Wednesday, August 25, 2004

How I fell for Niagara, part 2

And now for the second of my two posts on Niagara Falls (the first post is here):

Lewiston and 18F:

On Saturday we traveled north from Niagara Falls, heading for Old Fort Niagara, and stopped along the way in Lewiston for lunch. Lewiston has a main street a few blocks long, lined with shops and restaurants; the picture below was taken on Saturday afternoon:

Niagara Falls area - Lewistown main street

After lunch and a bit of shopping (including a visit to a bookstore that had fewer books on display than I have in my house) we headed north to Old Fort Niagara. We took 18F, instead of the Parkway, and were glad we did. 18F starts in Lewiston, and for most of its length is a two-lane road lined with classic northeast-style houses and lush, green foliage. The road travels along the shores of the Niagara River, so we got river vistas every now and then. There weren't a lot of cars or tourists around, which made the drive and the towns even more appealing.

Niagara Falls area - 18F
The picture above was taken along 18F, between Lewiston and Youngstown.

This leads to my second recommendation for the Niagara Falls area: if you want to do something different, look for a good bed and breakfast or small hotel near either Lewiston or Youngstown. Both are small towns that seem like they'd be nice to spend a relaxing weekend in, yet are close enough to Niagara Falls that you could drive there in less than 20 minutes. Note, of course, that I didn't stay in either town, so you may want to take this recommendation with a very large grain of salt.

A highlight on the drive north from Niagara Falls was Whirlpool State Park, which overlooks a region of the Niagara River where the water flows in a circle: for half the width of the river the water actually flows upstream. This park was nearly empty when we were there, but was definitely worth the visit. Below you can see a view from Whirlpool State Park, looking up the Niagara River towards the falls.

Niagara Falls area - view from Whirlpool State park

Old Fort Niagara and the Ft. Niagara Lighthouse

Old Fort Niagara is on the shores of Lake Ontario and was originally started by the French in the late 1600s. The earliest outposts were abandoned until 1726, when the French built a large "castle" on the site. The fort changed hands to the British in 1759 (where it served as a British fort during the Revolutionary War), was transferred to the US in 1796, was taken by the British again in the War of 1812, and was finally given back to the US at the end of the War of 1812.

Old Fort Niagara front

What is fascinating about this fort is that you can get a taste of what military life was like during three different periods of life in North America. The French castle and dirt walls on the site were built around 1726, the redoubts (towers) and many other buildings were built by the British during their first occupation (fortifying in anticipation of an American revolutionary assault), and the Americans modified it again during the Civil War. Thus in this one fort you can explore early French colonial architecture, British colonial military architecture, and American Civil War military architecture. It's a fascinating exercise in exploring the effect of technological development on military construction, and is a marvelous location for D&D players to see a real-life counterpart of their gaming worlds.

Niagara Falls area - Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse

Just outside the fort is the Fort Niagara Lighthouse, built in 1871. The lighthouse doors were open when we drove up, and we discovered that they were leading guided tours to the top of the lighthouse. I signed up (it was free, but I had to sign a waiver) and then climbed more than 70 steep, narrow stairs to the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was missing its lens, but the view from the top was extraordinary, and it was thrilling to be able to climb up an actual lighthouse staircase (I've always loved to look at lighthouses, but had never been able to climb up one before). To give you an example of just how steep and narrow the stairs were, here's a picture of the stairs leading down from the top, with one of my fellow adventurers attempting to get through the tiny door:

Niagara Falls area - Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse door down Niagara Falls area - Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse stairs

This thus leads to my third recommendation for the Niagara Falls area: if you have an extra afternoon while you're in the area, a trip to Old Fort Niagara is well worth the time, and if the Fort Niagara Lighthouse is open while you're there, take a few moments and climb to the top. Both were well worth it, and were definitely highlights of my trip.

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