By Jelane A. Kennedy
All aboard to Niagara Falls! The snowstorm of the day before added a wintry touch to the area adding a sense of wonder. Taking the train to Niagara was like running through a white tunnel as the newly fallen snow stuck fast to the black leafless limbs of each tree. There was quietness as the train worked its way down the tracks to the western part of New York State. Two winter storms in two weeks along the Mohawk River corridor had been a surprise. The week prior Buffalo had been slammed with over a foot of snow to only then fast melt. From Albany to about Syracuse that next week had seen the next snowstorm bringing this new look along the tracks. Little did we know that an unexpected storm would drop a couple of inches on Niagara Falls just as we got off the train for our visit.
As we disembarked and waited for our taxi we were bombarded with a new snowstorm that came down not in flakes but in little snowballs the size of a BB. It came down hard and fast covering the street that 20 minutes earlier had been snow free. Our taxi driver struggled to not swerve all over the road. He had to slow down his driving to finally get us downtown to the Rainbow House Bed and Breakfast where we would be staying.
That evening as we took a short walk along the dimly lit streets we were surprised to find the area to be so desperate and desolate. After being hit up for money from a hustler we decided it was time to head back for the night. We hoped morning would give us a different perspective.
The next morning after finally figuring out the map we stepped into a bright sunny day eager to explore both sides of Niagara Falls, New York and Ontario. We were to see first hand the contrast between the American side and the Canadian side.
The first thing we noticed was our confirmation from the night before that the area where we were staying was a mix of a few high rise hotels some established, some being built, others closed and vacant mixed with some of what looked like residential houses and vacant lots. There was also a large casino building (we had tried to stop by the night before but did not get beyond the front lobby area because of the cigarette smoke, a no go for my allergies.).
As we began our walk to the falls we were drawn to the sun bouncing off the river as the water charged down the riverbed. The shear power of the rapids and the sound pulled us along as we picked our way through the snow-covered walkways.
All thoughts about the odd juxtaposition of downtown Niagara Falls, New York was dropped as Mother Nature lured us in. Before long we were enjoying what we always enjoy, being out in nature. Seeing the shear volume of water drop over the cliffs was amazing and exhilarating. We carefully picked our way through what appeared to be a couple of construction sites in the Niagara Falls State Park as we enjoyed the falls.
The park is considered the oldest state park in the United States and is on 400 acres of land. The park was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted (he also designed the gardens at the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, North Carolina, which we have visited.) There are actually three falls, the American Falls, and next to it the Bridal Falls and further down are the Horseshoe Falls. All three can be seen full on from the Canadian side. From the American side you see the water headed to the falls and as it dashes down over the cliffs. The water comes from four of the five Great Lakes that surround my home state of Michigan (Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie). The Falls generate electricity that’s shared between both the United States and Canada. There is a rugged genteelness about the park.
Because of the time of the year some of the trails were closed and many were not shoveled. It was actually difficult to tell what was open and what was not. We also found the park staff not as friendly as we would have liked. After awhile we decided it was time to walk over the bridge to Canada. We were not sure this was going to be possible on this trip, as Eileen’s passport had expired earlier in the summer unbeknownst to us. But luckily before we left the updated passport arrived. We wanted to make this a walking trip and limit our use of taxis to just going to and from the train station.
Once making our way through Customs we walked over the Rainbow Bridge stopping to soak up the sun and the falls. The beige walkway was well situated so that you really didn’t feel overwhelmed by the cars and trucks using the bridge also. There was a definite sense of separateness.
After clearing Canadian customs we were blown away by the difference in maintenance and care of the area. Before we knew it we were walking along a beautiful walkway with an upscale park feeling that was cleared of snow and salted for slickness. When we did find snow cover, we also found people clearing walkways apologizing for the sidewalks not yet being done. There was also a hustle and bustle of workers beginning to put up holiday decorations. All felt very festive. We meandered along the walkway enjoying the view of each set of falls.
Finally at mid-afternoon we decided to look for a light lunch as we had a dinner plans with reservations at a nice restaurant (The Red Coach Inn) back on the New York side. As we walked up a side street from the fall area we found what looked like an overgrown Carnival! Lots of activity and people having a good time. There was a wax museum, movie houses, restaurants, and big lit up signs. The restaurant was impeccably clean, the service fast, food hot and the atmosphere enjoyable. Our only complaint about visiting the Canadian side was the unexpected toll of 50 cents in order to return (we are not big on unexpected tolls.)
The next morning before we took our train trip back we would spend some more time walking around Niagara Falls State Park again. This would be our final dose of the beauty of the falls and some time back out in Mother Nature. Even after a day the walkways were barely clear and we mostly used the road for the trolley for our walkabout.
If we decide to take the train again, we will take it beyond Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Ontario. It just seemed like it would be more travel friendly and we could walk back over the fall to the American side at any time. There was still more to explore on another visit.
(c) 2014 Jelane A. Kennedy