Niagara Falls—An Awesome Experience

I RECENTLY had occasion to see Niagara Falls as I had never seen it before—very close up. I can assure you that it is an awesome experience. My friends and I were visiting the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, called such because of its shape. I had been there several times since my first visit in 1958, but there was one thing that I had never done before—I had never taken a boat ride up the river, right into the face of the falls. Yet, people have been doing this since the Maid of the Mist boat excursions were inaugurated in 1848. Millions have taken this exciting journey. Now it was my turn.

Boats leave regularly from both sides of the river, the American side as well as the Canadian side. The queues are constant. We could see people of every age group, even little children, donning the lightweight blue plastic raincoats that are a necessary protection against the spray. (For those visiting the American Falls on the other side, the coats are yellow.) The boat Maid of the Mist VII can carry up to 582 passengers. It weighs 145 tons [132 metric tonnes] and is 80 feet [24 m] long and 30 feet [9 m] wide at the beam. Currently there are four boats in service, the Maid of the Mist IV, V, VI, and VII.

 Our Turn for a Drenching

We lined up with the crowd, and as soon as the Maid of the Mist VII had disgorged its group of wet and bedraggled tourists, we streamed on. I could see that we were in for an exciting journey. In the distance, less than a mile away, the waters thundered over the lip of the falls, dropping a distance of 170 feet [52 m] into the 180-foot- [55 m]deep basin below. Our boat headed out into the river and made its way over to the American  side, where we plowed through the swirling waters at the foot of the American Falls, which has a total drop of 176 feet [54 m]. * The most exciting part lay just ahead of us.

Tension heightened as we got nearer and nearer to the crashing waters. It soon became impossible to take photos because of the wind and the violent spray that filled the air. The pilot seemed to take forever as he edged the boat closer and closer to the point of impact where every minute more than six million cubic feet [168,000 cu m] of water breaks over the crest line and crashes down just in front of the boat! The noise was tremendous. You could hardly hear yourself shout. My heart pounded. I could actually taste the Niagara water, cold but apparently pure. This was indeed an experience of a lifetime!

After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot at last slowly backed our Maid away from the danger line and swung us downstream. I breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it. But really, there never was any doubt. The company that operates these boats has an accident-free record. Emil Bende, the general manager of the steamboat company, assured us that each boat is equipped with life jackets and rafts sufficient for the maximum capacity of passengers. No room for any Titanic mistakes here!

The Falls Are Retreating!

Yes, erosion has taken its toll on the falls. It is estimated that over the last 12,000 years, the falls at Niagara have retreated about seven miles [11 km], to their present location. At one time the rate of erosion was about three feet [1 m] per year. Now it is down to about one foot [36 cm] every ten years. What is the reason for this erosion?

The water passes over a hard top layer of dolomite limestone that lies on layers of soft sandstone and shale. These lower layers get eroded, and then the limestone rocks collapse and fall to the basin below.

Water Not Wasted

The vast quantity of water that comes down the short Niagara River (35 miles [56 km]) is from four of the five Great Lakes. It flows northward from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. During this short journey, it is exploited to produce hydroelectricity, which is shared by Canada and the United States. It is said to be one of the world’s greatest sources of hydroelectric power. The Canadian and U.S. power plants have, between them, a capacity of 4,200,000 kilowatts. The water for the turbines is taken from the Niagara before the river reaches the falls.

Honeymoons and the Night Lights

Niagara Falls is a favorite spot for honeymoon couples. This was especially true after the 1953 film Niagara. At night the falls are illuminated by colored spotlights, which give another dimension to the beauty and majesty of this unique spot on our planet. Certainly a visit to Canada and the United States is incomplete without a trip to this wonder of the world. And if you are a little adventuresome, don’t forget to take a boat ride! You won’t regret it or forget it.—Contributed.

[Footnote]

^ par. 5 “At the American Falls, the water plunges vertically ranging from 21 to 34 metres (70 to 110 feet) to the rock[s] at the base of the falls.”—Ontario’s Niagara Parks.

[Box/Picture on page 26]

NIAGARA SPANISH AERO CAR

Three miles down [4.5 km] from the falls is a huge whirlpool “formed at the end of the Rapids, where the Great Gorge turns abruptly to the northeast. Here the brooding, emerald green vortex coils and uncoils to escape through the narrowest channel in the Gorge.”—Ontario’s Niagara Parks.

The best way to appreciate the overall size of this remarkable pool is to take a ride in the Niagara Spanish Aero Car, a cable car that crosses over the pool and gives impressive views of the river, both upstream and downstream. But why is it termed the “Spanish” Aero Car? It was designed and built by an ingenious Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo (1852-1936), and has been in use since 1916. It is the only one of its kind in existence.

[Diagram/Picture on page 26]

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EROSION has caused the falls to recede an estimated 1,000 feet or more since 1678

1678

1764

1819

1842

1886

1996

[Credit Line]

Source: Niagara Parks Commission

[Maps on page 27]

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CANADA

U.S.A.

CANADA

U.S.A.

Lake Erie

Niagara Falls

Niagara River

Lake Ontario

[Picture on page 25]

American Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

[Picture on page 26]

Winter scene of the falls illuminated at night