This one time at band camp…or at least this one time in June, my wife and I took a road trip. The purpose of this trip was to spend a few days in Indiana where my father spent the first few years of his life and to attend a sweet but short memorial service for my Great Grandmother.
My wife and I decided to extend the trip beyond what it was supposed to be so that we could explore some of the many interesting things peppered between Vermont and Indiana. One of those things is a long gorge in the town of Watkins Glen. Another thing is a substantial number of buildings apparently called “wineries” which take fields of perfectly good grapes and convert them into that swill your mom drinks. Another thing is a waterfall whose size could be described as “a bit big”. Today I want to talk about the latter.
Our first night’s hotel was in a place called Niagara Falls, Ontario. In this area, the border between the USA and Canada follows a large river that runs from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and makes a small drop off a little bitty cliff. Some crazy people even created a city around it. From the New York side you don’t really see the Falls unless you are right up next to it – or in our case not until you cross the bridge into Canada.
While our hotel room wasn’t fancy enough to have a view of the Falls, it did at least give us a view of the mist that towers above them and the nightly fireworks show. Something else our hotel did offer was a bottle of fermented grapes and a meal voucher for a nearby chain restaurant that provided some excellent food. At dinner we learned an important life lesson. When a hotel gives you a voucher for $35 off your meal at some restaurant – take a close read of the voucher as it’s entirely possible there are two of the same chain restaurant in town and your coupon may only be valid at one of them. We went to the wrong damn one! I am fortunate in that the food was quite good – otherwise I would’ve been in big trouble!
After grumbling about that for awhile we went back to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s scheduled activity. No, it wasn’t that. We wanted a bird’s-eye view of the falls, so we walked to Skylon Tower, located about a block from our hotel. From the base you ride up an external elevator giving you a nice view of the city on your way up. From the top you can get outside and get a full 360 degree view of the cities on both sides of the river as well as, with a clear sky, a glimpse of Toronto. More importantly, though, it provides a huge view of both Horseshoe Falls and American Falls which are lit up at night by enormous spot lights. It’s amazing how well the roar of the falls travels, even when you’re 477’ above the street and more than 700’ above the point where the vertical water violently connects with the horizontal water. Had I done a little more research, I would likely have timed our visit to the top of the tower to coincide with the nightly fireworks display rather than being surprised by them later in the evening while decompressing from the day’s travelling.
In the morning before leaving town, we made the long (not really long) trek down to the falls to see them in the daytime. It was a beautiful, clear morning with the sun shining brightly, shimmering on the water. It was the perfect day for pictures. We met the road which runs along the cliff wall between both falls and many pictures ensued. It was too early in the morning yet for things to be running, but we slowly made our way to the visitor center and eventually became the first in line for the Journey Behind the Falls. I had decided this would be a good alternative to riding the boats since we can enjoy it at our own pace, it was less expensive, and less “on a schedule”. It took a little convincing to get my wife to join me, but, I think she was glad she did. It starts with a long elevator ride downward where the doors open into a couple of tunnels in the rock behind Horseshoe Falls. In here, aside from a couple kids making noise, all you can really hear is the sound of an enormous amount of water flying past and pounding the ground below. It’s not quite deafening, but, you can certainly feel the forces at work above you and around you. You can feel the weight of the water pushing down as it’s incredible force produces a constant vibration is the world around you. A tunnel to the right brings you past a few informative signs about how the shape of the falls has changed over time and other facts. It also brings you to two portals which stand as windows into the brute force of what’s going on all around you.
After that you walk out onto, essentially, a huge deck. From here you can see down the river to American Falls and a good view of the Maids of the Mist below you, ferrying the tourists in their raincoats into the mist clouds. Those views are both all well and good, but, what you really need to do is look to the right. I’m finding it difficult to find the proper words to describe how it feels to be in the presence of this towering inferno of water. I’ve seen many of the larger waterfalls around Vermont and New Hampshire, but, nothing prepares you for the sheer size of this place. It’s not just the height, even though from this vantage point it’s enormous, but also the length. It’s impossible to actually see the whole thing at once because of the huge cloud of mist that blocks some of your view, but, when you can see the far side it seems impossibly far away. It’s one of those places where, even at 35 years old, hell, even at 90 years old, your first visit will fill you with a sense of awe and wonder. Here, see for yourself!
And that right there is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Exit through the gift shop.
Because of time restraints we did not partake in the either the jet boats nor the Maid of the Mist boat tours. However, even though our feet stayed on terra firma, it was an amazing experience and everyone in New England should get there at least once in their lives. Even if all you care about is violence, the power that the water flowing over that cliff wields is as incredible as its beauty. Even if all you care about is math, just think about how many gallons of water are careening over the cliff’s edge every second of every day, for millions of years. Doing that will bring you into the realm of numbers that astronomers use to calculate the distance between things!