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Experiencing Niagara Falls

What a marvelous experience to be at a wonder of the natural world, Niagara Falls. Pictures can only give a glimpse of the expansive thundering mass of H20. In fact, more than 70,000 gallons of it are falling per second into the turbulence below.

Without spoiling the beauty and majesty of the falls, the enormous energy has been harnessed on both sides of the United States-Canada border for hydroelectric power.

My younger daughter’s family took me recently to enjoy this extraordinary spectacle. As we approached, we could see the mist from miles away. On the American side, we enjoyed the Cave of the Winds. We were issued rubber shoes for our feet and plastic ponchos to cover our clothes. After descending 175 feet in an elevator, we walked to stairways leading to platforms.

There we experienced the wind blowing the water from the falls showering us visitors. Rainbows reflected the sun’s rays on the falling water and the experience was delightfully refreshing. We returned to the falls in the evening to observe the powerful lights shedding various colors upon them.

The next day we travelled to the Canadian side. From there one can see a panorama of magnificent falls. We took the exterior elevator up the Skylon Tower. It takes just 52 seconds to travel up the 52 floors to the observation deck at the top. After enjoying the spectacular view, we took another elevator back down.

The walk behind the falls was our next experience. There we were issued ponchos also. The caves behind the falls have been made safe for visitors to walk through. At the lookout places the falls were in front of the visitors.

After that adventure we drove on the Canadian side to the town of Niagara on the Lake. It is a charming European-style town with shops, many flowers and horse-drawn carriages. We enjoyed gelato, which is Italy’s take on ice cream.

On the way, we stopped to view the furious Whirlpool. The Lower Niagara River divides into two channels. Reversing waves can reach up to 15 feet in height, and the water, which moves at speeds of approximately 22 miles per hour, forms a unique whirlpool. We viewed an overhead tram above this confluence and a sightseeing boat, which appeared to be in dangerous waters.

As well as the falls we enjoyed picnicking at Lake Erie State Park and driving along Lake Ontario, which are two of the truly Great Lakes.

There have been numerous daredevils who have attempted dropping over the falls in barrels and other contraptions. Many have met their deaths in these attempts, but some have survived. In 1901, Annie Taylor, a 63-year old teacher, was strapped with her cat in a harness in a barrel. Seventeen minutes after the plunge, the barrel was close enough to the Canadian side to be hooked and dragged out onto the rocks. From this triumphant feat, Taylor received fame, but not fortune. Twenty years later, she died a pauper. In 1911, Bobby Leach made the trip in a steel barrel, then spent 23 weeks in a hospital recuperating from numerous fractures and other injuries. Fifteen years later, he slipped on an orange peel, broke his leg and died of complications from the injuries.

A better success story is that of a native of Quebec, Jean Lussier. In 1928, he designed and created a rubber ball composed of 32 inner tubes and a double wall steel frame. The ball took some hard knocks in the rapids, but the skip over the falls was perfect. About an hour after entering the ball, Lussier stepped ashore none the worse for the wear. After that he displayed the ball at the falls, and sold pieces of the inner tubes as souvenirs.

Many others have traversed the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope, performing various stunts en route. A most famous one was Jean Francois Gravelet, or The Great Blondin, as he was called. In the years around 1859, he performed stunts on the tightrope, such as walking backwards, riding a bicycle, walking blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, cooking an omelet, and walking with his feet and hands manacled.

In 1867, 23-year old Maria Spelterina walked the tightrope backwards with a paper bag over her head and peach baskets on her feet to inject some drama into her crossings. In 1896, James Hardy was the last tightrope walker Niagara Falls permitted to perform this stunt.

However, in February 2012, the National Parks Committee approved the application of Nik Wallenda in recognition of the rich daredevil history and promotion of the falls it created. The world watched as Wallenda then walked into the history books on a tightrope over Niagara Gorge.

A word to the wise — don’t plan to get rich by going over the falls in a barrel or walking over the gorge on a tightrope. Beware! It may be your cat’s ninth life. These daredevil stunts are not recommended for everyone. However, anyone can enjoy viewing the beauty and grandeur of this wonder of the natural world. What a gorgeous idea!

Rosalie Justen is a member of the Jottings Club of the Adult Community Center.



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