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Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Getting Misty-Eyed at Niagara Falls - Page 2

Written by Kristen Hamill
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“I don’t see it. Where is it — down there?” I pressed my face to the car window as we passed over the bridge taking us across the border into Canada. It was close to midnight by the time my plane had landed in Buffalo and we’d made the half hour drive north, but the Niagara Falls are lit up at night, and we were eager to get across for the view.


Getting Misty-Eyed at Niagara Falls, Kristen HamillAll three falls provide an enormous source of hydroelectric power to the region; at peak flow the amount of water approaching the falls can reach up to 202,000 cubic feet per second. The Niagara Power Project, a joint Canadian and U.S. enterprise, generates a capacity of 2.4 million kilowatts. With such a large amount of water flowing at a rapid speed, erosion is major concern. Up until the 1950s when water diversion projects were built for the power plants, Horseshoe Falls was eroding at a rate of more than one meter a year. It’s estimated that at the end of the last ice age, Horseshoe Falls was actually seven miles closer to Lake Ontario than it is today. Today, as much as three-quarters of the water from the Niagara River is diverted to American and Canadian power plants before it even reaches the falls.

There are a number of ways to view Niagara Falls, some more exciting (and heavier on the wallet) than others. The walkway is the easiest way to get a look at all three falls from the Canadian side.  At one point on the walkway, you are situated right on the edge of Horseshoe Falls, separated from the water by only a chest-high railing.  If you decide to invest in a poncho, this is the spot to use it.  If you don’t mind getting a little wet, the Maid of the Mist boat tour is a must. The 30 minute tour pushes off near Rainbow Bridge, in a relatively calm section of the river, heads past the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and into the curve of Horseshoe Falls, where the serious soaking begins.

Another way to get up close and personal with the falls is on the Cave of the Winds Tour, which takes you to the base of Bridal Veils. The tour begins with an elevator ride that takes you 200 feet into Niagara Gorge. Special walking shoes and a bright yellow poncho are provided for the slick wooden walkway up to Hurricane Deck, where you will stand just 20 feet from the roaring torrents. The “Cave” of the Winds does not actually exist anymore; Aeolus’ Cave, named after the Greek god of winds, was destroyed in 1954 after a massive rock fall and subsequent dynamite explosion shattered the remaining overhang.

And for the adrenaline junkie, Niagara helicopters offer a 12-minute aerial tour of all the major sites, accompanied by commentary on individual headsets.  The ride costs $100 per person, but is well worth it for the fantastic views.

As with many national parks and eco attractions, there is no shortage of tourist traps on either side of the falls, with everything from wax museums, a tropical bird aviary, shopping centers, a glow-in-the-dark mini golf course, and souvenir shops lining the main road. Not to mention the two towering casinos that dominate the skyline and seem to use half of the power generated by the falls to light up at night. Despite the wealth of cheap tourist attractions, there are a number of museums for those interested in learning more about the history behind the falls, including the popular Daredevil Museum in New York, which displays the stories and equipment of some of the most infamous stunts in Niagara Falls history.



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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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