I recently saw some pictures online of Niagara Falls and it was almost completely frozen, which is a huge chunk of ice. I’ve lived about ninety minutes from Niagara Falls for my entire life, but I have never seen it frozen and my wife was born in Port Colborne, Canada and lived for a time in Fort Erie, and she couldn’t remember seeing it frozen either. We were out running errands when I told her about the frozen Falls, and said that I’d show her the pictures when we got home. There was a brief pause, barely perceptible really, before she looked over at me and said, “Why don’t we just drive there so you can take your own pictures?”
Mrs. G. is by far, more spontaneous than I am or ever will be, and while I was rattling off a dozen reasons why not, she had one very good reason why: It’s a beautiful day and what else are we doing?
So we went home and let the dog out, ate a quick lunch, packed up my camera gear, let the dog back in, and off we went.
It should be noted that having a frozen version of Niagara Falls is a big deal and not all that easy to do. The American Falls pushes an estimated 150,000 gallons of fast moving water per second over the edge, while the Horseshoe Falls in Canada dumps 600,000 gallons per second. Bridal Veil Falls, the third waterfall in the collective group known as Niagara Falls, is the smallest but still awfully big.
Every Niagara Falls aficionado knows that the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side is the best combination of scenic and large, but we didn’t have time to cross the bridge. While the Canadian Falls simply looks better and the surrounding area is arguably less seedy, we left our passports home. This trip was only meant to be a zip in, zip out sort of thing so we were going to the American Falls. The way we figured it, we’d be back home well before it got dark. There was no plan to go shopping or even to stop for something to eat. The fun part was going to be the drive—seeing the frozen Falls was simply wedged in the middle of a relaxing car ride on a beautiful day.
It’s an easy ninety-minute trip from our house to Niagara Falls: Take route 104 to the Robert Moses Parkway and then exit at Niagara Falls. It’s fairly close to impossible to get lost and the benefit of this route over the Thruway is that it’s way more charming, only one mile longer and barring any traffic mishaps, actually takes less time.
On the way there, we passed the typical array of rural landmarks just off the curb off this main country road. There were an assortment of shuttered up ice cream shops, a lot of antique stores, some miniature golf courses, small used car lots and front yards that looked more like depositories for old car parts than something one would see in a gardening magazine. When I pass scenery such as this, I tend to crop it into five by seven, black and white images, which makes it all look better. This is the worn out, busted up stuff that has all of the makings for great photographs and at the same time, lousy neighbors.
As we left 104 and turned onto the Robert Moses, the first thing that was obvious was that the agency that maintains this particular stretch of roadway would be great at making snowboard moguls for the Olympics. There wasn’t a flat piece of asphalt to be found, which made the sensation very similar to riding a bike on railroad tracks—if the railroad tracks had gigantic, craterlike potholes. While my wife was busy sightseeing, I was swerving around trying to make sure the front end of our car didn’t have to be carried home in the trunk.
It wasn’t long before we made a quick exit onto Rainbow Boulevard and promptly got lost. Not really lost-lost. More like misdirected. Sort of lost. Lost-ish. I could see the steam rising up off the falls over my right shoulder, but we needed to find a quick side street so we could park a little closer. I pulled over and my wife whipped out her phone to ask Siri. Their communication skills are still a work in progress:
“Um, hi Siri. Niagara Falls,” she said.
“Here is some information I found on the Internet about Niagara Falls,” Siri replied.
“No, I need to know how to get there.”
“Press the ‘home key’ and then ask her what you want,” I said. “The Hard Rock Café is right across the street. Ask her how to get there.”
“Siri—where is the Hard Rock Café?” Mrs. G. asked firmly.
“Hmmmm let me think. Is this what you want?” she said.
“Yes it is!” my wife said. “How do I get there?”
“Here are directions to the Hard Rock Café,” Siri said, all full of herself.
It was one hundred yards away. If we had gotten out of the car and looked over the bus stop canopy, we would have seen it. We drove ahead to the next cross street, turned right and parked the car. Then we started walking towards the mist.
The Falls proper weren’t really frozen, not entirely anyway. The lower part of the Niagara River; however, looked as if somebody had covered the entire thing with at least eight feet of Marshmallow Fluff. It was thick with ice as far as I could see. The two Maid of The Mist boats were off to the side and up on stilts, otherwise they would have been swallowed whole by ice.
We walked around quietly with a few hundred other tourists, most of whom had ditched their coats in favor of sweaters or shirtsleeves. Some were even wearing shorts. Forty sunny degrees in western New York after weeks of grey skies and single digits felt the same as Florida and everybody was enjoying it.
We walked around for roughly thirty minutes or so, and as difficult as it might seem to be ambivalent about something as imposing as the largest waterfall in North America, once one has seen it, it’s not as if it does tricks. The water doesn’t suddenly turn around and go the other way. It’s a geological one-trick pony if ever there was one so a half-hour is about it, and that’s a stretch. We checked out the visitors pavilion and then headed back to the car.
As we drove back home and with the sun getting lower in the rear view mirror, we were talking about everything we saw along the way, filling in the blanks to the unknown stories all around us. The garage that sold car tires starting at five-dollars was worth ten minutes of shtick. Why pay more than five dollars for a tire? Who does that when a perfectly round tire can be had for the cost of a Happy Meal? That seemed like a deal, especially if anyone commutes on the pock marked Robert Moses Parkway.
We were stuck behind a boxy Scion xB for a few miles, and the driver seemed intent on driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit, no matter what that limit was. For reasons known only to him, he pulled off all of the Scion badges and replaced them with those from a Mercedes-Benz—including the three-point star. This was the toupee of cars and in a weird way; it was fun to be stuck behind it because I had a chance to really absorb the scenery. That only lasted for a few miles, though. I could only take being stuck behind a rolling shoebox for so long.
I know there are people that have never seen Niagara Falls. Maybe it’s still on the bucket list for some, but probably not. This used to be the go-to honeymoon destination for young newlyweds, and it was immortalized in a classic episode of the Three Stooges and other vaudeville acts, but that was decades ago.
Things have changed in the tourism business, and maybe standing around watching water fall over a cliff isn’t what people want to see anymore. I can’t say, because I live practically in the backyard of Niagara Falls and I’ve been there at least thirty times, if not more. There is something about being there that always pulls me back. I can say for certain that it’s not entirely the waterfalls, but more the company along the way. I went there with my family when I was a little boy, we took our daughter there when she was a little girl and now, as my wife and I are older, we go there just to walk around. We take the time to fill in the blanks at a place that is bigger than any of us, yet somehow still remains quite small. It’s not Disney World, but sometimes things don’t have to be.
©Rick Garvia 2014. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.