The Lucky Horseshoe
It’s easy enough to think of the border between the US and Canada as a straight
east-west line dividing the two countries north and south. And so it is, for
much of its length, especially as it crosses the western half of the continent.
On the east, the story is a little more complicated. Tangled and knotted up by
the vagaries of history, the border skips back and forth like a hank of rope
that’s been dropped on the ground.
For example, the portion of the border that follows the line of
the Niagara River between Lakes Erie and Ontario runs more or less north-south
– and it must be one of the most visited border spots in the world.
The Niagara Falls have long been the subject of awe, and have
drawn tourists for well over a couple of hundred years now. As anyone living in
the area with tell you, the name doesn’t apply to a single waterfall, but
rather three: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Maiden Falls.
Horseshoe Falls, by far the largest of the three, is often referred to as
‘Niagara Falls’, though this is technically incorrect.
Horseshoe Falls is pretty impressive, all the same. Although
it’s not the highest waterfall in the world – that honor goes to Victoria Falls
in southern Africa – it’s one of the most spectacular. The Niagara River is the
main drainage point of Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. All the water
from those huge lakes, in the end, passes over the Falls, down the river and
into Lake Ontario on its way to the sea. To give you an idea of the scale of
fluid shifted, in any one year fully one fifth of the world’s supply of fresh
water passes over one or other of the Niagara Falls.
So this is a place worth visiting. If you’re coming from the US
side, your visit will probably be focussed around the Niagara Falls State Park.
There’s an excellent visitors’ center where you can learnt all about the
geology, biology and history of the Falls, The center gardens include a
scaled-down layout of the Great Lakes and the Niagara River, so you can get an
idea of the size, scale and volume of the body of water you’re about to look
at. Also included in the center is the Niagara Falls Festival Theater, which
shows a variety of movies about the Falls.
Enough of museums and bare facts – you want to see some serious
water! If you head to the observation tower you can enjoy excellent views of
the Horseshoe Falls. The tower is built on the base of the Niagara gorge, so
you can enjoy a very close view of the Falls themselves. Take the elevator ride
to the top – but be prepared to get a little wet! Such a huge volume of water
crashes over the Falls every day that a huge could of mist permanently hangs
over the area. If the wind is heading off the Falls in your direction, you
could find things a little damp!
If the observation tower doesn’t get you quite close enough, you
can always join in the ultimate Niagara Falls experience – boat ride on the
Maid of the Mist. The Maid has been plying the waters of the Niagara River for
decades now. The ride starts off with an exploration of the slightly smaller
American Falls, which the boat can approach at very close range. After that –
and a bit of a soaking if you’re standing on deck – the Maid moves into the
main basic of the Horseshoe Falls. The view of the Falls this close is
incredible – what hits you most of all is the thunderous noise of thousands of
tons of water falling a couple of hundred feet into the boiling and swirling
pool at the Falls’ base. That pool is actually deeper than the Falls are high,
the bottom having been eaten away by the powerful eroding effect of the water.
That’s not all that’s eroding – scientists reckon that the Falls retreat
towards Lake Erie by up to six feet every year as the power of the water
rushing over the lip eats away at the bedrock. It’s not so much thousand years
ago, in geological terms, that the Falls were much further north than they are
After you’ve dried out a little you might like to explore the
visitors’ center a little more, and maybe enjoy a warming coffee and snack at
the Prospect Point Café. It’s good to have some home comforts immediately after
confronting the Falls – because you’ll never ever underestimate the power of
nature ever again!