I hadn’t intended to photograph Horsetail Fall this year, but I was in Yosemite near the optimal time the fall puts on its annual display of color and water, and with the recent rains, it looked like there might be a possibility to actually get a decent shot. So I joined the throngs along Southside Drive last Tuesday and hoped for the right conditions.
Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall near the eastern edge of El Capitan that is fed by a small snow field on top of El Cap. Around mid-February, the winter light from the setting sun illuminates just the fall, throwing the surrounding cliff into shadow. If there is any water flowing, the fall takes on a dramatic red, misty glow just minutes before the sun sets, which is why it is often referred to as a “firewall”, paying homage to an entirely different kind firewall that used happen in Yosemite Valley — the manmade firewall at Glacier Point.
The annual Horsetail Fall event is lovely to behold. Photographer Galen Rowell is largely credited for recognizing the cyclical nature of the fall and for photographing it back in 1973. Today, with information easily shared and accessible over the Internet, the waterfall attracts photographers from around the county each February.
On the day I made this photograph, there was still a bit of water in the fall, although not very much, and the sun disappeared behind a cloud right before sunset, only to slowly reappear just at the last minute. Although the frames I took just after this one contained more of the signature bright red/orange fall, I like this more subtle, sensitive shot, taken as the sun was just beginning to illuminate the fall before it put on its final show. Here is how it looked just minutes after the shot above was taken.