By Frank Parlato Jr.
At One Niagara, the tourists are pouring in.
They always ask the same question: what is there to do? So I wrote this for them to try to help them interpret what may be the most celebrated place on earth.
Niagara Falls has more to see than any other place.
It has the great cataract to view from all its vantage points: Prospect Point, Terrapin Point, Hennepin View, Cave of the Winds, Table Rock, a hundred views from Goat Island, places where
you can practically get up to the falls, and touch it.
There are views above, alongside, and facing; one has to see it looking up, also, from the lower river, on the Maid of the Mist, surrounded by mist, engulfed by the roar of the falls, and the sight of white falling water -- all around, everywhere falling.
To go up and down -- to circumambulate, to see from every perspective, close and far, from the American and Canadian sides, to see all three, each unique, and splendid, the Horseshoe, the American, and the Luna -- in itself, a sightseer's wonder, something which can be done again and again, not only for the sake of viewing.As a great book, it can be read, again and again, each time seeing, imbibing something different.
It gets into your bones, once you comprehend. It's marvelous, physical exercise -- outside, in the fresh, ozone- filled air, about the mist of the falls, eyes awash in, always looking at green, or the brown of the earth, or the gray of the stone, and the white and blue and green, by turns, of the spectacle itself, the waters of the Niagara, the fall of Niagara.
There is much more to see than this central jewel, Niagara Falls. There is the gorge of the lower river. Below the falls, a sheer drop of hundreds of feet, dug from the earth by the flowing, falling Niagara during the course of 12,000 years.
Rock and earth are exposed which everywhere else are buried and unseen -- rock, in layers, laid down from the dawn of the Silurian age, more than 400 million years ago, before the ice ages, when what is now Niagara was the bottom of a tropical sea. The Niagara Gorge reminds one of the transitory nature of time and mind, of rock and sea.
From the breath-suspending view atop, espying far along the lower river, to the sheer drop in a chasm, you may descend gently on a staircase of stone, beyond stratified layers of dolomite, sandstone, limestone, and shale, walking down a million years at a step, to arrive at Devil's Hole. From there, almost touching the river -- or touching, if you're bold -- following its bends and winds, amidst giants: fallen boulders, under a canopy of trees, over mounds and dips and cliffs -- you may explore the gorge for miles of unspoiled, unique vistas of natural beauty, unsurpassed in the world. The oldest botanicals in the northeast are here, rooted in the walls of the gorge -- dwarf cedars, 800 years old.
Along the rim pathway, you will see, from atop the gorge, or below, the river flows into a giant pool, and makes simultaneously a dogleg. The river seems to break in two. The pool, with its mesmerizing current, whirls in a circle, while rushing rapids descend past, frantically, and turn.
The whirlpool remains, moving deliberately, patiently, evenly, marking the path of an ancient river, called by men, the St. David's, left buried by a late-retreating glacier 12,000 years ago.
The St. David's river, forgotten from all but the memory of the earth, until the waters of the Niagara reopened this ancient river graveyard 5,000 years ago. And slowing now, to a spiraling path, as if in homage, the Niagara completes a circle, then turns and leaves to rush once more as man leaves to posterity something long forgotten, then, rediscovered, ages later.
Where it cleared the glacial silt and hydrated the bed of a vestige of the St. David's, the Niagara, whose youthful blood rushes before it, turned southward a moment, later to resume its northward flow. Its whirlpool is circling, like breathing, going clockwise, and counterclockwise, exhaling and inhaling, from then to now, from the first circle, like a first breath 5,000 years ago.
FRESH WATER FRONTAGE
You can go all the way, by foot, from the falls to the terminus of the river -- the great Lake Ontario. Two of the world's largest lakes, Erie and Ontario, are 25 miles apart. They're oceans, compared to most of the so-called lakes of this world, connected by the Niagara. Combined, they provide the most splendid fresh water frontage in the world.
THE UPPER ISLANDS
You may also explore the far-famed upper Niagara and its islands, beginning from its mouth at Lake Erie, traveling toward the falls. The largest is Grand Island, with its river beach at Beaver Island Park. The water is clean and blue and sparkles in the sun which sets below the west branch of the river, in the warm of summer. A river island beach where the river divides into branches, the east and the west is another jewel of the Niagara.
On the northern end of Grand Island is a path along the river, through woodland trails at Buckhorn Island Park. Going off the river path, one can venture from forest to marshland. Amidst waterways long, narrow, and pristine you can see nature in her true, northern wetland state, amidst low-growing vegetation, the cattail, and the long green brush, with the shock of yellow and red-pink wildflower flowering along the blue -flowing rivulets which let the river breath. Marshland, close to upland forest, filtering the water, before reuniting with the fast- flowing Niagara on its way to the sea.
At the northern point of Grand Island, you can see the mist in the distance, past Navy Island, here, where the east and the west branch merge again and begin their breathtaking movement toward the fall. Amidst fertile marshland you can see the stillness, and the waiting of nature -- lowland tree, of ash, and black walnut, and marsh and swamp -- and beyond to upland trees of oak and maple and glimpses of blue river.
Miles of pristine wetlands -- with croaking frogs and crying gulls to displace the harking sounds of the city, at the tip of the island, the sun both rises and sets, rising on the east branch, setting over west. Someday you will get the chance to see them both perhaps and hear the 10,000 sea gulls proclaim with their caws the changing of the day to night and night to day.
Going further, toward the falls, is, of course, something everyone who comes to Niagara wishes to see -- the incredible rushing rapids. Caused by the river's marked descent -- it drops measurably over 1,500 linear feet by some 50 feet, and the result is spectacular rapids, furious, white- foamed movement of water, rushing along, breaking up by boulder stones, a spectacle to be seen from every angle. One closes his eyes and hears a thousand joyful trumpets, or angels in choir, crying for the sorrows of the ages. The rapids mirror the music which is always heard within. Rushing to make the great, vigorous fall of Niagara, the energy and the raw fury of the rapids have thrilled millions for centuries.
For those who explore nature -- both inner and outer -- there are days, even weeks to wander, and, in so doing, one can find a new kind of vigor. Years from now, you may look back upon the day when you first came, and be gladdened that you came upon such a place.
In Niagara, it is always new.
Some areas have nightlife, entertainment districts, and casinos, and they get rich, but they come and go; some have history, and make heritage tourism their fortune, some have nature and promote this throughout the world. World- class golfing, swimming, boating, fishing, gambling, museums, history; Niagara has this, and it has more.
It has, for those who understand, the special, healing, mystical power of the falls. For those who came from far way, and were seeking something other than titillation, who went afar to find something of themselves within, here they may find what they were looking for.
Niagara, a place where God has touched the earth, and in such a way to have put clearly His fingerprint upon it; that some may say it, and even see -- it is the centerpiece of the world.