“Free Msg! Welcome to Canada. For Roaming Support Call 1-908-559-4899.”
It was the first of three messages I received outlining the many ways in which using my phone in Canada was going to be expensive. I switched over to airplane mode as I didn’t have time to search for the data usage settings. I was in my car trying unsuccessfully to find a place to park that wouldn’t cost $20. I gave up quickly. This, I decided, would be worth it.
I knew early on that I would want to visit the Canada side of Niagara Falls. Everyone I spoke to who had been there insisted the Canada side was better. They were completely right. Niagara is a giant waterfall, and the park on the U.S. side is at the top. While the view looking down from a waterfall can be nice, the top is a horrible place to see the waterfall itself. I gave the U.S. side the benefit of the doubt and found the park to be quite lovely, but I can see why few people bother. It’s not what you come to see. You come to see the Falls.
The Falls at Niagara are the result of an elevation change between two of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie spills over a 165 foot drop into the Niagara River, eventually becoming Lake Ontario. Technically Niagara is a set of three falls – Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil – though Horseshoe Falls is the one you think of when you think of Niagara. It’s the big, pretty, rounded one.
After parking in Canada, I walked along the cliff’s edge that overlooks the falls and the river. The area was crowded at all times, and the crowd was one of the most racially and culturally diverse groups that I’d ever seen. I guess Niagara appeals to everyone. I had a field day indulging in my favorite pastime of taking pictures of people taking pictures, and I watched the Maids of the Mist ferry boats make their short voyages to the base of the falls and back. I thought about getting a ticket myself, but I wasn’t sure how much fun it would be without someone to talk to, and I was already getting plenty wet just from being at the top of the falls.
In my memory, I visited Niagara Falls on a warm, sunny day. To look at my photos, it was grey and overcast. The constant pounding of the falling water creates a huge and heavy cloud of mist that radiates off of Horseshoe Falls. I’m sure some days the cloud is better than others, which is why most people’s mental image of the falls is crystal clear. Those are the days they take the postcard photos.
For me, the most fascinating thing about Niagara is that it is destroying itself. The strong, constant flow of water is eroding the rock underneath, constantly changing the shape and pushing the falls further into Lake Erie. There were signs in the visitor’s center explaining the steps the American and Canadian parks departments take to slow down the erosion process. I found this rather laughable. What gall must we have as humans to try to tame such a waterfall? And to what end do we want to “save” Niagara? We want to keep it looking the way it does in the pictures, we want to keep it next to all the hotels and amusements we’ve built up around it. We want to control the thing that inspires us because it’s untamable.
We humans are working to preserve Niagara for the sake of us humans. To keep it where we want it, doing what we want it to do. I’m happy to say that in general, we are completely failing at this endeavor. And for her part, Niagara seems unconcerned.
In my planning, I try to keep an open mind about where to go, what’s worth seeing, and what really qualifies as a detour. After all, nothing is really out of the way when you’re not going anywhere. My trip is a circle, and the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is overly applicable. Things can only be out of the way if they make it impossible for me to see something else. So I’m going to have to prioritize. I thought it best to put together a “Must See List” to give myself more direction. So, as of right now, here are the eight things I feel like I Must See on this trip:
One thing to remember about this list, is that it is personal to my experience. This is not a Must See for the United States. For example, if I had never seen any of the U.S. before, places like Mount Rushmore and New York City would be obvious choices. They’re not on the list because I have already seen them, so if I miss them on this trip it’s not a big deal.
There are a few other places that I originally thought were must see destinations, but in the spirit of setting priorities, I had to make some tough choices. When thinking of a destination, I asked myself if I might visit this place again one day. Certain cities, such and Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, are places I intend to see someday regardless. If not this trip, then the next one. More importantly, they are destinations by themselves. A year from now I could see myself flying to Chicago for a week. I can’t say the same about Niagara Falls.