Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Niagara Falls: The First Day

We arose on Friday in Coopers-
town, refreshed after retiring early and getting a good night's sleep the night before. Once again, we were greeted with an amazing breakfast in the Landmark Inn's dining room, this one even better than the first. Thanks to my proton pump inhibitor, I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee for the second day in a row. By this time in our little road trip, I had officially fallen off of the ex-coffee-drinking wagon.

Our last stop on our week-long foray through New York State would be Niagara Falls, just north of Buffalo on the far west border of the state. The four-hour drive was uneventful and straightforward (no mountain-top detours involved); we arrived in the mid-afternoon and checked into our hotel on the American side, the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel. Our room on the 23rd floor looked out over the Niagara River and toward Canada, but from that vantage point we couldn't see what all the fuss was about, this ancient, legendary and colossal force of nature called Niagara Falls. All we could see in the mid-afternoon glare was a diminutive, billowing cloud of mist rolling above the gorge. I knew this was the Falls, but I wasn't impressed at that point. Quite soon, I would be.

Ask anyone and they will tell you that the only way to see Niagara Falls is from the Canadian side. That wasn't an option for us. We hadn't taken the time to secure our passports in order to cross the border, now required by anti-terrorist legislation. I carefully researched the attractions on the internet ahead of time to make sure we made the most of our short stay.

Most of the notable sights on the American side were contained in Niagara Falls State Park. So, after dumping our gear at the hotel room and having a bite to eat, we headed there. Our first visit would be to the Cave of the Winds, a vintage attraction where sightseers don a yellow souvenir poncho and disposable sandals, descend an elevator deep into the gorge, then climb a series of redwood steps and decks right beneath Bridal Veil Falls. Once upon a time, the tour actually took tourists behind the falls where a natural cave existed; the cave is long gone after collapsing in the 1920s, but the attraction still bears its name.

We donned the requisite gear and headed down into the gorge. Emerging from the tunnel and walking along the boardwalk at the edge of the Niagara River, we still did not grasp the grandeur of the spectacle we were about to behold. Only once we reached the bottom of the platforms and gazed up to the roaring water overhead did we really comprehend how incredible this place really is. The only way to describe what we saw is through pictures, which still don't do it justice.

I was the only one to endure the "hurricane deck", so-named for the rushing water and swirling gusts that enveloped those tourists brave (or foolish?) enough to tred upon it. Cory took a pass on this feature, choosing instead to protect our cameras which, by this time, contained all of the memories of our vacation so far (almost 1000 images). OK, so I didn't really "brave" it - one little taste of the cold showering Bridal Veil Falls and I had had enough. Slightly sodden, we headed back up the elevator, and set out to explore the falls from above.

From the top of the American Falls, we were able to look down upon the decks of the Cave of the Winds and across the river to Canada. The observation areas were literally three or four feet from the edge of the rushing waters in some places, and we couldn't help but be morbidly fascinated with the power of the Falls and their close proximity: a pair of aluminum guard rails were the only things standing in the way of certain death. Yes, the Canadian side of the Falls might have the best panoramic view, but one could only truly experience the energy of the falls while standing on American soil.

After our close-up observation of the American Falls, we walked to the other side of Goat Island to check out Horseshoe Falls. And we thought the American Falls were spectacular (no photos of Horseshoe Falls here because our view the next day was even more magnificent, see my next post). The Horseshoe Falls were colossal and mesmerizing, even from our limited vantage point on Terrapin Point. We had heard that the Falls were illuminated at night, so we settled down on a bench and waited for dusk. After a few hours of relaxing beside the rushing water, we abandoned our wait for the lights, deciding that the Falls were amazing enough in the daylight. Cold, tired, and elated that we had chosen to stop here on our way home from Cooperstown, we headed back to the hotel and casino to donate some of our remaining cash to the roulette tables.

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