Friday, August 29, 2008

Niagara Falls - In Two Days

On August 17, we moved from Ohio to Niagara Falls, NY… well, actually North Tonawanda, NY, about 20 minutes from the actual falls. We continued to have good weather and good driving conditions. Shortly after getting set up, we signed up for tours to both sides of the falls.

On Monday, we were picked up at our campground and had a great tour guide for the American side. Our first stop was the Cave of the Winds. They give you a raincoat (say large yellow plastic bag) and non-slip sandals to wear for the tour. Both are needed as it’s very wet out there.

This is our first look at the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from below.

See what I mean about large plastic bags?

After climbing around below these falls, we went back up to the top and walked over to the park above Horseshoe Falls. Even here you get wet from the constant mist.

I can’t imagine anyone being crazy enough to go over these falls. The amount of water rushing over is phenomenal. And half of the water from the river is diverted for electricity before it ever gets to the falls.

From there we drove out to Whirlpool Park. This is a natural whirlpool formed in the lower river basin. They told us that the direction of the swirl changes twice a day. We weren’t there long enough to tell, but it was definitely swirling around down there.

Then it was back to the falls for a ride on the Maid of the Mist. This time we were issued blue raincoats. Here we are passing the American Falls.

We couldn’t get any pictures of Horseshoe Falls from the boat as it was just too wet. The mist from that one is very thick, plus the wind was really blowing hard. But here’s another photo of the American and Bridal Veil Falls.

Notice the observation tower on the far left of that picture. That was our next stop and the view was really great.

It was after 4pm when we got back home and we were beat! But it was a great day and the vistas were awesome.

The next day, we did it all over again, but on the Canadian side. We were picked up at the campground again and eventually picked up all the others in our tour group and made it through customs into Canada.

Since we had done the Maid of the Mist the day before, we got to go into Skylon Tower. I can’t remember how tall it was, but the 360-degree views were really something. This is Horseshoe Falls with one of the boats right up close.

You can also see the dam upriver (far left) which is where the water diversion takes place.

Here’s the American and Bridal Veil Falls, which are to the left of the Horseshoe Falls.

This is the Skylon Tower from the outside. The little yellow “pod” on the side is an elevator, which is actually pretty good sized.

Our next stop was the Journey Behind the Falls. Once more we were issued lovely yellow raincoats. They take you down in an elevator and there is a large tube cut out behind the water fall. It’s pretty amazing to be standing right there with the water barreling down in front of you and hear the roar of it all. Then you can walk out to the viewing platform right beside the right-hand side of Horseshoe Falls.

You are right down at the base of the falls, here. This shot looks back across the river to the American side, including the falls, the observation tower and the Rainbow Bridge which we had taken to get into Canada earlier.

Once back on top, we had time to walk around this side of the Falls. We were just this close to the water and it was really moving fast!

They took us to Whirlpool Park, again, only on the Canadian side. It looked pretty much the same so I won’t bore you with yet another picture.

Our last stop was at the Floral Clock. It’s pretty good size and chimes at the quarter hour. We were there long enough to hear two sets and it was really pretty cool.

They change the flora in the clock twice a year. We saw post cards with several different pictures of how it has looked in the past. It was really quite interesting.

Getting back into the U.S. was really slow. Buses and tour vans have only one lane in which to get through. Once it was our turn, the border guards simply looked at each of our passports and then we were on our way.

We were the last of the group to be dropped off, and again we were pretty beat. We had a pizza delivered and just relaxed.

We left the next day, but we could see how one could spend another day or two in the area. The town of Niagara Falls, Ontario, looked really fun when we drove through it. There were lots of shops and tourist things all over. But we obviously didn’t have the time for that. Plus there are casinos on both sides. We just didn’t have the energy to go back in the evenings. And it would be wonderful to be at the falls after dark, when they are lit up. Perhaps we’ll get back again, but if not: we still had a blast!

(My apologies that none of these photos can be enlarged by clicking. I had a devil of a time getting this post done at all and that was an unfortunate by-product of my HTML edits.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Oh, Ohio!

On Sunday, 8/10, we arrived at Erie Islands Resort & Marina. It’s a great campground; not many trees, but all the sites are pull-thru and very wide. We were probably at least two miles (as the crow flies) from Lake Erie, but at $10 a night – who’s complaining.

We spent our first full day driving around the area, through Port Clinton, by the lake, out to Marblehead and back through Catawba Island. It wasn’t as much driving as it sounds; things are fairly close together around here.

We had lunch in Port Clinton: walleye and fries. Walleye and perch are the big catch from the lake and they seem very proud of it if you go by their restaurant prices. But it was good.

Our first stop for pictures was at Lakepoint Park on the east coast of Marblehead.

This is as close as we got to Cedar Point, an amusement park across the bay near Sandusky.

We had to get our picture taken while here, with Lake Erie behind us.

Karen, this lighthouse photo is just for you. We didn’t go up in it, but be assured it was WAY smaller than the one in St. Augustine. On Tuesday, we caught the 9:30 ferry to Put-In-Bay (say Puddin’ Bay).

What a great place this was to visit. We took a tram tour around the island. Our first stop was the Butterfly House at Perry’s Cave. I’ve been to bigger displays, but these were so beautiful, we didn’t even notice.

This next one was the hardest to catch. The underside of their wings is brown and not very special. But the top side is this beautiful blue. They rarely sat still with the wings open, so Julian kept shooting till he got this one in flight. Once we got our fill of the butterflies, we walked across the street to Heineman’s Winery. They boasted a cave beneath the winery that allows you to stand inside the world’s largest geode. I had to see this. OK, it really could be the world’s largest geode. There were about a dozen of us in there on this tour. However, it was also the world’s smallest cave! That was it! You went down, walked around the staircase and came right back up again. It was definitely overpriced for what it was, but, hey, that’s the risk one takes when sight-seeing, right?

There was a tour of the winery too, but we opted out of that. We’ve seen wineries. But we did taste the grape juice and the Riesling. I’m not normally wowed by grape juice, but this stuff was really good. And so was the Riesling – we bought 4 bottles of it.

Then we hopped back on the trolley and rode it back into the downtown area. We had a great lunch of walleye, cheese stix, grilled chicken and sauerkraut balls. And it was ALL terrific.

The whole day there was terrific. We’ve said we’d both go back again, rent a golf cart and just roam around the island.

The next day, we stopped at the Jolly Roger (THE place for perch and walleye) and picked up perch ‘n chips (‘n onion rings). We drove out to East Harbor State Park on the east side of Catawba Island. We ate the lunch, which was very good. Even Heidi got to go. She doesn’t look it, but she really was having fun out there.

On Friday, we took the ferry to Kelleys Island. There are no organized tours here, so we rented a golf cart and took off after stopping for lattes. This island is only four square miles, so it didn’t take us too long to get around.

Our first stop was the state park on the north end of the island. There was a great beach here and people were definitely enjoying it.

From there we went to The Grooves. This is a tube formed by glaciers about 30,000 years ago. This picture is from above, shooting down the grooved tube. We continued the ride around the island, but these were quite obviously the main attractions unless you were big into hiking and/or birding. So we went back into the very small downtown area and had lunch, then caught the ferry back to Marblehead. Here’s a shot back at Kelleys Island as we left. On Saturday (today) we took a picnic lunch to Catawba State Park, on Catawba Island. We took Heidi again and she’s always thrilled to get to “go”. There is a boat dock there and it was very busy. They even had someone there directing traffic to and from the launch area. And after being on Lake Erie for a week, I felt it was time to touch it. So here I am dipping a hand into the first of the Great Lakes I’ve ever been to. Then it was back to the campground to start getting ready to move to our next location on Sunday. We’ll be in Niagara Falls for a couple days and then on to the Finger Lakes of New York for two and a half weeks. Unfortunately, we won’t have easy (if any) access to the internet, so it may be a while until I can make my next post.

So until then, happy trails!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Good Times, Good Friends

We’ve continued to keep busy since I last made an entry here. Not all of it is of great interest to the reader, so I’ll summarize:

- We got the air conditioning fixed. What a relief knowing that we’ll be heading into hotter territory soon.

- Another couple who are our friends joined us for a week at Creekwood. That meant eight of us hanging out together.

- I completed a total of four web pages for the resale-by-owner group at Royal Highlands.

- The guys went to the car & motorcycle museum, while the girls went shopping one day.

- We had cocktails on the creek nearly every evening at 5pm.

- We’ve kept up with our walking for exercise.

- Heidi got her hair and nails done. (Happily, that’s out of the way for another 6 weeks.)

As mentioned in my last post, we had planned an adventure for the week that all eight of us were together at Creekwood Farm. We were going to do a rafting trip on the Pigeon River. (Do you hear banjos?) We had made the reservations, but they canceled it in the end – just not enough water in the river.

So instead, we all drove to Lake Lure for a tour and lunch. It was a beautiful drive, as are most drives in North Carolina. We took the boat tour first and saw some beautiful and costly homes. Lake front property there is several thousand dollars per linear foot. Even so, there was hardly an empty space anywhere along the shore. Here’s one of the houses on the lake.

This view is across the lake to Chimney Rock. We didn’t go up there, but the formations were pretty cool.

After the boat tour was over, we went up the road to the restaurant at Lake Lure Inn. It was a really good buffet. Here’s the whole crew after chowing down.

From left to right we are: Gary, Julian, Barbara, Donna, Larry, Kenny, Stacy, and Mary.

Here we all are again, that same day, for “cocktails on the creek”.

The next day, Saturday, we all went to Canton for the ‘Mater Festival. It proved to be much larger this year than we’d experienced before. Instead of in a vacant lot, this year they had the booths set up right down the main street of town.

We did buy some tomatoes, which were very good. We also got a slice of tomato pie. It turned out to be a lot like pizza, but in a regular pie crust. It wasn’t bad!

The following Tuesday, we took our last trip into Cherokee for some gambling fun… and I do me FUN. At first, neither one of us were doing very well. In fact were we playing together (our strategy when the money gets low) and were down to about our last $20 when Julian hit a Royal Flush! We can’t tell you how beautiful that was! A little later, on a different machine, I hit a four-of-a-kind for over $300. Both of these were won on progressive machines that had obviously not hit in some time. What a FUN day! (That will help pay for the coach repairs!)

On our last night at Creekwood Farm, we went out to dinner with our friends, Ken & Stacy. Once again we had a fabulous meal.

Yesterday we pulled up stakes and drove to Crittenden, KY, which is about 30 miles south of Cincinnati. We’re here for 2 nights and will leave tomorrow for Port Clinton, OH, right on Lake Erie.