(top) What-the-??? Who turned off the water?? Read on and find out. (row 2) Free flowing Niagra Falls. (row 3) Thousands of tourists come every year to see this natural wonder. (row 4) Many, many daredevils have tested the falls. Here, Daredevil Nik Wallenda makes his historic tightrope walk across the Horseshoe Falls on June 15, 2012. Zeesh!! (row 5 left) There’s daredevil Karel Soucek with his barrel before going over the Horseshoe falls in 1984. (row 5 right) There’s Karel being fished out of the river after going over the falls. (row 6 left) There’s Karel being wheeled out of the hospital after surgery. (row 6 right) And there’s Karel a year later, after a barrel drop at the Astrodome in Houston, TX.in 1985. R.I.P. Dear Karel Soucek. (row 7 left) Skylon Tower observation decks. (row 7 right) Getting up close to these incredible falls. (row 8 left) Niagra Falls is one of the greatest places for a memorable family vacation. (row 8 right) Apparently you can go zip-lining across the falls now. Yikes!! (row 9) This looks like the place to stay on your visit. Remember to ask for a room facing the falls, though. (bottom) A wonderful oil painting by American artist Thomas Cole in 1830 titled “Distant View of Niagara Falls”. Looks like a couple of native Americans in the foreground. Probably Iroquois.
As we plan our summer breaks, I have great memories of Mom and Dad loading up the car, piling in the kids and heading off on adventures. One of my favorites is the trips we took to Niagara Falls. My lovely wife is from the Buffalo area and could never really understand my infatuation with “THE FALLS” My memories of the Maid of The Mist ride, overlooks by the falls, and visiting Canada round out “going to see the Falls” – (I can still taste the fudge and feel the roar of the water). One year Jackie and I took our very young girls for a visit and as we walked into the hotel room, the wall facing the falls was floor to ceiling glass! You felt like you were going to fall in. The girls dropped to their knees and crawled over to the window! They still laugh about it to this day. This year marks the 50th anniversary of when engineers constructed a temporary dam at the mouth of the Niagara River to shut off the water flow and clear out the bedrock that had fallen at the foot of the falls (talk about a PIA Job!). Here’s some fun trivia about the project and the Falls. Enjoy, and thanks Smithsonian and streetdirectory.com for the info.
- Niagara Falls has seen plenty of dramatic stunts over the centuries, ever since a local hotel owner sent a condemned ship with a “cargo of ferocious animals” over the falls in 1827 (only the goose survived the plunge). But no feat has attracted more visitors than a scientific survey conducted in 1969, the year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers actually turned off the American Falls.
- The engineers wanted to find a way to remove the unseemly boulders that had piled up at its base since 1931, cutting the height of the falls in half. The first weekend after the “dewatering,” about 100,000 people showed up to see this natural wonder without its liquid veil.
- It is estimated more than 250,000 tons of shale and dolomite sit at the base of the Falls. To turn off the water, dump trucks pushed nearly 30,000 tons of earth across a 600-foot-wide opening in the river. Instead of trying to divert all the water around to the Horseshoe Falls, engineers used the International Control Dam to redirect more than 59,000 gallons per second in to the nearby hydroelectric plants.
- The amount of electricity the power plants at Niagara Falls have the capacity to output is close to 4.9 million kilowatts – enough to power 3.8 million homes. On the US side, plants have a capacity of roughly 2.7 million Kilowatts, while the Canadian side’s combined capacity is close to 2.2 million kilowatts.
- With the river down to a trickle, a sprinkler system was installed to keep the rock face wet and prevent heat and wind damage. After six months of study, engineers decided to keep the rocks at the base in place.
- The 1969 dewatering was another aesthetic intervention, but the engineers decided, surprisingly, to leave the fallen boulders alone. “Recent emphasis on environmental values has raised questions about changing natural conditions even for demonstrated natural and measurable social benefits,” they wrote in their final report.
- The falls—American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and the small Bridal Veil Falls—formed some 12,000 years ago, when water from Lake Erie carved a channel to Lake Ontario (see map).
- The name Niagara came from “Onguiaahra,” as the area was known in the language of the Iroquois people who settled there originally.
- After the French explorer Samuel de Champlain described the falls in 1604, word of the magnificent sight spread through Europe. A visit to Niagara Falls was practically a religious experience for many – two famous visitors stated:
“When I felt how near to my Creator I was standing,” Charles Dickens wrote in 1842, “the first effect, and the enduring one—instant lasting—of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace.”
Alexis de Tocqueville described a “profound and terrifying obscurity” on his visit in 1831, but he also recognized that the falls were not as invincible as they seemed. “Hasten,” Tocqueville urged a friend in a letter, or “your Niagara will have been spoiled for you.”
- In 1894, King C. Gillette, the future razor magnate, predicted Niagara Falls could become part of a city called Metropolis with 60 million people. A few years later, Nikola Tesla designed one of the first hydroelectric plants near the Falls. He saw it as a high point in human history: “It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man.”
- One and a half million gallons of water flow through the Niagara River (it’s not really a river, but a strait) every second – or one cubic mile every week and helps drains 255,000 square miles of mid-continental North America. The water starts off in North America, coming from streams and rivers that empty into 5 out of the 6 Great Lakes; Michigan, Superior, Huron, St. Clair and Erie. These lakes drain a large part of North America, flowing down through the Great Lakes basin from West to East. The entire volume of water in those lakes is enough to cover the whole of North America in about 3.5ft (1 meter) of water.
- The drop from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is 330 feet depending on seasonal water levels. The water depth of the lower rapids is 45 – 60 feet, with currents of up to 30 m.p.h. The famous whirlpool at the bottom of the Falls is 126 feet deep at the water level and spins around in a counterclockwise direction.
- Seven people have gone over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel. Four lived, three died. Only two living things have been actually seen to go over the Falls safely without special protection – a dog over the American Falls in the 1800’s and a boy over the Horseshoe Falls in 1960.
- Five large boats and innumerable small ones have gone over the Falls, many with people in them. A free swimmer has never conquered the lower rapids
- Niagara Falls today is the result of the push and pull of exploitation and preservation. The Free Niagara Movement successfully lobbied to create a park around the site in the 1880s, but the changes continued. In 1950, the United States and Canada decided to divert 50 percent of the water from Niagara Falls through underwater tunnels to hydroelectric turbines during peak tourist hours.
- At night, the water flow over the falls is cut in half again. Engineers manipulate the flow using 18 gates upstream. The engineers who built the diversion tunnels also made several modifications to the actual falls, excavated both edges of the Horseshoe Falls to create a visually pleasing crest.
- At some point, the United States and Canada will face the same dilemma again: Do they intervene to maintain the falls or let natural processes unfold? Even with the decreased rate of deterioration, the falls regress a little every year. In about 15,000 years, the cliff edge will reach a riverbed of soft shale—and then Nature will upstage any human efforts. Niagara Falls will crumble and irrevocably disappear.