In February, the Horsetail Fall, in Yosemite park, turns red at sunset, attracting thousands of photographers (perhaps too many)

The Horsetail Fall is one of the most famous attractions in Yosemite National Park in the United States. It is a seasonal waterfall that forms on the eastern side of El Capitan Mountain, the massive granite monolith that reaches 2,300 meters and is the destination of many mountaineers and climbers. The water usually begins to flow in the first half of February and continues until spring, creating very characteristic plays of light, a “cascade of fire” that every year attracts thousands of tourists, who then publish their photos of the phenomenon on social networks.

In the two central weeks of February, the Horsetail Fall is illuminated by the Sun. At sunset, and with the right conditions of air humidity and clear sky, it turns yellow and red, as if a river of lava was coming down from the Captain.

The water usually descends in two: a more significant part descends eastwards with a jump of 470 meters, and the other, westwards, reaches a leap of about ten meters more, albeit with a smaller jet of water. The two aircraft reunite and descend another 150 metres. Overall, the jump exceeds 600 metres.

Among the first to photograph the Horsetail Fall was Ansel Adams, a great landscape photographer who became famous thanks to his very vivid and contrasting black and white images of the West. Adams took some photographs in Yosemite in 1940, but it would still take about thirty years before the “cascade of fire” became known in the United States and abroad.

A colour photograph published by National Geographic and taken by Galen Rowell, a nature photographer and climber, helped to make the waterfall known and to make it more and more photographed, also because of the lower and lower costs of amateur film photography and the subsequent advent of digital photography.

As the Guardian recounts, in recent years the attention for the Horsetail Fall has multiplied, thanks to social networks and some enthusiasts who have started to offer advice and tutorials on the best way to take a picture of the waterfall at sunset. Among them, there is Aaron Meyer, who on his blog offers advice on the best times to make observations, with further information on the best vantage points in Yosemite to capture the nuances of the light that colours the waterfall.

The problem is that the viewpoints are relatively small, not very suitable to accommodate the hundreds of people who gather to observe the phenomenon, and of course, photograph it. It is a problem for those who frequent the park in search of some peace and places to stay away from the crowds, to the point of pushing some people to avoid the central weeks of February to visit it.

Last year alone, in one day about 2,200 people stormed the pitches for observation, trying to take the best possible picture of the Horsetail Fall reddened by the sunset. To avoid too much confusion, the Yosemite site has a page dedicated to the waterfall, with updates on water flow and whether or not to see the phenomenon. Every year, the concern is that too many tourists disturb the peace and quiet of the park, leaving waste in the protected areas.

To further limit the problem, this year the park rangers have closed two of the three main observation points of the Horsetail Fall. The only open point will be accessible by walking about two and a half kilometres, which should reduce the number of tourists and especially the transport of equipment that is too bulky to take photographs.

The Yosemite site also indicates that this year the waterfall may be almost completely absent, due to a particularly dry winter that has affected a large part of the park.

According to some models and projections, climate change could affect the Horsetail Fall to the point of its disappearance. In recent years several studies have highlighted how global warming has affected Yosemite, with changes in its ecosystems.