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Niagara Falls – that’s a lot of water…

On December 28, 2007

Once you’ve made it as far as Buffalo, it seems obligatory to head on up to Niagara Falls…so I did.  Niagara Falls is one of those places that most of us have a set idea of before we get anywhere near it: small town newly weds, families with lots of kids, tacky souvenirs, crazy people in barrels.  Well, it has all of those things but if you go on a cold off season day in early November the Falls are also a few other things: beautiful, amazing, surprisingly free of both evident newly weds (they may have been elsewhere, hmm, wonder where?) and large families with small children (I don’t dislike children, I have a very well behaved one of them myself; it’s just the more of them you put in one place the higher the likelihood that their parents will think that the village should raise them and I generally turn out to be that village).

Having only a few hours before my plane left, I didn’t consider making the trip to the Canadian side of the Falls.  Depending upon whom you ask that can be a quick, glide through or a two hour long ordeal; either way, do remember that if you’re planning to cross the border you must have a passport.  Getting to Niagara Falls by car from the upper outskirts of Buffalo takes less than an hour and you get to drive over a couple of great bridges.  I love bridges if I’m not driving; when I am driving I always have the unshakeable thought that a mysterious force will turn my steering wheel to the outermost regions of the bridge and dump me into the water below. Of course, I also get up in the middle of the night thinking the front door is open and someone will get in just before I get there to lock the door.  Fortunately for me, neither event has as of yet taken place and on this day, I wasn’t driving so the odds looked good.

As you get nearer to the Falls the sound of rushing water becomes a constant but not overpowering background hum.  Then as Jaques Cousteau would say “suddenly” the formerly sedate Niagara River takes on a rushing pulse at about the same time the Niagara Falls State Park parking areas come into view.  Whether you choose to park there or be guided by the guy vigorously waving his flag and urging you to park in his lot, the charge will be hefty; although if you visit on the off season like we did your only other expense while actually inside the park will be buying a refrigerator magnet.  (Did you know you can buy a Mao refrigerator magnet in China?  Although to my disappointment it does not say “Made in China” on it. )

Just across the street from the flag waving guy lot, lays the first panoramic view of the Niagara River above the Falls.

View of the American Rapids pedestrian bridge above Niagara Falls

Make a quick trip through the Visitor Center for a restroom stop and a map of the park.  Niagara Falls is the oldest state park in the United States and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also designed Central Park.  Even on a day – or perhaps particularly on a day – when none of the attractions other than the historical film in the Visitor’s Center are open the park itself offers satisfying, interesting and visually spectacular afternoon.

There are two major Falls at Niagara Falls:  American Falls which is – come on now, take a guess – on the United States side of the border and Horseshoe Falls which is on the Canadian side of the border.    The smaller Bridal Veil Falls is also located on the U. S. side.  Although the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls can be seen from the Observation Tower (which on this day – whether by intent or accident – was open free to the public), only the heavy spray mist created by the larger Horseshoe Falls is visible from the American side.

American Falls as seen from the Observation Tower

American Falls redux
with more of the spray of Horseshoe Falls in the rear center of the picture
and the skyline of Niagara Falls, Canada to the right of the picture

If you’re up to a relatively short walk to the top of Horseshoe Falls, I would advise that you make the trip; if nothing else it will warm you up.  I was wearing long underwear top and bottom, jeans, two pair of socks, walking shoes, two jackets with hoods and a pair of gloves and I was still cold when my feet first hit the ground outside of the car.  By the time we reached the head of Horseshoe I was removing things in great number – another couple of miles and I might have been naked, or at least down to my long johns.  Be aware though that it is a slight hike, not a walk and there is a stretch where you either have to use stairs or go up a pave incline (going down a paved incline is always the tricky part for me).  Older people or people with walkers or wheelchairs may find the going difficult.  Restroom and gift shop facilities are available at the summt of Top of the Falls.  In late November the Top of the Falls restaurant was not open and I could have made a mint up there with a hot beverage cart.  Another opportunity missed.

Even from the Top of the Falls observation area there is no direct view of Horseshoe Falls but the view down
river is more than worth the trek.  A few minutes back down to the American Falls and a trip to the souvenir stand to grap a suitably tacky magnet and the day was complete.

View down river from the United States side of Top of the Falls:
Niagara Falls, Canada to the left; Peace Bridge in the Center;
tall green Observation Tower behind the spray on the right

I will definitely come back to the Falls when I have more time.   At certain times during the year, there are illumations and fireworks displays; even at this time of year there were illumations on Friday nights.  I’m not sure about crowding on a boat with lots of tourists in raincoats but you never know.  Taking the time to cross the border and see the almost two times larger Horseshoe Falls rumbling thunderously down is quite enough of a lure but the gambling casinos on the Canadian side may see a little of my money, too.  After all, I’ve already bought my refrigerator magnet.

A last look from the Observation Tower downstream from the Falls –
the now much more sedate Niagara River as it flows beneath
the Peace Bridge to Canada

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