I live near a great lake, and it doesn't do much for me. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a lot of cold, placid water, sitting in one place. I don't find it particularly dramatic or calming to watch; it doesn't soothe or inspire me to be near it. I mean, I don't pitch a fit if someone wants to go stroll along the beach; it's a perfectly nice way to pass the time. But I like strolling in other locations, too. Flat, calm water doesn't speak to my soul like a view of the Catalinas, the craggy, ragged mountains sheltering Tucson to the north, on a crystalline blue day as the shadows shift over the peaks and rocks.
But there's one part of the great lakes system I totally dig, and that's the part where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario, or in other words, Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls is awesome. I don't care who says otherwise, including Oscar Wilde, who was right about so many things, but rarely wise or insightful about what was really going on with women or landscape; he dismissed the falls as "simply a vast amount of water going the wrong way over some unnecessary rocks." The falls are dramatic and majestic and awe-inspiring and just really cool. I think they're one of the better international border crossings in the world--Rainbow Bridge, which is, I'm guessing, half a mile downstream from the falls, sure beats Nogales, Arizona's major crossing point on the US/Mexico border. It's also cool that you get to use your passport and visit another country for a couple of hours, that you can go to Canada for dinner. (Though it did irritate me that while entering Canada is free, you have to drop 50 cents--quarters only--into a vending machine in order to get back into the US.) The view is much better from the Canadian side--the falls face Canada--but on the US side you can walk around these islands that jut out into the falls. I mean, that's cool.
I've been to the Falls at least once a year since I moved to this part of the country. Most recently--as in a few weeks ago--I went with my friend C, who had never been, despite the fact that for the past year she'd driven past Buffalo (gateway to the falls or some such thing) every few weeks on her way to visit her significant other in Massachusetts. I couldn't bear that she hadn't seen this natural wonder, and insisted she go with me. We had a great time, though the weather really sucked: it was cold and rainy and gray.
Here's a photo of me standing before Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
I like this photo because down at the bottom you can see one end of one of the Maid of the Mist boats, which take you right up under the falls so that you have to wear a big plastic poncho if you don't want to get thoroughly soaked. (We rode the MotM with a bunch boys who were part of some religious summer camp and were not well chaperoned; some were too cool to wear the ponchos and none of the men who were there to supervise them told them to wear the damn ponchos anyway, so the boys were drenched, miserable, cold and even more poorly behaved on the boat ride back.)
Although it's kind of cool to stay and watch the light show on the lake, seeing that doesn't compensate for the fact that hotels in Niagara Falls are way overpriced and rather shabby. On my way home from the falls the next day, I stopped at Roycroft, an arts and crafts community started in the 19th century that I only recently heard about, in a town just outside of Buffalo. It's not especially big or elaborate, but it's interesting, and boasts an inn that is really beautiful, reasonably priced, serves very nice food and is staffed by some of the nicest people I've ever encountered. Next time I visit the falls, if I plan to spend the night, I'll drive 30 minutes to Roycroft and stay there.