Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The ghostly, silvery-white moonbow at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky…

Every autumn Rick, Matty and I, and my brother, sister-in-law and niece take a weekend trip together. This year, we decided to visit Cumberland Falls, KY to try to catch a glimpse of the elusive, misty, magical moonbow—and we could not have picked a better time! We arrived at the lodge Friday evening to a packed house. Not a spot remained in the parking lot, and we had to search out a place in the auxiliary parking lot up the hill by the cabins. People were everywhere and a heightened sense of anticipation filled the air. Lunar lovers had come in record numbers to witness Mother Nature’s spectacle because conditions were predicted to be just right for a moonbow (also called a lunar rainbow)…and to add to the nighttime excitement, Halloween was just a week away!


The moonbow at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky!

When you see the moonbow with the naked eye, it appears ghostly, almost like a silvery-white apparition, but when you capture it with the camera, all the colors of the optical spectrum appear rich and deep. To shoot a moonbow, you need to open up the shutter and use a tripod. Rick shot this photograph using an aperture of f/5, a shutter speed of 25 seconds, and an ISO of 800. If you use a flash, nothing appears because the light washes the silvery-white arc away. It was pitch dark when we took this photo at 9:38 p.m., but with the delayed shutter speed, the moonlight is enough to bring everything to life. I love the deep blue of the sky and the tiny stars winking through!

Moonbows are not common and don’t happen every evening or even every month. Things have to be “just right.” The most important requirement is a full moon—or a nearly full moon. Two days before or after work very well, which was good for us because Friday night was the night before the full moon. Next in line is a perfectly clear sky—no clouds, no haze, and even no airplane vapor trails! Complete darkness must follow. City lights kill the ghostly apparition and are the reason the lovely moonbow reported in years past at Niagara Falls was extinguished. Without water, the shy silvery arc can’t be coaxed out to play either, so a slight breeze is needed to stir the mist churned up by the falls and keep it hovering in front of you. With the water vapor suspended before you, the final requirement is that the moon hangs low in the sky behind you. It's a wonder you ever get to see a moonbow at all!


When everything comes together, a full moonbow stretches from the falls to hundreds of feet down the river. The moonbow appeared around 9:00 and was still shining bright around 11:00 when we left. There were at least 300 people there when we arrived, but the crowds thinned out a bit as the evening progressed. To get these photos, we walked down to the lower level, which was an adventure in itself considering it was pitch dark and we didn't have flashlights (the second night we did). It was so fun sliding our hands across the rocks and along the rails to help us get down the huge steps to the lower level. We made a few friends along the way because everyone is so happy and excited. You can't go wrong when you're out dancing in the moonlight!

Just a quick FYI... When they say conditions have to be "just right," they mean it! The next night was the full moon, so it should have been even better, but it wasn't. The moonbow was meager at best...a wispy tiny little arc trying its hardest to flicker into a blaze, but it just couldn't. The problem was a hazy cloud cover, then the clouds went away, but an airplane's vapor trail moved into place...and on top of that, the breeze was still and no mist filled the air in front of us. Friday night it was almost like a constant fine rain, but the air was dry Saturday night. Now and then, the silvery arc would appear in bits near the base of the falls, but it never reached the amazing intensity of the night before. I'm so happy we were there Friday night!! Really, everything does need to be in perfect alignment...
"When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars"
…this is the dawning of the moonbow in the Cumberlands…
sort of ;-)
When we woke Saturday morn the sun was streaming across the sky, and the temps were autumn cool--everything was "just right" for hiking, so we set off for Eagle Falls on Trail 9.

Matthew Riccetti, Rick Riccetti, and Kelly Riccetti at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...finally a family portrait! I always forget to get in the picture. You can't really tell, but Cumberland Falls (often called "the Niagara of the south") is in the background.

Matthew Riccetti, Rick Riccetti, and Kelly Riccetti at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...the Eagle Falls trail is fun and has lots of surprises along the way. Here the group marches on while I lag behind to photograph something -- a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets was foraging in the hemlock trees along the gorge. There were so many of them, and their sweet little voices were singing out all over the forest. On our way back, Rick and I paused to watch and listen, but they never did come within camera range.


...you can never go wrong with sculptural rocks...

Matthew Riccetti and Kelly Riccetti under the small falls at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.

Matty and I behind Eagle Falls. What a blast climbing on all the rocks to get there. Thank goodness I lift weights and do yoga. I don't think I would have been able to get back there if I didn't! Eagle Falls is such a pretty fall, and it seems to appear out of nowhere.

Matthew Riccetti climbing up through small caves at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...if there is a hole that can be climbed into, Matty will find it.


...the beautiful Cumberland River from the balcony at the lodge. It was very hard to leave and come home on Sunday. We had such a fab time...I did not want to come home!

p.s. There aren't a lot of waterfalls where you can find a regularly occurring moonbow. Victoria Falls near Zimbabwe is known for its moonbow, and I read during snowmelt, a moonbow can appear at Yosemite Falls every now and then too.

28 comments:

Sarah Knight said...

Wow - I never would have thought of a moonbow / lunar rainbow! That's too cool!
I work midnights - so I saw the full moon on my way to and from work last week too - ha! And it was still visible in the sky in the light of the morning.

The hiking trail looks lovely, and the shot of the three of you behind the water is just marvelous!
: )

Penny said...

What a lovely post and such magical photos, you were so lucky and that moonbow was great.

Dawn said...

Have never heard of a moonbow!
That;s incredible!!!
Actually- that entire place looks amazing. It looks like something out of a magazine.
Great family photo:)
What a wonderful memory:))

Wanda..... said...

Great post of your trip Kelly, the family portrait was extremely nice! Glad the elements all came together and you saw the moonbow. Loved the Autumn trees!

forestal said...

Looks like a wonderful place for a family day. The shots of the waterfall and moonbow are amazing!

dan

Out on the prairie said...

Outstanding post,I loved all.

Jayne said...

Oh Kelly... that is just the coolest thing EVER! So glad you were there when all the stars and planets aligned!! Love the family portrait too. :c)

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Oh Kelly, I am so jealous.... The moonbow pictures are fabulous --and I love seeing the colors up there this time of year. Glad you enjoyed Eagle Falls also. We've been there also...

One of these days, George and I will get to see the moonbow. Glad you saw it...

Hugs,
Betsy

JKoenig said...

Perfect timing and perfect moonbow pictures too! But your family picture was "extra special." What a beautiful time of year to be there.

Cicero Sings said...

I've never heard of a moonbow! Interesting!

A lovely family snapshot.

Cumberland falls puts me in mind of Vetsy and George!

Montanagirl said...

Kelly, your post and photos are just fabulous. That Lunar Rainbow shot is spectacular! The rest of the photos are great too. What a wonderful time you must have had!

grammie g said...

Hi Kelley...absolutely fascinating photo of the Moon bow ( something I never heard of and to photograph ) WOW!!
Wonderful picture of the family and the climb...just beautiful !!

Birding is Fun! said...

That is so cool. I too had never heard of a moonbow. Nice photography all around and beautiful family!

Louise said...

I have never heard of a moonbow. Thanks for the education, and for allowing us to share it with those beautiful pictures.

Hilke Breder said...

The images of the moonbow are magical and your description of the conditions etc very informative. Also enjoyed seeing a proper photo of you and your family. Nice!

holdingmoments said...

Till I read this Kelly, I'd never heard of a 'moonbow'. What amazing pictures you captured.
Love that family portrait too :)

Chris said...

Wow I did not know the english name for it, so now I know it ;-) The two first shots are splendid.. Good seetings and perfect shots!! Nice to meet with your family too ;-)

Busy Bee Suz said...

I had never heard of the moonbow before, until George and Betsy went off to find it as well.
Absolutely breathtaking photos Kelly.
Love that family portrait...I say: Christmas card!!!

Steve Borichevsky said...

Absolutely STUNNING!

Elaine said...

Rick did a fantastic job shooting the moonbow! How wonderful that everything was in alignment for your visit.

The family portrait is lovely. That looks like a good one to enlarge and hang on your wall.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

I've never heard of a moonbow before--and how exquisite! Absolutely beautiful photos, and I enjoyed seeing you appear in them! (Incidentally, being fit enough to climb rocks to a waterfall is great motivation to keep up the weight lifting and yoga, isn't it?!)

Caroline said...

How magical! I'd never heard of a moonbow - thank you for sharing these special shots!

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! The moonbow is an incredible sight...and the atmosphere surrounding its appearance is equally amazing. It was so fun to be out in the dark night with other people all watching for the phenomena. If you're ever in the area on a clear night shortly before or after a full moon, stop in and check it out.

Tammie Lee said...

Kelly,
this is such a wonderful post, thank you. That moonbow is just precious. I thought a moonbow was when you see a circular rainbow around the moon - common in Hawaii. Your photos are gorgeous and it was so fun to see your lovely family and you! Looks like you had a wonderful time.
Yoga and weights, well I think is a perfect combo.

PS: I am a pisces too.

Coy said...

Amazing! I had never heard of a moonbow. My hats off to the photographer, simply incredible images!

Lynette said...

What a lovely, exciting and interesting post. Thanks for the whole thing, from top to bottom!

Carol Mattingly said...

Gorgeous moonbow and falls and great family photos too Kelly. Carol

Robin said...

Beautiful pictures!! That's a GREAT picture of the three of you.