The centerpiece of our recent road trip was Niagara Falls. When we were trying to figure out where to go, we determined that none of us had ever been to Niagara Falls before, and that would make a good destination. We drove to Albany, New York, to visit friends, and then began a drive west across the state, mostly on blue highways. We stopped in Coopertown, New York and visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We spent a night in Auburn, a town which is more or less closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. We detoured to Seneca Falls to visit the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. And from there, we drove to Niagara Falls, the only place on our trip where we stayed two nights.
Prior to my visit, nearly everything I knew about Niagara Falls came from Superman II. There is that scene where a kid is standing on the wrong side of the railing, loses his grip, and falls into the falls. (This was the early 1980s, and I guess parents didn’t really care if their kids were doing ridiculously dangerous things.) Fortunately, Clark Kent was in the vicinity and rescued the falling boy, in his Superman guise.
Our hotel was just on the edge of the Niagara Falls state park. From our room on the top floor, we could see the top of the American falls. We couldn’t see the falls themselves, just where the water goes over the edge into the gorge. Still, it was nice to be within a short walk of the falls. We arrived early in the afternoon, and while we waited for our room to be ready, we walked to the falls.
My first look at the American falls was a little underwhelming. Superman II made them seem so much bigger. They are big, but as I learned the next day, they look much bigger from below than from above.
As we wandered around, I tried to find the spot where the kid in the movie fell from the railing. Nothing seemed to match what I remembered from the movie. Maybe things had moved? I learned that the falls can erode as much as 6 feet per year, pulling back further and further. At some point in the future, the falls won’t be in the vicinity of the city and people will wonder why either the falls or the city is called Niagara.
That first afternoon was spent wandering. After taking in the American falls, we walked over to the Horseshoe falls, which seemed more impressive to me, but which generated much more mist. That was okay though. It was hot and the mist was refreshing.
After we got our fill, we wandered back past the hotel in order to have dinner at The Rainforest Cafe. We’d eaten at a Rainforest Cafe once before at Disney World, and the Little Man was keen to eat there again. Our hotel room faced west, and in the evening the Falls are illuminated from below. You can see them (the top anyway) toward the center of the photo below.
The next day was our big day to take tours. We’d arrived on a Tuesday and heard that Wednesdays and Thursdays are less crowded. That definitely seemed to be the case. I think the Cave of the Winds tours opened at 9 am and there was no line, not even a line for tickets. After watching a short film about the falls, we were led to an elevator that took us down 190 feet to the base of the gorge. From there, we walked through a long tunnel and outdoors to a boardwalk. We were given ponchos to provide some protection from the mist. With those on, we headed along the boardwalk, which took us incredibly close to the base of the American falls.
There were warnings that we’d get wet, and we did, but the ponchos helped. I was a little disappointed with the tour, however. I thought we were going into a cave: it is called the Cave of the Winds, after all. But the cave collapsed a long, long time ago, as I learned, and so we simply pass by where it once was. It is actually a very short tour over all and before long, we were back at the elevators waiting for a ride back up.
I was wearing my “Writer” hat and on the elevator ride up, the park employee who ran the elevator said, “Hey, I like your hat. Are you a writer?”
I told him I was and he told me that he wanted to be a writer. I never know what to say in these situations. I said something, but I can’t remember what it was. After we climbed the 190 feet up, we maneuvered our way back over to where the Maid of the Mist tickets were sold. This is the famous boat ride that takes you into the heart of the Horseshoe falls. Once again, there was no line. This time, an elevator took us down 200 feet. Once again, we were given ponchos, this time blue instead of yellow. We were toward the front of the line for boarding the next boat, and managed to find a good space on the port side toward the bow, which gave us a good view of the falls on the way out. These boats, incidentally, are completely electrical.
We got much wetter on the boat than on the hike. The boat goes past the American falls, but not particularly close. Instead, it moves deep into the cup of the Horseshoe falls until you feel as if you are surrounded by cinematic, disaster movie-sized tidal waves that are somehow held back from crashing down on you. At times, the mist is so thick you can’t see anything. I didn’t even try to pull out my phone to take a photo. Later, however, I did manage to get a nice photo, and it was right near the place I remembered from Superman II (I finally found it near the Honeymoon falls). Rainbows are a dime a dozen in misty water like this, but I still think it was kind of lucky to managed to capture this photo.
By the time we’d finished our two tours, it wasn’t quite noon. We found a restaurant near our hotel to have lunch and then we spent a while wandering the town, popping in and out of tourist shops. Niagara Falls was bustling near the hotel, but a few blocks north and west, the town seemed dead. I walked an entire block with boarded up shops, except for a corner bar. As you move away from the falls, things seem increasingly run down. To the northwest, a hotel casino towers over everything else in the city, but it seems surrounded by desolation. I was envious of the Canadian side, which looked more appealing, but which we couldn’t visit due to COVID restrictions.
We ate dinner that evening at the Anchor Bar, which was connected to our hotel. It is a chain out of Buffalo, supposedly where buffalo-style chicken wings were invented. I had buffalo mac & cheese with chicken. What surprised me more than anything was the price of the liquor. I ordered a beer and a shot of tequila at the bar. It was happy hour. The beer was $6 and the shot, $5, and that was a for Don Julio Silver. In the D.C. area, that shot would cost $15 easily.
In the evening, Kelly took the kids to the falls one more time to see them illuminated. I was too tired so I stayed back at the hotel. It was probably for the best; she said the illuminations were nothing to write home about.
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