There are magical places that once visited capture the essence of the moment – time, place, and experience – and this transforming opportunity stays with us long afterwards. Such is the case for Niagara Falls, where the power and majesty of nature are only eclipsed by the astonishment and awe experienced there.
I had first gone to Niagara Falls 35 years ago on a day trip after spending a few days at Cooperstown, New York, to visit and explore the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two friends and I drove there with intentions of then visiting a buddy in Bradford, PA, who was throwing a big party, so it was not meant to be more than a short stop.
I recall upon first seeing the falls that I felt so small, so powerless, feeling the spray and water as I climbed the narrow staircase adjacent to the Bridal Veil Falls. Holding onto the railing and experiencing the rush of water was both thrilling and frightening, as if at any second I could be washed away in a powerful torrent.
Sadly, we stayed all too briefly and walked quickly back to our car through Niagara Falls State Park, stopping to dry off a little bit and grabbing bottles of ice cold Orange Crush from a vending machine before heading on our way. Typical of youth, we were more worried about making the party on time than savoring the natural wonder we had just witnessed.
All these years later I returned with my wife and kids, intending to take my time and appreciate the beauty of the place. Staying on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (one of two twin cities of the same name separated by the falls and river) affords breathtaking views of all three falls – Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe – and also offers many other attractions, entertainment, and dining.
Walking up to the railing this time I breathed deeply as the spray tickled my nostrils. I grabbed the railing with both hands and stared out at the glorious scene – a bright rainbow stretching from the Niagara River over the top of the American Falls and into the heart of the flowing Horseshoe Falls. We took pictures of it, but they do not do justice to the clarity and beauty of the rainbow we saw. I looked up and saw birds flying above it, thinking that they too were enjoying Mother Nature’s most colorful tapestry.
While there we had time to explore Queen Victoria Park, visit Skylon Tower (with tremendous views of the falls), walk over Rainbow Bridge (with magnificent views of the falls), and enjoy the many other attractions for kids (like the Niagara SkyWheel) and adults (the Fallsview Casino).
Reminding me of my past visit, we went over to the American side (passport control at Rainbow Bridge is efficient but can take some time depending on traffic volume) and walked through Niagara Falls State Park. There are concessions there, but the goal was to get to the terminal for the iconic tour boat Maid of the Mist.
This boat ride was the highlight of our stay in Niagara Falls. Maid of the Mist takes daring tourists to the very edge of the raging water. Having only seen the boat from up above on my last visit, being in the water gave me an entirely different perspective; looking up at the falls reminded me of my insignificance; I was just a small speck only a few feet away from being obliterated by nature’s power.
Donning blue slickers imprinted with Maid of the Mist across the front, my family and I joined 300 or so of our fellow tourists on an adventure out on the river and skirted the white water long enough for everyone to get their pictures (and extremely wet). Cameras and iPhones have to be used cautiously here because jets of water suddenly shoot across the deck at any moment.
Looking up at the powerful, raging white water, I felt like I was looking at a moving work of natural art, carving its way across air and rock as if by a sculptor’s deliberate hand, allowing for it to continue as an always unfinished monument to its creator.
Niagara Falls is a must see place to visit for New Yorkers, all Americans, and people visiting from abroad. It is probably most easily reached for foreign travelers by flying into Toronto because visitors to New York City are looking at seven plus hours of driving. It is well worth the trip no matter how you do make your way there.
On the last day of our visit, after packing the car and driving out along River Road toward the bridge, yet another rainbow manifested itself in a perfect arc over the American and Horseshoe Falls, as if it were a fond farewell to us.
Niagara Falls, one of the great natural wonders on earth, is vividly pictured in my dreams, and the place is forever with me now. Birds may fly over that rainbow but – thanks to the images imbued in my memory – so can I.