In mid-February — i.e. right now — an incredible optical illusion of Nature occurs in Yosemite National Park: Horsetail Fall, one of the lesser-known waterfalls cascading over the famed granite face of El Capitan, glows like it’s on fire. The waterfall doesn’t garner much attention during the other times of the year, but when it shines (quite literally), it attracts hundreds of visiting photographers who try to capture what the Boston Globe/AP describes as having a “molten lava” flow.
The optical effect is the result of several factors culminating to the magical moment: the position and tilt of the earth in relation to the sun at this time of the year, cloud conditions, enough winter rainfall or snow to actually get the water flowing, and the angle of sunset.
“Horsetail is so uniquely situated that I don’t know of any other waterfall on earth that gets that kind of light,” says photographer Michael Frye, author of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite. “If you hit it at just the right time, it turns this amazing color of gold or red-orange.”
There’s only about a five-day window to see and capture this “firefall,” from around February 19th through the 24th — which means you have just three days left before the magic is gone. Just make sure you have your outdoor photography skills up to par before you go though; Horsetail catches on “fire” at dusk and it only lasts for about two minutes.