About an hour ago, I left one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Niagara Falls. Nearly 20-something million people visit North America’s largest waterfall each year—which, according to some, is one of the wonders of the natural world. I thought it was pretty average, and it reminded me why I love overland travel.
I don’t travel to go to the “only Hersey’s chocolate store in Canada,” nor do I travel to be crammed into a line with hundreds of fanny-pack equipped lemmings each waiting their turn to enter Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not. I travel to see beautiful things, and if I’m lucky, the beautiful culture and people that surround them. While most popular and beautiful destinations inevitably suffer from the downfall that tourism brings, Niagara Falls is a unique case. When you consider the scale that the attraction, which spans the border of Canada and the United States, needs to process people, it’s almost unavoidable that the entire experience is degraded. Though, in this case, the experience was degraded enough that I didn’t even want to pay the $18 to park. I just had my buddy drop me off while he circled the block. I took a photo and we left.
The Grand Canyon shares a lot with Niagara Falls. They both see millions of visitors a year, have the prerequisite tourist shops, and they’re both essentially a hole in the ground that people feel compelled to stare into for longer than they probably should. That’s where the similarities stop. At the Grand Canyon, much of that touristy stuff is kept at a distance, preserving it’s natural beauty. Revenue to support the area isn’t collected from trashy casinos, boat rides, and overpriced hamburger joints that surround it. It’s collected by an entrance fee which goes directly to the park. Keeping freeloaders like myself from getting in the way of those who are paying to be there—while preserving its beauty at the same time.
Niagara Falls is a fantastic example of an area of immense beauty that could have—no, would have been—better preserved as a National Park. In this case, at least you could always count on the Canadian side to always be open.
I don’t regret going to Niagara Falls, but the real reward for visiting came with the realization of why I so dearly love this thing we call overlanding. I cherish the memories I’ve had in some of North America’s most remote places, I cherish the friends I’ve been lucky enough to share those moments with even more. Overlanding is about the places you see just as much as the friends and family you experience it with.
There are places in the world you need to see, no matter how touristy, so you can appreciate the remote and wild places of the world. Now, I’m only a few hours from the Vermont Overland Rally, and I can’t wait to get there, crack open a beer, and share travel stories around the campfire with my fellow overlanders. After the tourist trap I experienced earlier today, I feel refreshed to be heading off on another adventure.
Perspective is a good thing.