New York – Days 3-5: Great Lakes, Waterfalls, and Other Wanderings

I started day three in New York in Rochester at the Genesee River Gorge. The waterfall currently stands eighty feet above the pool below. The bridge you have to stand on to get a good view of the falls is quite far away so it isn’t nearly as impressive as I’m sure it’d be closer up.

I wish there was a way to get closer to the waterfall...Genesee River Gorge, Rochester, NY.

I wish there was a way to get closer to the waterfall…Genesee River Gorge, Rochester, NY.

On my bucket list is “visit all five of the Great Lakes”. I figured while traveling to all 50 states I’d probably manage to squeeze in the Great Lakes. While in Rochester I drove to Ontario Beach Park to dip my fingers in Lake Ontario. Obviously swimming was out of the question, since a month earlier the Atlantic Ocean in Maine was freezing, and now it was later in the fall. Yeah, I’m super glad I decided not to try swimming. I nearly immediately regretted sticking my hand in. My hand was so cold once I pulled it out of the water that it hurt and then went numb for at least a couple minutes. Brr.

Lots of big waves for a Great Lake, Lake Ontario Beach Park, Rochester, NY.

Lots of big waves for a Great Lake, Lake Ontario Beach Park, Rochester, NY.

Alas, one Great Lake down, three more to go (I grew up in Minnesota and I’ve been swimming in Lake Superior). My host that first evening in Rochester suggested I check out the Cobbs Hill Reservoir to get a nice view of the city, so I did:

View of Rochester from Cobbs Hill Reservoir, Rochester, NY.

View of Rochester from Cobbs Hill Reservoir, Rochester, NY.

The reservoir itself wasn’t all that interesting, just a big fenced in pool of water on top of a hill. It was a nice place to walk around while talking on the phone though. After my quick jaunt around the reservoir I went to the Eastman House which was created in honor of George Eastman, the founder of Kodak. With a student discount admission was only $5, which is good, because it was $14 otherwise and it totally wouldn’t have been worth it for that price. The museum only had about three display rooms featuring photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn. While Coburn’s photos were interesting, and his cityscapes definitely fueled my wanderlust, there wasn’t much else going on at the museum. Though, I suppose admission also included access to Eastman’s mansion, but we were only allowed to go around the main floor and check out one room upstairs in addition to a discovery room for children. The rest of the house was off limits to non-staff. So, yeah, not that exciting. To its credit, one room of the house did have a cool elephant head statue, so that was something.

Elephant statue in Eastman House, Rochester, NY.

Elephant statue in Eastman House, Rochester, NY.

While at the Eastman House I watched a couple of videos about the history of photography which were pretty interesting. Especially the one about how digital imaging is totally changing the way we interact with photography. The lady in the video said something along the lines of ‘There was a time where you could be going through your grandma’s closet and find a photo of her from when she was a kid, but more and more, we take all these digital images, but we don’t print them out anymore.’ That sort of struck me, and made me want to go through my pictures and print out some of the best ones, just to have them around in case someone wanted to find them someday.

Day three also happened to be Back to the Future future day, and my host that night invited me to go see the first two movies in a theatre near his house. I happily accepted, of course. The theater was one of those fancy ones I’d only ever heard of, where you reserve your specific seats advance and each seat is a reclining chair with it’s own cup holder. It was awesome! I felt like I was watching a movie in someone’s basement on a huge screen! It was so cool.

The following day I went to Niagara Falls. It was such a perfect day. It was sunny and partly cloudy and sixty-one degrees. Just beautiful. I’d been to Niagara Falls one other time in my life, when I was nineteen, but that time I’d been on the Canadian side, so I was excited to see what the American side had to offer. At the same time, I sort of expected it to be a little bit of a letdown because from Canada I could see all of the falls on the American side, and I didn’t remember there being many falls on the Canadian side. 

My first time at Niagara Falls I went on a whim, so I didn’t spend the money to do the Maid of the Mist tour where you go in a boat right up next to the falls. This time around, I decided I was definitely going to do it so long as it wasn’t more than $40. It ended up only being $17 and was well worth it.

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, NY.

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, NY.

Three separate waterfalls make up Niagara Falls: the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe FallsIn my opinion, the Horseshoe Falls are definitely the best. They were the ones I was closest to when I was in Canada visiting the falls and are spectacular. Bridal Veil Falls are cool too, but narrow, compared to the others, so less impressive. The American Falls would be impressive if not for the large boulders at their base from a big rock collapse back in the 1950s. The rocks shorten the distance of the waterfall, and make the American Falls feel kind of “meh”.

Before I did the Maid of the Mist I wandered around the American side of the falls and got as close to each of the falls as I could. There were quite a few people near the American Falls and the vantage point wasn’t that great.

View of American Falls from up top, Niagara Falls, NY.

View of American Falls from up top, Niagara Falls, NY.

Bridal Veil Falls just looked like a straight drop and they were re-landscaping the part of the falls near the Horseshoe Falls, so I couldn’t get close enough to even take a picture.

Fenced off Horseshoe Falls...lame, Niagara Falls, NY.

Fenced off Horseshoe Falls…lame, Niagara Falls, NY.

I went back to the car to change before the Maid of the Mist tour and drop of my backpack. I didn’t know how wet I’d get and I didn’t want to ruin my electronics in my backpack. Once I’d changed and dropped off my backpack I went and purchased my ticket. On my way to the boat I stopped by the observation deck to see the view of the falls from there and then proceeded down to the riverbed level in the elevator. I was one of the first people down for the next boat and the couple in front of me stopped to take pictures, so I continued on and ended up being the first one in line to get on the boat. Score! Since I got first pick of where I wanted to go I headed right to the front of the boat on the bottom level. Once there I quickly decided maybe the view would be better from the second level so I went up there instead. As soon as I got to the second level I realized the mast at the front of the boat would probably end up photobombing all my pictures so I turned around and hurried back to the bottom level. Apparently I rushed needlessly; it seems everyone else had followed my secondary logic and went to the second level. I spent the entire twenty minute cruise with the front of the lower level of the boat to myself and I’m so glad it worked out that way. It was like I was on a private chartered boat, just me and the falls and it was wonderful. 

Even though I could see them much better from the boat, I still wasn’t terribly impressed with the American Falls. I mean, they were cool and all but just, yeah, a big waterfall with lots of rocks at the bottom.

American Falls from Maid of the Mist, cool, and big, but kind of meh, Niagara Falls, NY.

American Falls from Maid of the Mist, cool, and big, but kind of meh, Niagara Falls, NY.

However, when we got to the Horseshoe Falls I couldn’t believe how small they made me feel. It was unreal. I felt so small and so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the falls. It was amazing. Plus at that point, the wind picked up like crazy and my poncho was blowing all over and my sunglasses had fogged over so I took them off, but the mist was incredibly thick so I could only barely squint my eyes to see and my hands were so wet I couldn’t wipe my eyes because I was just wiping more water into them – it was awesome. At one point my poncho blew around me so I lost my head in the hood and couldn’t find the opening. I started laughing like a child, giggling at the absurdity of it all and how ridiculous I must look fighting to find the opening. As I stood at the front of the boat by myself I felt myself immerse completely into the soul of the universe. Since I was alone I was allowed the space to fully appreciate my surroundings without any of the usual interruptions. It was just…wow. Calming. Rejuvenating. Unbelievably awesome.

Horseshoe Falls...just wow. Niagara Falls, NY.

Horseshoe Falls…it almost looks fake that’s how unreal it was. Niagara Falls, NY.

If/when I go back to Niagara Falls I will totally do the Maid of the Mist tour again, but hopefully it will be at an earlier time of day. When I went the sun was just over the western side of the Horseshoe Falls so it was nearly impossible to see anything without being blinded by sunlight. Though, once the boat turned around to head back to shore I missed the sun terribly. It was so freaking cold in the shade. Similar to the previous day when I lost feeling in my fingers after dipping them in Lake Ontario, both my hands and my face started feeling numb as we headed back to shore. Thankfully, I didn’t get as wet as I thought I would. The hem of my skirt was pretty soaked, but I think that was mostly from the run-off of my poncho. It was still totally worth it though. 

Later that night, my host in Buffalo took me on a walking tour of the city. She pointed out a few points of interests, and we saw a fender bender on a roundabout. I didn’t take many good pictures though, sorry.

My fifth day in New York I started my solo adventure in Buffalo. First I went to Canalside Park, where I ended up wandering around the Naval & Military Park, because, hello ships and planes!

Planes at Naval and Military Park, Buffalo, NY.

Planes at Naval and Military Park, Buffalo, NY.

There was this cool lighthouse at the end of the pier, but it was really chilly and I wasn’t wearing leggings so my legs were freezing. I decided to move on to my next destination so I could put some leggings on and warm up in the car for a few minutes. At the Park I’d found a sign that said there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house nearby so I decided to stop there and check it out. Once I got there I decided not to pay to go on the tour because I planned to go see Fallingwater  in Pennsylvania the following week and figured that would be way cooler anyway.

Frank lloyd Wright Martin house, Buffalo, NY.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin house, Buffalo, NY.

My next stop was Eternal Flame Falls, which is a waterfall that has a natural gas leak that can be ignited. The place where the gas leaks is protected by the rocks around it so it isn’t extinguished by the waterfall. It sounded pretty cool to me, so I had to see it for myself. Initially I didn’t look up exactly where the waterfall was, figuring I could find it once I got to the park. Yeah, I ended up driving around for about a half and hour before finally realizing I was probably in the wrong part of the park. Eventually, I found the right place and even made it to the falls right before a large bus load of people got there, so that was pretty lucky. 

Hard to get a good picture of flame and water, but hopefully you kind of get it. Eternal Flame Falls, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, NY.

Hard to get a good picture of flame and water, but hopefully you kind of get it. Eternal Flame Falls, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, NY.

Last, but not least, I visited my second of the Great Lakes this week. I went to Erie Beach Park and, having not learned my lesson from Ontario, stuck my hand in and again lost feeling for a few minutes after exposing my wet hand to the brisk air. Alas, I could now say my skin has touched three-fifths of the Great Lakes, which I think is pretty cool, even if it did hurt a little.

Lake Erie Beach Park, Angola, NY.

Lake Erie Beach Park, Angola, NY.

In case you were wondering: since I entered New York near Albany I decided to do upstate New York and the area near New York City separately. So, this marks the end of this leg of my New York trip. Next I will be hitting up Pennsylvania and then coming back to New York to check out Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island and then be on my way to New Jersey. If anyone has any suggestions of places to go/things to do/people to stay with please let me know!

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