It’s rare and beautiful, and we experienced its magic at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, KY, referred to as the Niagara of the South. The phenomenon is called a moonbow (or spray moonbow) and can be witnessed on evenings when there is a full moon and clear skies, and the moonbow is further enhanced by frosty temperatures. The mist at the base of the waterfall creates a rainbow of light which evolves as the moon moves higher in the sky. It appears mostly white to the naked eye, but deeper colors show in photographs.
The dates for witnessing this event and more pictures of the moonbow can be found in the Cumberland Falls Moonbow Schedule. Throughout the world, there are only two places where moonbows happen consistently. They’re known as “standing moonbows,” and to see the other location one would have to travel to Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
We were planning to make the 88-mile trip from Green River Lake State Park to Cumberland Falls on the day Wayne was having new tires installed on our fifth wheel camper. The heavy morning fog delayed the delivery of the tires, and the appointment which was originally planned for 10 a.m. finally happened around 2 p.m. It was close to 5 o’clock when we finally got on the road.
Our regret that we wouldn’t see the falls in daylight soon gave way to our delight in the amazing beauty of the night sky as we travelled the last 12 miles to the falls. The road was smooth blacktop, but very, very curvy. (I estimate that 12 miles to be about 3 miles as the crow flies.) We saw lots and lots of these:
The full moon was rising as we drove, and as we rounded the sharp curves the bright moon and its one-night-only conjunction with Jupiter kept popping into our line of sight. It was magnificent! For an awesome slide show of the moon that night, click on this link to the Examiner.com
We arrived at the parking lot for the falls and were surprised to see only 3 other cars. We took the short lighted walk to the viewing area and could hear the sound of crashing water as we walked. It was very dark when we got to the viewing area, and there were a few people already in place along the cable fence. The walking surface was a bit challenging in the dark, since the moon was not yet visible above the ridge and tree line behind us. The surface was smooth but uneven stone, which is part of the river bed at other times of the year and had depressions holding pools of water scattered throughout.
We had wanted to try our new camera, but were unable to locate the tripod in our haste to leave the camp site. We knew it would be impossible to get good photos in these lighting conditions without specialized equipment. As fate would have it, though, there was an amateur photographer among the spectators and he had his equipment set up and ready. His specialty is waterfalls, and he was friendly and willing to share his pictures. When I receive them, I will update the post with his pictures from the actual night we saw this amazing site.
As the full moon started to peek through the treetops on the ridge behind us, the moon bow started to appear at the base of the waterfall. As we watched, it became more and more visible, and we were in awe of the spectacle. The number of people at the viewing area had grown substantially, so there was a fairly large crowd by the time the moon was high in the sky.
We watched as long as we could, but needed to get back on the road home. Wayne gets up at 5 a.m. for his 10-hour days at Amazon.com, and going to bed early is a must. We exchanged information with the photographer and reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the falls.
We marvel at how perfectly the conditions came together to provide us this magical experience. We would still like to visit Cumberland Falls in the daylight, but even if that never happens we can treasure the beautiful memory of the waterfall and the moonbow under the clear Kentucky sky on that November night in 2012.