“I don’t see it. Where is it — down there?” I pressed my face to the car window as we passed over the bridge taking us across the border into Canada. It was close to midnight by the time my plane had landed in Buffalo and we’d made the half hour drive north, but the Niagara Falls are lit up at night, and we were eager to get across for the view.
“It’s there,” said Taylor, “You’ll see it in a minute.”
I could hear and smell the falls before I saw them. When we rolled down our windows at the immigration checkpoint, everything smelled wet. It wasn’t a moldy, damp laundry sort of smell, but cool and earthy; like the way grass smells after a rainstorm, but multiplied ten times in intensity. I’m not sure if it was the blast of cool mist or the anticipation of finally getting to see one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders, but I felt far more awake and energized than I should have after an eight-hour workday and three-hour journey. It’s believed that the high concentration of negative ions in the air around Niagara Falls, charged by the turbulent water, lowers serotonin levels in the blood — easing tension, boosting energy, and contributing to a sense of overall well being.
We rounded the corner and turned onto the main road above the cliffs overlooking the falls. High-powered red, blue, yellow, and purple lights illuminated the water from behind, gradually alternating in color. Every few minutes or so, a wave of spray would blow towards tourists lined at the railing. Some were wearing waterproof ponchos, others dripped from head to toe as they struggled to shield their cameras under wet t-shirts and sweaters. Despite the "No Parking Anytime" signs, we couldn't help but throw the hazards on and run out to take a few pictures in front of the glowing mist. Many people believe the Canadian side offers the best views, and although we didn’t get back across the border to compare, I would have to agree. Most of the viewing areas in New York were directly above or right next to the falls, not allowing for the full panoramic view of all three you get from Canada.
It’s a common misconception that there is one “Niagara Falls”. I’ll admit that I was a little shocked to get across the border and see not one, but three waterfalls flowing into the Niagara River. The falls were created at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, when most of the area was covered with ice sheets two to three kilometers deep. Over time, the ice retreated north, allowing water to flow from Lake Erie over the Niagara Escarpment, a ridge that extends across the Great Lakes region from Wisconsin to New York, creating the three waterfalls we know as Niagara Falls.
Horseshoe Falls, situated on the Canadian side, is the largest and most recognizable of the three. It has a drop of 173 feet and is approximately 2,600 feet wide. Horseshoe Falls ranks third out of the world’s waterfalls in terms of volume of water, behind Congo’s Boyoma Falls and Laos’s Khone Falls. On the U.S. side of the border, American Falls is 1060 feet wide and varies between 70-100 feet high because of the large boulders at its base. Bridal Veil Falls is significantly smaller at only 56 feet wide with a drop of 78 feet.