Niagara Falls Part IV: The Falls Up Close
Youngstown, NY - Events of Thursday, July 11 and Monday, July 15, 2013
We mentioned in our first post about Niagara Falls that one of the things we liked about seeing the falls from the American side was the view is up close and personal. Well, there are a couple of ways to get an even closer look at the falls.
One of those ways is to take the Cave of the Winds tour. On Thursday, when we were checking out the falls from the New York side and touring Goat Island, we decided to do the Cave of the Winds.
A cave was discovered behind Bridal Veil Falls in 1834, and tours of the cave officially began in 1841. Following a rockfall in 1920, the passage was deemed unsafe, so tours were suspended. The tour reopened in 1924 taking visitors in front of the falls instead of behind. A massive rockfall in 1954 and the subsequent dynamiting of the remaining, unsafe rock overhang totally obliterated the Cave of the Winds. The cave is gone, but the tour, which goes in front of Bridal Veil Falls like it did starting in 1924, still retains the original name.
The Cave of the Winds tour traverses a series of wooden walkways, steps and decks at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. We took a photo earlier in the day from the top of the falls when we were on Luna Island.
After you get your tickets, they hand out sandals and give you plastic bags for your shoes. We decided to take along our water shoes, and we're glad we did because the sandals didn't fit very well, and we were afraid we would trip.
We then made the 175' elevator ride that goes almost all the way down to the level of the river. At the bottom, they hand out plastic ponchos. We knew it would be a very wet experience, and we knew the ponchos were very flimsy, so we took our Frogg Togg rain suits. They kept us nice and dry except for a little water that got in around our wrists and around our faces. We were the envy of almost everyone we passed. We saw some people who were absolutely soaked in spite of the plastic ponchos.
Paul ordered a waterproof bag for the camera while we were in Berlin in anticipation of the Cave of the Winds tour. The bag was a little difficult to use because the camera kept shifting out of position inside the bag, but it kept the camera nice and dry.
After donning our rain suits, we headed out onto the series of walkways, stairs and decks that led to the falls. At first, all we got was a little mist.
As we climbed higher, the mist started getting heavier.
When you take the Cave of the Winds tour, you are not just close to the falls, but sometimes you are IN the falls. Water from the falls splashes right onto some of the decks.
The ultimate experience of the Cave of the Winds is the Hurricane Deck. It is the highest level deck and the closest to the falls. It is said winds here can reach more than 60 mph. Note the water pouring off the deck on the left of the photo below.
Paul tried to get a photo while on the Hurricane Deck, but there was just too much water in his face. The waterproof bag kept the camera nice and dry, but all the photos were blurred from all the water on the surface of the bag. The best we can do to show what it is like on the Hurricane Deck is to show a shot taken earlier from above when we were on Luna Island.
We were surprised to learn the decks and walkways are torn down each fall because of the high probability of ice damage, and they are rebuilt new every spring. The decking is not bolted to the rocks in any way. Wood beams are wedged into crevasses between the rocks.
The Canadian side has a similar attraction called Journey Behind the Falls. There are portals where you can look out from behind Horseshow Falls, but the main observation deck is a good 100' from the falls, not IN the falls like Cave of the Winds.
Another way to get close to the falls is to take a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. We headed back into Niagara Falls on Monday after visiting Old Fort Niagara and did just that.
The Maid of the Mist started out as a side-wheel, steam-powered ferry between the U.S. and Canada in 1846. Two years later, a suspension bridge was built, and use of the ferry declined. By 1854, the ferry service had turned itself into a tourist attraction and had acquired a new boat, still powered by steam. The vessels used today have twin 250 to 350 hp diesel engines.
The Maid of the Mist operates boats from both the American side of the falls and from the Canadian side. The docks are just about across the river from each other. The cruise from the American side costs $15.50 whereas the cruise from the Canadian side costs $19.75 Canadian (about $19 US at the current exchange rate). The price for the cruise from the American side also includes admission to an observation deck that provides great views of the falls. Admission to the observation deck is also available without the cruise for only $1. Admission to the observation deck and the cruise also include a ride down the elevator and access to the walkway that leads to a platform near the falls called the Crow's Nest. The Crow's Nest can be seen toward the left side of the photo below on the near side of the falls.
After we checked out the observation deck, we rode the elevator 175' down to the river level where they hand out more plastic ponchos. The cruise starts out in calm water below the American falls. As we sailed upriver, there was a gasp from the passengers when the wind blew the first blast of mist from the American Falls onto the boat.
Although the Maid of the Mist is not nearly as wet as the Cave of the Winds, we still took our trusty Frogg Togg rain suits rather than rely on the thin, plastic ponchos. Paul also used his new waterproof camera bag.
The cruise goes past the base of the American and Bridal Veil Falls and sails right up into the curve of Horseshoe Falls. With engines humming away to counteract the strong current, the boat stays there in the turbulent water and mist for several minutes. The depth of the water at the base of Horseshoe Falls is 170' - almost the same as the height.
There was too much mist when we were all the way up in the curve of the falls for photogtaphy. Paul wasn't able to get another clear photo until we had turned and started to head back downstream.
We again sailed past the American Falls heading downstream where we were able to get a good view of the observation deck. The deck, to the left in the next photo, is built on the tower that houses the elevators that take visitors down to the river level.
As we were approaching the dock, another boat was heading out. You can see how close the boats get to the base of the falls in the next photo.
We decided to stop at Whirlpool State Park on the way back to the motor home. We passed the park numerous times without stopping, and since it was our last day in the area, we didn't want to leave without checking out the whirlpool.
Downstream of the falls, the river makes a right angle turn on its way to Lake Ontario. As the water swirled making the turn, it bagan to carve out a bowl-shaped recess. The bigger the bowl got, the more the water swirled; and the more the water swirled, the bigger the bowl got.
The next photo shows the bowl. The water enters on the left and exits on the lower right.
The water in the bowl is about 125' deep. For water to leave the pool, it must eventually dive down to the bottom to be able to flow out past the strong incoming flow. During periods of normal or high flow, the whirlpool circulates counter-clockwise. During periods of low flow, it frequently circulates the opposite direction.
After a pretty full day of sightseeing, we made our way back to the motor home. We usually don't do that much sightseeing on the day before we leave for our next destination, but since we were short a day on the front end of our stay due to having to stop for repairs to the motor home, we made an exception. The following morning, we headed off to our next destination in Farmington, NY near Canandaigua.