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Yosemite: Where a Waterfall Catches Fire

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It's not really on fire. It just looks like it's on fire. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

In nature’s game, water beats fire — which is why I’m dying to see a dramatic interpretation of the opposite at Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park.

Apparently during the last two weeks of February, orange sunsets are reflected in the falls each evening, which makes the cascading water look like it’s on fire. “Fire-water is falling from a cliff” is what your brain thinks. You’re sitting at an El Capitan picnic table eating a sandwich, looking up at falling fire-water.

What’s funny is that even though nature already puts on a fantastic fire-water show at Yosemite,  the park put on a similar man-made show for almost a century (as Atlas Obscura points out). In the early 1900s, David Curry wanted to attract more campers to his Camp Curry site and he figured falling fire would do the trick. It’d been done in the past — burning bark was poured from the towering Glacier Point cliff creating a lovely cascade of fire-orange flakes down the rock’s face. But Curry made this spectacle a nightly event, and it became quite popular with visitors. For better or for worse, the fire fall tradition was extinguished in 1968, when officials decided that pouring fire from a cliff wasn’t the safest thing for a national park.

But that’s OK because, like I said, the sun catches El Capitan’s Horsetail Falls on fire every night for a couple of weeks in February. And this fire fall won’t burn down the woods.

Here’s a close-up of the environmentally friendly fire-water:

Seriously -- it's not really on fire. (Barbara Jordan/Getty Images)

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