Over and Under the Falls

Unstoppable

The thing to do with giant tourist places like Niagara Falls is to plan ahead. We paid for our accommodation in advance, pre-booked a wine tour of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries, and got a wonderful two-day package of Things One Must Do that included public transit from our campground to all the sites and back again.

If we hadn’t organised ourselves like that, a combination of our tiredness, the oppressive heat and humidity, and the sheer overwhealming impact of the Falls themselves would’ve left us floundering.

We had a blast!

***

First touristy thing: Niagara’s Fury

Our tour group lined up (we did a lot of that) put on our rain ponchos, (we did a lot of that too) and shuffled inside a giant water tank. A 360° surroundsound, shaking floor ,water spraying, virtual reality, theatrical extravaganza, water tank.

This little guy, Chip told the story of how the Falls came into being. (the link isn’t Chips’ version. His is much cuter, but you’ll have to go the Falls to hear it. :) )

Hi. My name's Chip and I've officially joined the Widdershins household

Hi. My name’s Chip and I’ve officially joined the Widdershins household

The household: Myrtle Moose, Mini Myrtle, Odie, Garfie, Hartz, and Chip (with his little hug-buddy)

The Household Guardians: Myrtle Moose, Mini Myrtle, Odie, Garfie, Hartz, and Chip (with his little hug-buddy) … scary, no?

***

Second touristy thing: The Butterfly Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Sadly we didn’t get to tour the gardens, my knees wouldn’t go the distance, but we did spend a delightful hour or so hanging out with these guys …

Mrs Widds and her colour coordinated butterfly

Mrs Widds and her colour coordinated butterfly

Mine - they had a thing for hats

Mine – they had a thing for hats

The butterfly version of, 'Where's Wally?' - Clue. I'm iridescent green

The butterfly version of, ‘Where’s Wally?’ – Clue. I’m iridescent green

Stripes. Iz mah camoflage

Stripes. Iz mah camoflage

Feeding time

Feeding time

***

Third Touristy thing: The Whirlpool Aerocar

The Whirlpool - A panorama

The Whirlpool – A panorama

I’m good with heights, but put me in a metal cage that swings from side to side whenever anyone breathes, and held up by twisted bits of metal? That’s a horse of an entire different kettle of fish.

As the water rushed down the river from the Falls, it had to make this 90° right hand turn. The water didn’t like doing that so it chewed away at the bank and eroded an ancient river gorge, creating this aquatic cul-de-sac about 4000 years ago. The water naturally turns counterclockwise (widdershins!) and if there’s enough water in the river an actual whirlpool forms.

It's big, really big

It’s big, really big

***

Fourth Touristy thing: White Water walk

We lined up in the foyer of an innocent looking gift shop and inched forward half a dozen steps at a time until the elevator doors loomed front of us. We entered with eight other people and waited for the operator. The air smelled of dark damp places that mere humans ought not to venture into. Down and down and down, the elevator went.

The operator, a young man, working a summer job, (what did he know of mortal fears and dank dark places?) asked where we are all from and some of us answered in a unsettling mixture of nervousness and excitement. He issued instructions that I couldn’t hear and the elevator bumped to a stop.

We were down at river level and surrounded by the wild roar of the Class 6 rapids 

It may not look like it but some of those waves out there are 4-5 meters (12-15 feet) high

It may not look like it but some of those waves out there are 4-5 meters (12-15 feet) high

 

The water scoured rock barely contained the constantly churning water

The water scoured rock barely contained the constantly churning water

You can see clearly here how the river has cut almost vertically through the rock – and a young woman conducting the wave orchestra!

You can see clearly here how the river has cut almost vertically through the rock – and a young woman conducting the wave orchestra!

***

Fifth Touristy thing: Behind the Falls

Different elevator, new rain ponchos, same spooky feeling, only more so. When we got to the bottom the elevator didn’t open out onto a wide open vista but a wet downward sloping tunnel that was 2 ½ meters high at most, and maybe a meter and a half wide.

Fluorescent tubing spaced way too far apart for my liking lit the tunnel and glistened on the runnels of water on either side of the narrow walkway, eagerly gurgling toward who-knows-what ending.

We gingerly walked along the tunnel, Mrs Widds running point in case I slipped. (a fall on this hard slippery surface would completely ruin my day)

To one side a gated opening enclosed the ruins of an old tunnel that had collapsed. As the water chews away at the front of the falls, the tunnels have to be re-routed. I was kinda glad our tunnel was shored up with concrete and not old timbers like these …

You can almost hear the tired old timbers groaning

You can almost hear the tired old timbers groaning

The sound of roaring water grew louder and we passed by another opening.  This shot gives you an idea of how close the tunnel roof and walls were …

Low ceiling

Low ceiling

... and this is what Niagara Falls looks like from within the cliff face ... watch your step!

… and this is what Niagara Falls looks like from within the cliff face … watch your step!

... and this is what it looks like next to the cliff face

… and this is what it looks like next to the cliff face

See that boat with all those people in red ponchos? That’s where we were going next.

See that boat with all those people in red ponchos? That’s where we were going next.

***

Sixth Touristy Thing: Hornblower Cruise

This was perhaps the most exhilarating thing we did, and the one we got the least pictures of, seeing as we were preoccupied with getting soaked.

We decided to buy heavier duty plastic ponchos than the flimsy recyclable ones they were giving out for free. (which will be featured in another of our adventures on the way home) And suitably attired, we boarded our boat. Thankfully it was late afternoon and the ‘sardine’ crowds were long gone.

This close to the USA

This close to the USA

Huge boulders at the base of the American Falls

Huge boulders at the base of the American Falls

From here on our boat got closer, and closer, and CLOSER to the Falls, and consequently our boat felt smaller and smaller. We put our cameras away as the picturesque mist became a heavy spray, obscuring everything.

The Falls, the boat, our fellow passengers all consumed in a downpour that rivaled the best our Winnipeg storms threw at us. Part of me wondered how our little vessel would stay afloat … but it did. The captain took mercy on his beleaguered passengers and turned away from the onslaught.

I’ve hung out under some waterfalls in my time, even skinny-dipped in a few, but nothing, nothing came close to this.

***

Back above the Falls again

Back above the Falls again

Tired and happy, we watched the full moon rise through the mist above the Falls as we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant right next door

 

Misty moonrise

***

Next: Why We Are Out Here

On the Road to Niagara Falls

A strange thing happened as we neared the border between Manitoba and Ontario, the rolling canola fields ended and the Land of Many Lakes began. I don’t suppose Canada’s Drawers-of-Lines-that-Mark-Provincial-Borders did that on purpose, but even if they did, it was a nice surprise to drive right by lumps of earth and rock higher than a few meters.

Red earth, red rock

Red earth, red rock

***

All the lakes had names, but in a part of the world that has a gazillion lakes, I guess the person who named ‘em got in touch with their inner whimsey. We passed ‘Mom Lake’, closely followed by ‘Dad Lake’.

Now, you’d expect that if names continued in this vein next would be ‘Kid Lake’, or ‘Children Lake’. We certainly expected that, but no, the next lake was ‘Orphan Lake’!

Someone had a delightfully twisted sense of humour.

***

Most of the mosquito bites I’m still scratching I got during our first night in Ontario. They even had these little buggers that bit chunks out of me and left trails of blood running down my legs to freak me the hell out.

Skeeters have always liked the taste of my blood. Every Summer it’s my lot to either be smothered in nasty chemicals to keep ‘em away, or be smothered in nasty bitey insects that WILL NOT leave me alone.

***

Enough about blood-suckers, lets talk about Amethysts.

About 45 minutes north of Thunder Bay is a little dirt road that winds up the side of a mountain. Travelers like us are encouraged to leave their RV’s back at their campsites or deposit them at a turnout at the bottom of the mountain. We opted for the ‘leave the rig at home’ option.

At the top of the mountain is a quarry where some of the finest amethyst in the world is mined. It’s called Amethyst Mine Panorama and you get to dig for your very own amethysts.

There are white ones ...

There are white ones …

And purple ones ...

And purple ones …

And white and purple ones ...

And white and purple ones …

There are ones that have 'fools gold' stuck to them ...

There are ones that have ‘fools gold’ stuck to them …

And just for good measure, you can also pick up some sharp-edged flint

And just for good measure, you can also pick up some sharp-edged flint

All for C$3 per pound

***

Ever onward we drove. North then east then south around Lake Superior. We drove through White River where we had the best donuts since Tim Hortons, and met a very special sort of bear, but more of that later.

 We pulled into here for gas, but didn’t have enough time to explore the hidden delights within. We vowed to do so on our return journey. Turns out something magical was waiting for me. (also, more later :) )

Agawa Indian Crafts

Agawa Indian Crafts

***

We stopped in Sault Ste Marie, exhausted from yet another 8 hour drive. We knew it would be our last for a while so we took ourselves into town for to stock up on fresh veggies, and thusly fortified we slept the sleep of the dead … until 6am when we took off for parts East, and the South Baymouth/Tobermory Ferry.

***

There’s a little fish and chip cafe just off the main drag at the South Baymouth ferry terminal.

Look! Wrapped in newspaper, even!

Look! Wrapped in newspaper, even!

With a fairyland outdoor patio to eat them in

With a fairyland outdoor patio to eat them in

Then it's into the belly of the (ferry) beast

Then it’s into the belly of the (ferry) beast

Across the water we go

Across the water we go

When I saw such a huge expanse of water, with the opposite shore being below the horizon, I expected to smell that unmistakable salty, slightly fishy ocean smell. Nope, it was a slightly fishy, freshwater smell. All that water and not a whiff of salt. Who’d’a thunk!

***

We followed Hwy 6 South and got turned around in Owen Sound, and drove for most of the journey to Hamilton at an average of 60 k an hour. Every little hamlet and village and town was ‘speed quietened’. Mrs Widds surmised that a couple of centuries ago they sprang up like weeds along this route at about a day’s horseback ride from each other.

***

Negotiating the Hamilton bypass, (Queen Elizabeth Way, no less) was an exercise in controlled terror. Eight lanes of peak-hour traffic. We couldn’t understand why all those other drivers weren’t as laid back as us. (or as laid back as we were before we got on the bypass!) Wasn’t everyone on a grand adventure holiday?

A couple of semi truck drivers got downright nasty. Most kinda good-naturedly gave us a wide berth, but those two … I do believe there’s a hell especially reserved for arrogant aggressive asshole truck drivers, and every now and then Patrick Swayze drops by and beats the living crap outta them. Cue ‘Roadhouse’

***

So, Niagara Falls at last. Our campground was on Lundys Lane,  quite cosmopolitan as it turns out, and just down the road a couple of ‘gentleman’s clubs’ and massage parlours. We’d landed on the edge of a red light district!

***

The last word … I must’ve walked by this sign half a dozen times before Mrs Widds pointed out how special it was.

 

Of course I noticed the typo

Of course I noticed the typo

***

Next: Over and Under the Falls

 

Winnipeg, Oh Winnipeg

Before I start, are there any Winnipegites (Winnipegians?) in the audience?

Well, the lighting isn’t that good in here, so I’m just going to go with it.

I’m convinced Winnipeg doesn’t really exist, or if it does it’s a bit like Brigadoon (doomed to appear only one day every hundred years) only Winnipeg exists when there’s a blindingly ferocious storm pounding it into the deep and ancient prairie dirt and at no other time on this mortal coil.

Storms like this …

A storm to cover the entire horizon

A storm to cover the entire horizon

***

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before Winnipeg there was Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, where we decided to hang out after two grueling 8-hours-behind-the-wheel days.

Mrs Widds has no great love for mammals of the order Rodentia. We had a bit of a rat problem here on Widder island last Autumn and she Was Not Pleased.

Unfortunately the many and varied families of Rodentia have taken a perverse liking to Mrs Widds and appeared to inform their prairie cousins of this fact prior to our arrival.

I was snoozing in the trailer, she was outside, reading, when who should come along but these cuties …

Just passing by unnoticed

Just passing by unnoticed

I had no idea you'd be camping here

Why, I had no idea you’d be camping here!

I'll be on my way then

I’ll be on my way then

***

Onward we drove through the Prairies along Highway 17

The Prairies aren’t flat. They also aren’t my preferred geological or geographical terrain to drive across, for hours, and hours, and hours.

They are beautiful, and I’m glad they’re there doing their Prairie thing. I think one of their main tasks is to stop the Rockies from sliding down.

Another task is to brew up gigantic storms whose torrential downpours reduce visibility on the afore mentioned construction-riddled roads down to a few meters, and speed to something below 40 kilometers an hour.

I thought we were alone on the drenched highway but when I glanced into the rearview mirrors, I saw a line of headlights following us. I guess they figured so long as they could see us they’d be fine. Silly little lemmings. I could’ve led them astray but I was too busy with my deathgrip on the steering wheel to give them anything other than a fleeting thought.

***

… which brings us back to Winnipeg. We drove Highway 100, the Winnipeg bypass, twice. Once heading east and then on our return journey heading west with Mrs Widds driving.

Both times this …

Canola fields in the sunshine

Canola fields in the sunshine

… turned into this …

No escape

No escape

I have no evidence that Winnipeg exists outside of narrow strips of road bordered by red construction pylons and blinding rain.

***

Next: On the Road to Niagara Falls

Road Trip: A Few Stats and Our First Adventure

We’re baaaaack!

Long Winding Road

Long. Winding. Road

Stats:

31 days

5 provinces. 1 state

10,000 kilometers

17 campsites

Mosquito bites: Me – 1,964,281 … Mrs Widds – 2

Roadworks – The entire length of Hyw 17 from the BC/Alberta border to the Manitoba/Ontario one. (only a slight exaggeration)

Bridges under construction – Every bridge in Ontario. (no exaggeration)

Another valley, another bridge

Another valley, another bridge

Gigantic humongous scary storms – 6

Biggest variation of temperature in a 24 hour period in one place – 37°C to 17°C

Times we forgot to chock the wheels of the RV – 1, setting up our 2nd last campsite, and that was the time it rolled a bit and crunched the leveling jacks. (of course) Nothing our trusty RV fixer-uppers can’t fix,  but oh, the embarrassment!

You can't see it but they bent one of my flippers

You can’t see it but they bent one of my flippers

Moments of complete awe and wonder – too many to count

Arguments – none

***

The Costco Adventure – Day 1

Because we didn’t get our trailer until two days before we left we had very little time to acquaint ourselves with how everything worked, or to stock up on holiday supplies, so our first plan of action was to trundle our merry way to our Costco and shop.

The trailer brakes didn’t seem to be working properly from the very beginning, (we thought) so by the time we got to Costco (½ an hour from home) we decided to call our RV guys and see if they had any suggestions. The safety chains were a bit tight so Mrs Widds (with a great deal of Mrs Widds patented glaring) got them undone, untwisted and reattached, and we set off …

… and got 10 meters along. A very loud BANGCRUNCH rattled our truck completely freaking us out. The hitch attaching the trailer to our truck completely separated from the truck and our lovely shiny trailer was smack down on her nose in the Costco parking lot.

If you know anything about trailers and hitches, you’ll know this doesn’t happen without deliberate human interference. Someone had removed the cotter pin that locked the hitch in place. From the moment we left home we were a major accident waiting to happen. It was only the tight safety chains, and Costco, that prevented us from being a statistic on your nightly news.

***

By the end of the second day, we were here, so all was … well, neither forgiven nor forgotten, but a whole lot better, and we felt like we were really on holiday.

Mt Robson, the beautiful

Mt Robson, the beautiful

***

Next: Winnipeg, oh Winnipeg

 

 

Still …

Still … working on trip logistics.

Maps everywhere - to everywhere

Maps everywhere – to everywhere

***

Still … over 30° in the shade.

Forced to endure their air conditioned comfy  house

Forced to endure their air conditioned comfy house

***

Still … waiting to pick up our trailer – we’re having a few renovations done.

Stay tuned for before/after pics

Stay tuned for before/after pics

***

Still … not moving

I resist with all my might

I resist with all my might

***

Still … challenging the ‘oomins to play ‘spot-the-difference.

I may or may not have moved my head, and my paw

***

Still … not … oh, he moved!

Carpet was too uncomfortable

 

***

‘Boof’ is another neighbourhood cat, like Coco, who has decided to make sure we don’t lose our ‘staffpersons’ certification. It appears he has the summer season and Coco does the winter shift.

Road Trip

On my Mad Max Furiosa Road post I hinted at big things about to manifest here on Widder Island.

Mrs Widds and I are off on another adventure. I’ve been busy with the deep end of planning things, hence my not posting that often of late.

We’ve just about got all the pieces in place. It looks something like this …

Start in the pink and end in the yellow :)

Start in the pink and end in the yellow :)

This is Plan ‘D’.

Plan ‘A’ included The Maritimes and was going to be a 3 month summer-stravaganza, but life happened and we adapted, and adapted, and adapted. Seeing as we’re leaving in a month, we’re both hoping there won’t be a need for a Plan ‘E’, but we’re nothing if not flexible.

We’re going to scrounge for amethysts,  do a gazillion tourist-y things at Niagara Falls, a wine tour of the ‘Wine Country’  around Niagara-on-the-lake, (love the name) hang out at a music festival with whole bunches of like-minded lasses for 6 days, and check out the dinosaur badlands in Alberta.

That’s just the planned stuff. Who knows what spontaneity will bring.

Spontaneity Smile

Spontaneity Smile

***   ***

The last pic today goes to this handsome lad. The word has obviously gone out that we are in need of cat-terventions by any neighbourhood cats who are inclined to drop by.

Iz mah 'hello' face

Iz mah ‘hello’ face

 

Bon Voyage Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee

She will be missed