May 24, 2015
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After a leisurely breakfast and some moments in the sunroom overlooking the lake and the wind turbines, we packed and, after the now-traditional stop at Tim Horton’s, headed north on Route 5 to Old Fort Niagara. On Grand Island, we debated a detour to Beaver Island State Park, but there wasn’t enough time.
I’d been to Old Fort Niagara perhaps twice. Once a couple of my friends had come with us — I remember this because somewhere I have a closeup of our faces as we sat in the back seat of my dad’s van. Also among my photos there’s one of my dad and mom walking across a bridge or embankment in the middle distance. The enormous weight gain that had snuck up on him jutted out prominently, while a couple of yards behind him my mother struggled to keep her hair from blowing in the wind. It’s not a flattering photo, but I like it because it’s one of the few unposed photos I have of them together.
My dad may have taken me one more time, after my mother died and I had graduated from college. I can’t remember if we went to both Niagara Falls and Old Fort Niagara, or just Niagara Falls, but I recall eating lunch in a parking lot and feeling how odd and wrong it was to be on a little adventure without my mother.
When I’d been to Old Fort Niagara before, I’d been struck by the number of college-age boys dressed in redcoats, firing muskets and cannons — funny to think that, like me, those kids have aged into their fifties. On this day, the fort wasn’t overrun by college-age redcoats, but by characters of various ages from several wars and conflicts, from pre-Revolutionary War to the Korean War and beyond — in tribute to Memorial Day. It was a little disconcerting to see GIs at the old fort.
We listened to part of a long presentation about uniforms and the story of Betsy Doyle, who during the War of 1812 ran hot shot up the stairs of the fort’s French Castle. I struggled to get up the stairs even once without toting deadly hot shot.
I’m sure I saw a lot more of the fort on this day than I had before, but I’ve never seen as much as I could. It was a beautiful day, too, with a slightly hazy look that I associate with this area, located across from Canada at the mouth of the Niagara River. It truly feels like a place out of time.
On the return trip, i took a photo of what I’d always thought was a wrecked barge jutting up from the Niagara River north of the Peace Bridge, with trees thrusting through the deck. Since then I’ve read it’s an old water intake station. There go all my assumptions and memories, as I remember my dad pointing it out to me.
On our last pass down Route 5, we made a final stop at Red Top Hots, although it wasn’t quite the same without BL freezing in the lake breeze. After stopping at the house to say goodbye to BL and family, we picked up a perfect souvenir of western New York — Weber’s horseradish mustard, which I don’t remember from my childhood at all.
Next we hurried to Chestnut Ridge Park to find the eternal (not really — it gets blown out frequently but can be relit) flame waterfall. Google Maps seemed determined to send J’s car down a footpath through dense woods, but I wasn’t convinced. As we meandered around a bit, seeing lots of high schoolers in the backs of pickup trucks (which surprised me), finally we asked a man walking his dog where to go. It turns out there’s a parking area for the trail off 277 that was easy to find, but in the meantime we’d lost an hour or an hour and a half of daylight by the time we arrived at the trailhead. I wish I’d remembered my way around Chestnut Ridge! We did get a brief glimpse of the toboggan run . . .
The trail to the falls isn’t too rough, although it’s steep in places, with rocks and logs in the way along the creek. By this time, fatigue had set in from several days of walking and standing, and I couldn’t make it past an uneven part of the trail near the water, even as young people leapt past me and others walked by without a care. As J. continued on, several people offered to help me, but I was physically and psychologically stuck, deterred by what may seem to most to be a tiny obstacle, but it was too much for me at that point in time. J. did see the falls, which he said were farther off than he thought based on what people were telling him. Although there wasn’t a lot of water, the flame was lit. I wish I’d seen it.
We left for Geneseo at about 8:15 p.m., traveling through East Aurora, Warsaw, and Perry on Route 20A, all of which J. liked. One deer crossed the road, and J. spotted a second. Along the way we passed dozens of wind turbines, just like in parts of Illinois on our way back from the Illinois River Road. Route 20A is more twisty than most roads in Illinois, and J. found himself hard pressed to keep out of the way of impatient locals, pulling over when possible to let them pass. At last, shortly before 10 p.m., we arrived at Temple Hill Bed & Breakfast, to be greeted by our friendly host, her friendly dog, and welcome rest after an exhausting but exhilarating few days.