Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey
Images and written content
I have been fortunate in my lifetime to have been widely traveled, 49 states and 28 countries. In that process it has been my privilege to lay an eyeball on some of the more wondrous natural sites on this planet. But one place I had yet to go was that iconic precipice on the Niagara River, Niagara Falls.
We had a few days with nothing scheduled, a rare thing for both of us, and true to form, we decided pretty much at the last minute to make the trip. Cheryl had visited the American Falls before, but this would be my first time for both.
We had to teach at a church retreat on Saturday, which ended about mid-afternoon. Having packed already, we left from the retreat site, a wondrously peaceful spot along the Potomac River called Algonkian Park.
The drive north was really nice. We took a couple of detours off the main highway, while still heading generally north, which took us through many of the quaint towns and villages that populate the rolling landscape of northern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The leaves were beginning to turn and it was a real treat to spot those patches of brilliant color among the trees. We stopped for the night in Corning, New York, arriving in time to watch the Mizzou Tigers put up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to stun South Carolina, and were back on the road early the next day. We took another detour to Palmyra, New York where we visited a site important to our faith. The site was mostly forested with several trails leading through the trees. A very peaceful stop.
Back on the road, we finally reached the New York city of Niagara Falls. Following the signs, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge and reached the Canadian border. We waited for our turn for the terse conversation with the icy-eyed border official, and then were allowed in.
No matter how many times I've done it, and no matter which country I went to, I've never lost that slight sense of foreboding that I was no longer in America. But we were here on vacation, so I firmly shoved those feelings out of the way and prepared to enjoy myself. We checked in to our hotel, the Marriott Fallsview. Since this trip was in a real sense the honeymoon we never took over the past 36 years, we splurged for a room with a view of the falls. The look out of the window said it all.
After stowing our luggage, we went out and found the funicular which we rode down to the Table Rock Visitor's Center.
We walked through the center and exited out the rear doors and found ourselves standing at a rail looking over the lip of the falls.
The current was fast and it was something to stand there and just watch the water slide over the edge. The mist was rising out of the gorge, and even though the temperature was a balmy 78 degrees, the mist still added a chill.
We signed up for a package that got us four different attractions. The first one involved descending down to a tunnel dug through the cliff face where we could look out of an archway at the back side of the falls. The din was unbelievable, certainly the closest thing to the sound of a tornado that I've ever heard.
We then descended down to the river level to look up at the Falls. If the sight of the water going over the edge was impressive, it was even more awesome being down at the bottom.
I had read that at full volume, some 2 million gallons per minute pour over this cliff. Seeing that volume in person took that figure from the academic to the real.
It was interesting to read the displays and learn that the line of the falls has actually retreated some 7 miles down the gorge as the water has steadily worn away at the limestone and slate that makes up the geology of the area over the past 11,000 years. In order to slow the erosion rate and maintain the natural beauty of the area, some engineering projects have been completed over the past 40 years to shore up the underlying rocks. The river itself was part of the Great Lakes complex formed during the last ice age. The river carries water from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie down a channel lined with hydro electric plants, using the force of the water to spin turbines, generating an enormous amount of clean energy.
Part of the escarpment.
The next day, we took the boat ride into the tidal pool at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. On the way we passed the more modest, but still impressive, American Falls, and the much smaller Bridal Veil Fall.
Probably should have brought a baggie for the camera.
Now, I spent more than a few years at sea, and I had to struggle with my perceptions. I could appreciate the skill of the helmsman as he steered the boat into the maelstrom. The water was entering the pool from three widely separated angles. As a result, the confused currents roiled the waters into a pot-boiling madness. As the water slid past the bow of the boat, my instincts were telling me that we were making at least 20 knots. But looking at the headlands on either side, we were actually just treading water. The noise, I might add, was tremendous. After spending several minutes, the Skipper executed a neat rudder pivot and neatly as you please, the boat was headed downstream and back to the pier. We had been issued ponchos, but we still managed to get quite wet. But the sun was up, the air was warm, and we were quick to dry off.
Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed for Clifton Hill, a street of fun, games, and food where we found a cute little Italian place and dug into some great pasta.
After lunch, we walked over to a Jurassic-themed mini-golf place. The course was really nice, the dinosaurs in pretty good shape, with hidden speakers spewing what Steven Spielberg thought the thunder lizards should have sounded like.
This far north, the trees were becoming beautiful.
This being Monday night, and the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs were on to play the New England Patriots, we were bound and determined to get back to the hotel in time to watch. In the meantime, we managed to hit both local casinos to allow Cheryl to joust and parry with the slots. I kept my activity to a minimum, putting in $20 and stopping when I got to $36.50. We did get back in time for kickoff, and watched with great pleasure the Chiefs put a 41-14 butt-whuppin' on the Pats.
As the sun went down, the interplay of the autumn light, the mist, and the sun provided a thoughtful sunset.
I should mention that at night, the local authorities light up the falls from behind and in front. The resulting sight is enchanting.
Tuesday morning it was time to go home, since we both had to be back at work on Wednesday. We had some confusion trying to get back to America, since the GPS insisted on taking the long way around. But we eventually got it straightened out, and after another terse convo with an American border officer, we returned to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
We took our time going home, again choosing the minor roads instead of the Interstates. The change in the foliage in just those few days was dramatic, as we made our way through New York and into Pennsylvania.
Finally, we arrived home. Our granddaughter Diana left us a piece of driveway art to welcome us home.
It had been a fine trip, a great time for us to reconnect. As time has passed, we have come to treasure these times when we can put everything else aside and just be us. Together.
And we got home in time to watch our third team, the Kansas City Royals, win the first game of their playoff run.