We left our campsite at Jellystone with high expectations, and we weren’t disappointed. After loading the bare essentials, we drove to a parking lot that the staff had recommended, but we couldn’t figure out how to pay so we had to go to another one. It seems like we’ve paid in every type possible, but not this one. I love trying to learn new stuff each day.
We walked down a beautiful trail to the gardens that line the Canadian side of the falls. We’d ridden our bikes into town the day before, so we knew where to go. When we had checked in, the staff at the campground told us that Maid of the Mist was no longer in business; we could buy a package of 4 attractions, and see the falls from another boat line. Since we’d just looked it up online, but didn’t have Wi-Fi there, we decided to ride in and check it out. Our 3.5-mile ride turned into 13.5, but it was worth it because we saw that the Maid of the Mist was still in business – just from the American side. The staff was just trying to sell us!
As we walked through the gardens, we kept looking at the falls. Much smaller than we had expected! But the roar was louder than we expected. It was sunny, and there were no mosquitos, so the walk was nice.
We crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on foot to get to the American side of the falls. We had to put 50 cents each into the turnstile to get through, and you could use Canadian or American coins. There were tons of cars going over, but we thought it would be fun to walk into America, since we had gone back and forth to Mexico in a flat bottom boat. It was fun! The view was spectacular and standing on the international line was a kick.
Once on American ground, we had to stand outside the border patrol office and wait for the little green light to go on, then open the door and walk in. All the tourists on the buses had to get off and go through the questioning, so we thought it was going to take forever. We lucked out in that they took us in between some of them, so it only took about 10 minutes. We’re innocent of anything possible, but it still makes me nervous to have them look us over and inspect everything.
We walked outside and over to the Maid of the Mist to buy the boat tour tickets. It was a busy area, but most people were at the Visitor’s Center or walking in the park. We had seen an episode of Globe Trekker years before and Megan had gone on the boat tour. Totally tacky. Totally fun! It’s almost a requirement if you go to the falls. $68 and our light blue rain ponchos felt like a garbage bag, but they worked. The boat took us right up to the falls, and hovered there for a while so everyone could gawk more. We took tons of pictures, even though we were getting our phones wet from the mist. The boat captain said that a 7-year-old local boy survived going over the falls a few years ago, and we all winced. On the way back, I kept jumping over the international line as the guide kept pointing it out. Little kids were mimicking me while my teenagers and husband were moving away.
We checked out the American Falls with our rain slickers still on. Up close, it was even more beautiful and felt like rain. There was a double rainbow at the bottom and Eliza was able to get a good shot of it. She has an ability to take the pictures from an interesting angle, while I just take them to document what we’re doing before I forget.
Next we rode the elevator up to the observation platform, and you guessed it, took more pictures! It was so beautiful and we couldn’t believe we were actually there. We’d driven all this way and we were enjoying it!!!
They were doing construction here, too, just like everywhere we’ve been. They were fixing up the bank and side of the American Falls, and I couldn’t imagine working that close to the top of the falls. They didn’t even have life jackets on and the “safety” fence was only about 3 feet tall.
We walked all the way out the point to the top of the Horseshoe Falls, with a little ice cream to help us on our way. There were people in wheelchairs, with canes, and with walkers, and I was glad we were doing this trip while I could still stride. Then there was a group of young boys rolling down the grass hill and I was glad that I wasn’t that young anymore. Middle-aged is just right for this Goldilocks.
If we could have built another bridge, we would have put it right across the river to the Canadian side and to our car. Or have a helicopter pick us up and drop us off! But instead we had to back track our whole walk and get back to the Canadian side. We were hot and tired, but luckily, there were no mosquitos.
We walked through the “touristy” section of the Canadian Niagara Falls, and tacky doesn’t begin to describe it. We’d read and been told to stay away from the American side and all it’s shops, but this was above and beyond. Or maybe it was a bit of our American pride showing… Anyway, they’ve got everything in this one area and people told us they vacation there for a week. Mini-golf, Ripley’s, bars, café’s, Starbucks, movies, IMAX movies, movies about the falls, t-shirts for $3 shops. We were laughing because we thought the $3 t-shirts were probably made in China. It was a zoo. No thank you.
Back at the rig, we relaxed and ate dinner. Eliza had read that there would be a live concert at 8 p.m., with the falls being lit up when it got dark, and fireworks at 10 p.m. (Another late night!) We left about 7:30 so we could find our parking lot again, and walked along the Canadian side of the falls for a while.
The concert wasn’t happening on the stage because a wedding reception was in the fancy restaurant next door and their DJ was playing outside. Neat place for a reception – dancing outside with the falls right there. But that meant we had 2 hours to kill, ouch.
As we were sitting there people -watching below the lights, Dan bet Nate 50 bucks that he could go talk to the light master and get in. We all thought he was kidding, but then he came back and said, “come on, we can go in for a tour.” What?!! He had seen the light master on the balcony and asked if we could come up and Vic said yes!
Dan quietly knocked on the door, and Vic opened it. He’d be an excellent Santa Claus – he’s got the beard, smile and kind disposition. I couldn’t believe he’d take the time to talk to us. The building that houses the controls for the lights is part of the old electric station. Up on the hill. Huge old grey blocks of stone. It was small and cramped, with a walk way through the middle. We went out one door, and into another little room that had all the “controls” for each light. 8 for the American Falls and 12 for the Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls as Vic called them. Plus the computer than runs the colors.
The lights outside are huge, about 3’ in diameter. The first time the falls were lit up years before, they used these same lights that were left over from WWII in England. They run along 2 balconies, so they face each of the falls. The colors get changed when the plastic gels are lowered. There are only 4 colors – red, blue, yellow and purple, and Vic uses more than one gel for whatever color he wants. The falls were also beautiful with just the white light on them.
Vic gave us a brief history and then patiently answered our questions. He had just recently started the job in April when Pete died, after 54 years of running the lights. Nate remembered that Pete was the man on the Globe Trekker episode. 54 years of being responsible for a dual national treasure! We had seen people from at least a dozen different countries that day, and there were probably more that we couldn’t identify. Millions of people are drawn to the falls each year, and we saw why.
When it was dusk, Vic then asked the kids if they would like to turn on the lights? Nate went first and turned on each control box and then the 8 for the American Falls. Eliza turned on the 12 Horseshoe Falls. Dan and I were in shock that Vic would allow them to turn the lights on, and even more so when he gave them certificates that proved they had done so! They give occasional tours for dignitaries, which we certainly weren’t. It was above and beyond, a kindness that we will never forget. It’s meeting people like Vic that make our trip so special, and the falls even more beautiful.