And Other Myths About Waterfalls
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
When it comes to waterfalls, I have one question: Does size really matter? The best waterfalls, in my opinion, are those you stumble upon in remote areas. On the Road to Hana in Maui, for example, you encounter one gorgeous waterfall after the other. In the temperate rainforests of western North Carolina, the most scenic waterfalls hide in Gorges State Park, accessible only by helicopter or multi-day hikes.
These are the waterfalls worth finding: the ones you finally reach after a grueling march or a dangerous drive. That’s when the majesty really touches your soul. That’s when stripping down and diving in isn’t just desirable, it’s downright required.
So what’s so special about Niagara Falls? It’s big, it’s loud, it’s crowded … and they don’t even allow skinny-dipping. It’s just a lot of water spilling over a 176-foot ledge. Actually, because of rocks at the base, the fall is only 70 feet. I could do that in a barrel.
A vacation at Niagara Falls has become the epitome of the bait-and-switch. It’s like preparing yourself for Disneyland and, after taking a wrong turn, ending up at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. It’s like getting psyched up for the re-release of Citizen Kane at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and finding yourself at a drive-in watching the remake of The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. The one with Kim Basinger.
If you feel compelled to see Niagara Falls, whether due to its history, its mystique, or its slick marketing campaigns, don’t even bother with the American side. The angle is all wrong. At best, you’ll pay $200 for a cramped ride in a hot air balloon to get the same view that Canadians get for free. Just like their health care.
At worst, you’ll get motion sickness a thousand feet above the Maid of the Mist. Actually, there is something worse than that: bobbing along on the boat directly below someone who just vomited up his last $200 in the hot air balloon above. But I digress…
So risk crossing the border into Canada for views unparalleled by the American side. That’s what I did. I’m not saying the Canadian side is a paradise, but compared to the American side, it’s a topless beach on the Riviera. It’s Aruba to Angola; Fiji to the Falklands; New York City to Nome, Alaska. You get the idea.
On the Canadian side, I took a tour to see the 1895 electric power plant, read about the 1912 ice bridge disaster, relive the fate of the Honeymoon Bridge, and behold the wonder of the fabulous floral clock (see below; yes, this is an actual tourist attraction). They took me downriver to a turbulent whirlpool, where jet boats thrill tourists while a Spanish cable car hangs precariously overhead. Then they took me beneath the Falls — and I don’t mean on a turbulent boat with an umbrella for a life jacket; I mean under the Falls — through a series of tunnels that open behind a solid curtain of water. It’s cool in the literal sense, by about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit.
Then I scaled the Skylon Tower, by which I mean I took the elevator. Up on the observation deck, elbow to elbow with the other unfortunate souls who paid for this privilege, I finally got a clear view of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls.
If you go to Niagara, force yourself to brave the heights and the loss of personal space to see the Falls from the Tower. Make it your last stop, right before sunset, so you can get daylight pictures, catch the light show at dusk, and then eat in the rotating restaurant that sits on top, assuming you still have a bunch of Canadian dollars left.
After my visit, I had one more bridge to cross to return to the US. As I crossed it, an optimistic wave of euphoria ran through me. I was almost home, where, like, people, you know, speak proper English and stuff. Returning Stateside used to be easy: flash a driver’s license, answer a few questions, and I’m on my way. In these post-911 days, I knew I was as likely to be strip-searched, interrogated, or shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. At least back in my long-hair, motorcycle-riding days.
If you’ve read my other tales of travel woe, you know that I can never tell when a not-so-perfect end to a far-from-perfect vacation might befall me. So I try to stay loose, go with the flow, and keep my wits about me. As it turned out, I was lucky this time. But it could have turned out differently, all because I was among the majority who believed that size matters. Don’t you make the same mistake.
Niagara Falls ranks in the Top Ten Disappointing Vacations of all time. If you go, avoid the Clifton Hill tourist traps. I took a packaged tour because I had limited time and a limited budget. They’re especially good if you’re on your honeymoon and only want to spend one day out of bed — where the debate over size still rages. A good tour gives you a taste of everything without keeping you out too late.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, MA, aka The Witch City, where size only matters in the car you drive. Mark now resides in the scenic town of Asheville, NC, where the mountains hide many beautiful waterfalls. He entertains himself by writing creatively and professionally, editing books, and doing video work. Get in touch with Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.