Bob Woodall's home page
New York: Amherst, Niagara Falls State Park, Maid of the Mist, Whirlpool State
Niagara Power Project
Ontario, Canada: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queenston, Jordan, Welland Canal,
New York: Lockport, Youngstown, Old Fort Niagara, Erie Canal, Williamsville,
Genesee Valley to Letchworth State Park ,Buffalo
Niagara Falls, NY
Amherst, NY Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Spring is popping out in upstate New York. The daffodils are in full bloom and the trees are budding. Arriving in Amherst, we found a wonderful family owned Italian restaurant for dinner, Mama Colucci's, at 2447 Niagara Falls Blvd. We enjoyed a glass of wine, homemade bread dipped into their special blended Italian dressing and that evening's combination pasta dinner special; so large that we had to split.
After dining we drove to Ellicott Creek County Park, parked the car and walked along Ellicott Creek that had been dammed up to form a lake. The temperatures were very comfortable between 45 to 65 degrees. We stopped to examine a budding maple tree. Held a bud in our hands and commented that the very small leaves had all the characteristics of a mature leaf. These tiny leaves reminded us of our children's hands when we examined them in the hospital room, shortly after they were born, so tiny and delicate but with the definition of a mature hand. We enjoyed our walk in the cool twilight.
Amherst, NY Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Niagara Falls can only be described as awesome, powerful, majestic and truly one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The entrance to Niagara Falls State Park is the gateway to this thundering power. The State Park encompasses the area where we could observe the two falls, Horseshoe and American Falls and see the Niagara Gorge. The Park is the oldest State Park in the USA, established in 1885 and has a long documented history.
We were fortunate to be able to be here before the long lines of summer vacationers showed up. We parked right in front of the Park entrance and immediately found a Park volunteer to visit with, who was more than delighted to share his enjoyment of the Falls and suggest things we might do.
Our first stop was to board the "Maid of the Mist". This is a large boat with observation decks to view the American and Horseshoe Falls up close. Upon entering the gangplank, we were provided a poly vinyl raincoat with hood. The boat worked its' way up the Niagara River into the strong current drawing near to the thundering cascading mountain of water. The wind shear and mist on this 50-degree morning was an awakening experience. There were still large chunks of ice accumulated on the sides of the canyon near the falls where the mist had frozen.
American Falls is the smaller of the two falls with a crest line of 950 ft while Horseshoe Falls is 2500 ft. One cannot imagine the amount of water flowing over these two falls. It flows at a speed in excess of 30 mph and 675,000 gallons per second. One fifth of all the fresh water in the world flows over these falls that are 20 stories (175 ft) tall and 20 times as wide. The Niagara River has carved a gorge and created a canyon about 7 miles from where it is believe to have started over 6000 years ago.
We purchased tickets for the trolley, that runs throughout the Park and the driver gave us more interesting facts. We'd hop off at different times and walk along the edge of the River viewing the falls from different perspectives.
After leaving the park, we drove the Robert Moses Parkway north alongside the Gorge and stopped at Whirlpool State Park. We walked along the edge of the Gorge watching a huge whirlpool, about a mile wide; whirl around and around, forever holding driftwood in its grasp.
Upon returning to the Parkway, we drove to New York's biggest energy producer. The Niagara Power Project is New York's largest electric generating facility and one of the largest in the United States. This hydroelectric project was a joint effort of the US and Canadian governments and was completed in 1961. The observation deck, perched 350 ft above the Niagara River Gorge, provided a bird's eye view. We entered the Visitors Center and took a self-guided tour of the facility.
Then we drove through Niagara University, there, at Lewiston, NY. The University is old with many of the buildings made of stone masonry with ivy clinging to the sides. We then drove back through the city of Niagara Falls and to Amherst for the night.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada Thursday, May 08, 2003
This morning we returned to Niagara Falls and crossed the border into Canada.
We drove to the main parking area where, for $9 US, we could park the car for
the day. We walked through blooming daffodils and deep blue hyacinth gardens
toward the walkways that went along the Canadian side of the Gorge, starting
at Horseshoe Falls. The perspective from the Canadian side is so different than
the US side. We were delighted and decided to drive on the Canadian side. The
view from the Canadian side directly faces the American and Horseshoe
Falls. This panorama of the Seventh Wonder of the World is awesome. We looked down into the Gorge; watched the people on deck of the "Maid of the Mist", with their blue raincoats flapping in the wind shear, while heading into the whirlpools below the Falls.
We stopped for lunch at a place that looked to be a 100 years old and built by the Canadian Railroad. It was a classic structure like you see in Banff or Lake Louise, British Columbia. We ordered lunch and sat on a veranda overlooking the gardens and Falls. After lunch we climbed a monstrous hill trying to make the 1 o'clock showing of " Niagara" at the IMAX Theatre. We did! What an exciting and exuberating movie as the helicopter zoomed down the Niagara River and took us right over the Falls, through the mist and down through the Gorge Wow!!
After the movie, we worked our way back down the hill, along the pathways to the Gorge. The sun was shinning when we exited the theatre and we could see the Falls in the sunshine. Hopefully, we would glimpse a rainbow. Just as we came to the end of the walkway, before leaving the pathway, there was the most distinctive rainbow arching at the base of Horseshoe Falls as the "Maid of the Mist" framed the center of the arch Wow!! God is good! It just can't get any better than this.
We followed the Canadian Niagara Parkway up the west side of the Gorge, stopping along the way at scenic overlooks. Our next attraction was the Butterfly Conservatory. Peggy had wanted me to see one, since she enjoyed the one she had visited with our friend LaVonne in the Houston area. What an interesting place. Most of the butterflies come from Central America. They have a special 7000 square foot breeding area. This is where they have the plants for the caterpillars to feed. Once the caterpillars start the cocoon stage they take the pupas to a staging area where they exit their cocoons, and then find their way into this huge tropical botanical garden. Butterflies of all shapes and colors are floating around.
The road drops about 800 feet into an agriculture area that is known for its vineyards and fruit trees. We stopped at one vineyard and did a little wine tasting. Then, made our way to Niagara-on the-Lake, a quaint Canadian town at the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. We drove around looking for a Bed and Breakfast that would be close to the water and found "The Old Bank House " on Front Street, which was directly across from a small park on the Niagara River. Our room was typical B&B, old stuff (antiques), and a four-poster bed four feet off the floor, with mosquito netting all around the headboard The netting reminded me of the stuff the girls used for their petticoats back in the 50's. Oh well, Peggy thought it was charming. (The netting was really a canopy above the head of the bed).P
Our room had a veranda with two chairs overlooking the park and the water. We poured a glass of wine and enjoyed the long shadows of evening overlooking the River, very quaint, quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.
For dinner, we drove around town looking for a place to eat and eventually
stopped a young mother with three small children about to cross a street. We
asked her to recommend a place where the "locals" eat. She said the
main gathering place was the local Golf Club, which was the oldest golf club
in North America and right down the street from our B&B. It was a fun place
with many locals. The view from our table was the water in one direction and
the green golf fairways in the other direction. We ordered wine, a crab and
spinach dip for appetizers, a Greek dinner with broiled pork loin on a skewer,
lemon potatoes, and a Greek salad with olives and goat cheese. We topped that
all off with a slice of chocolate mousse cake. What a day this has been!
Queenston, Ontario, Canada Friday, May 9, 2003
We enjoyed our breakfast at the B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake and met interesting people who gave us helpful information regarding places and things to see in the area. We spent way too much time visiting with our newfound friends and didn't hit the road until after 11 am.
Leaving Niagara-on-the-Lake, we followed Lakeshore Drive west along Lake Ontario, crossing over the Welland Canal. This canal, in the city of St. Catharine's has 7 locks, which all boat traffic must pass through, to move between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. We stopped at a small bakery in St. Catharine's and purchased a small loaf of Italian bread, some croissants and a couple of butter tarts, for some morning nourishment. Next door to the bakery was a deli where we bought a small block of mild cheddar cheese. Now, we were set for the wine country!
The city of Jordan was our next stop, nestled close to many of Niagara's lush vineyards and fruit orchards. The Pennsylvania Mennonites and Loyalists, who had migrated to the area in search of rich farmland, settled this area. We found the village to be very charming with quaint shops and gourmet restaurants.
One of the shops we visited specialized in" Ninavik Native Arts" featuring the works of Canadian native artists, both Indian and Inuit (Eskimo). Sculptures of soapstone, whalebone, and antler were featured in the shop. Rosie Griffin was the curator and knew the artist as well as many of the Indian legends. She was so fascinating to listen to. One of the soapstone carvings was sculpted by Wayne Sky, an Inuit, and showed wonderful detail. This carving was a turtle about two ft long and a foot wide. Rosie told us the legend of the turtle in Indian mythology. It is a symbol of mother earth. The back of a turtle shell has 13 sections and to the Indians this represents the 13 full moons in a year. The rim of shell has 14 sections on the top and 14 on the bottom representing the 28 days between full moons. Legend has it, that all things come from the sea. The turtle rose from the sea. Then plant life, trees, and all life began its growth from the top of the turtle shell. If you have ever been sitting alongside a lake or river and all of a sudden a turtle emerges from the depths and looks around. One can sense how the Indians could see this as a way life began suddenly!
Several other legends, which Rosie shared with us, were interesting. One was the eagle as a symbol of being a guardian to the Indians. The eagle flies higher than any other bird and by doing so, it could take your dreams to the Great Spirit. The bear claw became another sign to the Indians of strength and healing. Indian mythology fascinates me and reminds me of the writings and lectures of Joseph Campbell.
Another interesting comment Rosie made was that the Iroquois have no word for "Why" because they believe one must accept life's great mysteries without questioning. Peggy would like for me to practice this, because I'm always asking, "Why"?
After leaving the studio we ran into our friends from the B&B, Andrea and Marge, who live in the Muskago area, north of Toronto. These were delightful ladies who provided us with interesting information of the area and especially some of the camping facilities to enjoy north of Toronto.
From Jordan we drove south to the Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery. We walked into the wine cellar and met a young man whose grandmother's great uncle was Henry Pelham. The wine cellar was actually the kitchen of the tavern, which Mr. Pelham built in 1842 on land that his father received from England for being a Loyalist in the 1750's. Pelham was one of 14 children.
As we headed back toward St. Catharine's, we stopped alongside the Welland Canal at lock # 4,, to watch a huge freighter ease past. I stood not more that 20 feet away, as it moved into the narrow locks. While standing there, I had the pleasure of visiting with Andy, who lives nearby and comes down all the time to watch the freighters go through the locks. He was a storehouse of information on how the locks worked. I had my own personal docent at the # 4 Lock on the Welland Canal. Here at Locks #4 and 5 are the only two locks in the world where two ships can pass one another going opposite directions. The cost of one ship going through the 7 locks is $80,000 and a private vessel is $8000.
We made our way into Queenston for the evening and found the South Landing Inn. It was built in the early 1800's by Thomas Dickson to accommodate the many travelers passing through what had by then become a bustling riverside port. The inn overlooked the Niagara River.
We had dinner at one of the most enchanting restaurants we've have ever visited. The Queenston Heights Restaurant sits on the side of the Niagara escarpment overlooking the Niagara River as it flows into Lake Ontario. Our table was next to windows, which curved and displayed180 degrees of scenic panorama. We could see Niagara-on-the-Lake; on the Canadian side and on the U.S. side we could see Lewiston and all the way up the river to Fort Niagara. Being a clear night, we could even see the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers of Toronto, 32 miles across Lake Ontario To have this view at sunset, as my friend Mike Hendrix says, "it doesn't get any better than this", What a wonderful place to dine and the food was excellent.
Lockport, NY Saturday, May 10, 2003
We left Queenston around 8:30, stopped at the Duty Free declaration area and received our refund on the GAT tax. If your lodging exceeds $200 you qualify for reimbursement of the GAT tax; we qualified. We crossed the Niagara River on the Lewiston Queenston Bridge into the US. We had heard that it could be slow moving, with security on the tight side; it wasn't. Only asked if we were US citizens and if we had any firearms? Took maybe 15 seconds.
For breakfast we stopped in Lewiston at a small Mom & Pop café after which we drove to the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima. The Barnabite Fathers and Brothers established this Catholic Shrine in 1954 and built a Dome covering of two layers of glass and Plexiglas, having the contour of the Northern Hemisphere of the globe. To be able to sit in the Basilica quietly, gazing upon the altar and letting my eyes drift upward to the domed transparent ceiling of the Northern Hemisphere, was a moving experience.
We followed State Hwy 18 to Youngstown, NY to Old Fort Niagara. We parked the car and hurried into the entrance just as a group of Scouts took off with a docent. Fortunately, we were able to tag along. What an historian! This man knew the area and the history of the Fort, which spans more than 300 years. The Fort was vital during the colonial wars because it is situated at the mouth of the Niagara River controlling the access to the Great Lakes and the westward route to the heartland of the continent.
Another added feature for this Saturday at the Fort was artillery training for Civil War enactment. The men were in Union and Confederate uniforms and the women in period dress. We spent some time with one young lady, who was 21 and dressed in the period, complete with hairdo. Her family's area of "living history", as she called it, was with The U S Christian Commission, specializing in "Special Diets". They prepared meals over an open campfire for the wounded and recovering soldiers, averaging 10 to 35 people per meal. Their tents were white canvas and had the typical "fly" in the front, which we call an awning, where they set the cooking tables and chairs. She and her family have been doing this all over the country for over 6 years. As we talked, a volley of cannon rounds were fired and a platoon of Regulars fired their muskets over the River. It was all rather active, to say the least.
We continued up the coast on SH 18 and stopped at 4 Mile Creek State Park, to check out some campsites. Many of their camping slots backed up to the lake and were very nice. We stopped in Olcott Beach for an ice cream cone, and walked the beach for a time.
Hopped back in the car and headed south on State Hwy 78 and maybe got a quarter of a mile down the road when I looked to my left and saw 5 or 6 people lined up in front of this little hut. I caught a glimpse of their sign, "Pye's Plantation Pop Corn". Whoops! Time for a U'ey in the middle of the highway and back to check out "Pye's". This could be another "Herds burger" in Jacksboro, TX or "Boots burger" in Rockwall, TX. We were told people drive from all over for this popcorn and it was Peggy's kind of place, all types of popcorn. Pye's has been making it and selling popcorn on the highway for 75 years. She bought two bags of regular corn and a bag of caramel and peanut popcorn for later. The caramel and peanut tasted like Cracker Jacks but so much better. Well, we were set for the day, at least until dinner.
We made our way through the countryside soaking up the budding trees and flower blossoms. We spent the evening in Lockport, NY, where the last major locks for the Erie Canal are located. We found a Texas BBQ joint not too far from where we stayed, off State Hwy 78, called the "One Eyed Jack's". I was somewhat dubious about a Texas BBQ place in New York, but our waitress said the man who owned the place lived in Texas and a man named "Jack" taught him to smoke meat. Sure enough, he had a big smoking oven with a stack of hickory to fire the smoker. We were on the right track for some good Q and were not disappointed.
Williamsville, NY Sunday, May 11, 2003
We awoke this morning in Lockport to a clap of thunder as a squall passed through and it looked like we might have intermittent morning showers. We checked the phone book for an Episcopal church and found Christ Episcopal not too far from us. The church is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, being established in 1828. However, this building was not the original structure; the original church was built along the Erie Canal in the central part of town.
The sanctuary was of native flagstone. On the altar, at each end, were two five-stem candelabras and in the center of a table directly behind the altar was a lovely small flower arrangement. My eyes traveled up from the flower display to a narrow wooden cross rising some 30 or 40 ft. near the apex of the sanctuary. Narrow rectangular stained glass windows surrounded the sanctuary near the top of the roofline.
We went to the Parrish Hall after the service, had coffee and visited with a few of the parishioners. One lady we met was Ruth Craddock, who had the oldest membership in the Parrish. We commented on the beauty of the floral arrangement and she said she had placed them in memory of her parents.
After church we were off to tour Lockport, which is noted as having the only set of double locks on the Erie Canal. The Canal is used today primarily for leisure and private travel. Having heard about the Erie Canal since I was a kid, I wanted to see it. So, we walked down to the locks just as a large 40 ft cruiser was passing through and watched as the gates opened from one lock and it passed to the next. It was interesting to see the water drop and the locks open as they went on down the Canal. Then, it started to rain and I asked one of the Canal Operators if we could come into the office to keep dry. He graciously invited us in, and we had an informative time with Andy, Dave, and Mike. They operate the locks and collect the tolls. These guys were fun and very knowledgeable of the Canal and its history.
Much still remains of the original Erie Canal as it was started in the early 1800's and the first phase was completed in 1825. It was essentially hand dug to connect the Hudson River with the Niagara River, some 363 miles and a great engineering feat for its time. There were 83 original stone locks that climbed the 571-foot difference in the levels between the two rivers. The Canal was enlarged in the early 1900's to the present 35 locks. The Canal, which is 60 ft wide, was the early route to the west. It expanded the west migration and commerce from Albany to Buffalo and that coined the phrase "the Empire State". Mike, one of the lock operators said, in his opinion," the Canal was the original leap for mankind. Leaping the Niagara Escarpment was a big leap".
After Lockport we drove into the city of Buffalo and through the downtown area. It wasn't crowded on a Sunday afternoon so we could leisurely look at the interesting architecture of the old buildings. We drove south of the city and stopped at the Woodlawn Beach Nature Center. We found boardwalks and informative displays of the ecological changes occurring from shore beach to primary dunes, secondary dunes, then and the wooded wetlands. We found the walk to be interesting but the wind was blowing in from Lake Erie about 40 mph and it was as cold as a well diggers well you know! We didn't linger to long.
When Peggy and I are in doubt as to what we want for dinner, we always settle for Italian food. The other evening we started out for Italian but ended up at the "One Eyed Jack's" for BBQ. Well this night we were looking for the perfect Italian place again. We found it in Depew, NY called La Castelana. This place was small and all locals with their families. It reminded me of Campisi's in Dallas. The food was outstanding and Mom, Dad, and all the kids ran the place. It was CASH ONLY, even when it came to making change; they just rounded all tickets off at the dollar in favor of the customer. This place reminded me of one of those restaurants from the movie "Godfather", I expected Don Corleone to walk through the door at any time.
Williamsville, NY Monday, May 12, 2003
We awoke this morning with a low-pressure system moving across Lake Erie, having gusty winds, intermittent showers and temperatures in the mid 40's. We saw enough of Buffalo yesterday and were ready to drive in the country. Our destination was through the Genesee Valley to Letchworth State Park. This State Park is considered to be the Grand Canyon of the East.
We drove east on State Hwy 400 to State Hwy 20A through hamlets and valleys and over dales. We entered the town of Warsaw, nestled in a valley and filled with beautifully restored turn of the century Victorian homes. One such home, located on SH 20A on the way out of town, was called the Valley Inn Tea Room. I asked the bride if she would like to have lunch there? She was reluctant to commit me to the small tables and chairs of a Tea Room, since I'm somewhat like a bull in a china closet. I told her it was all right; I wanted this to be a special Mother's Day gift. She gave in to the pressure and we were seated.
The chef was Buzz Bradley who had been the personal chef for two Admirals in the Navy, then the head chef at Dolly World in Nashville. Our waitress, Rena, was very helpful with the menu selection. She recommended the She-Crab soup for an appetizer, which was creamy bisque with crabmeat and a small puff pastry in the shape of a crab floating on top. Peggy ordered a New York salad with apples and I had a Greek Salad. We topped that off with the most wonderful desserts. Pegs salad was elegantly served on a large Mikasa china plate and charger in the same pattern as our daughter, Julie's, dishes. How fitting because the day was our children's birthday. Scott and Julie were born five hours after Mothers Day.
After lunch we continued east on State Hwy 20A threading our way through Perry's Corner on streets that took us to the north entrance of Letchworth State Park. The wind was still gusting with a constant pattering of rain but it was so good to be in the park. We made a stop at the camping area on the north end of the Park and selected our future campsite, which overlooks the 550 ft Genesee River Gorge. Nice walking trails are all around the Park and many scenic overlooks. We worked our way to the Visitors Center and picked up additional literature and maps of the area, then, drove down from the mountaintop to the River. Alongside the River, in a small meadow, was the Iris Inn, the original home of William Letchworth who deeded the property to the State for a Park. His spacious and beautiful home was converted to the ideal Inn and Conference Center. As we walked up the trail in the misting rain along the River, a freight train passed above us on a trestle that was over 500 ft straight up. At the overlook, where the trestle spanned the River, a plaque stated at one time this was the tallest wooden trestle in the world and it took over 300 acres of timber to build the bridge.
Our trip was coming to an end in the Empire State. The week passed so fast
and we enjoyed each day from the beginning at Niagara Falls to the end at Letchworth
State Park. We are blessed to live in a free land and fly like a bird.
Bob & Peggy Woodall