Jun 8, 2010
|Beauty and Power in perfect harmony
When I was a toddler my parents took me to Niagara Falls. I have no recollection of that day, but I’m told I didn’t like the noise. I kept asking my mother to ‘make it stop!’ That was 70 years ago.
Today I returned to Niagara Falls for the first time and discovered that the cataracts are no longer where they were back then. Since 1940 all three have moved several feet farther up the river. They are quieter now too - half to three quarters of their flow having been diverted to provide electricity to Canada and the east coast of the United States. Still, the remaining 45 million gallons a minute put on quite a show, and if I had to summarize that show in a single word it would be ‘Stupefying’!
No words or pictures can prepare us for Niagara - for it’s exquisite beauty, or for it’s thundering power. You see the spray as you approach the town, rising like a column of white smoke over the gorge. You pass the power company’s ‘intake’ structures and beyond them you see the rapids, a stretch of white and increasingly turbid water that speeds up to twenty-five miles an hour as it races toward the falls.
You first start to hear the falls when you’re still a block or two away, and the sound is so steady and constant you barely notice it at first. Traffic and the chattering of tourists drown it out, but as you walk the shaded path to the overlook the sound builds. By the time you get to the rail conversation is difficult. You have to shout to be heard.
We approached from the American side and everyone says the Canadian side is better. American and Bridal Veil Falls account for only 10 percent of the flow. The other 90 percent drops over Horseshoe Falls which you see best from the Canadian side of the river. Never mind - the American view is fine - and if you take the Maid of the Mist boat ride you’re going to see them both from as close as it’s possible to get - without climbing in a barrel and going over them, a move as stupid as it is illegal. Many have tried - few have survived.
Ironically the first person to try it did survive - a 63 year old school teacher who thought it would bring her fame and fortune. It didn’t. The most astounding falls drop was accidental, a seven year old boy who went over when a boat he was in stalled and capsized in the rapids. His sister, who went in with him, was rescued at the brink of the precipice, but the boy went over the falls with nothing but a life jacket to protect him. Miraculously he survived. The man who got them into that mess went over too, but he was not so lucky.
If you come to Niagara Falls from Lake Erie you’ve been following the Niagara River all the way. It’s a river so wide that technically it’s not even a river - it’s a strait. The Great Lakes contain one fifth of all the fresh water on the planet, and the Niagara strait drains four of those lakes, Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie, into the fifth, Lake Ontario. The amount of water that passes through this system is mind boggling.
The Niagara Visitor Center has an excellent movie, and a hundred yards away there is an observation tower where you can view all of the falls from several hundred feet above the river. For years boats have taken visitors to the base of the falls, and that task is now handled by the Maid of the Mist Corporation. The slogan on their brochure says "Explore the Roar".
You ride 18 stories down an elevator in the observation tower, don a blue poncho provided by the company, board a boat with a lot of other blue people, and embark upon the most unforgettable boat ride you will ever take. Protect your camera because you will get wet! Madolyn and I risked our cameras to bring you the photos and video clips on this page. The electronics survived it and the drenching boat ride was worth everything it took to get here. The pictures speak for themselves.
A final note: Parking is limited but we lucked out. For a mere ten dollars we got to not only park all day a block from the falls, but we got to spend the night for free in the same parking lot! This enabled us to enjoy a noisy dinner at the Hard Rock Café, then go back and see the falls at night. Man always thinks he can improve on nature, and true to this conceit the falls are lighted at night - at least on the American side where we are the most conceited.
Canada assists us in this venture by letting us put our floodlights on their side of the river - pointing back at us of course. The effect is OK if you like that kind of thing and thanks to Madolyn the photos above show the falls at night too. The lighting changes from time to time, going as we watched it from blue to white, and then to a combination of green, pink and yellow. And we’ll leave it at that.