Travelogue: First Leg - Onward to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Rosie, Beeotch, Dancing Queen, Peeps
Summer has finally arrived! The thermometer has finally managed to stay above 70 degrees overnight. School is out and thoughts turn to where to go on vacation. Do we visit relatives or friends? Do we visit historical sites and make it an educational trip? Do we see natural wonders? Do we blow tons of money in tourist traps on tchotchkis and lounge by and wallow in hotel pools?
Why not all of the above!
Niagara Falls is an amazing natural wonder only a half day's drive from home so we decided it would be a good place to start. We left at 8:15 AM after shoehorning our luggage and other travel necessities into the car. An hour later we were at the Port Huron border, crossing over a toll bridge. ID's checked out and customs questions answered satisfactorily and we were in Canada. Distances are measured in kilometers so we seemed to cover ground more quickly as we followed our progress on the map.
We stopped to fill up the gas tank and ourselves (since we were in Canada) with Tim Horton's sandwiches. Canadian service centers seem to be tidier than their U.S. counterparts. After this short stop, it was only another hour and 15 minutes or so to Niagara; we were there by 12:30 PM. We spotted Lake Ontario from the Queen Elizabeth Way as we drove from Hamilton to Niagara. It was already pretty touristy on our last visit about 10 years ago, but construction has seemed to boom. Hotels, restaurants, and casinos were popping up like mushrooms.
Our first glimpse of the Falls came as we cruised around looking for a parking spot that was both conveniently located and not outrageously priced. We found one on a nearby street, fed the parking meter, and slathered ourselves up with sunscreen, then headed toward the sound of roaring water. A quick stop in the Minolta Tower told us that the observation deck would not be available till late afternoon. It was closed to the public because wedding parties used the view from the deck as a backdrop for wedding photos.
We took the Inclined Tram down to the Falls Welcome Center where information and tickets to the various attractions could be purchased. After consulting with a guide we decided that the best deal would be to purchase Adventure Passes which included admission to four attractions (Journey Behind the Falls, Maid of the Mist Cruise, Whirlpool Rapids Boardwalk, and Butterfly Conservatory) plus People Mover bus transportation between attractions.
Journey Behind the Falls started right there at the Welcome Center so we began our adventure right there. An elevator took us down to a series of tunnels where we were issued yellow souvenir ponchos to protect us from the omnipresent moisture. Donning these attractive (NOT!) garments, we proceeded to the furthest tunnel which opened directly behind the deafening rushing waterfall. A second tunnel emerged right next to the edge of the fall so that you could see more than just a sheet of water, but you got just as drenched. A third tunnel led to an observation deck slightly further from the edge of the Fall, but the mist and water being thrown back up into the air completed our transformation into drenched ratty-type things. The observation deck was rumbling and shaking from the weight and power of the water tumbling down. It was hard to breathe for the rush of air leaving the tunnel, and impossible to hear! Little wonder that Niagara supplies mooey hydropower.
Shedding our ponchos and depositing them in the recycling bins, we returned to the surface for a look at the Falls from the top. Lots of "Ooooohs" and "Aaaaahs" later, we were ready for a snack. Lo and behold, there was an ice cream trolley just waiting for us. After our yummy Hagen Dazs ice cream bars, we moseyed over to the People Mover station to wait for the air conditioned bus to take us to the next attraction.
A short ride later we were at the departure point for the Maid of the Mist. Showing our Adventure Passes, we were issued tickets for the boat ride and went on down the ramp to get our blue ponchos and to board. We found spots right in the bow on the lower deck of the boat so we could be as close as possible. The diesel powered boat took us past the American Falls first. They are lower than the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, but no less impressive. Giant blocks of stone marked rock falls that graphically illustrate the incredible rate of erosion of the Falls. 12,000 years ago, the Falls were right on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Today they are 7.5 miles upstream, which works out to about 33 feet per decade! As the boat moves upstream toward the larger Canadian Falls, you could hear the diesel engines start to work harder to fight the current. 600,000 gallons per second fall 167 feet from the brink of the Horseshoe and scour out the same depth at the base of the Falls. The roar is deafening at the closest point humans (who aren't stupid enough to attempt to go over the Falls in a barrel) can get in the boats. The ponchos don't even come close to keeping you dry, but who cares? Nature's wonders are awesome!
Another short break for drinks and souvenir shopping, then on to the next attraction, the Whirlpool Rapids Boardwalk. These rapids are categorized as "Class 6 Rapids." What does that mean? It means that it cost $10,000 if you're caught trying to shoot the rapids. Class 5 is the maximum allowed for sport -- either professional or recreational. Anything above is illegal, and is equated to endangering your life and those who have to save you. It's tatamount to commiting suicide, and they mean it!
An elevator ride took us down to a 1 km walk right down to the edge of the river along some spectacular rapids. The pressure troughs in the rapids are 20 feet deep! Another ride on the People Mover brought us to the Butterfly Conservatory. This is set in the spectacularly gorgeous Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. It is a glass enclosed tropical rainforest environment housing 2,000 specimens of over 50 beautiful butterfly species. Special butterfly nurseries with perforated glass windows allow newly hatched butterflies to fly right out into their lush new home. The residents don't pose for pictures on demand, but they are fascinating to watch.
We hopped back onto the People Mover to ride back to the Welcome Center. Earlier in the day we had spotted the Fudge Shop, but decided to wait till later so it wouldn't melt as we walked around. Now it was time to pick up fudge treats for the rest of the day's ride. Our choices: Rum Raisin, Maple Walnut, Vanilla, and Double Chocolate Mist. YUM! Back in line for the Inclined Tram, we saw just what a small place the world can be. A co-worker was in line just ahead of us! On the way back to the car, we went back to the Minolta Tower. This time it was open and gave us a spectacular overview of the whole Falls area -- construction and all.
Back in the car, we got our documents out for the second border crossing of the day and drove across the Rainbow Bridge, which spans the lower Niagara River. Everything was still in order and they let us back into the U.S. A surprising sight driving through Niagara Falls, NY was a Native Indian casino so large that a street ran right through it! The fascination with gambling seems to escape me…
We hopped onto the NY State Thruway and a short 45 minutes later we were in Batavia. Our hotel, the Holiday Inn was conveniently located near the highway so we got checked in quickly and went in search of dinner. Online research had given us a likely prospect called Bohn's (SuSu filled us in on restaurant research). With only a little circling around, we found it and indulged in a dinner that was way more than we needed, but certainly delicious. By the time we made it back to the hotel, the pool was closed, but it had been crowded with rednecks earlier anyway. An exciting and full day and it was only Day One!
Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.