El Capitan Mountain in Yosemite National Park may appear to have flames shooting up its iconic face–but don’t worry, there’s no actual wildfire involved. Instead, it’s a rare visual phenomenon known as the “firefall” which happens for only a few hours a year, and inspires nature lovers and ambitious photographers to travel for miles to catch a glimpse.
When conditions are just right, Horsetail Fall, which flows down the east side of the mountain, catches the golden rays of sunset in a way that makes it look like lava or fire is pouring down the rock. But those conditions are fleeting–with the firefall only able to occur on a few days each February.
While it’s hard to pin down the exact dates, the phenomenon has been spotted this week, and should continue for a few more days. If weather conditions shift even slightly, it ceases to be visible, even if the sunlight’s angle is otherwise correct.
Thinking of paying a visit? Prepare for lots of snow and very cold conditions–and you’ll want some sturdy snow boots, as the designated parking area will be at least a mile from the firefall viewing area.