Niagara Falls' Lesser Known Wonders



I sometimes think the image of Niagara Falls is so iconic it has become mundane. While it is beautiful, there is a lot more to the falls than big water falling over a cliff. Take the cliff itself. 

The Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment tracks across the Great Lakes,
threading in and out of Canada and the US and back again. 

Niagara Falls is the point at which the Niagara River falls over a rock face which is part of a 725 km (450 miles) long geological formation known as the Niagara Escarpment. A natural wonder of the world like Niagara Falls itself, the Niagara Escarpment is recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve because the residents in the region of the escarpment are working to balance conservation and preservation with surrounding development. What are they preserving exactly?

The escarpment encompasses farms, recreation areas, sweeping scenic views, towering cliffs, clear streams, wetlands, pebbled beaches, rolling hills, pristine waterfalls, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities. 

I can tell you it's an eerie thing to travel along beside it, follow it to Tobermory on the edge of Georgian Bay and watch it submerge under the surface of the lake and just continue on its way, under water and out of sight without even holding its breath.

Clearly visible, the escarpment divides farmland (including land owned by
Smuckers for the purpose of fruit processing) from developed areas in
Grimsby, Ontario, near Hamilton. Lake Ontario is bottom right corner



The escarpment is sedimentary rock,
composed mainly of magnesium-rich limestone and shale

Niagara Escarpment [The Bruce Trail Conservancy]

At the beginning of one of the underwater legs of the escarpment's journey around the Great Lakes. This lighthouse is in Tobermory, Ontario, on Georgian Bay. 

The escarpment's limestone outcroppings at Newport State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. The photograph is taken around 10 feet from Lake Michigan.

Looking west from Georgian Bay at the submerged Niagara escarpment [source]

The Falls


Superlatives fail when trying to describe Niagara Falls. They're loud. They're misty. You can feel the vibration of the water rumbling in your chest. They're jewel coloured. They're fear inspiring. Some people even feel a pull toward the water as if something were compelling them to jump in.

As tall as the falls are, did you know the depth of the water at the base of the falls is equal to or greater than the height of the falls? That's about 51m (167 feet). About 500 other waterfalls in the world are "taller" than Niagara. The Angel Falls in Venezuela is tallest at 979 m (3,212 ft). However, some of the tallest falls in the world have very little water flowing over them. It’s the combination of height and volume that makes Niagara Falls so beautiful.

Niagara Parks Geology Facts

The Niagara River is a mere 42 km (26 miles) long. A long time ago, the Niagara River fell straight over a cliff that butted neatly against Lake Ontario's shore. Since that time, the river has cut its way through the land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie like someone slicing through a cake. Niagara Falls has moved back 11.25 kms (7 miles) as the bird flies, in 12,500 years and may be the fastest moving waterfall in the world.

Approximately 25 miles from Erie to Ontario, the
Niagara River is slicing its way across at a very quick rate 

Did you know that the elevation between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie is about 99 m (326 ft), and only half of that occurs at the Falls themselves? The Welland Canal was built to help ships bypass the falls as well as all the other rapids (because Niagara Falls is considered a class VI rapid!) and requires a series of eight locks to facilitate passage from one lake to the next starting with Lock 1 at Lake Ontario in St. Cathrines.

Since 1678 The Horseshoe Falls have grown from a gentle arc
to the present extreme 'U' shape

Niagara Parks Geology Facts

The Whirlpool

The Niagara Whirlpool formed nearly 4,200 years ago when the erosion and recession of Niagara Falls, which up to this point was a sluggish process, reached a soft spot in the landscape. Saint David's Buried Gorge was an ancient, pre-glacial river valley filled in with soft glacial silt and stone. When Niagara Falls eroded its way into this hidden gorge, it rapidly began washing away the gorge's soft filling. It is speculated that when the Falls hit the buried gorge, it was just a matter of weeks, perhaps even days of violent erosion while it carved out the Whirlpool basin. It was a swift and powerful geological event considering the Falls had taken nearly 8000 years to get to this point.

The following Whirlpool photo series by Matthew Conheady

Saint David's Buried Gorge ran perpendicular to the current path of the Fall's erosion, and resulted in a 90 degree turn in the river. Just upstream the narrow Niagara Gorge at the Whirlpool rapids sends water jetting into the Whirlpool basin. It hits the solid rock basin across the Whirlpool at Niagara Glen. Thousand of years of these forces has resulted in a dimpling of the basin; giving it an oval shape that juts past the turn in the river.



When the Niagara River is at full flow the Whirlpool will flow in a counterclockwise direction. When the river flow drops, usually when more flow is diverted to the power plants, the flow of the whirlpool reverses (clockwise). This usually happens during the tourist off-season (November 1 through April 1).



Just upstream from the Whirlpool is the narrowest section of the Niagara: the Eddy Basin. This pinch in the gorge is not sufficient for the normal flow of the river to pass through, so some of the water is pushed backward. The water at the shore actually flows backward at this location.

The Niagara River reaches depths of 125 ft (38 m) [source]

Cable car rides over the Whirlpool
Niagara River is a beautiful emerald green colour
An interesting point is that the Upper and Lower Niagara River, including the falls, includes examples of all six classifications of rapids with both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls being considered class VI ( Unrunnable. You will probably die)

[NYF Niagara Falls FAQ]
Quick Facts

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge.

From largest to smallest, the three waterfalls are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. 

Located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and also by flow rate. [wiki]

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can see my house!!!!
Lovely post Frimmy. The falls are fascinating aren't they? I have seen Angel Falls, it was a trickle at the time (summer season) impressive in height - but not readily accessible like Niagara Falls is.

Derek Warren said...

I remember going to Niagara Falls as a kid. (We lived in Buffalo) and thinking it wasn't impressive. I love reading thoughts from places though.

MuserMommy said...

Great post as usual. I have taken the cable car across the Whirlpool and it is one hell of a rush. On the opposite end was the walk along the river, which I would recommend. Walking along the rushing Niagara is indescribable. Definitely something on the bucket list.

Frimmy said...

I could never bring myself to cross the whirlpool. Way outside my comfort zone. But it was always a goal.

So cool your house is in the photo, Ann! You've seen Angel Falls?! How nice is that! My sister has seen Iguazu falls in Brazil? Argentina? My memory fails me at this moment. I must live vicariously through my friends and family. ;)

I think I know about all the other things around the falls because the falls are so fearsome to me that I don't really enjoy them. I can't stare at them roaring over the cliff and NOT think about how much water is roaring under water at the same time. I went on an 'over the falls in a barrel' simulator - Ride Niagara - and was completely sick when it was done. I'm a weenie. lol

@Derek, it might be different seeing it as an adult, now that you know more about geology and water and physics. As a kid, the falls are just a bunch of water falling over a cliff. Big deal. Bring on the Power Rangers!

Angie said...

I'm just gobsmacked here. For my entire life, I thought the falls faced the west. Every picture I've ever seen, must have been taken from the Canadian side. I feel very special ed right now.

Frimmy said...

You only know what you've been shown and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls are always shown for most news/articles on Niagara Falls and usually from the Canadian side. They are the most dramatic/news worthy I guess.

 

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