“I have a surprise for you!” my boyfriend shouted as he burst through the door of our apartment, bringing with him a sack of groceries and a tornado of frigid air.
Huddled in a blanket in our Cleveland, Ohio apartment, I shivered and inwardly prayed that the surprise was hot soup and firewood. However, knowing this man as well as I did, I was reasonably certain that that was not the case.
“We’re going to Niagara Falls this weekend!” he said, his eyes flashing and his cheeks pink with excitement. Or was that pink with frostbite?
The entire northeastern half of the United States was in the icy clutches of a phenomenon the weather people were gleefully calling a polar vortex, and my boyfriend announces we’re going even further north to Niagara Falls. It was hard not to be swayed by his infectious enthusiasm, and, as we hadn’t been away together in quite some time, I joined in his excitement.
The next day I found myself bundled into our truck as we made the three-and-a-half hour journey to Niagara Falls. The landscape surrounding us was glittering with hard ice, but it was magically beautiful. As we alternated between chatting and singing along to the radio, I began to realize that, despite the weather, this was exactly what we needed.
As we rolled into the wintery landscape of the city of Niagara, the ice that had deposited over the past few days glinted sharply in the sun. Everything was wrapped in a shroud of sparkles, and though the heater in our truck wheezed gamely and puffed sporadic bursts of warm air, I knew that just beyond the thin glass of the windows the polar vortex held all control in its icy grip.
We arrived at our beautiful hotel, and as our truck was whisked away to the parking area, my boyfriend and I were summarily shown to our home for the weekend, an exquisitely appointed king-size room with a Jacuzzi tub and a view of the falls. My frigid feet wanted to carry me straight to the tub, but my eyes took me straight to the window.
I threw the slightly parted curtains open as far as they would go and simply gaped. The view of the falls from our hotel room was simply spectacular, but that wasn’t what had my already-cold nose pressed to the even colder glass. The falls were frozen. Strings and ropes and sheets of ice had partially replaced what is normally a free flowing rush of water.
I looked behind me at the man who was the mastermind of this trip and I knew that he, in his infinite wisdom, had known all along that this would be a memorable experience. He was right.
Between romantic dinners over copious amounts of wine at the hotel’s restaurants and a couples’ retreat at the impeccably appointed spa, we ventured out to face down the polar vortex. I wanted to see the falls up close.
Contrary to many an urban myth, the entirety of Niagara Falls never freezes. In fact, it’s rare that even a portion of it does. However, on this day the American Falls, one of three separate waterfalls that make up the entirety of what is known as Niagara Falls, had frozen, and I wanted to be there.
With our faces heavily swaddled against the arctic air and every extremity well-insulated, we made the epic journey outside the hotel. The mist from the falls had coated everything in sight, creating layers of ice on every visible surface. I inwardly wished for crampons as my typically sturdy studded snow boots fought for purchase.
We made our way closer and there it was, roaring like a thousand lions and obviously just as strong. The water, unfrozen simply due the force that kept it moving, poured over and crashed below, propelling a cloud of mist hundreds of feet into the air. My eyes were wide in awe — it could have been the miniscule crystals of ice that had formed on my lashes that prevented me from blinking, but it was one of the most impressive displays of nature in all of its power that I had ever seen.
It’s unsettling how quickly time can pass when you’d rather it didn’t, but our weekend was over much too quickly. As we bid adieu to the wonderful staff at our hotel, and as I cast one last wistful glance at Niagara Falls.
About the Author: Kylie Contreras is a travel writer and editor. She has found a unique, new appreciation for winter weather.