Page images
PDF
EPUB

This is divided into two distinct cascades by the intervention of Goat Island, the extremity of which is perpendicular, and in a line with the precipice over which the water is projected. The cataract on the Canada side of the river is called the Horseshoe, or Great Fall, from its peculiar form-and that next the United States the American Fall.

“ Three extensive views of the Falls may be obtained from three different places. In general, the first oppor. tunity travellers have of seeing the cataract is from the high-road, which, at one point, lies near the bank of the river. This place, however, being considerably above the level of the Falls, and a good way beyond them, af. fords a view that is comparatively imperfect and unim. posing.

“ The Table Rock, from which the Falls of the Niagara may be contemplated in all their grandeur, lies on an exact level with the edge of the cataract on the Canada side, and indeed forms a part of the precipice over which the water gushes. It derives its name from the circumstance of its projecting beyond the cliffs that support it like the leaf of a table. To gain this position, it is necessary to descend a steep bank, and to follow a path that winds among shrubbery and trees, which entirely conceal from the eye the scene that awaits him who traverses it. When near the termination of this road, a few steps carried me beyond all these obstructions, and a magnificent amphitheatre of cataracts burst upon my view with appalling suddenness and majesty. However, in a moment the scene was concealed from my eyes by a dense cloud of spray, which involved me so completely, that I did not dare to extricate myself. A mingled and thundering rushing filled my ears. I could see nothing except when the wind made a chasm in the spray, and then tremendous cataracts seemed to encompass me on every side, while below, a raging and foamy gulf of undiscoverable extent lashed the rocks with its hissing waves, and swallowed, under a horrible obscurity, the smoking floods that were precipitated in. to its bosom.

“At first the sky was obscured by clouds, but after a few minutes the sun burst forth, and the breeze subsid. ing at the same time, permitted the spray to ascend perpendicularly. A host of pyramidal clouds rose majesti. cally, one after another, from the abyss at the bottom of the Fall; and each, when it had ascended a little above the edge of the cataract, displayed a beautiful rainbow, which in a few moments was gradually transferred into the bosom of the cloud that immediately succeeded. The spray of the Great Fall had extended itself through a wide space directly over me, and, receiving the full influence of the sun, exhibited a luminous and magnificent rainbow, which continued to over-arch and irradiate the spot on which I stood, while I enthu. siastically contemplated the indescribable scene.

“Any person, who has nerve enough (as I had) may plunge his hand into the water of the Great Fall after it is projected over the precipice, merely by lying down flat, with his face beyond the edge of the Table Rock, and stretching out his arm to its utmost extent. The experiment is truly a horrible one, and such as I would not wish to repeat; for, even to this day, I feel a shuddering and recoiling sensation when I recollect having been in the posture above described.

“The body of water which composes the middle part of the Great Fall is so immense, that it descends nearly two-thirds of the space without being ruffled or broken, and the solemn calmness with which it rolls over the edge of the precipice is finely contrasted with the perturbed appearance it assumes after having reached the gulf below. But the water towards each side of the Fall is shattered the moment it drops over the rock, and

[graphic]

loses as it descends, in a great measure, the character of a fluid, being divided into pyramidal-shaped fragments, the bases of which are turned upwards. The surface of the gulf below the cataract presents a very singular aspect; seeming, as it were, filled with an immense quantity of hoar frost, which is agitated by small and rapid undulations. The particles of water are dazzlingly white, and do not apparently unite together, as might be supposed, but seem to continue for a time in a state of distinct comminution, and to repel each other with a thrilling and shivering motion which cannot easily be described. : “ The noise made by the Horseshoe Fall, though very great, is infinitely less than might be expected, and varies in loudness according to the state of the atmosphere. When the weather is clear and frosty, it may be distinctly heard at the distance of ten or twelve miles; but much further when there is a steady breeze: however, I have frequently stood upon the declivity of the high bank that overlooks the Table Rock, and distinguished a low thundering only, which at times was altogether drowned amidst the roaring of the Rapids above the cataract. In my opinion, the concave shape of the Great Fall explains this circumstance. The noise vibrates from one side of the rocky recess to the other, and a little only escapes from its confinement; and even this is less distinctly heard than it would otherwise be, as the profusion of spray renders the air near the cataract a very indifferent conductor of sound.

“ The road to the bottom of the Fall presents many more difficulties than that which leads to the Table Rock. After leaving the Table Rock, the traveller must proceed down the river nearly half a mile, where he will come to a small chasm in the bank, in which there is a spiral staircase enclosed in a wooden building. By descending the stair, which is seventy or eighty feet

perpendicular height, he will find himself under the precipice on the top of which he formerly walked. A high but sloping bank extends from its base to the edge of the river; and on the summit of this there is a narrow slippery path, covered with angular fragments of rock, which leads to the Great Fall. The impending cliffs, hung with a profusion of trees and brushwood, overarch this road, and seem to vibrate with the thunders of the cataract. In some places they rise abruptly to the height of one hundred feet, and display, upon their surfaces, fossil shells, and the organic remains of a former world ; thus sublimely leading the mind to contemplate the convulsions which nature has undergone since the creation. As the traveller advances, he is frightfully stunned by the appalling noise ; clouds of spray sometimes envelope him, and suddenly check his faltering steps-rattlesnakes start from the cavities of the rocks, and the scream of eagles soaring among the whirlwinds of eddying vapour which obscure the gulf of the cataract, at intervals announce that the raging waters have hurled some bewildered animal over the precipice. After scrambling among piles of huge rocks that obstruct his way, the traveller gains the bottom of the Fall, where the soul can be susceptible only of one emotion, --that of uncontrollable terror.

“ It was not until I had, by frequent excursions to the Falls, in some measure familiarized my mind with their sublimities, that I ventured to explore the penetralia of the Great Cataract. The precipice over which it rolls is very much arched underneath, while the impetus which the water receives in its descent projects it far beyond the cliff, and thus an immense Gothic arch is formed by the rock and the torrent. Twice I entered this cavern, and twice I was obliged to retrace my steps, lest I should be suffocated by the blast of dense spray that whirled around me; however, the third

time, I succeeded in advancing about twenty-five yards. Here darkness began to encircle me; on one side, the black cliff stretched itself into a gigantic arch far above my head, and on the other, the dense and hissing tor. rent formed an impenetrable sheet of foam, with which I was drenched in a moment. The rocks were so slippery, that I could hardly keep my feet, or hold securely by them ; while the horrid din made me think the precipices above were tumbling down in colossal fragments upon my head.

It is not easy to determine how far an individual might advance between the sheet of water and the rock; but were it even possible to explore the recess to its utmost extremity, scarcely any one, I believe, would have courage to attempt an expedition of the kind.

“ A little way below the Great Fall, the river is, comparatively speaking, so tranquil, that a ferry-boat plies between the Canada and American shores, for the convenience of travellers. When I first crossed, the heaving flood tossed about the skiff with a violence that seemed very alarming ; but as soon as we gained the middle of the river, my attention was altogether engaged by the surpassing grandeur of the scene before me. I was now within the area of a semicircle of cataracts, more than three thousand feet in extent, and floated on the surface of a gulf, raging, fathomless, and interminable. Majestic cliffs, splendid rainbows, lofty trees, and columns of spray, were the gorgeous decorations of this theatre of wonders, while a dazzling sun shed refulgent glories upon every part of the scene. -Surrounded with clouds of vapour, and stunned into a state of confusion and terror by the hideous noise, I looked upwards to the height of one hundred and fifty feet, and saw vast floods, dense, awful, and stupendous, vehemently bursting over the precipice, and rolling down, as if the windows of heaven were opened to pour ano

« PreviousContinue »