Sept 26th through October 2nd, 2015 Niagara Falls New York and French Lick Indiana

Our next few overnights were spent at 4 Mile Creek State Park, Niagara Falls New York. Beautiful spacious sites, a mammoth family oriented campground run by the State of New York. We arrived on a Friday and the campground was filled with families, lots of kids, our site sat directly in front of the playground, one the size of a city block.

No camping trip is complete without a marshmallow roasting fire but these weekend campers weren’t building fires…they built dozens of gigantic smoke bombs that spewed thick clouds of choking smoke lasting from early afternoon until far into night. I am at a loss to understand why anyone would consider starting a fire with wet wood. The smoke kept me trapped inside the first night, unable to enjoy Lake Ontario waters that were lapping at the shore a few yards from our campsite.

Arriving early afternoon, we took a side trip so KatieBug could have some family time and see the sights. Walking along Niagara River on The Whirlpool Scenic Overlook Trail for about a mile, we enjoyed the winding path exposing river views in-between giant trees.

Niagra River by the dam  Niagra River

Returning to LilyPad with a movie rental, we spent the night with popcorn and our fur baby snuggled in our laps.

Next morning, rising just after dawn and happily before anyone was up to start fires, we began our Canadian side Niagara Falls adventure. At the pickup office, we met our wide awake and cheery bus tour guide, Deb. The first of 8 people to be collected, it was a modest group for our 20 person mini-bus.

Deb our driver

The next two people that were collected were from New Jersey and the last four were from Texas. Deb chatted merrily away, asking questions of each of us and giving out an overload of information about what our trip would entail. We stayed in our early morning brain fog until our first stop, the Canadian border.

Border Patrol Agents carry guns and do not smile. You don’t joke, make smart ass remarks or disobey their orders. You show your NEXUS cards/passports, answer the questions and walk through to the other side. Deb gathered us all up and we all set off on our Niagara Falls experience!

Niagara Falls is a world-famous set of three large waterfalls on the Niagara River. The falls can best be seen from the Canadian side of the river so the city of Niagara Falls Ontario Canada is one of the major tourist attractions of the world. Horseshoe Falls has the predominant view and is amazing from any angle. Deb dropped us at the visitor center.

Deb with 4 of our 6 person group  Canadian side overlook

John and I walked around enjoying the views and the cool mist that clouded up and over the area, cooling off the heat blanket surrounding us down at least 10 degrees.

Mist from Horseshoe falls  Horseshoe Falls from ground level

The roar of the falls is almost deafening and you are hushed in awe by the enormity and strength of the swift thundering waters.

Niagara Falls Canada skyline

We sat and took in the Canadian Skyline while we waited for Deb, enjoying the views in every direction.

Elvis in Canada

As we walked through the pavilion to our van, we spotted Elvis!

Deb gushed a wealth of interesting facts and figures throughout our trip. I’m sharing just a few of the dozens she imparted to us.

Between 1901 and 1995, fifteen daredevils have gone over Niagara Falls. The first person to conquer the falls was Annie Taylor in October 24, 1901. She was inside an airtight wooden barrel, used a bicycle pump to compress the air inside and, although suffered bruises from the fall, she survived. Expecting fame and fortune from her Daredevil stunt, none was received and she died impoverished.

The last was Kirk Jones who went over with only the clothes on his back. He started upstream, swam over the 175 foot drop and swam to shore. Treated for minor bruises at a local hospital, he was released and fined $2,300. 00. Along with the fine, he was banned from entering Canada for life. Because he and his friend had been drinking before the stunt, their camcorder malfunctioned and did not capture any of the jump for prosperity.

Additionally, 12 – 15 people per year purposely take their lives jumping over the falls, that number being fairly consistent for the past century.

The first Europeans began arriving in Niagara in 1615. In the history of the falls, there have only been three incidents when the water flow was reduced or restricted. The earliest was 1848 when ice nearly stopped the flow.

The original International Boundary line was established by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 and later, the Jay’s Treaty of 1794. The Treaty of Ghent in 1814 followed the War of 1812. Since being drawn, the international boundary has not been changed.

Canada was the first to harness the power of the falls, building their gigantic power facilities in 1903.

The split of water was 90% Canadian, 10% American until the United States reconstructed an area known as Terrapin Point and the Army Corps of Engineers expanded the land mass outward so that 340-400 feet of Horseshoe Falls lies in American territory. As erosion continues, the crest line will continue to be extended within the American border.

Giving us time to explore and take copious amounts of Kodak moments, Deb repeated her herding of us together and drove our group to the Skylon Tower for our ride up the needle to see the amazing panoramic views.

Skylon Tower, Canada

It was a crystal clear and impressive 360 degree view!

American and Bridal Falls  Horseshoe Falls from the Tower

Our stop at the power plant turbines to view the United States side was an interesting lesson in harnessing the power of water.

US side power plant turbines

Next up, the Floral Clock, built by Canadian Hydro in 1950. The clock changes its 38 foot wide planted area yearly. It is one of the largest of this type clock in the world.

The Clock

Whirlpool State Park, Canadian side, is a 109 acre piece of recreational land where the river bends 90 degrees and causes swirling waters in the Niagara River. Deb told us the waters cease to swirl when the water level is low. We watched the Niagara Spanish Aero Car, built in 1913, glide from the Canadian side to within a few yards of the US, then stop and reverse direction because neither side wants transients to cross borders unrestricted.

Whirlpool State Park  Whirlpool

Our lunch stop was also an e-commerce stop. I passed on the movie theater type food and overpriced trinkets to watch a glass blowing demonstration while John downed his favorite food addiction, the hot dog.

Deb drove us to our last location of our tour, The Maid of the Mist Boats, bringing us up close and personal with the three falls.

Leaving shore behind    IMG_20150927_145110107  The falls up close and personal    Bridge and overlook

Our group was so small we finished our tour early and were able to stop at the duty free store for a liquor sampling and shopping experience before making our way back to the United States.

Crossing back over the border was quicker, we stayed in the bus while our border patrol officer asked questions about our purchases. I thought I saw him smile but it could have been my imagination as we were all busy sharing comradery and happily exchanging photos of the breathtaking views from our excellent Canadian adventure.

Back to LilyPad late afternoon, we had to leave just after arriving to seek fresh air until the motorhome outgassed the smell of smoke. Not horrid but just enough to uncomfortably irritate my lungs. Out to dinner to let the odor clear, then back for the night.

Next morning, up early for a family visit to the town of Niagara, Canadian Side. KatieBug would not be left behind today. Our NEXUS cards allowed us through fast and easy, no line, no wait, only three questions, one being “is that a dog?” before entrance into Canada.

We stopped at a few of the roadside markets but none of the fresh veggies and fruits were allowed to cross back over into the United States so we looked but left empty handed.

Niagara on the Lake farm side, Canadian

Parking street-side at the edge of town, the three of us walked to the furthest edge of town and back, the entire stretch of town, stopping to peek into stores. The town of Niagara was populated by Loyalists in 1780 and has continued to be a much visited part of the country ever since.

Town of Niagara, Canada

Pet friendly, business in town welcomed KatieBug with dog treats and water along our stroll. She loved going into the shops and sniffing everything ankle level. The sniff fest was a fitting reward for the days she had been stuck for hours inside LilyPad.

One of the wine tasting venues allowed dogs inside so we partook and purchased another thick fruit flavored liquor and a local cabernet sauvignon. The upcoming street was dotted with boutiques.

Canadian Fashion shop

Across from the shops, the Prince of Wales Hotel, rich with historic furnishings and period wall coverings, built in 1864 and not dog friendly. KatieBug walked with John on the outside while I walked through the inside, an entire block long.

Prince of Wales Hotel  Prince of Wales side

Tiring of the crisp cool air, we walked back to the car and drove back to the New York side of Niagara.  One quick pause along Ontario Street to enjoy a view of a most interesting colorful house.

Ontario St, Niagara Falls, USA

Continuing on our way back to the New York town of Niagara, we slowed to a stop, parked and walked along a few blocks of the downtown enjoying a town celebration. Booths lined both side of the street, selling their various wares for an unknown festival.

Next morning was Monday and families had returned to their real world lives, dousing their smoke bombs, the air soon completely cleared of floating soot. KatieBug and I walked to the lake and enjoyed Lake Ontario’s peaceful shores and calm waters.

Lake Ontario, NY

Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes and contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. The Lake is about 6,000 years old. The expansive waters are beautiful and serene this time of year.

Up early, packing up, moving out, on the road again. Our new wake up music…Queen.  Next overnight would be in the tiny town of Butler Ohio.

Outbound New York took us past beautiful Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and some very bumpy lumpy roads that tossed LilyPads insides off beds and counters sending me scrambling back to replace fallen “stuff”. Went by a Ton A Wandah, a Lack A Wandah and then passing Go Wandah.  Wandah is a very popular lady here in New York.

Onward to French Lick Indiana. This teensy town in Indiana made it to my updated Bucket List because of the historic West Baden Hotel. The dome covered hotel darn near made it to one of the Wonders Of The World back in its Hay Day. Naturally, Houston’s Astrodome passed it by after they were built but this hotel looked incredible in pictures and was just slightly off our pathway home.

Passing up Butler Ohio and having to U-turn to return to Trail River Crossing Campground, we became the only non-residents at the park. Next to a hard packed bike path, grassy sites with plenty of room above and to our sides, we were a little afraid we would sink into the grassy packed dirt. Voltage on the pole was 128, so high it shocked LilyPad several times and she shut down repeatedly. Stuck again with 30 amps for the night but not a big deal or problem as we have survived much worse for much longer a period. The price was right and the campground was peacefully dark and quiet.

River Trail Crossing Campground, Ohio

Refreshed, we awoke and drove a half day to arrive mid-morning at French Lick Resort RV Slips. The “slips” were a bit of a disappointment. Through a narrow entrance, we drove into a gigantic open parking lot with 12 spaces at the back of the lot marked for RV’s. Connections at the back, a small skinny patch of grass, two picnic tables and a porch swing sitting on the grass made up the entire enterprise. When we drove to the hotel to get our key, we discovered our “site” was the first two spaces, abutting the trolley tracks.

French Lick, Indiana RV slip

After we set up, we noticed that the trolley traveled past our bedroom slide every 15 minutes and blew its very loud whistle several times as it passed. Whoever designed these RV slips must never have slept in an RV Park. Certainly not going to be the quiet, restful few days I was expecting with that whistle blasting in our ears from 6 a.m. all the way through 10 p.m. at 15 minute intervals. Their extravagant luxury resort price did not fit the mediocre space being offered.

We walked over to the trolley station office and spoke with Sheryl, a most delightful lady, who helped us find interesting things to discover while in town and gave us information about the RV slip, although that wasn’t her department. She even spoke to the trolley conductor about cutting down on the trolley whistle noise during the wee hours for our stay.  The view below is of the station from our dining area window.

French Lick Trolly Station

Our original plan was to stay four nights but we cut it in half due to the noise. If not for Sheryl, we would have left when we arrived and stayed elsewhere. The Reservation Department, supervisor over the RV Slips, was clueless about procedure and the noise. Sheryl gets our vote for Customer Service Extraordinaire for her willingness to help with whatever was necessary to make our stay pleasant.

Our 6am trolley wakeup call got us out of bed and moving. We boarded the trolley just a few steps outside LilyPad’s door for our journey to West Baden Springs Hotel. The décor inside of the trolley prepped us for our step back in time.

Inside the trolley

Breakfast was being served at Café at Sinclair’s, inside the hotel. Our trolley conductor greeted us, smiled and chatted, depositing us a few feet from the hotel’s fabulous wrap around porch.

Trolley Driver

The grounds were beautifully green and well manicured.

West Baden Grounds

The surrounding porch supplies morning guests with comfy rockers and tiny tables perfect for holding that first cup-o-joe coffee cup in the morning.

Hotel wrap around porch

We walked around looking at the structure and took the side entrance into the hotel.

Side entrance   Outside windows

Inside, the dome of the circular expansive and open ceiling was covered by clear glass panes and sunlight streamed in from every direction.  The walk-in size fireplace was beautifully hand crafted.

Center dome  Fireplace inside

Dining inside the open concept restaurant was elegant and delicious. It met every one of my criteria for breakfast perfection. A soft bench seat for me, comfortable chair on the other side for John, white tablecloth with linen napkins, a full place setting of silverware, generous coffee cups and a thermal coffee pot on the table, a wonderfully tasty gratis fruited bread with real butter left with our coffee, no problem with altering any of the menu offerings, reasonable prices, tasty and plentiful food and wonderful friendly service. Restaurants like this were few and far between. We were gratefully impressed.

After breakfast we walked the circular halls and peeked into each area. Giant pictures of the original hotel were mounted along the walls.

Original dome

The hotel had a few items that pertained to the circus but most of the information available at the hotel was in direct relation to the past owners.

Model Circus rides

A few of the original rooms were brought back to life and left as-is with museum quality exhibitions of days gone by.

Shoe Shine  Shoe Shine Barber Shop

Ed Ballard, of humble beginnings turned self-made billionaire, entrepreneur and circus owner, purchased the hotel in 1923 and sold it to the Jesuits in 1934 for $1.00. He used the hotel to house his circus for the winter.

After our self-guided walking tour around the hotel, we visited the French Lick West Baden Museum and learned of the local history.

Most of the museum centered on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, one of Ed Ballard’s, that used the French Lick West Baden Hotel as a winter staging and tent repair home. A huge detailed diorama of the circus took center stage at the museum and included performing tents, animal tents, dressing areas, dining tents with every detail you could imagine.

Circus  Circus 1  Circus 2  The Big Top 1  The Big Top 2  The Big Top 3

Information circa 1900-1930, famous artists, politicians, sports figures (Larry Bird) and French Lick’s gambling casino days that spanned several decades, all were prominently displayed with goods and descriptions that brought life to the vintage settings in the museum.

Model Circus Wagons  Casino gear

The young man from which we bought entrance tickets was cheerfully helpful, offering answers to any questions and imparting details about French Lick life and society. It is small but if you love digging into the history of an area, it was well worth the price.

After spending time at the museum, we wandered through town, had a mini bite at a small German diner and sat near a window draped in hand made German lace.

German lace in French Lick

A few blocks away we spotted a winery and stopped for a wine tasting. Lite and fruity but not our preference, we passed on a bottle but enjoyed the extensive gift shop and the view of the hotel from the porch outside.

Hotel at a distance

Back home to pack up for our departure early morning.

The sun came up, the trolley rang out its 6 a.m. “wakey-wakey eggs and bakey” whistles, we said quick good-bye’s and a hug to our buddy Sheryl at the trolley station and pulled out of the parking lot, waiving adieu and ready to face the next leg of our journey home.

Castle Knoll Farm Barn  Castle Knoll Farm

Exiting French Lick, we past dozens of historic Castle Knoll Farms buildings, 1,100 sprawling acres of beautiful woods and fields, over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails and zip lines.  One of the most impressive farms we have driven past in our travels.  I read about their festivals and quickly added them to my “minor” Bucket List, should we pass this way again.  Next stop, the birthplace of LilyPad, a.k.a., Tiffin’s giant motorhome parking lot.