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The main attraction of Cumberland Falls, and the whole reason we wanted to visit, is the infamous moonbow. For those of you who don’t know, a moonbow is like a rainbow, but instead of the sun shining to give the rainbow it’s colors, the moon provides the light. Supposedly, there are only 2 places in the world where you can see a moonbow on a predictable schedule: Cumberland Falls, Kentucky and Victoria Falls in Africa. Living in Kentucky my entire life, I had always heard about the moonbow but never seen it for myself until we celebrated our first anniversary at Cumberland Falls!
Moonbows can be finicky, and conditions have to be just right to be able to see them. For example, it needs to be a bright, nearly full moon– so going 2 days before or 2 days after the full moon would work. (We went 2 days after the full moon, which happened to coincide with our anniversary weekend.) In the wintertime, you can arrive earlier in the day around 7 pm (since the sun sets earlier in winter) but during the summer, you will want to arrive in the early hours of the morning. We arrived at the state park at around midnight, but it was too crowded, so we went back to our campsite and returned around 1:30 am. This time proved to be perfect, because while everyone was sleeping, we got some great photos! The state park signs claim that the park closes at midnight, but in reality when we were there at 1:30 am, the gates were still open and unlocked. I assume it’s because so many tourists come to see the moonbow, there’s no reason to turn them away!
They say that in the wintertime, when the air is dryer, you can actually see the rainbow colors with the naked eye! However, since we were there in the summer, we could only see the white “mist-bow” with our naked eye, but the rainbow colors with my DSLR camera. While I’m on the topic, I am far from a professional photographer, but I did look up a few tips to get some pretty photos. I really wanted a photo with both the moonbow and Cumberland Falls in it, but that was impossible since the moon was on my right side, opposite the falls; in the wintertime, the moon should be on my left to get me a perfect shot of both. Also, do not even attempt to use your point-and-shoot or smartphone camera. As for using flash? Forget it! It is totally unhelpful and does nothing but ruin others’ photos so please don’t be that person.
I set my camera up on my tripod so I could slow the shutter speed and capture as much light from the moon as possible. I only have the basic lens that came on my camera, so I had to make due with what I already owned, but I read if you have a wide lens (around 12mm) then you should use that for the best photos. As far as camera settings, I found these settings to work best: f/2.8, ISO 1600, and 30 second shutter speed. Obviously, you’ll want to play around with the settings based on your specific lens, so your mileage may vary. Also, I struggled a bit with my camera in taking the photos until I realized I needed to turn my auto focus off. (In fact, I couldn’t get the photo for about 30 minutes, we left and went back to our campsite, I said a prayer that it would work and finally figured it out! See, I told you I’m a photography novice!) So, don’t forget to turn the auto focus off, because otherwise your camera will be searching for something to focus on that doesn’t exist and refuse to snap a photo 😉
Our rafting tour guide also said you can see a rainbow at the falls in the early morning hours. When we visited in mid-June, around 10 am was peak “rainbow” time, so we didn’t miss an opportunity to take some photos! I know the below photo looks entirely photo-shopped, but I swear to you, it is 100% unedited minus my watermark.
The moonbow was a totally neat, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am so glad we didn’t miss! And to think, this rare phenomenon is just a few hours from my hometown, in my home state!
Have you ever seen a moonbow?