I'd never heard of a moonbow until laurie31 clued me in. She explained it's a rainbow made by the moon instead of the sun. Some call it lunar rainbow, or white rainbow. Since the moonlight is that much weaker, moonbows are often faint, and whitish in appearance (except in long exposure photographs where colors do appear). They are best viewed when the moon is full or near to full.
Compared to rainbows, moonbows are a lot rarer. There are only a handful of places in the world where this phenomenon often occurs. Yosemite Fall in spring and early summer, due to its water level rising from the melting snow, is one of those places.
It was our luck the time we went to Yosemite happened to be around full moon for the month of June. And this was the last chance to see moonbows this year. By July, the water level would drop too low.
Moonbows at Yosemite Fall can be easily spotted when the moon rises above the south rim of the valley. It was predicted on Monday, June 16, this would happen around 10:13 pm, and the next day, roughly an hour later.
We didn't go on Monday night because hubby had to get up early the next morning. But on Tuesday night, despite being exhausted from a grueling hike to Half Dome during the day, he insisted on staying late to catch the phenomenon before heading home. That turned out really well. We ended up with an extraordinary experience.
We bid our final farewells to laurie31 and her family after 9:00 pm. They had already seen it the night before and had to turn in early for the next day's activities. Then, we waited in our car. Since the moonbow was predicted to occur at around 11:15 pm, hubby and my son were fast asleep in their seats. I, on the other hand, stayed awake because I was afraid to miss the time. By 10:30, I woke up both of them and made us hike over to the lower Yosemite Fall together.
The hike was short distanced. It was kinda cool doing it late at night with a flashlight and nobody else around. But my son was beat. Poor little devil, he was so tired from the water rafting and swimming he'd done during the day. So I gave him a piggyback ride all the way up to the base of the fall.
I was worried he wouldn't be able to wake up in time to enjoy the moonbow. But it was unnecessary. Once we got there, the mist in the air woke him up instantly.
Thanks to laurie31's warning, I brought enough jackets and a large thick towel to keep us warm. Surprisingly, there weren't as many people as I'd imagined. In fact, the place was so quiet, we had almost thought we went in the wrong direction during our approach.
When we arrived, the moon hadn't risen above the ridge behind us yet (the south rim of the valley, opposite to the waterfall). But we could see a pool of light peeking over the dark silhouette, heralding the moon was just below the ridge line.
At first, there wasn't anything out of ordinary around the waterfall. I started to pace around the terrace pass the bridge. Then I saw it -- a faint silvery half-arch spanning across the fall at its foot.
As time ticked away, the whitish bow would grow stronger, where one can almost discern the colors; then it became faint again, as if gradually flickering in the pale moonlight.
Time past 11:00 pm, either our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, or the moonbow grew more prominent, we could now consistently see the red, yellow, and blue in the translucent arch.
Periodically, I turned to look in the direction of the moon to check its progress. It still hadn't showed its "face" yet, hiding behind the tall ridge.
The place was quiet and peaceful. The handful of people there were only talking in whispers, as if afraid to disturb the sound of water rushing off the cliff. Many of us had our face upturned toward the celestial sky, admiring the stars twinkling above the waterfall.
Then it happened.
In the blink of an eye, a shooting star trailblazed across the nightly sky. It then exploded into a fiery sparkle just above the waterfall. A collective gasp could be heard in unison. All I could think of was: "Quick! Make a wish!"
I made two wishes, because I'm that greedy. The crowd was excited. "Did you see it?", "A shooting star!", "Wait, what did I miss?"
Hubby and I turned to each other. We couldn't believe our luck. Neither of us had seen a real shooting star before!
But the wonder wasn't over yet. When my watch registered 11:15, I turned toward the moon once again. This time, it was unmistakably coming up behind the ridge.
Compared to a sunrise, where the morning glow sets the clouds on fire, a moon rise is more tranquil and self-contained. We saw, in the mostly dark sky, atop the mountain ridge's black silhouette, there was a glowing bright spot. The brilliant speck was so intense it looked like it was burning with white heat. The spot grew bigger with every passing minute until it turned into a perfectly round circle above the ridge.
I've never seen the moon as bright as this before. Maybe the lack of other lights in the vicinity intensified its brilliance, or it could be the way sun, earth, and moon were aligned. Whatever the reason, it was a beautiful sight to behold!
In roughly half an hour, we saw three natural phenomena we never dreamed of before. Not bad a payoff for staying there late. The only regret I had was not being able to capture any of these on camera. On the other hand, I'm sure the images would be imprinted in my memory for years to come.