Category Archives: Niagara Falls

13 Mar

Over the River XLIX

Highlights from my 49th two-wheeled trip to the Great State of New York:

1. While being questioned at US Customs, the CBP officer looked down at my pants and exclaimed, “You’re wearing the same pants we are!” The unusual revelation even attracted the attention of the officer in the next booth, who asked if I was with the CBSA. In any event, I get the feeling the U.S. government paid a lot more for the pants the officers were wearing than I did for mine at the thrift store.

2. Though I’m not sure why one would need it, for the benefit of tourists headed over the river, the Niagara USA Visitor Center offers a luggage storage service for $10.

3. It’s plainly obvious that staff at the Niagara USA Visitor Center say “hello” to guests only because they’re ordered to.

4. Passing a solvent plant on Buffalo Avenue, I spotted, of all things, a fox:

5. Farther east on Buffalo Avenue was a Snoopy aficionado with a doghouse out front. Loyal readers may recall that I spotted a similar homemade Snoopy display hanging from a tree outside a house in North Tonawanda four years ago.

6. Not that I’m big on Arby’s, but I’m sure old-style signs like this are indeed rare:

7. The level of courteousness at the Tim Hortons on Niagara Falls Boulevard as well as the Walmart on Military Road could use a major improvement. It was especially bad at Walmart, where the cashier, the nationwide winner of the Slowest Cashier of the Year Award, was grumpy and hardly said a word.

8. Walmart seemingly goes out of its way to recruit employees who are more than 75 pounds overweight.

9. Parking fail:

10. At the Rainbow Bridge toll gate, two cars lined up in a lane with a big red “CLOSED” sign overhead, while I went around to an open lane. Only when someone came out to tell them the lane was closed did they turn to follow me. More examples of people who just shouldn’t be driving.

22 Jan

Winter in the Falls

Visiting the falls in January was a first for me
Even with the snow, it’s still nice to see

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Tourist traffic has come to a virtual halt
Yet that hasn’t slowed the spreading of salt

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The application of sodium chloride is anything but light
They put down so much that it turns the ground white

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Visitors are milked for everything but their keys
If you want a closer view, that will be four quarters please

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When the weather gets warmer, the coins will again be rolling in
To help reduce the massive debt racked up by Premier Wynne

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Passing this blue moose while walking up Clifton Hill, it’s quite the hike
Pray tell, why are there no places to lock up a bike?

The falls has become a popular destination for this new area resident
I’ll be making more visits for reasons that are quite evident

09 Dec

A Trek to Grand Island

Yesterday, with the good weather, I took a two-wheeled trek across the border and visited Grand Island for the first time. I know there are some of you who haven’t heard of this island that lies between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but it offers many scenic trails for a cyclist.

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Luckily, the construction on Buffalo Avenue at the foot of the nearly mile-long bridge that has been ongoing for much of the summer had been completed, but the walk across this bridge was the biggest obstacle for me.

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I have a case of bridgeophobia and being in such close proximity to transport trucks on I-190 in the middle of the Niagara River did little to ease my anxiety. Fortunately, I made it across with little difficulty and I was even able to stop a couple of times to enjoy the view of the skyline on the Canadian side.

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Vehicles travelling on I-190 have to pay a toll upon entering Grand Island, but I didn’t. Just because it’s me.

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As you can see from this shot at the southern abutment of the bridge, there is a dedicated trail that goes underneath and proceeds south through Buckhorn Island State Park.

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View of the marsh restoration project.

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Welcome to Grand Island.

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This trail links up to Grand Island Boulevard and NY 324. Readers from the SPRM will notice there is not a speck of snow on the ground. It’s OK to be jealous.

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There are trails that cover the shoreline, but for today, I just stuck to Grand Island Boulevard and took advantage of the wide shoulders on both sides.

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Passing by Kelly’s Country Store. Mooooo.

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Past this roundabout is another dedicated trail that leads to the South Grand Island Bridge.

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This bridge is 600 feet shorter than its cousin farther north and connects to Tonawanda and Buffalo. I will save a crossing of this bridge and a return to Tonawanda for a future trip.

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In this midst of this 51.8-mile outing, I needed a place to stop. There were two Tim Hortons locations at opposite ends of the island, but neither one had a bike rack. This McDonald’s did and that’s why they got my business.

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Returning back to Niagara Falls, cyclists take the on-ramp for I-190 north and turn off onto the trail that goes back through Buckhorn Island State Park. NYSDOT again gives a helpful reminder that pedestrians, bicycles and horses are prohibited on I-190. If you want to ride your horse to Grand Island, you’re probably out of luck.

Since the pedestrian crossing on the eastern span of the bridge was closed, I had to cross on the western span where I was facing traffic while walking my bike. It was a little scary having those transport trucks coming at you and comedian George Wallace, who often jokes about the relatively minor difference between a Mack truck and a Ford Ranger, has obviously not walked across this bridge. Nonetheless, I made it back to the mainland and returned home without incident. As Arnold Schwarzengger says, “I’ll be back.”

26 Sep

A Run for the Border

Yesterday, I made my first cross-border cycling trip since coming to St. Catharines. Many of you who know me might be asking what took me so long.

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At the crack of dawn, I headed southeast towards Niagara Falls and the Rainbow Bridge, where I planned to cross over into the U.S. I had been in the U.S. on two wheels in each of the last three years, but every time, my bike was stored away on a tour bus as we headed south from Winnipeg. This time, I would get there on my own power.

Since details are oddly hard to come by online, I was a little nervous about the procedure. At sites I’ve reviewed, everyone says cyclists can cross at the Rainbow Bridge with no problems, but they fail to mention whether you line up with the pedestrians or cross with the cars. I was later told that you can go with the pedestrians, but since signage at each of the other bridges clearly differentiate between cyclists and pedestrians, I decided to go with the cars. There were no problems in either direction using this approach and it proved to be the right choice. Unlike the Peace Bridge to the south and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge to the north, commercial trucks are not allowed on this bridge, which makes it a little less intimidating for a cyclist. Furthermore, the Rainbow Bridge connects regular streets, not freeways, so it is clearly the preferred option for two-wheeled travellers like me.

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At the U.S. border station, the two lanes on the right are for buses and the others are for cars and cyclists. I got in line and was served promptly by a friendly border guard who even addressed me by name.

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I was through in no time and shortly began exploring western New York for the first time on two wheels.

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New York has a number of dedicated bike routes throughout the state and the route that ends at Niagara Falls is, fittingly for me, number 5. For those inclined to traverse the state, a detailed map is available at the Niagara USA Visitor Center.

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While stopping to get this picture, I could hear music blaring outside the Niagara Center so loudly that it sounded like there was a ghetto blaster right on the sidewalk. It was not a positive first impression and it would only get worse as I made my way through the city.

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Those of you who know me will not be surprised that the acquisition of pictures of highway signs was the primary motivation in my choice of routes. The first such route was NY 384 that follows to the southeast towards Grand Island.

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Seneca Niagara Casino.

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Though this may only interest me, this is an oddity I found throughout my travels on this day. On every state or U.S. highway I was on, without exception, a reassurance marker would be followed by another either in the same block or the next block. This is something I have never found in any province or state I have been in before and only officials at NYSDOT can explain the logic behind it.

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Niagara Falls, Canada is a world-renowned tourist destination. Niagara Falls, USA is an aging, dilapidated industrial town. The pictures don’t even tell the whole story. For anyone considering a visit to the area, there is no reason to cross the border unless, like me, you have ulterior motives that go beyond the more garden-variety tourist attractions.

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I point out this particular shot since it was in early July that I was taking a similar shot in Saint Paul of U.S. Highway 61. Less than three months later, I was at New York State Route 61. It was another stark reminder of just how far I have come since I left the SPRM.

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I took this shot at A Street. Not to be confused with B Street. Or C Street. Such imagination from city planners.

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A state historical marker from 1936. From the look of things, not much has improved in this area since that time.

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The only “wonder” about Niagara Falls, USA is that enterprising Americans have not done more to clean up the city and make it a more attractive tourist destination.

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One reader will understand why I stopped for this shot. The rest of you won’t.

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Sadly, this was all too indicative of what you’ll find on this side of the border in Niagara Falls.

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Someone with a little car trouble.

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After getting plenty of shots of NY 384, I returned to the area around the Rainbow Bridge before heading north along Main Street/NY 104.

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Smokin’ Joe’s Indian Trading Post. I can’t make up stuff like this. It ranks right up there with Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern in Sioux Narrows.

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If they tried to build this sign assembly any higher, they would need to get clearance from the airport. I can imagine the confused looks from tourists as they approach this intersection and the planners at NYSDOT might well be advised to adopt the adage, “Less is more.”

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A helpful sign at the entrance to the Robert Moses Parkway. I’ll keep this valuable information in mind in case I ever think about bringing my horse.

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The U.S. Post Office.

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This particular shot has a story behind it. Immediately to my right was a group of scruffy-looking characters hanging out on a porch. The sight of this gringo coming around taking pictures of highway signs evidently aroused their curiosity and they all followed me out to the corner as I got some more shots around the nearby intersection. For all I know, they’re still scratching their heads wondering what I was doing there.

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The signs greeting visitors after crossing the Whirlpool Bridge. This bridge is only for cars and NEXUS card holders.

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I continued north towards DeVeaux Woods State Park. There is a marked change on the other side of the railway underpass and one for the better. Upscale, well-kept homes line the streets with lush greenery in abundance. From what my neighbor tells me and from checking out Lewiston on Google Earth, I suspect this is what I will find more of if I confine future trips across the border to the northern reaches of the state.

Interestingly, seconds after taking this shot, someone with New York plates stopped me and asked for directions. Once again, despite never having been in this area before, I was able to answer her questions accurately.

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I got some more strange looks from that cyclist who passed by as I took this shot on NY 31. Unlike the last group, however, he continued on his way and didn’t try to follow me around.

Rather than continuing north to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, I turned around and headed back for the Rainbow Bridge. I was getting hungry and kept looking around for a Subway, but in retrospect, I was lucky not to have found one as I’m not sure I would have felt safe leaving my bike anywhere in the downtown area. Oddly, after checking online, the only Subway locations in the city are by I-190 near the outlet mall.

I made one last stop at the Visitor Center near the bridge, but not before being accosted by a couple of guys running a hot dog/hamburger stand next door. I don’t respond well to high-pressure sales and I would have sooner gone without food for the whole day rather than buy anything from them.

At the Visitor Center, I noticed there was only one person working there and she was tied up with a couple who had a long laundry list of items to cover. So I waited. And waited. And waited. When another mob of people came in, I just left. By contrast, the Ontario travel information center is fully staffed and they eagerly pounce on you when you get anywhere near the desk.

On the bridge, tolls are collected from Canada-bound travellers, including cyclists. The fare for cars is $3.50 US/$3.75 CDN, but cyclists are only charged 50 cents. I gave the guy two quarters and continued across the bridge to the Canadian border station. I was pleased to be greeted in the Canadian language rather than with a “Bonjour” and I almost said “Winnipeg” when the guard asked me where I lived, but I caught myself in time and responded with “St. Catharines.” Old habits die hard. He asked whether or not I had picked up any shipments or bought anything during my stay in the U.S. and after I said I didn’t, he sent me on my way.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative impression of Niagara Falls, NY, no doubt I will be crossing the border on two wheels again. I shot 183 pictures on the day, mostly of New York State highway signs, and there’s so many more out there for me to capture. As I’ve said before, no one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this outing was no exception.

08 Sep

Voyage South of the Falls

My most recent scenic tour of my new home region comes south of Niagara Falls. For this particular outing, I eschewed Google’s recommendations and took Taylor Road past the outlet mall and up the escarpment to Mountain Road.

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The climb up the escarpment was in two manageable stages and there were paved shoulders on both roads. In addition, the roads seemed well-maintained and were not littered with potholes, unlike what I’m accustomed to from my years in the SPRM.

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Passing Walker Industries. Disclaimer: I have no connection to this organization.

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Turning east at Mountain Road towards the QEW.

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From atop the escarpment, you can see all the way across the lake. In the distance is the C.U. skyline.

I proceeded south on Dorchester Road, east on McLeod Road, then south on Portage Road past Marineland.

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Everyone loves Marineland.

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I then headed through the village of Chippawa. As the sign says, Chippawa is the home town of James Cameron, a famed Hollywood director who worked on many films including The Terminator, a true classic.

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While taking some shots at the bridge over the Welland River, an older couple sitting on a nearby bench kindly pointed out the weasel. I talked to them briefly and they asked me if I moved to St. Catharines for school. Those of you who know me may pause for a moment to laugh hysterically.

After passing through Chippawa, I found the Niagara Parkway Trail and headed south. The sign said Fort Erie was 24 km away and that journey will have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, I did make it past Navy Island, cycling through scenery that reminded me of scenes from Gone with the Wind. I kept expecting to find Rhett Butler on his horse coming around the next bend.

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Pictures don’t do the area justice.

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I imagine this would be a popular golf course for those who are so inclined.

I turned around here and headed back to the Falls, stopping for more pictures along the way.

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This humble abode was for sale. $3.2 million or best offer takes it.

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The Willoughby Historical Museum. Curiously, the sign on the door said it was closed for the season. Since when is early September out of season in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

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More homes along the route.

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The historical marker for Navy Island at the south end of the island.

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Clear water. It’s still a novelty to see, coming from the murky shores of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

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Farther north on the trail, I stopped at the Chippawa Battlefield Park, site of another famous battle during the War of 1812, or more appropriately, the War of 1812-1815.

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The northern shore of Navy Island. Interestingly, Navy Island was once mentioned as a prospective site for the United Nations headquarters following World War II.

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The northern bridge connecting Grand Island to the mainland in New York State.

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Robert Moses Parkway. This is why the Canadian side of Niagara Falls remains much more popular than its American counterpart as my neighbor, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, can attest.

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Near Main Street in Chippawa, the trail cuts across the water towards the Falls.

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The Niagara Falls skyline. That’s mist coming from the falls, not the aftermath of an arsonist, one of the ten most popular occupations in my former home city.

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The dam as part of the hydroelectric generating station.

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Another couple of skyline shots.

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The mighty Niagara River.

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At Dufferin Islands, or “Daufferin,” as my late grandfather would say.

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I stopped by the Floral Showhouse, but I’ll save a trip inside for a future visit. The price of admission was a reasonable $5.65, but I was outraged to see that they want $5/hour for parking. There’s a difference between charging a fair price and gouging. This falls into the latter category.

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The incline railway and adjacent Welcome Center.

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Before heading inside to the Welcome Center, I had to hunt high and low before finding a rack to lock up my bike. Given the number of cyclists who traverse the Niagara Parkway, the lack of facilities for guests arriving on two wheels is a rather significant oversight that I hope is addressed in the near future.

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Once again, I know I was not alone. You may understand. You may not.

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I know one and perhaps only one reader will appreciate this.

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Elements on the Falls. Any connection to a former pair of colleagues from my distant past is strictly unavoidable. Most readers, even my close friends, will not understand.

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Tourists line the railing to get a good view of the falls.

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Still others want a more up close and personal look.

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Before leaving, I took a ride down Fallsview Boulevard and noticed a traffic jam in front of the Embassy Suites Hotel. I presume this is for the valet parking.

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The Fallsview Casino, an ATM for the government.

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I couldn’t help but stop to get a shot of this billboard. The farmer did not make my eggs today, a chicken did.

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A reminder of a piece of my past. I wonder if it’s a fighting moose or just a regular moose. One reader will understand more than most.

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Political incorrectness in its most egregious form.

It was an interesting outing and yet another positive experience. Once again, I only wish I had come here sooner.

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.