Awesome Niagara

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Having visited lots of family and friends the past several weeks, it was now time to move west across New York State as we get closer to our plans to tour the state of Michigan for seven weeks. We would take about three weeks to get to Michigan with stops at Niagara Falls and locations in Ohio.

Diane and I had both been to Niagara Falls, but it was many many years ago in our youth. Both of us wanted to visit the Falls again and decided to spend a week in the area. We arrived on a Sunday after a very nice drive from Ithaca along US 20. Although we could have stayed in a Good Neighbor Park (GNP) out towards Lockport, we wanted to be much closer to the Falls so we could go there whenever we chose, even if it was after dinner for a few hours. One of the places closest to the Falls was the Niagara Lodging and Campground on US 62, a motel/campground combination. At first, I was a little leery about such a combo, but that proved to be unfounded. The motel was an old motel. The campground was in the back and far enough off the road to keep the road noise down. It had back-in sites and pullthru sites, some with water and electric, some with full hookup (water, electric, sewer). We opted for a full hookup site. They charged $30 a day, but you got seven days by paying for six, so we paid our $180 for the week and settled into a nice sized pullthru site. The best part was that it was only six miles to the Falls.

It was about 8 p.m. when we finished dinner with plenty of light left, so we drove to the Falls and parked in the lot in the park and right near the Rainbow Bridge that goes to Canada. We ended up doing a lot of walking, first to see the Falls up close, and then over to Goat Island, and then back to the parking area and half way across the Rainbow Bridge to get a different view. We didn't go to the Canadian side as we knew we would do that later in the week. We did get to see the fireworks that are conducted on Sunday and Friday evenings. It was only a 10-minute display, but very well done. We decided we would watch them on Friday night from the Canadian side.

Niagara was originally spelled Onguiahra, and Indian word from the 1600s that meant "thundering waters". About 6 million cubic feet of water flows over the falls every minute. That's about a million bathtubs of water every second. Do you know which waterfall is the highest one in the world? Hint: it's not Niagara Falls. It is the 50th highest waterfall in the world. Give up? OK, the highest waterfall in the world is Angel Falls in Venezuela. It is 3,212 feet high. Niagara Falls is only 167 feet high. Currently, about half of the water that could flow over the falls is diverted for power by the United States and Canada. Only about 10% of the water from the Niagara River flows over the American Falls. The other 90% flows over the Horseshoe Falls. The water that flows over Niagara Falls comes from four of the five Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan, Superior. From the bottom of the Falls, the water flows down the Niagara River to Lake Ontario, then to the St. Lawrence River and out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The weather was beautiful on Monday, so we decided it was a good day to take in some of the attractions around the Falls. We got tickets to ride the Maid of the Mist boat into the Falls, which was pretty cool. It was a 30-minute ride that passed by the American Falls and right into the ring of the Horseshoe Falls. The boat kept going deeper into the Falls and one found out why it was called the Maid of the Mist, because the power of the waterfall created lots of mist. Even with the ponchos they gave us to wear we still got a bit wet.

I guess we didn't get wet enough on the Maid of the Mist because we decided we may as well also do the Cave of the Winds. We walked over to Goat Island, got tickets, and got on line. We were fortunate in that the lines weren't long the day we were there, as we learned they were over the weekend. It was an elevator ride down to the base of the Falls and then a walk to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. We had heavier ponchos for this attraction and we found out why. We were able to walk right up to the base of the falls and feel the power of the water coming down from above. And it was VERY wet. Pretty cool to be that close to such power.

We couldn't park the car in the park's lot because it was full, so we parked down the road a bit from the Falls and walked back. After we finished the Cave of the Winds, we moved the car to the park's lot since we knew we'd be out late and didn't want to walk back to where the car was parked late at night. The Hard Rock Cafe was a block away from the park, so we decided to eat there and then walk over to Canada. It was a snap going into Canada. We had our passports with us, but I wanted to see what was needed, so we only presented our driver's licenses. After a couple of questions about where were we going and how long were we going to stay, we passed into Canada. We then walked all the way to the Horseshoe Falls and then to the Skylon Tower, which we decided we would go up another day. The view of the Falls was much better from the Canadian side as you can view the entire waterfall from that side. We had been out since about 1 p.m. and walked several miles, so we decided to head back and view the Falls at night another day. It was after 9 p.m. when we got home, but a great day at Niagara Falls.

In keeping with our desire to not treat our lifestyle like a vacation, we did nothing on Tuesday except hang around. On Wednesday, we went to Old Fort Niagara with a stop in Lewiston to visit the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston. In 1954, the Barnabite Fathers arrived from Italy and wanted to create a devotional center in honor of Our Lady. Mr. & Mrs. Walter Ciurczak donated 15 acres of their farm land for the center and a basilica was completed in 1965. The church was built round with a diameter of 100 feet and 55 feet in height. The Dome was covered with two layers of glass and plexiglass depicting a contour of the Northern Hemisphere, upon which rested a 13-foot, 10 ton, statue of Our Lady of Fatima carved from Vermont granite. One can climb the 63 steps to the top of the Dome for a view of the surrounding countryside and the statue. A very nice brochure explained the sites on the grounds, as well as the chapels, paintings, and sculptures in the church.

One item of special note in the church was the Peace Mural. The mural was 24 feet across the front and 7 1/2 feet high. As described in the brochure for the mural:

"The left side shows a consequence of a lack of peace. A horrible aftermath of an atomic bomb mushroom hovers above spectral figures, clad in death white.

The right side instead depicts Professor Slawinski's fanciful projection of a tranquil world with laughing children and cosmic harmony. It is a scene of plenty, culture and education with inter-planetary travel and peace among the people of the world. When peace prevails, the earth is a joyous place.

In the center of the Mural stands a pregnant young woman. She is a symbol that peace is not yet here, but its possibility is present. Surrounding her are four figures representing the four races of the world. Positioned above them is the symbol of the Holy Trinity drawing together the two hemispheres."

We continued our day's drive up to Old Fort Niagara just north of the village of Youngstown. The first post was built by the French in 1679 and was called Fort Conti. In 1726, the French built a permanent structure called the "French Castle". In 1759, the British gained control of the fort during the French & Indian War. They held the fort throughout the American Revolution and handed it over to the United States in 1796 as a result of a treaty. The fort was then recaptured by the British in 1813 and was given back to the United States in 1815 at the end of the War of 1812. That was the last time Fort Niagara experienced armed conflict. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only military presence on the site.

We walked around the grounds for a while as we waited for a tour to start. The tour was quite good. The young gal who conducted the tour knew her history and embellished it with some interesting stories about life in the fort. After the tour, we hung around to see the firing of some mortars, which was explained nicely by three guys in period uniforms. We finished our tour of the fort and headed home. We drove down along the shore and back into Niagara Falls and then out to the campground. Another nice day.

I had seen the Erie Canal several times when I was attending Brockport State back in the 60s. Diane had never seen the canal, and I had never taken a cruise on the canal to see the locks from that angle, so we drove to Lockport to take the Locks & Erie Canal Cruise. It was a 2-hour cruise through through the locks and under bridges that raised straight up to allow boats to go under.

Construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817 and was opened on October 26, 1825. It was built to connect Lake Erie with the Hudson River, and then to the Atlantic Ocean. The entire canal was hand-dug, all 363 miles of it, which was quite an incredible engineering feat. The problem was that there was a 571-foot difference in height between the two rivers. That meant that locks had to be built to raise and lower the boats and barges that would travel the canal. There were originally 83 stone locks. The canal was enlarged in the early 1900s and there are now 35 locks that allow larger vessels to travel across New York State. Our cruise included being "locked through" and being raised 49 feet, and then lowered 49 feet on the way back. Quite cool. We had company in the lock when we were going up the canal. A private pleasure boat was heading down the canal. They were on an extended vacation on their boat and chatted with us for a while as we waited to be locked through. I always thought it would be so cool to ride a boat from Miami up the Intracoastal Waterway, up the Hudson River, across the Erie Canal and into the Great Lakes, and then down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. I learned later that boaters refer to that as the "Circle Tour".

We had two days left in the Niagara Falls area and few things we still wanted to do, mainly to see the Falls at night, watch the IMAX movie about the Falls, and go up the Skylon Tower. So Friday we went to an afternoon movie, and then drove to the Falls, parked the car and walked across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada. We stayed to watch the Falls get lit up by the lights that shine from the Canadian side over to the American and Horseshoe Falls, and to watch the fireworks. On our last day in the area, we again took in an afternoon movie, and then parked the car and walked to Canada. We walked through the big casino just on the other side of the bridge, but we didn't contribute very much to the local economy this time.  :-)  We headed to the IMAX theater to watch the movie about Niagara Falls. It was mostly about the people who had gone over the Falls in various contraptions. Then we walked to the Skylon Tower and took in the view from the top. It was a quite beautiful view from the tower. There was a huge construction project going on down below that I found out will be a massive hotel and casino.

The week went by very quickly and we enjoyed every minute of it. Niagara Falls has become one of our favorite places that we have visited on our journey.

We wanted to start our tour of Michigan sometime around August 1, which left us about two weeks between Niagara Falls and entry into Michigan. In 2000, during our "Friends and Family Tour", we went up into Canada and drove the 401 to Windsor and into the USA at Detroit. This time, we wanted to drive along Lake Erie on the USA side. Looking at the map and the campground directory, we decided to spend a week in Conneaut (pronounced "con-e-ut") at two Good Neighbor Parks, and then a week at the Coast-to-Coast (C2C) park that was recently written up in the C2C magazine, Erie Islands Resort. We had plenty of time on the day we traveled from Niagara Falls to Conneaut, so we traveled most of the route along US 5 rather than the interstates. It looked like US 62 went through Buffalo and then we could connect with US 5. Well, it did go through Buffalo.  Right through the industrial area and less affluent part of the city. The road was pretty bumpy through that part of the city and I wished I had gone on the interstate around Buffalo. It was a Sunday, so there was no traffic. Diane likes to see, as she calls it, "Americana", so we went through the city. I planned to drive around Erie, PA, but Diane wanted to drive through, so we did. It seemed to take forever to get through the city. There was no traffic given that it was a Sunday, but there were lots of stoplights and I think we hit every one of them. Unless you really have to see the downtown, or industrial, parts of a city, I would suggest driving around rather than through.  ;-)  

We arrived at Evergreen Lake Park and set the rig up in a nice, wide site. Even with the trees, I was able to get the dish to work, so all was well in the world. Evergreen is owned by Renee Levesque and his family. I got to chat with Renee several times during the week we stayed there and found him to be quite interesting and easy to talk to. They run a nice park. It was quite big and surrounds Evergreen Lake (more like a very big pond) in which kids can swim and dive off a platform. Diane and I took many walks around the park. Most of the sites, more than 200, were seasonal sites, which meant people stayed on those sites year after year. Although most of the units in the park were old, they were well maintained and some of the sites were nicely landscaped. Overall, the park had a very nice look and feel to it.

I picked up a local paper on our last day in the area and read a letter to the editor from the Cole family thanking Evergreen for their help when their home burned to the ground. Renee and his family helped the family rebuild and were sending all of the kids to school. A very class act in my opinion.

Our plan was to spend four days at Evergreen and three days down the road at the other Good Neighbor park in the area, Windy Hill Golf Course and Campground. Diane and I drove down to see the park one day and decided it wasn't where we wanted to spend our time, so we extended our stay at Evergreen.

There was a brochure that Diane picked up advertising a place in Austinburg, "Buck Farm", which wasn't far from Conneaut. They sold bison meat. We like bison, so we drove to Austinburg to find the shop. They raised their own bison and then sold the meat. We bought some steaks, ground meat, brats, and patties. We grilled the steaks that night and they were delicious. In subsequent meals, Diane made the sausage with pasta, and a meatloaf. I love meatloaf, but the bison meatloaf wouldn't rank up as one of my favorites. Certainly not as tasty as the steaks. On the way home, we took the scenic route to scout out some of the covered bridges in the area, of which there were many. Ashtabula County has the most covered bridges in Ohio. Most were down dirt roads, but the map we picked up was pretty accurate and we found eight of the bridges. It made for a nice day.

We also went to Lake Erie a couple of times during the week to watch the sunset, and made a couple of stops at the White Turkey Drive-in for lunch.  They made some great sandwiches and good old-fashioned root beer floats.  The owners, Peggy and Gary Tuttle, were interested in RVing, so we chatted with them about our full-timer lifestyle.  Nice folks.  We enjoyed our stay in the Conneaut area.

Erie Islands Resort wasn't in our C2C directory, but it got a good review in the magazine. We decided it would be a good place to spend a week to use as a base to visit the area. The resort was on a huge piece of property and recently changed ownership. Not only was there a campground on the property, but there was a small hotel, time share units, and a large recreation hall, as well as a small par-3 golf course and marina. It backed up to the Portage River. Diane and I walked around the property many times and stopped at the pier that jutted out into the river to watch the sunset. The resort had plans for an 18-hole golf course. It was rated as a 5-star resort. I would not say that it's a 5-star resort, at least not yet, but it has the potential to be a top notch resort. The campground still needs some work to add some ambience. The pullthru sites were large, but it was very open and not much landscaping or trees. But still a nice place.

I had received some notes from folks in response to my post on the RVAMERICA bulletin board requesting information about northern Ohio. One of the common suggestions for the Port Clinton area, where Erie Islands Resort was located, was to take a boat ride to Put-in-Bay (PIB), which was the downtown area on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. There were three ways to get there: Jet Express ($20 round trip), Island Rocket ($16 round trip), and the Miller Ferry ($10) round trip. Even with paying $4 for parking at the ferry, we saved enough by taking the ferry to cover lunch at the Boardwalk in PIB. The two fast boats go right to PIB, but the ferry docks on the south side of the island two miles from downtown.

Having arrived on the island, there were lots of modes of transportation: car if you took it on the ferry (not really a good solution due to lack of parking), golf carts ($40-50 per day), bikes (your own or rented), taxi, bus, or foot power. Given that we like to walk, and that it was a nice morning, we walked the two miles to PIB. We did, however, take the bus back to the ferry after walking all day.

We got to PIB just before noon and decided to eat lunch before visiting the Perry Monument and walking around town. We had seen an ad for the Boardwalk and it's famous lobster bisque. I had the bisque in a sourdough bread bowl and it was DELICIOUS, and filling. Diane had a lobster sandwich, PIB's answer to the lobster roll that we've eaten when in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

After lunch we went to visit the monument that was built to commemorate Admiral Perry's defeat of the British Navy during the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. It was the first time an entire British fleet was captured, and it let the Americans take control of Lake Erie and most of the old Northwest. Perry was only 27 when he was named commander of the Lake Erie fleet. He died at 34 of a fever contracted while on a mission to Venezuela. 

You may recognize the following well-known and famous quotes attributed to Perry: "Don't give up the ship" and "We have met the enemy and they are ours". We used our National Parks pass to go to the top of the 352 foot monument (via elevator) and the view was spectacular looking out over Lake Erie. There was a regatta going on at the time. We found out it was all 13 to 17 year olds out there in small sailboats. It was very windy. Later in the day, we went to see them take their boats out of the water. They sure had to work hard to control them, but these kids looked like they were having a great time.

I didn't grow up around boats, but every time I'm around them I can't help but think about what it would be like to have a big boat and cruise around the lakes and the inland waterways in the USA. I bet it's as exciting as traveling in our motorhome. We chatted up a guy who was walking towards where the kids were taking their boats out of the lake and learned that he was from Delray Beach, Florida. His grandson was competing. He also owned a motorhome, a Monaco Dynasty, as well as a boat. Then we chatted up some folks who were sitting on a dock next to a very big boat. It was their boat, a 38 foot cabin cruiser. They had done the route from Miami up the coast and across the Erie Canal and into the Great Lakes. Sounded exciting. They put in at marinas just like we do at campgrounds. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time in Put-in-Bay. Definitely a thing to do if you are ever in the Port Clinton area of Ohio.

There was a sign in town that said this was the walleye capitol of the world. I wouldn't know a walleye, from a carp, from a shark. Well, maybe I'd know a shark. We went to the local fish market in town to get some walleye because some folks told us it was very good. We also wanted to get some perch, which was also popular around the area. We bought about a pound of each. I was a little surprised at the price, $7.95 a pound, which I thought was a little pricey given the fish was caught and processed locally. While we were in the store, I saw a huge piece of shark at $4.95 a pound. We decided to have the lady cut off a pound of the shark. It was at least 2" thick. Diane marinated it for a while and I cooked it on the grill. Wow. It was tender and DELICIOUS. Another night we had the perch, breaded and cooked in some oil. It, too, was delicious. The walleye was frozen so we put that in the freezer for another day. I'm a pretty adventurous eater and will try most anything. I like fish, as long as it is has no bones. Diane isn't a fan of fish, but she knows it's good for us and we're trying to eat more fish.

Most of the week was spent hanging around the resort. We endured some storms that passed through and did many walks around the property. There were wooden swings set up at different places around the property and we would sit on them and watch the sunset, or just sit down near the marina and look at the few boats that were moored there. One day, some RV friends we met at a rally last year, Tom and Mary Williams, also full-timers, drove down from where they were staying in Michigan to visit with us. We all went out to lunch and had a great time chatting. Then we drove around for a while and out to the lighthouse. A nice relaxing week.

We were now ready to start a seven-week tour through Michigan, with about half of that time to be spent in the Upper Peninsula.

Until next travels.

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