Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Niagara Falls


Steven here, helping Linda get caught up on our blog posts!

Even though Niagara Falls is not on the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it should be. Let's call it the eighth wonder. Way back when I was a wee lad in Dublin, I remember looking at pictures of the falls in Encyclopedia Britannica. They were always far away, in some exotic place in my imagination. I never really thought I'd get to see them in real life. Well, I also never thought I'd be traveling around the United States in a tin can on wheels either, so there's that.

Linda does the majority of our travel planning. I'm pretty easy about where we go as I'm enamored with nearly everything in this country. It works well for us because she'll say to me "We are going to blah blah," and I'll be all, like, "cool!". The two of us are very happy with this arrangement.

Occasionally, she'll suggest a location that really grabs my attention. It's usually something larger than life like the Grand Canyon, Devil's Tower in Wyoming and of course, Niagara Falls. When she plans stops in special places like these, it reminds me of how lucky we are. We love each other's company, we travel well together and we get to share some of the most astoundingly beautiful places in the world together.Okay, enough of the hyperbole but it's honestly how I felt when I thought about our planned visit to Niagara Falls.

After leaving Port Huron in Michigan and going through dual border crossings, we were ready to relax at our new digs in Youngstown, New York. We found Four Mile Creek State Park easy enough and, after a quick check in, headed to our campsite. Oddly, each post in the ground is set at a 45 degree angle with two different site numbers on each side. Depending on what way you enter the loop, the signs can be easily misread.

I began guiding Linda into our site which had a fairly acute angle, only to realize we were in the wrong one. Once we discovered this, getting re-positioned required a complete loop around the campground, a drive by the office and a sharp turnaround in the maintenance yard, all without my assistance as I was waiting patiently at our actual site. We finally got Scoopy backed in and I plugged into the 30amp pedestal. I then looked around me. After much head-scratching, I realized there was no water at the sites. There were only a few spigots scattered throughout the campground. Since we were staying for a week and didn't have a full fresh water tank, this was a problem. We had a shot of Jameson and considered our options. We thought about just blowing it off for that day, but thought better of it and pulled back out to go get water. After we got settled back in, we congratulated ourselves on doing the right thing by indulging in another couple of shots of Jameson. What an ordeal!

IMG_1549  FullSizeRender
Border crossings and challenging campsite maneuvering. We earned our Jameson!

The next day, we were excited to see the falls. They are an easy 15-mile drive from the park. We skipped the Discovery Center because I was too excited to see the actual falls. Because we were out early in the morning, we managed to get ahead of the crowd.

It takes a little studying to figure out the lay of the land. There are actually three waterfalls that make up what we know as Niagara Falls. On the US side there are two; the American Falls and Bridal Falls. On the Canadian  side is the much more expansive Horseshoe Falls. That's the one I was most familiar with. We discovered that the Niagara Falls Observation Tower would give us the best view so we headed in that direction.

We kinda spontaneously decided to do the boat ride known as Maid of the Mist and, after donning a nifty disposable rain poncho, found ourselves at the foot of the violently cascading water of all three falls. I fired off one shot on my camera before my lens was dripping wet. It's hard to register what you're seeing in such a short time with the crowds and the mist and the bobbing of the boat. Still, it was worth it and, again, we had beaten the big crowds. Even as we got off, I could see an increased number of people waiting for the next boat.

A view of Rainbow Bridge and Niagara Falls, Canada across the water. The falls are just beyond the bridge.

IMG_1579  IMG_1598
The Maid of the Mist experience was a wet one but we got plenty close to the cascading water.

As many tourists as they pack into these rides, the equivalent boat excursion on the Canada side is even worse. They squeeze them in like sardines and we estimated between 600-700 on the boat we saw. No thanks, our experience felt much more sane. A nice bonus as we left the Observation Tower was a big colorful rainbow in front of the falls (see image at the top of this page).

Our experience was much less packed in than this one from the Canada side of the falls.

During our stay, I went back to the falls for the nightly lights on the falls event. You have to have a special kind of insanity to wrestle with the crowds in the evening. When I arrived at sunset, I couldn't believe the sheer volume of people. My intent was to stake out a spot at the Observation Tower platform. I wanted to do some long exposure photography and then shoot the colorful lights shining on the falls after dark. Unfortunately, those kinds of photographs need a tripod. Hoping people won't bump off the camera while I'm making my masterpiece is a pipe dream. As the evening wore on and the light faded, the crowd swelled. Despite the claustrophobia, I managed to get a few photos I’m happy with.

Copyrighted image - no use without permission
I love this kind of silky look on waterfalls using long exposure photography.

Copyrighted image - no use without permission
Lights shone from the Canadian side illuminating American and Bridal Falls with a variety of colors.

Before we left, we spent a morning on the Canadian side of Niagara to get a close-up view of the Horseshoe Falls. We managed to park for the long view but when we got up closer, it was impossible to stop without paying a big parking fee. I hopped out of Toadie and got some shots from one of the overlooks, while Linda circled around and picked me up.

IMG_1721  IMG_1727
The view from Niagara Falls, Canada and, of course, a waterfall selfie!

The aforementioned sardine-packed Canadian cruise boat approaches Horseshoe Falls.

Another highlight of our stay was Old Fort Niagara, It's a living history site featuring original 18th-century stone buildings, built by the French and British and daily interpretive programming that spans its three centuries of history. The fort is beautifully preserved and we arrived just in time to see a cannon-firing demonstration.

The Living History cannon displays were fun to watch.

Such a beautiful setting and one of the most well-preserved forts we’ve visited.

IMG_8348  IMG_8350
Mr. Photographer couldn’t resist the Renaissance-like light coming through the windows and doors.

niagara 1
There were lots of activities going on with demonstrations of how people lived back in the day.

One of the other things that was high on our list while in the area was a visit to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester. I couldn't wait to get a glimpse of their photography collection.

The original house is a colonial style with beautiful lush gardens. The sun was shining when we arrived and we enjoyed walking around the grounds. The museum has a modern annex housing many contemporary and permanent exhibits and the attached original residence is preserved as it was while George Eastman himself lived there. It's a kind of hybrid experience, both modern and historical.

The spectacular front fa├žade of the George Eastman House.

Nearly all the walls were ivy-clad.

Wonderful grounds and we had great weather to enjoy them.

Inside the George Eastman House has been meticulously preserved.

IMG_1772  IMG-7010
George Eastman and Thomas Edison and a tour I took of the history of photography.

It was fascinating to see the evolution of photography, from crude box-style cameras to the smart phones we carry with us everywhere. Even with the relatively primitive technology of the late 1800s, there is a magical beauty in the photographs on display. In my own work, I'm very influenced by this particular era.

So much to see and so little time. If we are back in the area, we will definitely make a return visit.

Niagara Falls did not disappoint but I think the key for us was to go early in the morning because the crowds of tourists can really get quite overwhelming.. If you do plan on going over to the Canadian side, pay special attention to signs for directions back to the US. I think some were removed and we missed a few turns as a result sending us around in circles.

Next up: Watkins Glen and Finger Lakes!


  1. Love your long exposure shots of the falls, Steven!

    When I read David McCullough's book The Great Bridge, there was a story about the long gone first suspension bridge over the gorge. To string the cables, they held a contest with a $5 prize for someone to fly a kite across. A young American boy did it. From that string, they went to successively larger string, rope and finally cable.

    1. Thanks Jim. That's a great story and we've found that if you take the time to really explore a place, it's the human stories that make it most interesting and unique.

  2. Beautiful night shots of the falls! We walked to the Canadian side, rather than deal with the traffic, and just did not have the stamina to return and deal with the evening crowds. It looks like it would have been worth the effort.

    1. Thanks Jeff. We definitely thought about walking across the bridge but, like everything else, we were out of time before we were ready for it so we decided on getting to the Canadian side as quickly as we could. When I look back at the experience of the evening watching the lights and photographing, I'm really glad I made the effort (even with all the elbows prodding me) :)

  3. I grew up about 50 miles from the falls. It is a very special place:)

    1. It's a pretty special place alright. I came in with high expectations for sure and the pure spectacle made an indelible impression on both of us.

  4. We definitely agree that we are lucky to live this life with each other! Stunning pics of the falls. CanNOT believe anyone would want to pile into a boat that crowded, it looks terrifying to me! Your shot of them at the falls is awesome. The shots of the cannon firing and inside the fort have to be my favorite. What a treat to see the Eastman estate and take the tour.

    1. What amazes me most, Jodee, is the fact that we pack so many great experiences into such a short period of time. When we look back on them, they seem to span over years rather than months. RV years are like dog years :)

  5. As always I thank you for taking me along on such a great adventure . Your pictures are always wonderful and it's just like I'm there . Vern in Boise Id.

    1. It's always good to hear from you too, Vern. It's gratifying to know that we are able to have that kind of affect on our readers. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Stunning shots of the falls! You make it look worth the effort to visit Niagara Falls. We will definitely do Maid of the Mist when we get there. But that Canadian boat -- whoa! That looks like a tragedy in the making! Old Fort Niagara and the Eastman house look wonderful, as well. Fun capture of the moment with the cannon.

    1. Thank you Laurel. It certainly was worth it to get the shots. It's like having kids; you don't remember all the sleepless nights and crying and defiance, you just see who they have become :) Old Fort Niagara was really worth it because those who participate as Living History characters are really serious about what they do. It makes the experience all the more authentic. For me, it helped to add another piece to the jigsaw that is the history of America.