I’ve always wanted to see a moonbow. It was one of the things we put on our Road Trip Bucket List, and something I would recommend everyone see at some point in their travels through Kentucky.
It’s a phenomenon you can’t see anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere – the only other reported moonbow can be seen at Victoria Falls in Zambia in Africa. They’re rare because a lot of factors have to occur at the same time to produce the moonbow.
• There must be a bright, nearly full moon (usually 2 days before or 2 days after a full moon) and an almost cloudless night.
• Mist must be rising from the waterfall.
• Moonbows will appear white except on cold, crisp nights in the fall and winter when the atmosphere is drier and more clear. Then colors can be seen.
• Water temperature, fog and wind direction are also factors.
Lot’s of stuff to consider right? And there’s even more. Even if all of the above occurs, you still have to be in the right place at the right time to catch the moonbow. The time to view the moonbow depends on when the moon is high enough to shine over the mountain and into the river gorge. This can be as early as 7 p.m. in the winter and as late as 1 a.m. in the summer. It’s best to see the moonbow if you are standing along the upper outlook areas above the falls, looking down over the falls.
During Elliott and my recent trip to Cumberland Falls, we dedicated one of our nights to seeing this phenomenon. We were determined not to leave without it. It was the first weekend in March, still winter according to the crisp temperatures, and we lucked out because it was very clear and just a day after a full moon (OK maybe we didn’t luck out entirely, we sort of planned the dates of the trip around the elusive moonbow). Wrapped in layers and armed with a tripod, camera and lenses, Elliott and I arrived at the upper outlook at 8 p.m. and staked out the falls.
We didn’t see anything.
We waited some more.
After about an hour of waiting, Elliott decided he didn’t think we were close enough. You see, usually at the park, you can walk out onto the rocks near the top of the falls and get closer to the water. But because of recent heavy rainfall, the barriers had been moved back, further from the water. So with a little minor trespassing, Elliott squeezed through an opening in the barrier and VERY CAREFULLY (I was freaking out internally the whole time) walked closer to the falls. Sure enough, peering over the edge of the rock, you could see the colorful arch in the mist rising from the water at the base of the falls.
So I joined him in his minor trespassing because I just had to see for myself.
Now, I’m not going to condone trespassing or breaking the rules. In fact, I’m going to pull a “do as I say and not as I do” parental moment and tell you to stick behind the barriers for your own safety. I have to tell you that. I don’t care for being sued.
But I’ll also admit this: I’m glad I followed Elliott out on that rock. It was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen and by far a highlight to one of my favorite road trips.
For a schedule of predicted moonbows, follow this link to the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park website, and then click on the Moonbow tab.
Top photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip, www.elliotthess.com.