US Road Trip Day 8 – Fire and Water

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.

niagara falls whirlpool spanish aero cable canada

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.

niagara falls whirlpool vista basin canada america

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.

niagara falls rainbow horseshoe bridal veil american canadian us road trip usa canada

To the left, Rainbow Falls and next to it, Bridal Veil Falls. Over to the right, the dramatic Horseshoe Falls. Goat Island is the rocky outcrop between the waterfalls.

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.

eternal flame falls

If you look closely you’ll see Sprocket getting a sneaky drink

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.

(…continued here)


About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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107 Responses to US Road Trip Day 8 – Fire and Water

  1. Dawn says:

    Those are beautiful pictures of the Niagara Falls area. It’s been many years since I’ve seen them in person. Thanks for sharing them.

    • ailsapm says:

      I’ve been wanting to see the falls for ages, Dawn. I lived in Manhattan for a couple of years but never managed to get up to see them while I was there, so it was thrilling to finally be able to visit. It’s a gorgeous area.

  2. What a stunning post – I could almost feel the spray on my face and hear the roar of the curtains of water cascading! 🙂

  3. Home sweet home. Thanks for this lovely reminder.

  4. starlight says:

    stunning photos.. love to visit it someday..

  5. Jo Fredric says:

    Great post! Between the photos and the evocative descriptions it’s almost like we are there too!

  6. Angelia Sims says:

    I was mesmerized by your story as I have been to Nigara Falls and found it to be an incredible experience. There is something about the edge of the falls that deeply moves my spirit. It wasn’t crowded when I went because it was chilly February. 🙂 The hike at the other park looked fun too.

    • ailsapm says:

      The other park was incredible, Angelia, if you’re back in the area it’s definitely worth a visit. I know what you mean about the edge of the falls and how it can affect you, it really is quite magical. 🙂

  7. Mark R.Milan says:

    went there in 2007, had to stay on the American side which is a dump of a town as the border guards couldn’t guarantee they would let us back through even though we have UK passports and don’t need a visa. the US side of the falls is apparently better than the Canadian side but the Canadian side has a better town.

    • ailsapm says:

      I’d like to go back at some point and see the falls from the US side too, Mark – and I hope you get to see it from the Canadian side in the future also! 🙂

  8. Maureen says:

    Beautiful post. Your prose drew me in as well as the stunning photos.

  9. says:

    Your pictures are just amazing1

  10. Dip It Black says:

    Beautiful post and what a stunning photos! These of the waterfalls are just breathtaking!


    • ailsapm says:

      It really is a glorious part of the world, Dip It Black, have you ever visited? xxx

      • Dip It Black says:

        No, unfortunately not. Was too busy with studying the last years and have a lack of money this year. Next year have to study again, so I have no idea when I can finally follow this dream to travell the world..

  11. adinparadise says:

    What a stunning post. Ailsa. Love the Niagara shots, and of course Sprocket is also very photogenic. 🙂 Thanks for sharing more of your exciting road trip again. 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks ad, I am still in awe of the colour of the water, and the power of the falls. I could still feel the mist on my face as I was typing this post. 🙂

  12. bulldogsturf says:

    The photos of the falls are magnificent… can almost hear the roar…

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks bulldogsturf, the roar was almost deafening right next to Horseshoe Falls, and also by the Whirlpool. It actually completely drowned out all of the other ambient noise.

  13. Chillbrook says:

    Really enjoyed this trip Ailsa. 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks Chillbrook, it was a ton of fun – just added a short video of the Falls in action that I forgot I’d made. So glad you came along for the ride! xxx Ailsa

  14. burnettfreelanceimagery says:

    Beautiful images of one of my all-time favorite locations – tho I have not been there in many years, I love that area. Thanks for sharing your view of its beauty. And thanks for visiting and liking my weekly photo challenge – dogs blog!

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks for stopping by, and Angel looks like a real cutie! I agree, this is a really beautiful part of the world, I’m so happy I finally managed to visit! xxx

  15. Carol says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for letting me tag along.

  16. agnesstramp says:

    I love the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side shots, breath-taking!! The dog looks exhausted 🙂

  17. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    great post and beautiful images. Niagara Falls is already on my bucket-list, and it’s been moved higher up the list now….. 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks, Our Adventure in Croatia – it’s breathtaking, move it a little further up the list again! I actually just added a short video that was still processing when I wrote the post – it’s at the bottom of the page if you want to see Niagara (and Eternal Flame Falls) in action. xxx

  18. Karen Purcell says:

    I so get the feeling of ennui that you described at Niagra! I drove 3 hours just to see it and left wondering why everyone raves so much, but it is pretty amazing, just horribly busy. I loved the green in the photo of the top, jewel like. I don’t want you guys to reach your destination…I’ve so enjoyed taking this road trip with you!

    • ailsapm says:

      I suspect the trick is to go in the off-season, I bet it’s fantastic in winter! And I’m with you, Karen, I don’t want this road trip to stop either! Love that you’re along for the ride too! xxx Ailsa

  19. ledrakenoir says:

    Amazing shots, wonderful post… 🙂

  20. Gunta says:

    Luckily when we were at Niagra it wasn’t crowded. I really enjoyed the ride on the Maid of the Mist. That’s a pretty thrilling way to experience the falls, but I imagine it can get pretty mobbed, too. Enjoyed the pics and the narrative… you do spin a good yarn! 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Haha, thanks Gunta, I love a good yarn! I didn’t get to ride the Maid of the Mist – I don’t think Sprocket would have enjoyed it all that much! – but when I visit again, I will most definitely be doing it. xxx

  21. Sas says:

    I went to the Falls about ten years ago, they were magnificent. I couldn’t believe how powerful they are. I went on the boat trip ‘into’ the Falls and it felt like we were almost underneath the water. Then when I watched other people on the boat after ours, I realised that we’de been nowhere close to the actual waterfall 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      I watched the boats sailing out towards the falls and wondered how anyone could hope to remain dry. My hair was soaked just walking along at street level, I imagine it would be like standing in a shower on the boat!

  22. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    We’ve had Niagara in our apparently tentative plans for a couple years now, and you’ve whetted (or wetted?) my appetite to get there. I have to say, though, that I’m now way more interested in Eternal Flame Falls – you made that side trip sound much more appealing. Enjoy your adventure!

    • ailsapm says:

      I’m glad I whetted (and wetted) your appetite, Sid. Niagara is truly majestic, I bet it would be incredible in the off-season. But yes, Eternal Flame Falls was just delightful – and not too strenuous a hike either. A gorgeous escape with a super payoff. I hope you get to visit for yourself soon! xxx Ailsa

  23. Gracie says:

    Excellent post, Ailsa. The Niagara Falls is truly majestic, and incredibly powerful as long as you can get past that crowd. It’s been 2 years since I last went, and I’m hoping to go there again next summer for some photographs.

    • ailsapm says:

      It really is amazing, isn’t it, Gracie? Did you go to the Canadian or American side? I would like to see it from the US side too, the views are supposed to be wonderful from there, even if the town is a little squalid. xxx

  24. Your photos of Niagara remind me of my visit there. And, recently I read a book about a lady that went over the falls in a barrel.

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, Mary, I haven’t heard of this book but I have heard the story – and standing at the edge of the falls you can’t help but wonder what would possess anyone to attempt a barrel drop over the falls. I actually thought about her as I stood looking at the sheets of water powering over the precipice. Insane!

  25. Next road trip needs to include the Calgary area. I’ll take you up the mountains to see some awesome turquoise glacier fed lakes. They always seem to glow when it’s cloudy out. Love your photos.

  26. trishworth says:

    I’ve never been to Niagara Falls but I don’t mind – I’ve enjoyed them in this post instead. Your writing is brilliant, Ailsa. If I had to pick a favourite photo, it would be the one of the edge, the first moment of the fall, that green that I can’t describe. You show the US to be an amazing country for natural beauty, something I completely missed when I was there.

    • ailsapm says:

      Oh Trish, these last few weeks on the road have blown my mind. I’ve always wanted to do the all-American road trip, but never in my wildest imagination did I expect it to be so spectacular. I am in love with life on the road, I don’t want it to stop. There’s always something fun to do in the big cities, but it’s the places in between that make me want to keep going. Forever!

  27. writecrites says:

    Beautiful photos. I had no idea the water could be that lovely shade of green. I was surprised to see the cable car; I’d heard that it had been removed. That was my one vivid memory of being there when I was a kid. My dad took my sister and me across in the cable car (mom wouldn’t go 🙂 ) I haven’t seen it since, but your post makes me want to go back. I’d like to go on the eternal flame hike, too. Fascinating. As Karen Purcell above says, I don’t want you guys to reach your destination b/c your recounting of this trip is so entertaining.

    • ailsapm says:

      Hya Jennifer, the green water is startling, isn’t it, so beautiful, and that hike was just terrific. Also – finally- I just added some video of today’s trip – updated my post right now with a link to the video at the bottom – it was taking ages to process so I went ahead and published my post first – but I wanted to make sure I told you, I didn’t want you to miss it. xxx

      • writecrites says:

        Yay! Still photos are great, but when you can hear the roar and see it moving, Niagra Falls comes alive for those of us who aren’t there in person. Same for the eternal flame (with drips instead of a roar). Your posts are delightful, and the video is the icing on the cake.

        • ailsapm says:

          Hurrah. I have so much fun with the videos, Jennifer, and I almost forgot I’d made one for this part of the trip. So glad I remembered. There’s plenty more to come if I can just edit it all together. But you’re right, with somewhere like Niagara, seeing the flow and hearing the roar is the best bit. And I love the trickle of the Eternal Flame Falls as a contrast. xxx

  28. petit4chocolatier says:

    Stunning pictures of Niagara Falls. I loved it there growing up!

  29. Wonderful post, Ailsa! 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks Vlad, I spent the last couple of years in New York trying to figure out how I would get up to Niagara – and it turns out all I needed to do was go to Seattle and I would end up in Niagara after all! 🙂

  30. mary mageau says:

    What a great collection of photos with your accompanying writings. I visited the falls long ago and loved viewing them, particularly from the Canadian side. Took the Maid of the Mist boat trip and seeing your post brought it all back to me again. Happy memories revived!

    • ailsapm says:

      Hurray, glad I could bring back some happy memories for you, Mary. I didn’t get a chance to ride the Maid of the Mist this time, but it gives me a reason to return – as if I needed one! xxx

  31. The photo of Sprocket at Niagara Falls is such a beautiful portrait!

  32. Pat . says:

    Fabulous post – like you, I cannot believe how green that water was – amazing. And, the Eternal Flame Falls?! – I must click on that link, very strange.
    I am now back in NZ – no cockroaches in sight.

  33. Ali says:

    Beautiful images of Niagara there! It has been many years since I have seen them, and I had forgotten how big they were!

  34. Karine says:

    These waterfalls are impressive ! It makes me think about the ones in Iguazu, that I visited in Argentina. Great photos !

  35. Jenny Trozell says:

    Amazing pictures of the falls!

  36. teedeevee says:

    LOL – just saw your post now and realised we both posted photos of Niagara on the same day. How very weird and spooky 🙂 The falls were obviously calling my name.

  37. viveka says:

    I visit the falls when I was in Toronto … amazing – how have you been able to get so close to the fall itself … as in your video. It was like you were standing on top of the fall, brilliant job and also the eternal flames. I missed that. I hope you drove by the smallest church in the world – only holds 2 people at it time as max – I would say one person.
    I love the mist in my face too … and I spent money on a helicopter flight over the fall, fantastic … even if I was scared. I was the only one on the tour that had booked the helicopter, but all of us took it as we came to the airfield. Because they had to wait for me until I was back from my flight before we took off for the falls. Had a really great day. Thanks for the video and the great photos.

    • ailsapm says:

      That helicopter flight sounds like a lot of fun, viveka. If we’d had more time, I would definitely have done it. My camera has a really powerful zoom on it, that’s how I was able to get such close shots, I was standing pretty far back – didn’t want to risk being swept away! 🙂

      • viveka says:

        I was on a small bus tour from Toronto – I think we where 8 total and I was the only one that had booked the helicopter – so they took us to the air field first – and when everybody else heard what I was going to do .. they all booked a flight too. I was so scared … don’t like heights where I too close to the ground. And he was flying very low over the falls, fantastic when I came over my .. fear.

  38. Kai says:

    ….my partner and I traveled from CA to the east coast and back again this summer – also stopping at Niagara Falls so am enjoying what we missed from your blog. It’s too bad Niagara could not have been left more natural without all the commercialism around it. Another worthwhile visit is the National Women’s Historical Museum in Seneca, NY – where the first woman’s congress was held should you ever make it there. We just stumbled upon it. Right now we are in Chiang Mai, Thailand and adding photos from here. All the best….in peace….

  39. pommepal says:

    Beautiful post Ailsa it brought back memories of when we stood in awe watching and being over whelmed by the roar of the falls. It amazed us that the Canadian side was so commercial and the USA side was a National Park and quite beautiful. I’d expected it to be the other way round…
    The Eternal flame falls photos were amazing

    • ailsapm says:

      You’re right, pommepal, I would have expected it to be the other way round too. It was a little too touristy for me, Eternal Flame Falls was much more my style! 🙂

  40. Travelbunny says:

    Fabulous pictures – the roaring thunder of Niagara is a sound I’ll always remember. I’ve never heard of the Eternal Flames Falls before – beautiful but in an entirely different way…

    • ailsapm says:

      Yes, the sheer scale of Niagara is so dramatic, isn’t it? But I loved Eternal Flames Falls even more, because it was so understated and delicate. xxx

  41. The first time I saw Niagara Falls in a photo in an encyclopedia many years ago, I thought, “I want to go there!”. Your wonderful photos of the falls made me remember that dream of mine. I really want to see it for myself, it so majestic to look at. Thank you for sharing your trip with us! 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, I hope you get to realise your dream sometime soon, Rambling Philosopher, Niagara is pure drama, you’ll be overwhelmed! xxx Ailsa

  42. sue patterson says:

    I’ve never been to Niagra Falls, so thank you for the wonderful pics and explanations!
    Also, the Eternal Flame Falls was fascinating, I’ll have to go read up on it.
    I’m so happy you stopped by my blog the other day – I would have never found you otherwise. My son, who adores travel and is currently in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, will love following your blog!
    Safe travels!

    • ailsapm says:

      Hi Sue, just getting caught up on comments now, it’s been busy on the road with only occasional internet access. I hope you get to see Niagara for yourself someday – and when you do, be sure to make the side trip to Eternal Flame Falls, it’s gorgeous. Give my regards to your son in Nicaragua! 🙂

  43. gingerbreadcafe says:

    The water in some of the Niagra Falls shots is an amazing colour.

  44. Beautiful photos…amazing colours in the water. Made me want to dive in but I’m sure it would be chilly 🙂

  45. What a journey you are having! Great shots of the Falls! Looking forward to going back one day.

  46. Karen Purcell says:

    Hey Ailsa where’s day 9?!

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