Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Niagara Falls

I guess I just don’t get out that much, since traveling still seems so bizarre. We woke up very early in the morning in Memphis and headed to the airport to fly to New York. We hung out for a few hours in LaGuardia, and were then deposited in Canada. It’s a strange feeling to wake up in one time zone and then put your feet down in a different country a few hours later. But it was a good trip – we all traveled to meet some friends from England who were also visiting Canada.

On our first full day in Toronto we ended up driving right out of the city and headed to Niagara Falls. We rented a minivan, since it seemed like the best way to transport all six of us. So after some shenanigans with the rental car agency, we made it past the traffic jams in Toronto and made the relatively short drive south to Niagara.

We passed through the touristy town of Niagara Falls, which was reminiscent of Pigeon Forge with its string of tacky stores and kitschy attractions (although we were tempted to stop at the wizard themed mini golf course). But you immediately forget all that once you get close to the falls. As soon as you approach, you can hear the loud thundering roar of the water. The spray and mist kicked up by the falls hangs above the river like a fog. It’s a pretty amazing view.


Niagara Falls aren’t the tallest waterfalls in the world, but they are among the most powerful. About six million cubic feet of water goes over Niagara Falls every minute.


There are actually three waterfalls here, the largest and most famous is Horseshoe Falls which sits entirely on the Canadian side of the border. Horseshoe Falls are 167 feet high, but stretch for 2,600 feet.


It’s hard to grasp how big the falls are. People on the opposite side of the gorge look like tiny ants (you can only tell there are people there when they’re wearing bright ponchos). Sightseeing boats below the falls look like bath toys floating in the water.


Just downstream is the American Falls, so named because the falls are located across the border in the US. The American Falls are smaller than Horseshoe Falls, stretching 1,060 feet across. It is also shorter thanks to the pile of boulders that have accumulated at the base of the falls.



Next we went on one of the sightseeing boat tours, which departs after they hand you a stylish bright red poncho. The tour cruises up the choppy waters of the river, right by the waterfalls. This was the view of the American Falls and the third waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls. Bridal Veil is the small waterfall that flows just to the side of the American Falls.


And a close-up view of the boulder pile at the base of the American Falls:


Just across the river is a large abandoned stone building, which is the old Ontario Power Company's generating station which was built in 1905.


And the view from our sightseeing boat heading towards Horseshoe Falls. This is one of the most popular things to do for visitors at Niagara Falls, and there have been boat tours to the falls dating all the way back to 1846.


The tour gives a pretty spectacular view of the falls, and I tried to get a few shots before hiding the camera under the poncho so it wouldn't get too soaked by the mist.



The boat eventually headed back, passing back by the American Falls again. The boat had a recording of a tour guide who pointed out that several people have gone over Horseshoe Falls and have survived the plunge. But not surprisingly, no one has ever tried to take a barrel over the American Falls.


And the view again from the edge of the gorge, looking back at all of the waterfalls.


And a few more shots from the edge of Horseshoe Falls. If you look closely, in the rapids above the waterfall there is a little dark square sitting in the water. That's actually a barge that broke loose and almost ending up going over the falls way back in 1918. The two crew members managed to ground the boat in the rocks above the falls and were rescued, and the boat has remained there ever since.


And one last shot from Niagara Falls, with part of the crowd of people perched on the edge overlooking the falls.


After that we headed back towards Toronto but made a detour to visit a few wineries around the town of Niagara-On-The-Lake. We stopped at one that was owned by Dan Aykroyd and another one owned by Wayne Gretzky. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the owners there, but we did get plenty of samples of wine.

We needed to return the rental car by 7:00, so we drove off with what we assumed would be plenty of time. But we soon caught up with the traffic jams in Toronto, which slowed our progress to a crawl. With only about 30 minutes to spare, we exited the freeway and tried to take what seemed like a promising short cut to downtown. I had Google Maps going, which said that we would arrive at the rental car agency with just minutes to spare. We would just barely make it, as long as traffic wasn’t that bad.

Well Toronto had other ideas. We were less than a mile from the rental car place when the road we were trying to take was blocked off for a huge street festival. We tried to detour around it, including barely making it through an alley that was probably about the size of the mini-van. But it wasn’t meant to be. We missed the drop-off time. But we just parked and got pizza instead, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Last week we took a quick vacation and headed up to Canada to spend a few days with some friends. We managed to score a great deal on the plane tickets to Toronto, but we would have to fly out of Memphis. Which seemed like a good deal, the cost was about half of what it would have been to fly out of Little Rock, and we got to start the trip out with a visit to Beale Street.

We drove to Memphis and went downtown for dinner and then walked along Beale Street. It was a Wednesday night but the street was absolutely packed with people and motorcycles. There must have been a bike convention or gathering going on, since they had pretty much taken over the street. I had to zoom in a bit while taking pictures - just below this show there were hundreds of bikes and thousands of bikers in leather crowding the street.


We walked by the famous Peabody Hotel and went inside to take a look. The hotel opened in 1925 and is one of the iconic places in downtown Memphis. This is the view of the lobby (we didn't stay here, we were at a place close to the airport that was nowhere near this fancy).


And one last shot from downtown Memphis. We didn't linger too long here, we had to wake up very early the next morning for our flight. But this is a view looking towards the Peabody and also to Huey's (the best burger place in Memphis, by far).


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Two Rivers Sunset

If you get the timing just right (it only happens for a few days during the year), then you can be lucky enough to get a picture of the sun setting over the top of Pinnacle Mountain. But it can be a difficult shot to get - the conditions have to be absolutely perfect. There can't be any clouds in the sky, or at least off to the west. The sun will quickly disappear behind the clouds, resulting in no cool sunset. I've been trying for years to get the shot, and have only ever gotten one good picture of it in the past.

So I headed out last week to Two Rivers Park and made another attempt. I kept my eye on the weather, and while it was mostly cloudy all day, the weather people predicted it would clear around sunset. So when I hurried over to the bridge, I was a little disappointed to see clouds off in the distance, which the sun slipped behind right before sunset. It turned out that a little summer storm had popped up, and there were clouds in the north that were stretching off high in the sky. The river below the bridge was reflecting the clouds, which were glowing gold in the light from the sunset.


The clouds seem to grow more immense by the second, and the color became more intense. I actually had to dial down the saturation on these pictures because the color in the sky almost looked fake.


The storm clouds began to get close, and were dropping some lighting off in the distance. I decided to stick around in the hopes of maybe catching some lightning, and set up the camera along the river. My hope was to catch some lightning over the Two Rivers Bridge, and I started taking pictures as dark clouds began moving and billowing above the river.


But while there was some lightning off in the distance, there wasn't much over the park (I probably should have headed closer to downtown, it seemed to be getting more of the storm). I gave up when it started raining too hard, and hurried to the car to dry off the camera.

A few days later, I headed back to the river to try again. The conditions were much better, with hardly any clouds in the sky. It was also surprisingly pleasant out on the bridge, it was cool and with a nice breeze. The bridge and park were busy with people walking and biking, and the river had a few people in boats and jet skis.


I got to the bridge, set up the tripod and then of course realized I forgot something in the car. I hurried to the parking lot, and then rushed to get back to the bridge. I managed to get there right as the sun was starting to set behind Pinnacle, and had just a few panicked seconds to get the camera on the tripod and to make sure the settings were ok. But luckily I managed to get a few shots.


And one last shot from the bridge, of another guy on the jet ski enjoying the river before it got too dark.