Millions of people visit Niagara Falls each year. It is a beautiful sight, and one you will never forget once you’ve seen it. The boats that take you close to the bottom of the falls guarantee a “rainy” ride. It all seems so safe…right? Well, maybe not always. On July 28, 1954, a huge section of Prospect Point observation area at the brink of the American Falls, collapsed in a pie shaped section. It’s something you would never expect, and yet when you think about it, erosion can happen when you mix water and dirt or rock. Combine that with Winter’s ice, and you get expansion. Now, when you think about it, can you see how the collapse might have happened, because I certainly can?
The collapse, when it came sent an estimated 185,000 tons of rock thundering into the Niagara River Gorge. Park officials worried that additional sections of Prospect Point would collapse before blasting operations could begin. Following the collapse, engineers and geologists conducted surveys to determine whether blasting would be necessary to stall further rock falls into the gorge. Two sections of Prospect Point were hanging precariously over the 170 foot gorge. Officials estimated that a new fall could send an additional 50,000 tons of rock into the gorge. Engineers appeared to be at a loss as to what to do about the huge pile of rocks now at the bottom of the gorge, as well. A few have said the view from the base of the American Falls has been marred by the mass of rock now laying at the base of the falls. They weren’t even sure if the elevator to the Maid of the Mist landing at the base of the American Falls could be re-opened.
For the sake of safety, Park officials temporarily erected a fence around the collapsed area to keep the curious bystanders away. Thousands of tourists were there that day. They witnessed the huge masses of rock tumbling into the gorge. It was the worst rock fall at Niagara Falls since January 17, 1931 when a huge section of the American Falls tumbled into the gorge. Engineers from the Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission estimate the size of the rock fall as 400 feet long from the lip of the gorge…50 feet wide and 150 feet deep. This included an estimated 20 feet off the Falls crest-line crashed to a point 70 feet down the face.
After the collapse, three giant boulders were silhouetted against the red and blue mist of the Niagara Falls night display. The boulders, some as huge as houses, lay in a jumbled mess beneath the rocks from which they had fallen. Because of the mist, it was hard to see the new scar on Niagara’s face from the lower river. The north face of the American Falls, however, now introduced a raw and torn face to the Canadian side. There would necessarily be some repairs. A face lift would be needed for the new observation area according to Andrew M. Anderson, Executive Secretary and Chief Engineer for the Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission. He also indicated that the new face would be smoothed off by engineers. A new sidewalk and guard rails would be constructed once the area was proven to be safe.
The elevator shaft and tunnel to the Maid of the Mist landing below the Falls although cracked, appeared to be in no danger according to maintenance workers. Cracks in the shaft and tunnel appeared only yesterday showed no signs of widening when checked last night. Water which had gushed from the crack earlier in the day had dwindled to just a trickle. Geologists examined the building that day and it reopened as soon as it was declared safe. Because so many were able to get pictures and videos of the collapse, some people even thought it was a publicity stunt.
There is a wall that lots o people might have known about, or maybe few people know about, but while I’m sure I’ve seen parts of it in movies, I didn’t really know about it. The series of walls, known as the East Bay Walls or the Berkeley Mystery Walls. Of course that doesn’t really apply to one area, because the reality is that there are many of the crude walls throughout the hills surrounding the San Francisco Bay area. In some place the walls are as much as 3 feet tall, and 3 feet wide. The walls are very old and they were built without mortar. The walls run in sections, and they can be a few feet to over a mile long. Even more odd, is the fact that the rocks are a variety of sizes ranging from basketball-sized rocks, to large sandstone boulders weighing a ton or more. Parts of the walls seem to be just piles of rocks, but in other places it appears the walls were carefully constructed. No one knows the exact age of the walls, but they have an old appearance. Many of the formations have sunk far into the earth, and are often completely overgrown with different plants. The walls are not continuous, so they are not fences. They are not tall enough to have been used as defensive walls. The East Bay Regional Park District simply calls them “rock walls” and insists that they are not mysterious. Livestock, such as cattle, have grazed in the east and south Bay Area hills since the arrival of European settlers. Clearing land of scattered rocks would have eased the ability to move livestock. Placing the rocks into walls would have helped to guide the movement of the animals or to help corral them. That makes sense, but some of those rocks were very heavy. So how did they do that.
There is no written documentation to identify when they were built, by whom, or why. So, some people consider them mysterious. It has been suggested that the Ohlone Indians might have been the builders, but in reality, they were hunter-gatherers, and didn’t build permanent structures. Some specialists have mentioned that the walls look similar to structures found in rural Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, but they are different in that those walls were built around farms by the early setters, and these don’t have the same kinds of layouts. In 1904, UC-Berkeley Professor John Fryer suggested that the walls were made by Mongolian Chinese who traveled to California before the Europeans. Unfortunately, there is little evidence for this or for pre-Columbian Chinese influence in America. Forensic geologist Scott Wolter has theorized that the wall is only two to three hundred years old, suggested by the thick weathering rind on the limestone rock he was authorized to sample. Recent testing of lichen on the rocks suggests that they were probably built between 1850 and 1880, the early American era in California. Settlers might have built the walls using Chinese, Mexican, or Native American laborers, although specifically who built them has not been determined.
One of the many old stone walls that appear around the San Francisco Bay area is in the foothills of eastern Santa Clara County. The stone walls are accessible in several area parks, including Ed R. Levin County Park in Santa Clara County and Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Alameda County, as well as many other parks. As of 2016, archaeologist Jeffrey Fentress has been measuring and mapping the walls, hoping to eventually gain protection from development or other destruction. Additional stone walls with unclear origin or purpose occur in other places near the San Francisco Bay, and researchers continue to discover more information about the walls. Whether these walls had a purpose at one time or not, they are certainly strange to those who try to look into them these days.