion when the light of the setting sun turns Yosemite's Horsetail Fall into a shimmering river of gold.
We were lucky enough to be in Yosemite National Park this past Monday afternoon, and saw this ethereal sight for ourselves. (Not to diminish such all-natural glories, but it really did look for all the world like an elvish land set from a Lord of the Rings movie.) The firefall effect, which is only visible from mid- to late-February, is created by the angle of the setting sun as it hits this graceful cascade on the east side of El Capitan, one of the valley's famous granite formations.
Want to see the firefall for yourself next year? Surprisingly, the best observation points are not on the valley's Northside Drive, but off of Southside Drive between Cathedral and Sentinel Beach picnic areas. As the park ranger at the Arch Rock entrance station advised us, Southside Drive gives you the widest-angle landscape shots of the waterfall. Just look for all the cars pulled off on the side of the road, and armies of tripod-toting photographers walking toward the Merced River, braving snow and ice to snap an unforgettable scene.
Local photographer Michael Frye has a detailed online article with everything else you'll need to know about photographing this impressive phenomenon.
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Photo credit: Horsetail Fall, Yosemite Valley (Michael Connolly, Jr.)