Rainbows, Sun Halos and Moonbows!

“In every walk with nature, one receives more than one seeks”   John MuirRainbows  034

Rainbows  027We had many special experiences in Yosemite. And some of the more magical moments came in the form of multiple rainbows, sun halos and moonbows too!  A moonbow is just like a rainbow, only it’s produced by the light of the full moon.  Who knew?

We’ve shared photos of some of the rainbows we saw on previous posts about our Yosemite visit. But we saved some more photos of those as well as photos of others for last.

There was the beautiful sun halo that appeared while we were huffing and puffing up Upper Yosemite Fall Trail to Columbia Rock. A double halo!  With El Cap in the background.Rainbows  025

Rainbows  029Rainbows  028There was the “expected” rainbow on the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall. But we didn’t expect a double rainbow, nor a rainbow inside the rock arch by the waterfall.Rainbows  030

Then there was the absolutely perfect rainbow that appeared after the rain while we were standing at Tunnel View, with the valley, El Cap and Bridalveil Falls in the background.

An incredible moment that we’ll never forget.

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Rainbows  003As if that wasn’t enough,  one day we noticed a rainbow over Bridalveil Fall. A perfect opportunity to take a walk to the bottom of the waterfall. And, as we got closer, we saw a more perfect rainbow and then a double rainbow.  Beautiful.  Yosemite sure knows how to do rainbows!Rainbows  005Rainbows  007

Rainbows  010Rainbows  004Rainbows  009Rainbows  001Rainbows  002But nothing prepared us for the moonbow!  We never even knew they existed until it was mentioned in a newsletter Hector gets from a photographer who lives in the area and specializes in Yosemite photography.

During the months of April, May and June, when the waterfalls are at their strongest, a moon bow or lunar rainbow forms over Yosemite Falls when the full moon shines on the spray from the waterfall.

Rainbows  012And there was going to be a full moon during our visit in May!   But we really didn’t know what to expect.

The moonbow on Upper Yosemite Fall appears earlier than the one on Lower Yosemite Fall.   So our first stop was out on one of the meadows, a supposedly good spot for photographing the moon bow on the upper fall.

This is a “developed area” so Angel and I took a walk while Hector set up and we waited for the moon to rise.  I counted a total of 42 tripods out in that meadow! At 10 o’clock at night! And all kinds of interesting photography equipment.Rainbows  011

The moonbow on Upper Yosemite Fall was a bit of a letdown as it was actually just a tiny little triangle of color at the base of the waterfall. We believe that there was not enough spray to create the full moonbow.Rainbows  013

As the moon rises higher, the moonbow moves from Upper Yosemite Fall and appears on Lower Yosemite Fall.  So we hopped in the car and headed to the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead.  There is a developed trail (a 1.1 mile loop) out to the bottom of the lower fall, and it was really cool seeing lots of people walking the trail at night, all in search of the moonbow.

The last section of the trail goes through the forest with no view of the fall until you arrive at the viewpoint right at the base.  And as we reached the bottom of the waterfall, there it was – the moonbow!Rainbows  016Rainbows  014

A beautiful perfect arch across the waterfall with stars in the sky above.  It looked mostly white/silver with the naked eye with flashes of pale rainbow coloring at certain moments.

According to Wikipedia “Because the light is usually too faint to excite the cone color receptors in human eyes, it is difficult for the human eye to discern colors in a moon bow.  As a result, they often appear to be white.  However, the colors in a moonbow do appear in long exposure photographs.”

The crowd of people at the viewpoint was just buzzing with excitement at the rare sight.

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Rainbows  015I think I just sat there without breathing for a few minutes. Hector, of course, sprang to action with the camera and his tripod.

There were dozens of photographers all crammed into this fairly small viewing area all trying to capture this unique phenomena.  It was quite the tangle of tripods and Hector said it felt like he should say – excuse me, may I stick my tripod leg between your tripod legs?Rainbows  023

The moonbow slid down Lower Yosemite Falls as the moon rose, but it lasted a pretty long time.  Eventually, it reached the very bottom of the falls.

At one o’clock in the morning (way past Angel’s bedtime) the three of us walked through the forest in the dark and then out into the moonlit valley.  We felt so lucky to have seen this special sight.

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We’ll always associate this wonderful visit to this crown jewel of our national parks with the many beautiful rainbows of all shapes that seemed to greet us at every turn.

Yosemite has left its mark on us.  We already can’t wait to go back.

~ BrendaRainbows  022

16 thoughts on “Rainbows, Sun Halos and Moonbows!

  1. Stunning, breathtaking! You are so fortunate to have experienced the moon bows! I never knew there is such a thing. I can even feel your excitement as you wrote this, as this is truly special! Thank you Brenda and Hector!

    • Thanks, it was gorgeous. Those bucket lists keep growing don’t they 🙂 I mentioned to someone else – try to avoid July and August as the park gets mobbed – the rest is a balancing act to get there when it’s not so crowded but to avoid snow if possible as Tioga Road closes and the park requires tire chains 🙁 Hector and I actually are thinking about visiting in the fall next time.
      Brenda

    • Yes, it wound up being a much later night than we planned – we got back to our campsite at 2 a.m. But totally worth it.
      Brenda

  2. Wow-wee. Spectacular!!! Great photography and wonderful vistas!!!
    Got you some fine “oggling!” Thanks for sharing. Some are really super!!! Here’s to 42 degrees!!

  3. Pingback: Chasing the Aurora Borealis - Island Girl Walkabout

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