Tidewater Traveler - October 2008

Niagara Falls


George Sellers

   Niagara Falls! Yes, it certainly does! Falls seems like a very mundane word to describe what is happening to the water of the Niagara River as it reaches what looks to be the end of the world and plummets through space to crash against boulders dozens of yards below. The front view of the falls – the view from the Canadian side of the river - is incredible as I observe the wide, panoramic vista that includes the American Falls to the left, Bridal Veil Falls in the center and the Canadian/Horseshoe Falls to the right. The three falls are separated like combative siblings by unpretentious demarcations called Luna Island and Goat Island. I suppose thousands of folks visit here every day and stand in awe of the misty liquid wonder without giving any notice at all to tiny Luna Island and not-much-bigger Goat Island. The islands are surely found in every photograph and video ever recorded here; no doubt they have been captured in each artistic rendering, yet they may as well be invisible.
    American Falls, clearly on our side of the international boundary, is located between a couple of large rocks called Prospect Point and Luna Island. Bridal Veil Falls has as its margins Luna Island and Goat Island. Between Goat Island and Table Rock, located in Canada, thunders the grand Canadian/Horseshoe Falls.
    The combined brink (width) of American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls is about 1,060 feet. The cliff over which the water tumbles is 175 feet high. But the base of the wall is littered with a layer of boulders (broken waterfall parts) over 100 feet thick, shortening the distance of the falling water to about 70 feet. On a normal day about 150,000 gallons PER SECOND entertain onlookers at the American and Bridal Veil Falls.
    Declared by many to be the more spectacular, the brink of Canadian/ Horseshoe Falls measures nearly half a mile; and the height averages 167 feet. To no avail, I sought a less pun-like word for the following statement: I cannot fathom the volume of water plunging over the horseshoe. Experts estimate it to be about 600,000 gallons per second – not per hour – not per minute – over half a million gallons per second.
    I could go on - facts and figures are interesting to consider, but you can look those up in your Funk & Wagnall. I prefer impressions. My favorite way to approach and view the falls is to start upstream on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. A couple of sleepy little towns are situated just a few short kilometers upstream. Public parks along the river shore offer pleasant places to stroll, play with the dog or recline under a tree with a good, sleep-inducing book.
    Standing in one of these parks to observe the river’s surface it is evident that the waters flow swiftly, producing currents and eddies. A few recreational boats are bobbing around; they are protected by barriers across the river to prevent the possibility of an engine failure sending a boat to the falls.
    As the river moves along, there is no hint of where the tiny molecules of water, and the inanimate objects they support, are destined. Fishes, frogs, turtles, eels, microscopic life forms - all along for the ride - have no clue what awaits them just a few meters ahead.
    I ride along the shoreline progressing downstream, and then abandon wheels for feet to stroll beside the river, now unable to keep up with the speed of the water moving at my right side. Racing - unable to stop – faster, faster - and then – as if without warning – it is gone – the rolling river has disappeared from my sight. It is falling, about to be pulverized into a frothy, foamy mist in preparation for its continued trip toward the sea.
    They call it the brink – that ledge where water is supported and then it is not. I stand at the stone wall just inches away from the curved, shiny surface of water as it begins to be pulled by gravity toward its destination below. The close-up view is spellbinding. I am mesmerized – cannot force my eyes to look away. The longer I stand here, the greater is my fear that I could be drawn into the unstoppable parade of water particles. The thick, curved, liquid sheet just keeps rolling past me, strengthening its hypnotic hold. What power!
    Fortunately, “fear is the beginning of wisdom.” I move on downstream to gain a better view of the front of all three falls and the plumes of moisture generated when racing water and rocks meet.
    Thunder! It is not from the sky, but from the displacement of air by millions of gallons of water striking against solid surfaces – the sound of accelerated water against stationary boulders. Once I have moved past the brink toward the front of the falls, the sound is powerful – deafening.
    The Niagara Falls / Buffalo, New York, area is about a ten-hour drive from mid-Delmarva, a scenic drive through the mountains of Central Pennsylvania and New York State. If driving that distance is not appealing, consider that Southwest Airlines offers several non-stop flights daily between BWI and Buffalo.
    Good accommodations are available on both sides of the USA – Canada border; the Niagara River is the international divider. Hotel rates are typically lower on the Canadian side of the creek, but before deciding where to stay, consider how many times you will want to or need to cross the border; because going through immigration and customs checkpoints with their potential inspections and searches can take considerable time. Access to Canada near the falls is by the International Rainbow Bridge. On the way into Canada a bridge toll is collected and the Canadian Immigration folks will pose questions about your purpose and intentions for invading the international boundary.
    Crossing Rainbow Bridge to return to the USA can also be time-consuming; but it is a wait-line to which I do not object. Re-entry to the United States requires that each person in the vehicle produce proof of U.S. Citizenship and proof of personal identity. Both of those requirements are best satisfied with a current, valid passport. And, as of January 1, 2009, a passport will be the only satisfactory option. Until that date it is possible, for a land crossing, to present a certified birth certificate along with a state-issued photo-ID such as a driver’s license. Please note, however, that travelling by air to and from Canada (not Buffalo, but Canada) requires a passport NOW. If you are in doubt about documentation, contact your travel planner.
    Here is an interesting tidbit. The United States Geologic Survey (USGS), the official mapper and measurer for the United States government, has determined that as much as one-third of the spectacular Canadian / Horseshoe Falls lies within U.S. territory. Shhhhhh – don’t tell them. Really though, even if the USA owns all of the water, the Canadians clearly own the view!

   May all of your travels be happy and safe!

   George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel Web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.