A mini-natural bridge on Beaver Lake near Beav-o-Rama.
Bonsai Cedar tree clinging to a Beaver Lake bluff.
Great Blue Heron walking along the base of a Beaver Lake bluff.
It was roughly 4 p.m. Saturday when Sharon and I put our canoe in at the Beav-O-Rama launch. Beav-O-Rama is in the upper end of Beaver Lake roughly 56 miles from Beaver Dam. I had made a presentation to the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalist training that morning, and then Sharon and I worked in the garden for a while after lunch. So this was just a quick evening trip out to the lake. It was a nice day, the temperature was in the 70’s and the wind was light. We put in and headed uplake into the wind thinking that we would have it easy coming back.
As we paddled out into the lake heading for the bluff line on the far side, a bass boat came by heading downlake in the direction of the Dam. As I turned the bow of the canoe into the wake, I estimated that he was going about 45 miles per hour. Then I thought, at that rate, he could drive to Beaver Dam and be back by dark. If I were to try that in my canoe, it would take me at least two weeks. That is if the weather cooperated — it wouldn’t — and if I could resist exploring the many coves and fingers of the lake between there and the dam — I couldn’t. So, more realistically, it would take about a month of good travel.
On his trip to the dam and back, my bass boat buddy would use about 30 gallons of gasoline. My fuel for my month-long trip would include 60 packs of instant oatmeal with raisins, roughly a pound of coffee, 60 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, 30 freeze dried dinners and a couple of boxes of tea. I likely would augment my diet by eating junk food at the marinas and hiking out to a restaurant when possible.
There is something to be said for cruising down the lake at 45 mph with the wind in your hair, especially on a warm spring day. If you are a bass fisherman, I guess there is something about getting to the honey hole quickly. On the other hand, as I paddle down the lake slowly, I would see every rock, tree and squirrel, feel every wave and breeze, and hear every bird. And I could paddle within inches of the shoreline when I wanted to, putting me closer to all the action. If I were lucky enough to con some buddies into going along, we would sit around campfires at night discussing past adventures which become more heroic as time goes on. And to paraphrase Mason Williams from “The Exciting Accident,” we would likely “talk about some worldly things and tell some dirty jokes.” It would be a grand adventure.
Going slowly was what Sharon and I had in mind that afternoon. We bobbed in the wake of the bass boat for a few moments, and then proceeded across the lake to the north. When we arrived at the shore on the east end of the bluff, I was surprised to find a mini-natural bridge. It was maybe 15 feet long and 10 feet high. A person could easily have walked under it. I don’t remember seeing this feature on any map or ever hearing about it. Even though I have motored past this spot several times before, I had no idea that the bridge existed. Had I gone slowly, I likely would have found it earlier.
Since my last trip to the lake in early April, the Corps of Engineers had been releasing water and the surface elevation was about five feet lower. The Corps was evacuating the flood pool just in case another flood occurred this spring. The lower flood level put us five feet further from the flowers than on the last trip. Plus the vegetation had become very lush, making it difficult to pick out individual flowers. Still, we saw one hillside covered in Columbine.
We proceeded slowly down the bluff line to the west into the wind. It was a magnificent bluff. Likely it was more than 100 feet high in places and at least a few hundred yards long. There were some kayaks ahead of us. I was surprised to find us gaining on them. Some are better at going slowly than others.
I have no idea how bluffs form. A quick Internet search gave some vague answers like, “the bluffs were eroded by the river.” That is probably generally true but I suspect the answer is really more complicated. Why were these bluffs eroded right here instead of some place else? One thing you can count on is that it happened slowly. Maybe some of my friends at the University of Arkansas can give me a better answer.
We paddled on down the bluff noting the rock fall at the base and lose rocks up above. One large slab seems to be splitting off of the main bluff. We both comment that we don’t want to be here when it finally falls. If you could be safely away, the fall would be an impressive event.
The bluff is full of small ledges and overhangs. Three weeks ago, each of these ledges hosted a nesting goose. Now there was only one left. Here and there, a gnarled old cedar occupied a ledge.
We found ourselves chasing a Great Blue Heron down the bluff line. Each time we got just about within picture range the heron would fly another 50 yards. Finally I managed to slip up just close enough to get a photo.
Another bass boat went by while we were paddling along the bluff. This one was going slower and creating a larger wake. Wakes in the open water come in a regular pattern, with a large one first then successively smaller waves behind. Up next to the bluff, the wake reflects off the bluff and heads back into open water. Then the reflection waves meet the primary wake. The crossing waves form what a physicist would call interference patterns. What that means is waves are coming from everywhere. The best you can do in the canoe is to set a low brace (set your paddle blade flat on the water) and let the canoe rock.
After we paddled the entire bluff, we headed back to the car. It was about a 30-minute paddle back. With the water down five feet, much of what was open water just three weeks ago is now a large mud flat. It had become late, so I loaded the canoe on the truck and we headed in to Penguin Ed’s for supper. Now was not the time to go slowly.