Yosemite National Park’s annual ‘firefall’ has begun, drawing in keen photographers and making people seeing it for the first time on the internet say ‘is that real fire?’
Fortunately, it isn’t.
Not anymore, anyway.
The current firefall, which occurs at the Horsetail Fall on the park’s famous El Capitan summit, is an optical illusion caused by the light of the February sunset.
The good people at Yosemite say very specific conditions lead to the firefall.
Horsetail Fall must be flowing which, as a seasonal waterfall, it isn’t always doing.
There must be the right amount of melting snow for this happen, and the sky must be clear so the sun’s rays can get through and create the lava-like orange glow.
As you can see in this video, it’s a dream for landscape photographers and has been since the days of the great Ansel Adams.
While the current firefall is actually water seen in the strange light, there was once a real firefall event at Yosemite.
Beginning in 1872, the firefall ceremony involved burning-hot embers being spilled from the top of Glacier Point into the valley some 3000 feet below.
The spectacle was the brainchild of the Glacier Point hotel and ran for almost 100 years until it was ordered to cease by the National Park Service in 1968.
Eerily, the Glacier Point Hotel was destroyed by fire less than 2 years later.
With that in mind, it’s probably a good idea to stick the stunning natural optical illusion we see today.