Back on the Road Following Our Independence Day Break

I have a correction to make to my last post. I put Put-In-Bay on the wrong island, it is on South Bass Island. The winery we ate at on our first night in the area was on Catawba Island. I thank Jan for correcting me.

Connie and I spent ten days in Pittsburgh that seemed more like four or five with the speed with which they passed. I won’t bore you with all the details as we were there to visit family and friends and to house and dog sit for our niece and her family while they went to Chicago for a wedding.

We had to store the motorhome while in Pittsburgh as there are no campgrounds any closer than Washington, Pennsylvania, which is not close. We got a good deal on the storage and it was just a small pain in the rear to move all the refrigerated and frozen food to Cinda’s house for short term storage. We even shared some of it with Cinda, Scott and two of their five boys.

Connie’s sister and brother-in-law recently relocated to a retirement village, so we visited them in their new digs. It is really a wonderful place and they should be quite happy there once they get completely settled. We ate there two times during our stay and I have to say the food is really good and the portions are appropriate to help maintain one’s waistline. Jim gave us a tour of the facilities. You would think he had been there for years and was in marketing for his knowledge of the place and the location of all the different attributes. Their apartment is just beautiful and absolutely full of light. Of course Barbara has done a magnificent job of decorating.

Many of our extended family who call Pittsburgh home were not in town for reasons such as school, travel and relocations to other cities. However, we did see everyone who was in town, but we were not able to spend enough time with any of them due to a variety of impediments to scheduling.

Of great importance to me was my great find of one of the best places to run I have found in a long time. For all the years I have been visiting Pittsburgh and running on the streets of Mt. Lebanon and living to talk about it I have had a secret distaste for the process. There are countless folks seen running up and down the streets any day of the week. There are a thousand times more vehicles on those same roads every day and it makes life a little crazy for a runner. I have certainly had my share of close calls to say nothing of the struggle to beat the endless hills. After two rather hectic runs I went on the look for safer places to get long miles. Connie and I drove to a place called South Park which had been recommended by our great nephew. It looked somewhat promising, but it also looked to be less safe than I would like and also offered an opportunity to get lost and wind up running more miles than desired. On our way back to Cinda’s house we stopped at a name brand running store and asked one of the young fellows working there where I could get some really safe long runs done. I was looking at a weekend run in excess of 19 miles. He immediately told us that the only place to go was to The Montour Trail. It just so happened there was an access parking lot less than five miles from where we were staying. The Montour Trail is an old rail bed that has been converted to a multipurpose trail and maintained by a huge group of volunteers. Mile zero is in the northern part of a suburb called Robinson to the west of downtown Pittsburgh. Mile 46 is in Clairton which is southwest of downtown and adjacent to The Great Allegheny Passage. That is another trail that if taken to the north ends in downtown Pittsburgh. If taken south you can go all the way to Washington, DC. In fact I believe that is the same trail our friend Pat rode his bicycle on during a round trip ride between Washington and Pittsburgh. There are some short portions of The Montour Trail that are not complete requiring street running to bridge the gap. However, I learned that by heading towards mile zero I could get 10 miles in one direction with only about 300 yards on a street. Before our time in the area was up I had logged three great runs on this wonderful surface. Were it not for the heat and humidity they would have been the three best runs of the season. My 19.65 mile run on our last Saturday there was really a great run. When I started the temperature in the parking lot was 59 degrees. When I got back to the car it was 89. The last three miles were killers due to the heat, humidity and the fact that the last five miles were generally uphill. Never the less, it was a wonderful run and gave me a lot of confidence for the weeks remaining prior to the Marine Corps Marathon.

We got underway from Pittsburgh on July 5. We had been moving things back to the motorhome for a couple of days, so all we had to take back on Monday was a couple of small bags and the coolers full of groceries. I was the one who packed the coolers and as I was taking them into the motorhome it occurred to me that I had forgotten to take our stuff out of the freezer. Connie made the return trip to Cinda’s to fetch the frozen food while I put things away. As it turns out we were delayed in getting underway by only a matter of minutes because I got done stowing things about the time Connie showed up with the frozen food.

Our first stop was Erie, Pennsylvania. It was a simple overnight stop with no plan take in the sights. I did get a short run in the following morning before we left for the Niagara Falls area.

We spent from the afternoon of July 6th to the morning of July 10th in the Niagara area. It was hot, I mean really hot for the first three days we were there. Soon after we got settled in the RV Park about five miles south of the falls we made our way to the falls to get the lay of the land and gather information so we could make some realistic plans for our time in the area.

Of course we went armed with cameras and binoculars just in case. We wandered around Niagara Falls State Park for a few hours getting oriented with the locations of the various attractions. The American Falls observation platform was open so we walked out onto the platform and got a really good look at the falls as there were not large crowds of people jamming the rails. I took some photos I am pretty proud of and I have uploaded some of the best ones to the web album linked below.

This is as good a place to bring you up to date on my camera problem. The good folks at Nikon were able to fix my camera and it was waiting for us at Barbara and Jim’s when we arrived in Pittsburgh. I took a lot of pictures in Pittsburgh to get acquainted with the camera and therefore I felt ready to make some good images of Niagara Falls. My early evening photos are really pretty neat as the shutter speed was pretty slow due to the low light. So the water going over the falls got increasingly more blurry as the light faded. Shortly after 9 PM a light show started where huge flood lights from the Canadian side of the river are trained on the falls. Over time the light changes from white to red, to blue and then some mixes of colors. I got some early shots of the light show and then we decided we needed sleep more than I needed more photos. They came out pretty well, but I suspect tripod aided shots about a half hour later would have really been neat. I hope you enjoy the images I have placed on my web album.

The next day we were back at the falls for what would be a daylong adventure. We took the Maid of the Mist boat tour to get our day off to a cool start. You will recall I said it was really hot in Niagara during our stay. The best way to get cooled down was to take the boat tour and forego the souvenir plastic poncho provided with the purchase of a ticket. I used mine to keep my camera dry while Connie fashioned some neat little wraps around her watch and camera case, thereby making her camera inaccessible during the tour. We were two of about three people on deck who were not sporting the less than fashionable ponchos as you will see in the photos. The Maid of the Mist takes you really close to the base of the falls. You pass within yards of the rocks that litter area below the American Falls and within tens of yards of the base of Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the river.

For years I have heard that the Canadian side of Niagara is so much more beautiful than the American side. I have always had it in my mind that the two falls were not within sight of one another and that in order to see Horseshoe Falls one had to go to Canada. Well, I am now much more knowledgeable about both the relative beauty and the geographic closeness. The American Falls are a bit taller 176 feet vs. 167 feet on the Canadian side. The American Falls are much narrower-1100 feet vs. 2500 feet as measured from shore to shore. An Island in the middle of the river separates the two sets of falls, so the American Falls width is measured from the southern shore of the river to the southern edge of Goat Island while the Horseshoe Falls width is measured from the northern edge of Goat Island to the northern shore of the river. As the Horseshoe Falls is shaped as its name would imply, like a horseshoe, that linear distance is much greater than the rather straight line of the American Falls. The area below Horseshoe Falls is relatively clear of rocks that have broken free from the brink over the hundreds of thousands of years that water has been passing over the falls where as on the American Falls side there are giant boulders that break the vertical drop.

These geologic facts contribute to the commonly shared opinion that the Canadian side is much more dramatic than the American side. Of course I have an opinion as well. Horseshoe Falls are undoubtedly the most dramatic natural occurring site I have ever witnessed. The unfathomable volume of water that passes over the brink each second is more than I can comprehend at 675,000 gallons per second. By the way the American Falls pass a mere 75,000 gallons per second over the brink. Looking up at the falls from below was truly an amazing sight. Capturing great images was impossible without waterproof camera gear, so my photos only capture a part of the grandeur of this incredible place. That said, the American Falls are also a brilliant work of nature and the force of water. Although the stream is broken by the field of boulders before falling the full 176 feet, the majesty of the falls cannot be overstated. I believe that the rocks actually contribute to the beauty of the falls by adding another dimension to the dynamics. Therefore, it is my opinion that comparing the majesty and beauty of these two icons is much like comparing apples to oranges. They are both great for the specific geological differences existing between them.

We got plenty wet during the boat trip, but not soaked. Therefore, during the remainder of the day we were not as uncomfortably hot as we would otherwise have been.

Following the boat trip we boarded the park trolley and took a ride over to Goat Island. Goat Island does not look like a goat, nor are there any goats living on the island. The island got its name for a rather sad reason. In times long past a local farmer wintered his livestock on the island feeling they would do better there than on the southern shore of the Niagara River. Unfortunately, it was a cold harsh winter and when the farmer returned to the island in the spring he found there was but one survivor, a goat. The island has been known as Goat Island ever since. Goat Island is now part of Niagara Falls State Park and its location offers some of the very best dry views of both sets of falls. In fact I think the view of Bridal Veil Falls, part of the American Falls, as seen from Goat Island is possibly the best view that can be gotten without some sort of airship. We got some tremendous views of the falls from remarkably close distances from a variety of vantage points along the shores of Goat Island. Apparently suicide is still one of the many reasons people are attracted to Niagara Falls as there are hotline telephones that connect the caller to suicide prevention and intervention facilities in the area. I was a bit surprised to see these phones placed in strategic locations around the park.

Another of the attractions at the falls is a hike to the base of the American Falls called Cave of the Winds. In years past visitors could actually get behind the falls. However, erosion has destroyed most of the once natural walkway and unstable rock has made what remains too unsafe. Therefore, the trail now gets visitors very close to base, but no longer behind the falls. We debated whether or not we should take the hike. The upside was that you get really neat souvenir sandals as part of the cost of admission. The downside is that you get really wet and the opportunity for photos is limited due to the risk to the camera equipment. As the debate continued we learned that the line we were looking at was two hours long. It was already after 5 PM, so our decision was made for us. Connie continues regretting not getting in line for at least as long as it would take to get the sandals. I took a picture of the sandals and therefore have no such regrets.

Niagara Falls

Our next day would be a car trip to the east along the Erie Canal to a town called Lockport. At Lockport we boarded another tour boat, only this time to get a feel for the Erie Canal and a pair of the locks along its length. As we baked in the mid-day sun, we thought back to the wet clothes we had the previous day with great envy. The tour was great even with the heat and humidity. It was fun to watch the operation of the locks and to see the countryside as we slowly made our way up and down the canal. I took two videos of the tour and had intended to post them with this article. However, my current connection speed is too slow to upload the videos. So, you will have to picture in your mind what we were able to see. The water rose in the lock at a rate of about a foot every 15 – 20 seconds. As it neared the top the rate decreased slightly as the laws of gravity would dictate. In this lock system there are no pumps, the water moves by gravity alone. It was really interesting to watch how quickly millions of gallons of water moves through the system.

Our last full day in the area was a busy one. We first drove back to Niagara Falls State Park and parked at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center where we learned a bit more about the history of the falls including a fact that had escaped my memory, if I ever knew it. That is that in 1969 a temporary diversion was installed between the south bank of the river and the western end of Goat Island thereby causing all the water to go over Horseshoe Falls. With the American Falls dry studies could be conducted to determine a number of things about the stability of the falls. While dry there was also a study conducted to determine if it would be feasible to remove the giant rock pile at the base of the falls. Obviously the final decision on that count was no. From the Discovery Center we walked over to the Aquarium of Niagara. While not the greatest aquarium I have ever visited, it was worth the time. I got a few really cute photos from the aquarium.

Finally, we took a little drive over to the Canadian side to do a little sightseeing and shopping. An interesting observation, the Canadian border agent was super friendly. She even asked why we would come all the way from Florida to go to rainy drizzly Canada. She also invited us to stay for the fireworks show that would be going on later in the evening. On our way back into the United States the US border agent was anything but friendly. I find it interesting that the majority of these agents have to treat everyone as though they are a criminal who has not yet been identified. I am sure the Canadian agent learned as much about us as the US guy did and she did it with a smile. I am pretty sure it isn’t a gender thing as we have gotten grilled by female Canadian border agents in the past. We also had a really wonderful experience with a US agent as we were going from the Yukon Territory to Alaska at Haines, Alaska last summer. So, it seems to me that many of these people just don’t like their jobs and therefore take it out on everyone they contact.
Anyway, our time in Canada was short but we accomplished what we went there for. We bought Connie some Cadbury Thins. These little chocolate morsels help keep the peace in our home on wheels. We also found a Starbucks, but then we are always on the lookout for them no matter where we are.

From Niagara we headed east to the Finger Lake region of New York. But that is a story for another day.


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