Miracle of Rock, Water and Light

Waiting for the light show

Every year in February, hundreds of photographers stand in a snowy forest in Yosemite Valley, staring upwards in hopes of seeing a miracle of rock, water, and light appear high above them.

What they are hoping to witness is the fiery ribbon of sunset-lit water at Horsetail Fall.

Shortly before sunset if you're lucky, Horsetail Fall will light up as a ribbon of fire

This so-called “natural fire fall” (in reference to the historic fire fall that used to be pushed over the edge of Glacier Point), occurs at this time of year when the setting sun lights up Horsetail Fall on the face of El Capitan. It is only at this time of the year when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the back-lit waterfall setting it ablaze in gold and red. This last week however, there was very little water – and most of it frozen on the face of the cliff.

But as I discovered in my first trip to Yosemite to shoot Horsetail Fall, you don’t need flowing water. It has been an unusually dry winter in California and all the falls in Yosemite are reflecting this. At Horsetail, you can barely see a trickle at the top of the fall. This trickle of water freezes, forming a fall of ice rather than water. But this ice when the sun hits it just right reflects gold and red just like water.

But you need to bring patience along with your tripod and 200mm lens. I was in Yosemite for just 3 nights and it wasn’t until the 3rd night that Mother Nature cooperated and produced a fiery reddish-gold Horsetail Fall. I consider myself lucky to have witnessed it.

Should you go to Yosemite to shoot this event, hurry and do so in the next few weeks. By the end of February, the sun is at the wrong angle. Be prepared for company! There are so many photographers shooting Horsetail Fall that the park closes 1 lane of traffic for parking on both Northside and Southside Drive to accommodate all the photographers.

This was my favorite image from my trip. One that I have not seen before. This "gold nugget" lit up with the setting sun.

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