Does lava flow in Yosemite National Park?

Looking at these photos it seems as though a lava flow has suddenly erupted in one of America's most famous national parks — Yosemite. The problem is, though geologically active, it's not a park known to have a live lava flow, so what gives?

It turns out that during a brief window of time each year in mid-February, if conditions are just right, a waterfall off the face of El Capitan catches the setting sun and looks like a flow of molten lava.

You could be forgiven in thinking that capturing a winter sunset and its colors bouncing off water are easy with today's point and shoot cameras — but seasoned photographers like Michael Frye who authored "The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite," know differently.

It's more like the maneuvering needed to capture the perfect shot of an eclipse.

The waterfall, known as Horsetail Fall, is in his words, "…so uniquely situated that I don't know of any other waterfall on earth that gets that kind of light."

What makes it so different? First there are the environmental conditions that need to be just right. Fortunately Horsetail Fall pours off the top of a cliff face, with the setting sun behind it; if it were off by a few degrees, set into more of a canyon the effect wouldn't happen.

Next, consider the water only flows for a brief period in the winter and spring when if enough water has been accumulated through rain or snow. Plus, the southwestern horizon must be clear so the setting sun is not obscured. No clouds allowed.

As if getting the water and skies to be in perfect alignment weren't dicey enough, there is the time window. There are about two short minutes at dusk on perfect evenings where the angle of light is just right when photographers and nature lovers can catch this phenomenon.

Park officials have told the Associate Press that recent snowfalls have kicked Horsetail into action again and the spectacular light show should be able to be viewed through February 24, assuming atmospheric conditions are right.

You can catch the show east of El Capitan on the main roads out of the Valley, or join the crowds at El Capitan's picnic area, a popular spot for the pro photographers to try and grab a shot.

If you are not yet sufficiently intrigued by Mother Nature's rare light tricks, here are some additional facts that add to the lore of the mysterious "lava flow" of Yosemite National Park:

• The first color shot was recorded in 1973 by renowned outdoor photographer Galen Rowell.
• Famed photographer Ansel Adams shot the falls in his trademark black and white, but it is not clear whether he ever captured or even experienced the spectacular light show.
• In bygone years, Park employees used to recreate a the "firefall" in the summer by lighting a bonfire; songs would be sung, and finally at 9:00 p.m., someone would push the burning embers over the side of Glacier Point and they would glow like the winter phenomenon. The ember firefall occurred from 1930 to 1968.

Nothing can quite compare to when Mother Nature puts on a show — especially when it is within such a fleeting window. I think a trip to the "lava" flow has just landed on my 101 Things to Do Before I Die list.

Via Yahoo News

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