Niagara Falls

Monday, Aug 21st

Big. Loud. Wet.

I had visited Niagara Falls as a young child in the winter, and my main memory is of the icicles and colored lights on the falls….and the fact they were gigantic. .

They are still huge ;-)

The Niagara River drains Lake Erie (with the combined waters from Superior, Huron and Michigan) into Lake Ontario. These four lakes contain 1/5 of the entire world’s fresh water supply, and it all goes down this short river every 6 years. The river itself, above and below the falls, is almost as spectacular as the falls itself, a mass confusion of boiling whitewater.

While the falls aren’t that high (160 feet on average), it is the width and the sheer power of the falling water that is so impressive. Niagara is made up of 3 falls – American, Bridal Veil, and the famous Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Both American and Horseshoe are about 1000 feet straight across, but Horseshoe Falls are actually 2500 feet if you measure it all the way around the curve – a waterfall that is ½ mile wide. It’s simply amazing to be standing at Terrapin Point on one edge of Horseshoe Falls, and look straight across to a wall of water in front of you.

The really amazing thing about Niagara Falls - it’s only a shade of it’s former self. The hydro projects on both the American and Canadian sides of the river above the falls divert ½ to ¾ of the available water for electrical power generation. What we see today is only half of what nature would send over the falls if left alone. It’s almost impossible to imagine the sight of that much falling water, when what is coming over today is so overwhelming.

The falls are relatively young – they’ve only existed for around 12,500 years, since the end of the last ice age. In that time, they have moved upstream 7 to 8 miles, relentlessly carving into the shelf of rock known as the Niagara Escarpment, creating modern day Niagara Gorge. Since first being viewed nearly 400 years ago by Europeans, the falls have moved upstream nearly 1/3 of a mile. There has been multiple large rock falls since the turn of the century and quite a bit of tinkering has been performed to stabilize the current viewing areas. At one point in the 1960’s the American Falls were blocked off upstream, drying them up, in order to ‘clean up’ the pile of rocks at the bottom (I’m sure the Canadians were shaking their heads over ‘those crazy Americans’). What the engineers found was that the pile of rocks was actually holding the wall up, and removal could result in the destruction of the American Falls as we know it. So they put in a bunch of tension cables to hold a few points up, and also blasted away the part of Luna Island (which separates American and Bridal Veil Falls) that formed the ‘cave’ in the Cave of the Winds’, to keep it from breaking off and smashing a tourist or two.

We did all the normal stuff – the observation tower, Maid of the Mist boat ride, walked out to the observation points on Goat Island separating the falls, walked down the misnamed Cave of the Winds pathway, and then crossed over into Canada for the straight on view of all 3 falls afforded on that side. My personal favorite was the Cave of the Winds tour, which takes you right to the base of the American Falls. Although many people feel the large pile of rocks at the base of the falls is unsightly, I was fascinated standing next to the torrent of water rushing thru rocks – the sheer power was overwhelming. There is no ‘cave’ anymore – the ledge that formed the cave and allowed you to walk behind the falls is no more, but the stairways at the base of the falls are not to be missed.

Vance was fascinated by stories of people who went over the falls, particularly the story of Roger Woodard, who as a 7 year old was swept over the falls after a boating mishap upstream. The driver of the boat was killed, largely from stupidity as he piloted the boat past numerous warning signs to within ½ mile above the falls before finally trying to turn back. Roger’s sister was pulled out in a dramatic rescue just feet from the top of the falls. Roger, who was wearing only a life jacket, somehow survived the plunge, and was rescued by the “Maid of the Mist”. Vance has been telling this story to anyone who will listen.

Both the America and Canadian sides along the river and the falls are nicely protected by parks, which is great, because the surrounding area is pure Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach and Panama City. I can only imagine the Twist of the Mist, Niagara Nachos and Top of the Falls T-Shirts shops that would line the falls on both sides if not protected by park land. As it is, it’s bad enough with giant Ferris Wheels, hot air balloons, wax museums, casinos and haunted mansions popping up everywhere, and the roar of the helicopters overhead almost drowns out the noise of the falls, as hard as that may be to believe.

Vance: The falls have a beautiful surrounding. Once there was a 7 year old boy who went over Horseshoe Falls and survived! Sometimes people go over Horseshoe Falls in barrels, these people are called daredevils. We went over to Canada to look at the falls and had dinner. I was so excited, it was my first time to another country! From 9:00 to 12:00 P.M they light up the falls with colors. I had such a fun time.

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