I woke up early; yesterday’s turmoil a distant memory and a new day full of promise ahead. The motel we had found, getting into Erie so late the night before, was grubby at best, and that was being generous. I decided against a morning shower, as it would have meant certain death for the three massive spiders roaming the bottom of my bathtub; the diaphanous web of mold spreading across the tiled surfaces might have suffered collateral damage also. Instead, I ran a comb through my hair, brushed my teeth, threw everything back in my overnight bag and was ready to leave within five minutes. My friend obviously felt the same way, answering my knock on her door with a fully packed case and Sprocket at her side.
The previous night’s long drive had put us ahead of schedule, so today we decided to take advantage of the extra time. We weren’t far from Buffalo, and from there it was just a short hop over the border to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. At a drive-through coffee shop we fumbled in our cases for our passports and then ventured north. I proved a remarkably unworthy navigator, but my friend wisely ignored every direction I gave and soon we were answering questions for a very courteous border control guard and cruising towards Niagara, stopping first to marvel at the roar of the Niagara Whirlpool.
Listening to the thunder of water and watching the cable car scurry back and forth across the Whirlpool’s grinding maelstrom, it was easy to imagine how this vast pool was formed in perhaps a matter of days when the rapidly receding falls hit an ancient sediment-filled valley and the tumultuous waters ripped it asunder.
It was ridiculously busy so we parked quite a long way from the downtown area and walked along the Niagara river towards the waterfalls. I was mesmerised by the colour of the water; for some reason I had not expected it to be so vibrant. There was a haze in the air which diffused the daylight and the water seemed to almost glow emerald green. The crowds grew ever thicker and the mist thrown up by the cascading water formed little beads on my face and hair.
There are three parts to Niagara Falls; the American Falls, otherwise known as the Rainbow Falls; a smaller waterfall next to it, romantically named the Bridal Veil Falls; and the Canadian Falls, often referred to as Horseshoe Falls. At one point in time, there was just one continuous waterfall, but the pounding water carved away the rocks beneath it until it hit an obstacle that caused the river to split in two. That obstacle was a particularly stubborn chunk of rock that refused to be eroded at the same rate as the surrounding rock, and today it is called Goat Island, after an unfortunate herd of goats who froze to death during a harsh winter on the island.
The crowds were beginning to get a little overwhelming. Glancing over at the Rainbow Falls, I saw things weren’t much better on the American side. Yellow-ponchoed visitors swarmed like drenched honeybees up and down the wooden steps that spanned the mossy green rocks.
We waited patiently while mobs pushed by, and I took the opportunity to get a quick shot of Sprocket in front of Rainbow Falls. He looked a little frazzled; actually, we all did.
Eventually, we reached the end of the walkway and had a chance to feel and hear the power of Horseshoe Falls. When I think of Niagara Falls, this is the waterfall I see in my mind’s eye; the graceful curve of water falling like a curtain. It is truly beautiful to behold up close and personal, and the negative ions released by the crashing torrents really did have a feel-good effect. For a moment, I forgot all about the hustle and bustle around me as I watched the dark river turn a translucent green just at the point where it starts to tumble down.
Sprocket was more than ready to leave the throng behind, so we started back to the car, but Niagara had a little farewell present for us. As we looked towards Rainbow Bridge, which we were about to traverse back into the US, the sun came out and the faintest glimmer of rainbow danced across the river. It was an excellent goodbye.
A friend of mine from Germany had read about another waterfall in the area, much smaller but with quite an unusual feature. When she heard I was in the area, she emailed me, so we decided we would try to find it and send her a photo. Eternal Flame Falls is located just south of Buffalo, which meant we were backtracking a little, but it was still early in the day and we had plenty of time. It didn’t take us long to find Chestnut Ridge Park and we drove to the south end as it seemed to be closest to the waterfall we were looking for. Geographically, it was closer, but we couldn’t access the trail from the south, so we hiked along pine needle covered pathways through thick forest until finally, we found a sign that we were on the right path.
The trail was heavenly; winding down to a shady glen, at the bottom of which lay a river bed, just a trickle in the height of summer. We followed the glen upriver, clambering over rocks that basked in the sunlight filtered green by the overhead canopy of trees. Sprocket was in doggy heaven; the occasional hiker passed by in the opposite direction but for the most part, we were on our own.
As we rounded the final bend, I saw a towering rock face with a flicker of flames dancing in a little recess; water tinkling in little rivulets in front of the flames. With dark rocks soaring on three sides enclosing the space, this place felt for all the world like a temple made by nature; the atmosphere bore an uncanny similarity to that of an old and primitive church.
Spirits renewed, we left the sanctuary of the waterfall and ambled back along the river, up the winding trail to our car. It had been the perfect antidote to Niagara. Although the power and majesty of Niagara is indisputable, the unrelenting multitude of tourists had been wearying and I had left feeling oddly deflated. Eternal Flame Falls, on the other hand, had turned out to be everything I had expected, and more. Sprocket also gave it two (unopposable) thumbs up.
Back on I-90 we drove east across New York state; through Rochester, home to the prominent suffragette Susan B. Anthony; through Syracuse, where Susan B. made her first public speech for women’s rights. We stopped shortly thereafter for the night, in a small town called Oneida. It was a respectably early night by our standards; we were able to relax over dinner and sprawl on the sofa watching television for a few hours before turning in. All in all, it had been a pretty perfect day.
Here’s a little footage I took of the mighty Niagara Falls and the enchanting Eternal Flames Falls in action.