The Horsetail Fall and its fire-colored suggestion

The Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall located in Yosemite National Park, with a truly exceptional peculiarity

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The Horsetail Fall and its fire-colored suggestion
© Wikimedia Commons

The Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall located in Yosemite National Park, California, which flows during the winter and early spring months, with peculiar and truly exceptional colors.

The notoriety of this waterfall is given by a phenomenon that occurs every year around February 17-19. The light of the sun at sunset makes the water shine red and orange, making it resemble a lava flow, called firefall.

How does this suggestive coloring happen?

In order for the Horsetail waterfall to take on its characteristic incandescent color, certain conditions must occur. On days when the setting sun is in the correct position there must be a snow cover thick enough to feed the waterfall, the temperature must be warm enough to allow the snow to melt and finally the sky must be clear enough without clouds to block the rays of the sun.

For this reason the phenomenon occurs only for a few days in February while in October, although the sun is once again in the correct position, there is normally no snow and therefore the waterfall is dry.

The Horsetail Fall
The Horsetail Fall© Wikimedia Commons

The waterfall flows from the eastern side of the El Capitan rock formation and overall covers a height difference of 620-630 metres. It is made up of a dry stream most of the year and fed by snowmelt between late winter and early spring.

If there is enough water, the waterfall divides into two parallel flows, one further east with a greater flow rate which makes a drop of 470 meters and one further west with a drop of 480 metres.

The waters then pool and fall another 490 feet on steep slabs, so the total height of these falls is 2,030 feet to 2,070 feet. It can be seen and photographed from a small clearing near the picnic area on the north road leading out of Yosemite Valley east of El Capitan.

The phenomenon was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1940, but made better known by Galen Rowell who photographed it for National Geographic in 1973. The popularity of the phenomenon among photographers led to the formation of large gatherings of people, which caused damage to vegetation sensitive and led the National Park Service to close two of its three best viewing sites in 2020.