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28 April 201502:37AMusa-2015travel

If you're going to visit Niagara Falls, do it in the off season. You can see the voids where the screaming masses should be, and then saunter casually through them.

you're doing it wrong.jpg

Or whatever.

The downside is that it's the off season for a reason. A bunch of stuff is shut because there's not enough business, like the really famous Maid of the Mist boat with its blue raincoats. A bunch of stuff is also shut because it's covered in remarkably persistent sheets of very thick ice.

That said, you're not going to feel like you missed out on too much because the park is just beautiful. Pretty much all on its own. We were staying on the American side, and the walk up to the falls went from a quiet stroll in a very nice park, to some bridges over some very impressive rapids, which slowly built up until we were walking towards this enormous plume, and- whoah.

This is one of those situations where nature has a totally perfect sense of timing.

This is the thing about Niagara falls, I'm realising. They aren't famous just because they're big. They're famous because they're really quite beautiful.




On the walk back, we crossed a little island in the river. And in one of those head-reeling perspective-facts, prompted by my wiki-reading on the walk (seriously, you can do a pretty decent impression of a walking tour guide just by reading excerpts from a Wikipedia article) I realised that the tiny island we were standing on, at some point in the next few thousand years, was going to fall off a waterfall, foot by slowly eroded foot. And that the falls' distinctive green tinge is caused by the same thing happening to other islands, at a rate of multiple tonnes per day.

So that's your brain melting fact for the day.

Niagara falls is actually hooked up to the electricity grid as a hydroelectric facility. The idea was first propopsed by one Nikola Tesla, when he saw them when he was really little, and sort of came to fruition with the help of George Westinghouse. It was possibly a little bit of local grandstanding, but many of the plaques seemed to consider this the instrumental final victory of Tesla's Alternating Current over Edison's competing Direct Current.

tesla statue

Here's the thing though: that power usage actually reduces the flow rate of the falls. So there's a treaty, setting a minimum bound on the amount of water that we humans allow to fall over the falls, compared with what we divert for power. Which is just... mind-blowing. Go science.

In order to have a look underneath the falls, you have to cross the border to the Canadian side, so we dug out our passports and went for a walk. It was the weirdest border crossing I've ever experienced. It went like:

"Where are you going?" "For a walk." "How long do you intend to stay?" "A couple of hours." "...Welcome to Canada."

While we were walking down to the Canadian side, we found that Tesla statue, and did a little bit of geocaching. Which I don't want to talk about, since it was just about the most frustrating 20-odd minutes of sticking my head in a bush of my entire life.

They give you raincoats before you go down, which honestly is mostly theatre. And a free souvenir. You don't really need them, but it sort of adds to the excitement. There are a couple of sections - some tunnels that lead under the falls and open directly behind the waterfall, and an open air platform where you get lightly sprinkled with water and are a lot closer to the bottom.

I'm pretty hard-pressed to say which one was more impressive.

From the platform you can see the single point where the land stops and the air starts and the inexorable pull of gravity takes over from the supporting normal force of the ground. You think erosion and your brain goes to smooth. Nope. It is a very, very sharp drop. Like a knife.

this waterfall has sharp edges

From the little tunnel apertures, though, you can feel the force of the falls. It just won't fit inside your head. Because the only mental model we have for water falling from the sky is rain, and this is so many orders of magnitude beyond that it leaves the cluster of monkey-nerves inside your skull in a state of permanent redline.

noisiest tunnel ever

Basically, the falls were incredible, and well worth taking that extra day out to do. Would recommend.

i am not going to make that joke.

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