Swept by the Niagara Falls

Manila Bulletin, January 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

Swept by the Niagara Falls


Byline: RACHEL CASTRO-BARAWID

Nothing ever really prepared me for the spectacular beauty of the world-famous Niagara Falls, despite raves from my family and relatives of its awesome natural wonder. My first sight of it -- from the window of a car -- sent electric shocks up my spine, and left me scurrying to get out of the vehicle like an eager child or even a madman.

By the time I got closer, I was already wet from the mist coming from the thunderous flow of water from the Falls. It was a heart-stopping experience that swept me off my feet and left me spellbound. My family and relatives, laughing at my reaction, tried talking to me but I could not hear them and cannot even think of what to say. Stunned in silence, I just marveled in awe at the immense beauty of the legendary Falls for a few more seconds before the 'love-at-first-sight' hypnosis gradually wears off. This trip to the Falls, I later realized, was indeed the highlight of my brief pre-autumn visit to Canada.

This breath-taking emotion is experienced over and over again by some 12 million domestic and foreign tourists who annually visit the Niagara Falls, located within the Niagara Parks' sprawling property, in the town called Niagara-on-the-Lake. The place is accessible by a two hour-drive from downtown Toronto, in the province of Ontario, Canada; and from Buffalo, in the state of New York, USA.

Touted as the world's second largest falls next to Victoria Falls in Southern Africa, Niagara Falls actually comprises of three waterfalls: The Canadian Falls (also called Horseshoe because of the river's 90-degree angle shaped like a horseshoe), the American Falls; and a much smaller cascade located next to it called the Bridal Veil Falls, named for its appearance. The two larger falls are separated by Goat island which is part of the United States.

The 170-foot-tall Horseshoe Falls has the height of a 16-storey building and measures 2,600 feet wide. Beneath it is the 180-feet deep Maid of the Mist pool - dug 10 feet deeper than the riverbed by the persistent stream of pounding water. The volume of water that it churns out measures some 600,000 US gallons per second. There are many taller waterfalls around the world but the huge amount of water flowing over the Niagara Falls makes it "the greatest waterfall on earth when judged by volume," according to literature.

Meanwhile, the American Falls, so named because it is located on the US side, is slightly higher than the Horseshoe Falls, much smaller in width but also fascinating in its own right. With a height of 176 feet and a brink of 1,060 feet, the American Falls handles only 10 percent of the total flow of the Falls or some 150,000 US gallons of water per second. It is also known as Rainbow Falls for the rainbows that continuously form in the mist above it, making the view all the more beguiling. On the other side of it, separated by Luna island, is the Bridal Veil Falls. At the base of these two falls, boulders and rock debris have accumulated over the years, and has reduced the water's fall by almost a third. Attempts to remove it to further enhance the falls appearance have been in vain due to a study conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which revealed that these rocks if removed could cause the collapse of the cliff wall. Consequently, debris now rises two thirds up from the base in places. At this rate, the American Falls may become steep rapids in less than 100 years.

The source of water from the falls comes from the Niagara river. Flowing 35 miles from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, the Niagara river splits into two channels around Grand island, New York and flows along at a languid five or six miles per hour until reaching the Upper Rapids three miles above the Falls. Here, the river's pace accelerates upwards to 42 miles per hour. After rushing over the falls, the river snakes through narrow, turbulent Niagara Gorge and the Whirlpool Rapids, past several towns and forts into Lake Ontario. …

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