Elle Zhu
Dreams of a Mobile Life

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Updates on life, photography, and the importance of being earnest.

Yosemite National Park: Horsetail Falls - The Making Of a Photo

Capturing special moments in Yosemite has always been a bucket list whimsy for me.  Ever since I caught word of moonbows, frazil ice and the like, I set my sights on being present to photograph them.  Dear to my heart was the elusive firefalls that flowed down El Capitan.  I first heard about this phenomenon three years ago (you can imagine the widening of my eyes) of a waterfall that caught the glow of sunset in its prism only once a year for a few days.  I pictured the molten stream and felt my blood quicken with its phantasmal flow.  There was no question that I would plan a trip with the firefalls in the target of my camera lens.

Last year, Horsetail Falls was a spectacular failure when I showed up in the Valley and was dismayed to find conditions so dry that there was no waterfall at all.  My friends joked that we could pour water from a bottle and overlay it on top of El Cap for the shot.  We consoled ourselves with bouldering in Camp 4 and a walk up the Four-Mile Trail.  This year, though, I watched the weather forecast intently and baited my breath when February came with promise of rain and a bigger snowpack than California has seen for the last five years.

The weekend arrived but we barely made it to Yosemite by sunset on that first day and I had a sinking feeling as I leapt out of the van that this wasn’t the moment.  The angle wasn’t drastic enough, lighting up all the surrounding rock and water but not the steady stream of the falls.  Not only was the shot off, I spent the next hour wading through cars and traffic along the Valley Loop trying to find my friends.

The looming cloud cover on the second day didn’t promise much of a show, but as I was giving up hope, a glimmer of red touches the falls. It’s not a perfect shot, but nature is rarely a willing participant.

 
 Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park

Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park

 

For those hoping to catch the Firefalls next year- hit me up!  I can share tips and location suggestions in exchange for good company.  Contact me!