It was 1:45 PM when I turned into the parking lot below the Highway 45 bridge over White River. The temperature was still in the mid 30’s but the wind had all but died and the sun was bright. It looked like a great afternoon. I quietly unloaded my canoe and carried it down to the water. No one else was around except a couple loading up their truck and leaving.
This is the first of a minimum twelve trips on Beaver for 2012. My objective is to be on the lake at least every month of the year. Through this exercise, I hope to get a better feel of the moods of the lake through the year, as well as to learn more about the lake and its immediate surroundings. Highway 45 is the put-in point that is furthest from Beaver Dam. It is a fitting place to start my journey.
Gear for this trip is minimal. There is a journal and pencil, a camera, cell phone, a paddle and a spare, personal floatation device, and minimal first aid stuff. Clothing is also simple but ample. I am wearing fleece pants with a nylon shell, polypropylene tee shirts, a fleece sweater, a fleece vest and a Gore-Tex parka plus my pfd. I also have a hat and gloves.
The water in the lake is deep green, but not murky. The tip of my paddle is clear even when fully submerged. There is at this point a definite current. I take note of that because when I return, I will be paddling against that current. The banks on both sides of the lake are high steep and muddy.
A couple of hundred yards downlake (towards the dam, the terms uplake and downlake refer to the direction of flow, moving toward the dam is downlake, moving away from the dam is uplake) is the confluence of the White River with Richland Creek. Together, these two streams constitute the majority of inflow into Beaver Lake. The other major inflow is War Eagle Creek that is several miles downlake. Across from the entrance of Richland Creek there is a gravel bar. A guy is standing there throwing sticks for his Labrador Retriever. The cold water doesn’t bother the dog in the least.
Gravel bars are prominent features in Ozark Highland streams. But in Beaver Lake, they are mostly submerged under several tens to hundreds of feet of water. Only in these upper most reaches do you still see gravel bars.
I am surprised by how remote this area feels. There are houses just up the hill, but you don’t see them. The riparian forest has been well maintained at least in this area. On river right (the right side of the lake as you look downstream) the bank is really steep and the forest has not been cut at all.
Past the confluence with Richland, The first bluff appears on the right. To me, bluffs are the single characteristic of Beaver that sets it apart from other lakes. They are pretty much continuous. This particular bluff is not large by Beaver standards but it is attractive. I estimate the bluff to be 40 to 60 feet high. There is a reddish stratum on top and grayish stone in the lower strata. At the top, and everywhere there is a bit of flatter ground, the hill is covered with Red Cedar. The bluff has several small caves and other holes on its face. They are all but inaccessible.
Past the first bluff, there is a small feeder stream and then a second bluff on river right. This bluff is not as high, but it is really long. I paddle along. Two guys are fishing from an aluminum boat along the bluff. They had caught one fish between them. Looking downlake, I can see another bluff on river left. It is now 2:45, but I decide I still have time to explore. By now, the sun was shinning and the wind was completely calm. In spite of the 40-degree temperature, I was really comfortable. I had to take my parka off to keep from sweating.
Every boat has a theoretical “hull speed”. Hull speed is based on the length and width of the boat at the waterline. Longer, skinnier boats have a higher hull speed than short stocky boats. The theoretical hull speed of my We-no-hah Spirit II is 4.33 knots, or 4.98 miles per hour. The important thing about hull speed is that as long as you stay under that speed, it doesn’t take a lot of energy to move the boat. With no wind, the canoe moves at a leisurely pace with little effort.
It takes about 15 minutes to reach the next bluff. I take note of the quietness and lack of birds. There are several buzzards circling high overhead. One Kingfisher is making a fuss on river left. On river right, there is now a large pasture. On river left there is a large gravel bar, then a high mud bank.
The bluff is near the community of Habberton. It is not a high bluff, but it has several caves right at water level. Out of curiosity, I approach the largest. It is just big enough to ease the canoe into. Just as the canoe enters, there is a ruckus back in the cave. My eyes adjust to the dark just in time to see that I have disturbed two beavers. They quickly slap their tails on the surface and dive. That is the last I see of them. It is ironic that I see real beavers on my start of exploring Beaver Lake.
It is now after 3:00 PM. The sun is getting low. I know that it will get cool quickly as the sun goes down. I decide to head on back to the truck. Paddling upstream is a bit harder because of the current, but still enjoyable. I pass the guys that were fishing, they have given up and are heading home. After they pass, I note the quietness and keep paddling. It takes about 40 minutes of constant paddling to get back to the launch.
It has been a good afternoon.