Thursday, August 21, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation

The continuing story. We went to Niagara Falls. When you grow up near one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, you tend to take it for granted. "Niagara Falls again!" I used to grumble, as did just about every kid in Buffalo who was dragged there with out-of-town guests umpteen times. To me, Niagara Falls meant crowds of Asian tourists and taking forever to find a parking space. Mr. McP, however, had never been there, so here was my opportunity to introduce one of my children to something that is very cool despite my childish boredom with it.

We went with my mother-in-law and Jon's brother, his wife and their four kids. It seems that at any gathering with Jon's family, there are never fewer than eight children in the group, but that is how we like it.

Picnicking in the rain. Niagara Falls, NY is one of the dumpiest cities in the US. I don't know why, although the collection of chemical plants and the evil reputation of Love Canal probably have something to do with it. It's too bad, because it could be lovely. The park, even though it is on the American side, felt very cosmopolitan, with all the foreign languages spoken all around us and the obviously foreign tourists. On the Maid of the Mist, the verbal information went out over the loudspeaker in English, French, and German, but curiously, not Spanish.

The Maid of the Mist was something I hadn't done since I was about eight years old. It was actually kind of thrilling, and almost scary, which surprised me because I have no memory of being frightened on my previous trip. Still, you get into the Horseshoe falls, and the boat is pitching under you, and the wind is whipping, and the deck is soaking wet, and suddenly the rail seems very flimsy indeed. A long way above you can see the water pouring over the falls, but there is such an explosion of spray at the bottom of the falls that you can not see a thing at eye level, or for a significant space above it. Once in a while you'd see rock the size of a one-car garage looming out of the mist but it would quickly disappear into the spray. Somewhat disconcerting, and there are no buoys or markers of any kind and while I appreciated the Awesome Power of Nature, I also wondered how the captain knew how to avoid the rocks. And maybe I said a "Hail Mary" or two. And gripped Mr. McP tightly by the arm. And reminded myself that the Maid of the Mist has never lost a passenger.

So you toss about like a toy for a long time, and suddenly the ship makes a neat turn to port and the falls swiftly recede into the distance. I stole a look at the captain in his little spray-free booth and I don't think I've ever seen a look of more utter boredom on anybody anywhere. Still, I suppose if I piloted a ship straight into the most dangerous waterfall on earth 8,000 times a day, I'd be bored too.

Once off the boat, we climbed a little wooden walkway up the side of the American falls. This seemed tame, but then as I contemplated the wet mossy rocks over which we stood, I realized that if much of the water wasn't diverted upstream by the power authority, we'd be standing directly in the path of the falls. I pointed this out to Jon and he said, "Wow, I think you're right. Well, I think I'll go down now." And it was a creepy feeling to imagine a malfunction at the power plant allowing all the water to suddenly rush over us.

Later we went to Goat Island, which separates the American falls from the Horseshoe falls. You get a great view from there.

Here we are ready to embark on the Maid of the Mist. All of these pictures look a lot better if you click on them to enlarge.

Passing in front of the American Falls. Rock falls have considerably shortened the distance that the water falls here, as you can see. Obviously, rock slides are an issue here, and later, when I told my brother about the scare factor of the Maid of the Mist, he pointed out that a major rock slide in the enclosed space in front of the Horseshoe falls would create something like a tidal wave and obliterate the ship altogether. I guess something similar happened to a ship in a Norwegian fjord.

Approaching the Horseshoe falls.

This is the last picture I could take. You really need an underwater camera to take good pictures here.
Return trip, with the next boat on its way out. There are several Maids of the Mist: three on the American side, and two or three on the Canadian side.

On the walkway up the American Falls.

Here is where I realized that only the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation stood between me and death.

Maid of the Mist, seen from Goat Island.

Horseshoe falls. It's difficult to get a good picture from the American side. I remember a few years ago, hearing about a German tourist who leaned too far over the rail to get a picture and falling in. Plus, there was so much spray that even up here my camera was getting wet.
One of Drama Queen's shots looking down at the walkway. You probably need to click to enlarge it enough to see the line of people in blue raincoats at the mercy of the water diversion system. Hah.


  1. Oh yeah, this all looks VERY familiar!

  2. Oh man! Very cool! Did you know that other famous blogger, Jen on the Edge, JUST WENT THERE TOO? Maybe you crossed paths all sodden and soggy after your ride.
    I totally want to visit there now.