Gorgeous Day for a Hike

by Mary Clista Dahl

Given the fact that it has lost its place on the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Niagara Falls is still pretty awe inspiring.  Because this is situated almost in my backyard, I have become desensitized to its presence.  So it was almost an afterthought that we selected the Niagara River Gorge as our destination for a Saturday afternoon hike.

The day was too precious to waste; late September and 83 degrees with a cloudless sky in Western New York is a rarity.  We arrived at a park by the gorge and explored first by car, then by foot to get the layout.  This was a day that should have attracted droves of hikers, but a nearby festival seemed more popular.  We encountered less than 20 people all day, and were grateful for the quiet.

After parking, we leashed the Golden Retriever and walked to find the trails.  One led us along an area lined with locust trees.  These had already shed many leaves, and the path was laid out in a golden carpet of them, which softened our steps.  The dog’s coat reflected beautifully, gold over gold.  We came to a metal grated staircase, and took it, hoping it would descend to the river.  It did.  We led the dog’s leash cautiously, only far enough so she could satisfy her instinct to swim.  The current was visibly powerful (one of the strongest in the world).  While she paddled, we skimmed turquoise-colored stones and enjoyed the view.

After meandering on some false trails, we found success with Trail 7.  Near the top of the gorge, this route offered spectacular views of the river below.  The rock formations across were covered with a blanket of trees so you could only see patches of rock.  On our side, however, the rock faces were bare with a few trees in between.  The pieces that had broken loose and fallen were striped with contrasting degrees of strata.  At one point my friend picked up a specimen and we marveled at its markings and the completely different textures on opposing sides of the face.  We were both transfixed by the evidence of its evolution; the dog was not.

Walking along, we heard a waterfall high above; seemingly out of place given its stark surroundings.  The narrow stream of cascading water created an oasis in the cliff that surrounded it.  The greenery on either side was stark and ornate against the rock.  The pool at the bottom was small and rectangular, like something you would find in a Japanese garden, just adequate enough for the dog to squish herself into.  Meanwhile, my friend and I took turns climbing to the falls to catch a healthy mist of spray, smiling all the way.

We continued on until we reached the lower supports of the bridge to Canada.  The structure from below made for some great photo ops, so we stopped, using this as our turnaround point.  It was my turn to manage the leash, and the Golden was in quick trajectory for the trail, challenging my pace.  We found a large plateau for her to majestically sit upon for another photo op, which slowed her down only temporarily.  Navigating her took my attention away from the close nature inspection I was allowed on the way.  Tiny yellow and purple flowers and asters were everywhere.  Sumac was blazing brilliant red.  We found a tree with maple-like leaves, camouflage bark and prickly round fruit.  I suspected a chestnut. A consultation with Google brought us many possibilities, but it was the camouflage bark that revealed the correct classification of Sycamore.

Afterward, as we rested side by side in our chairs perched near the edge of the gorge eating our lunch, my friend wondered out loud what it would have been like to be indigenous people in this land with no amenities in the awesome beauty of this untouched land.  They would be one with nature and relying on the animals and each other for guidance.  It was a calming thought. We contemplated the image for awhile and sat quietly playing with the dog and engaging in small talk underneath that amazing blue sky until the approaching dinner hour called us home again.