Beaver Water District Blog

Editor’s Note

Dr. Robert “Bob” Morgan is the Manager of Environmental Quality for Beaver Water District.


March 2014 – The White Rock Death March

It was 7:58 a.m. Sunday morning when I drove my red truck into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center at Hobbs State Park. I pulled my hiking boots out of the back seat, sat down on the tailgate and started lacing them up. These boots are old friends. For the last 10 years they have carried me to lots of interesting places. The leather is starting to crack just like me, but they still have sole. (I couldn’t help myself on that one!) Our goal for the day was simple, to put in some mileage! With 31 miles of hiking trails, Hobbs is a perfect place to do just that.

Several years ago, a group of us were training for a climb on Mt. Rainier in Washington. Rainier is roughly 14,500 feet above sea level. The “standard route” up Rainier starts at the Paradise Lodge at roughly 5,000 feet. Climbing crews leave late morning and hike up to Camp Muir at just above 10,000 feet. The first half mile or so of the climb is on a developed trail. Beyond that, it’s uphill through deep snow, even in late July. Once crews reach Camp Muir, they find a spot in the snow and make camp. Then they spend the night and lounge around the next day acclimating to the altitude and waiting on evening. Around midnight the crew puts on the alpine gear, ropes up and heads out across the glacier toward the summit. If you climb steadily, you reach the summit right at sunrise. The view is spectacular. Then you descend all 9,500 feet back to Paradise picking up your camping gear along the way.

Training for Rainier in Arkansas is difficult. A person could run five miles a day and lift weights every night and still not be fit for Rainier. Alpine mountaineering just uses a different set of muscles than anything else. With your share of the crew gear, your crampons, carabiners, ice screws, helmet, storm gear, food, ice axe etc., it is nearly impossible to get your pack down below 65 lbs. Then you walk uphill. After reaching the summit, you walk downhill, a long way down. Each step pounds your knees. The only way to train is to put a bunch of heavy stuff on your back and then walk up and down hills.

Aggressive use of prescribed burns in the Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area are restoring the “open forest” characteristic of the Ozark Mountains.

Aggressive use of prescribed burns in the Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area are restoring the “open forest” characteristic of the Ozark Mountains.

A difficulty of training for Rainier in the Ozarks was finding hikes that replicated the 4,500-foot daily climbs that we would be doing on Rainier. One approach was to climb Pinnacle Mountain seven times in one day. That does get kind of boring after around the forth climb. So we looked for other alternatives. One of us figured out that if you counted all the climbs on the 20 miles of the Ozark Highland Trail (OHT) between the Cherry Bend trailhead on Highway 23 and White Rock Mountain, the total elevation gain was just over 4,000 feet. Hence, the White Rock Death March was born.

The first death march occurred in late January 2001. Days are short in January so we planned on meeting at Cherry Bend at eight in the morning. There were 10 of us in the crew. The guys that had camped the night before at White Rock were late so we were on the trail promptly at 9:30. Snow had fallen earlier in the week and some was still on the ground. The temperature was just below freezing. It was a grueling day. We placed cars at intermediate trailheads in case someone came up lame. By the time we left from Potato Knob for the last decent into Salt Fork Creek and the final climb up White Rock Mountain, there were only three of us left — Charlie, David and me. It was pitch dark when we forded Salt Fork. Then we started the climb. We were cold, tired and out of snacks. David swore that I spoke in tongues during the climb. He was right. Charlie and David had walked me into the ground.

David Thrasher preparing to ford Salt Fork on the White Rock Death March. Only one climb remained.

David Thrasher preparing to ford Salt Fork on the White Rock Death March. Only one climb remained.

Since 2001, occasionally one or the other of us will challenge the others to a repeat of the Death March. Last January David, who is semi-retired, was lounging around in Florida. Every few days I would get an email with a photo of a different fish that he had caught. One afternoon I got to thinking that David would be getting soft after all that lounging around. I on the other hand was dealing with the rigors of a hard Arkansas winter. My chance to get even had arrived. I issued the challenge. To my surprise, David accepted. The death march was on for the first weekend of spring. There was no backing out. And that explains why I was sitting on my red truck pulling on my boots Sunday morning.

Going into woods alone, you never know what you will find. But it is almost guaranteed that you will find something interesting. On this trip it was fire!

Before Europeans “settled” the Ozarks in the early 1800s, forest fires were a regular event. A little bit less often than once per decade, low intensity fires burned through the forest. Mature, resilient trees survived the fire but underbrush tended to be killed back. The result of the fire was a forest that was much more open than the one we have today. During the 1820s and ‘30s, the General Land Office surveyed the country. The surveyors marked all of the section and township lines and described the landscape. The description that you see most often in North Arkansas is “open forest.” Some references speak of being able to see a quarter of a mile through the forest.

Many of these fires were ignited by Native Americans who were managing the land for game. The idea was simple. Burn off the underbrush, let lush grasses and bushes grow up, and soon deer and elk move to eat the grass and you live fat and happy for years. White Oak, Hickory and Shortleaf Pine are also more resistant to fire than other native trees so their shoots survived while the others were suppressed by the fire. This additional resistance to fire led to the Oak-Hickory forest that we have become accustomed to in the Ozark mountains. The fires, along with other occasional disturbances such as blow downs or tornados, led to multi-aged stands. The multi-aged forest was more resistant to infestations and thus was very resilient. On the forest floor, the thick duff of leaves and twigs was controlled to a much thinner layer, allowing the emergence of grasses, forbs and herbs. Biodiversity actually increased.

As Europeans moved in, they continued the practice of burning through the 1800s. Then starting in the 1920s and ’30s forest managers, using the best science they had at the time, started suppressing fire. It took about 50 years for managers to realize that the increase of understory and deadfall caused by the suppression of fire was actually increasing the potential for a catastrophic fire. During the 1970s and 1980s, experimentation with prescribed burns started. Today, prescribed burn is a standard practice for forest management.

The crew out at Hobbs has implemented an aggressive prescribed fire program. That is what I walked into on Sunday morning. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, since on Friday afternoon, smoke was billowing up on the east side of Beaver Lake indicating a large fire in the area. As I walked into Van Hollow, smoke was in the air, the ground became charred, and small fires continued to burn here and there. It was a surreal experience walking through miles of burnt forest. The Hobbs crew has been at this for several years; in Van Hollow the open forest is actually starting to become a reality.

Some controversy still remains regarding the environmental impact of prescribed burn. Obviously, burning releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But the consensus of the science seems to be that the luxuriant growth that occurs after the burn more than compensates for the carbon released during the burn. Similarly, the impact of water quality is a mix. An intense storm occurring shortly after the burn would cause excessive erosion. But the impact is short-lived. Within a few weeks new growth covers the landscape reducing the potential for erosion. All in all, it seems the short-term impact of a prescribed burn is more than made up for by the long-term improvements.

I walked on through Van Hollow and around the Bashore loop. At the far end of Bashore loop there is an overlook with a view of Blackburn Hollow on Beaver Lake. I made a vow to come back in my kayak later in the spring. Then I returned to the Visitor’s Center via the south side of the Clifty Creek loop. Along the way I met a young man headed the opposite direction. He greeted me with “Hello Sir.” It’s a horrible thing to be called “Sir” on the trail. What he really meant was, “look at this old coot, he must be older than my father-in-law’s uncle.” The next thing you know, I will meet some girl who took one of my classes and she will greet me with “Dr. Morgan, you sure are looking good!” Oh well, it is what it is. At least I am still out on the trail.

The death march came off without a hitch. OK, there was that episode of head-to-toe cramps during the return shuttle from White Rock. But that only lasted 10 minutes or so. The challenge has been issued for next year, first weekend of spring.

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Freddy 2002-2014

Freddy

Freddy

When we take a dog into our lives, we know full well that in 10 to 15 years we will have to deal with its death. It’s a pact that dog lovers make; a couple weeks of grief in exchange for several years of companionship and unconditional love. Even so, when the day comes it is not easy. Freddy died Monday morning, Jan. 27. He takes his place in my soul alongside Wags, Willie, Pepper, Dogmatix, Jodie, and Rascal.

Freddy was a “miniature” schnauzer. He shared our home for 11 years and 21 days. Sharon and I picked him up from a breeder in Joplin, Missouri, on Jan. 6, 2003, just two days after our wedding. The literature said he would be 18 to 24 pounds when grown. Well, he went right on past 24 pounds in 18 months. Eventually, he topped out at 35 pounds. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, just pure lean muscle. He was built like a fullback, 35 pounds in a package the size of a basketball. He was fast and quick as a rabbit. He loved to play chase. Try as you might, you never could catch him if he didn’t want to be caught.

Freddy was good-looking and he knew it. He walked with confidence. At the park, he looked everyone directly in the eye. If you listened closely you could hear him say to the passersby, “You love me, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

Speaking of walking, hiking in the Ozarks was another of Freddy’s favorite pastimes. Over the last 11 years, he and I hiked roughly 100 miles of the Highland Trail. Freddy wasn’t exactly the standard trail dog being only 15 inches tall, but that didn’t slow him down a bit, although sometimes he seemed to overestimate his size. Once when we were hiking up Jacks Fork Creek, we sat down by a sluice to have lunch. Freddy was about 2 years old at the time. The creek flowed through a slot in the rock roughly 6 feet wide and 2 or 3 feet deep. There was a little waterfall above the sluice and another below. Freddy was poking around on the other side of the sluice sniffing trees and peeing on rocks when he decided to rejoin the pack for lunch. Instead of walking around, he headed full speed straight for the sluice and jumped. He landed about halfway up the side! Immediately, he went into four-paw drive but to no avail. I worked my way down the bank and retrieved him from the pool below.

Freddy must have read John Muir somewhere. I say this because when we went hiking, he sauntered into the woods just as Muir described. He checked out everything. He got to know trees personally. Every few yards he would find something to sniff. When he finally finished sniffing, he circled three or four times, then peed on whatever he was sniffing. Then he moved on with a smug satisfied look on his face. Just like Muir, Freddy always brought some of the woods home with him. Usually a bath would get it off.

Canoeing was a different story. When Freddy was young, I tried to make him a canoe dog. He didn’t care for it at all. Usually, I ended up having to fish him out of the river after he jumped from the canoe when we got close to shore. He was sure to shake water off in my face just to tell me of his dissatisfaction. Freddy always watched hopefully when I started getting my outdoor gear together. But when the paddles came down he headed for the back yard.

Freddy was clearly a pack animal. The more the merrier. Visitors to our house were greeted with a special ear splitting shrill bark. The more he liked the visitor, the more shrill the bark. The most shrill bark was reserved for my sister, Kay. She must have been his favorite. It was an annoying habit, but there was no breaking him of it. I am sure we have friends who don’t go to the Morgan’s house because of the obnoxious dog.

On Monday afternoon, I buried Freddy in a 2’ by 4’ grave down between our Pine Tree and Silver Maple. His body is already starting to decompose. By spring, all that will be left will be some minerals and water. Hair roots from the trees are likely working their way into the grave as I write. When sap starts flowing up the tree this spring, part of it will be Freddy’s atoms. Those atoms will become part of the leaves, needles, pine nuts and maple seeds. The squirrels that Freddy used to chase around the yard will eat the seeds and pine nuts and make nests from the leaves and needles. Some of Freddy will then become squirrel. The squirrels will drop detritus and squirrel waste on the ground where it will nourish the grass in our yard and flowers in our bird garden. So Freddy will slowly be spread around the yard. He will become grass and flowers and even bird. The local rabbits will eat the grass and Freddy will become part rabbit. Maybe our resident Red-shouldered Hawk will catch and eat a rabbit and Freddy will then take flight. Several summers from now, when I have my coffee on the back porch, I will look out and say, “There’s Freddy.”

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January 2014 – On Walking

There are 61 miles of hiking trails in the Beaver Lake watershed. And that doesn’t count some short segments of the Ozark Highlands Trail that runs along the divide between the White River and the Mulberry River. Hiking those 61 miles is my resolution for this year. The majority of the miles of trail are within the Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, frequently referred to just as Hobbs.

Hobbs is a 12,000+ acre property owned by the people of Arkansas and managed by Arkansas State Parks, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Hobbs is east of Beaver Lake and lies between War Eagle Creek to the south and the lake to the north. Several miles of Beaver Lake shoreline abut Hobbs. The property sits on the Salem Plateau. But because of its proximity to War Eagle Creek and Beaver Lake, the local streams have cut deeply into the plateau leaving deep hollows and steep hills. The forest is a mixture of hardwood and shortleaf pine.

Little Clifty Creek in Van Hollow, Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area.

Little Clifty Creek in Van Hollow, Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area.

It was likely the shortleaf pine that first attracted Peter Van Winkle to the property in the mid-1800s. Van Winkle was a lumberman. He established a home, mill and an active community along Little Clifty Creek in what is now referred to as Van Hollow. Like most lumbermen of the time, Van Winkle was mostly interested in harvesting the timber. Most of the forest was cleared during his tenure on the property. Later Mr. Roscoe Hobbs acquired the property. Hobbs was a railroad man. His main interest in the Hobbs property was to produce railroad ties. Hobbs also had an interest it the property for its natural value. According to the Park History posted on the Friends of Hobbs website, Hobbs never used herbicides on the property and practiced only selective harvest. He apparently also enjoyed hunting and walking on the property.

On Saturday, Jan. 11, and Sunday, Jan. 12, I ventured out to Hobbs to start hiking and re-hiking the trails. Both hikes started at the Townsend Ridge road. I walked the War Eagle loop on Saturday. Then on Sunday I walked the Little Clifty loop. The two hikes totaled 15 miles. Both trails primarily follow ridges around the deep hollows in the park. As you hike along, you keep thinking, “I have to cross that hollow someplace to get back to my truck.” Eventually, the trail does drop down into the hollow and then back out. But the trails have been worked out to where there isn’t a really steep grade anywhere.

It was the condition of the trails at Hobbs that impressed me the most. They are exquisitely well built and maintained. On Friday before my trip, it rained all day, and really hard in the evening. These trails are built for multiple users including hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Even so, there was very little trail erosion. And there were just a few spots where the trails were even wet. The trails are spread out across the park with plenty of space between. This low density of trails provides plenty of solitude, even on a nice day in January. The parking lot was crowded, but I only met people on the trail occasionally. The staff thought this one through well. Even though this blog is usually about boating on Beaver, for the last 30 or so years, my real passion has been hiking, or walking in general. Last year I walked 1,116 miles. I walked in California, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. It was a good year.

I share my passion for walking with some pretty good company. Famous Americans who were also notable walkers included Abraham Lincoln (who liked to slip out of the White House at night without his bodyguards and walk around Washington), Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman (who could out-walk all of the reporters), Bob Marshall (who has a wilderness named after him), Rachel Carson (author of “Silent Spring”), Robert Frost, Louis L’Amour, James Michener, Henry Thoreau and, of course, John Muir. Other walkers included Mother Teresa, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Carl Jung, and Mohandas Gandhi. William Wordsworth, the poet, is said to have walked over 175,000 miles during his life.

John Muir really didn’t like to hike. He preferred to saunter into the woods. As his story went, the word saunter dated from the Middle Ages when Europeans started making pilgrimages to the holy land. When the pilgrims passed through villages, people would ask them where they were going. The answer was “a la sainte terre” or to the holy land. The villagers referred to the pilgrims as “sainte-terrers,” and the term eventually became saunterers. Muir thought of the mountains as holy land, so he sauntered into the mountains.

Along War Eagle loop trail in Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area

Along War Eagle loop trail in Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area

Thoreau’s version of the etymology of saunter was less flattering of the saunterers. In his version, idlers and vagabonds wandering around Europe would go to houses asking for food. When asked where they were going they answered, “a la sainte terre.” The kids picked up on the term and started calling the idlers “sainte terrers.” So saunterer was a derogatory term referring to hobos.

Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, says walking is the best exercise. People of almost any age can walk, the exercise is mostly injury free, it can be done anywhere and it is inexpensive. The only equipment required is a good pair of shoes. Walking is also a good way to view the scenery. Although it is usually the same scenery that can be seen from a car, boat or bicycle. And walking is a great way to clear your head and allow for creative thought.

None of the reasons stated above are why I walk. I just like the feeling it gives me. During 1876, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of “Treasure Island,” published an essay titled “Walking Tours” in Cornhill Magazine. Stevenson captured what walking is all about in the opening paragraph:

“He who is indeed of the brotherhood (of walking) does not voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of certain jolly humours – of the hope and spirit with which the march begins at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the evening’s rest. He cannot tell whether he puts his knapsack on, or takes it off with more delight.”

Stevenson goes on to discuss the importance of walking alone, how class disappears on a walking tour, of the joy of not having an agenda, and of the pleasure of coming down the final hill to a village inn. Then he expands upon how the rigor of the day enhances the conversation at the inn, and his enjoyment of his pipe and grog that evening.

I totally understand what Stevenson is saying. During the weeks before a big hike, I spend hours poring over maps finding the best routes and most interesting places. I check out my equipment and get everything in order. On the morning of the hike, excitement builds as I gather my trail snacks and lunch. Then the best step of the trip is the step out of the red truck onto the trail. The next best step is the one back to the truck, or better yet into camp. With luck I will spend the evening around a fire. I will have that good tired feeling that comes from being active out of doors all day. The meal will be exquisite, even if it is beanie weenies. Maybe I will enjoy a grog. Sleep will come easily.

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November 2013 — Back off Honey!

Back off Honey! It was a phrase I would repeat frequently on this trip. My friend David Thrasher and I were sliding his 20-foot Old Town Canoe into War Eagle Creek below the old Highway 412 Bridge. Honey is David’s dog. She accompanies him everywhere, even to the top of Boundary Peak, the highest point in Nevada. Honey had just taken her position in the canoe right under my seat. It’s hard to say just what kind of dog Honey is, but she is clearly descended from big dogs. Currently she weighs about 120 pounds. It was around 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 10th, a bright and sunny but cool day. We were out for a day of creek fishing.

Honey-and-the-fish-with-Dr.-Bob

Honey and the fish with Dr. Bob

The canoe drifted out into the stream and we commenced canoeing at our normal pace, slow. Wait, make that really slow. I was rigged with a chartreuse plastic worm on a 1/8th ounce jig head and an ultralight spinning rod and reel. David had a variety of rods and a different rig for each. My first cast wrapped around the branch of a low hanging tree. David reminded me that we came to catch fish, not hoot owls. The next cast was better. My worm hit the water next to a log. I reeled it back in slowly bringing with it several leaves.

For the first hour or so, as David likes to say, the fishing was great, the catching was a little slow. After every cast we would remove a collection of leaves from our lures. We had arrived at this creek just after the peak of autumn color and right in the midst of the peak of autumn leaf fall. For us, removing leaves from our lures was a minor annoyance. But for small Ozark streams in forested watersheds, leaves are an important source of food. All ecosystems ultimately rely on the sun as a source of energy. In streams where forest cover spreads over most of the channel, leaves spend their summers intercepting that solar energy and, through the process of photosynthesis, use the energy along with nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce organic matter. During leaf fall, the energy stored in the leaves is delivered to the stream.

Leaf-fall

Leaf fall

When a leaf falls into the stream, organic matter starts to leach out of the leaf. Ecologists call this leached material “dissolved organic matter” or DOM. Bacteria and fungi use this material as food. Scientists are not really sure yet whether that bacteria and fungi ever gets into the larger food chain or if it just remains within the microbes in the stream. The leaves themselves are referred to as “coarse particulate organic matter” or CPOM. Fungi and algae quickly colonize the leaves making a slimy surface. Some macroinvertebrates — macro meaning big, at least big enough to see, and invertebrate meaning animal with no backbone, so we are talking about big bugs and worms — love this slime and start munching. The macroinvertebrates that feed on the slime on the leaves are called “shredders” because they shred the leaves. Shredded leaf parts and feces from the shredders continue to drift downstream. This material is referred to as “fine particulate organic matter” or FPOM. There are other benthic macroinvertebrates that spin webs, kind of like spiders do, to catch the FPOM as it drifts. They then wipe the FPOM from their nets and eat it. These macroinvertebrates are referred to as collectors. Our prey for the day was smallmouth and largemouth bass, which in turn prey on macroinvertebrates. So we put up with the annoyance and just appreciated the beauty of the trees and leaves.
Eventually, I managed to convince a small bass that my plastic worm was actually an invertebrate feeding on CPOM. He picked up the worm and ran. I set the hook. Honey perked up. Somewhere Honey had figured out that it was my job to catch the fish and her job to finish them off. The battle lasted a few seconds then I lifted the fish out of the water. Honey made a lunge trying to chomp the fish in one bite. The canoe rocked but David managed to counter and keep us upright. Back off Honey was all I had to say. She continued to chomp at the air as I removed the hook and released the fish. Then she looked at me as if to say, “what’s the deal?”

David-and-Honey-on-the-War-Eagle

David and Honey on the War Eagle

We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar across from a big bluff. After lunch we fished the hole one more time. I caught a really nice bass. Our pace went from really slow to really, really slow. Fish catching picked up. With every fish, Honey did her best to get involved. We drifted along catching a fish every now and then. A few minutes before dark we pulled out at Withrow Springs State Park having canoed a total of 4 and ½ miles for the day.

War Eagle Creek doesn’t seem to get the respect that the better-known streams of the Ozarks get. Perhaps it is because the name “creek” sounds kind of diminutive while the others have the more impressive name, “river.” War Eagle has neither the crystal clear water of the Kings, nor the exciting whitewater of the Mulberry or Buffalo rivers. Nevertheless, it does have an impressive collection of bluffs. Many of the bluffs have large overhanging ledges. Almost every bluff has a deep pool below that provides good fish habitat. Plus it is a lot closer to Springdale than the aforementioned rivers.

The source of the War Eagle is in the Boston Mountains, literally on the same mountain as the source of the White. The War Eagle’s source is actually about a hundred feet higher than that of the White. The stream tumbles off the mountain to the north while the White flows west before it turns north. After some miles, the creek flows under Arkansas State Highway 23 then it travels several miles along the highway flowing north toward Huntsville. Near the town of Aurora, the highway crosses the creek one more time and then leaves the valley. The Creek continues its northerly course east of Huntsville. It is in this reach that the city once tapped the water of the War Eagle as its source of drinking water. Several miles later, the creek flows under U.S. Highway 412 northeast of Huntsville, the crossing where David and I launched his canoe. Four and a half miles later the War Eagle flows under highway 23 again in Withrow Springs State Park. From there it continues flowing north and west past the War Eagle Mill. Eventually, after 59 miles, the creek joins with the White River in Beaver Lake.

For the last 52 years, the War Eagle has been an important part of my life. In 1961 I joined Boy Scout Troop 122 sponsored by the Central Methodist Church in Rogers. Mrs. Elliott, who owned the house across the bridge from the War Eagle Mill, frequently let us camp in the pine grove down from her house. On one of those trips, we were fooling around with fly rods. After a while I got to where I could cast a popping bug without catching my ear or tying a knot in the line in the process. I waded into the head of the pool at the pine grove. A few casts and I managed to lay the bug into a pocket in the river willows along the bank. The river exploded. A few minutes later I lifted a hefty largemouth bass from the water. The bass got off easy; he was cooked on a campfire that evening. I, on the other hand, had just caught an incurable case of fishing fever. The dreaded disease has plagued me the rest of my life. Had it not been for that fish, I might have made something of myself.

When I got to high school, every time I could talk dad out of his 62 Ford Fairlane on a Saturday afternoon I headed out to the low water bridge at the “Gar Hole.” From there I could wade fish a quarter of a mile of stream. About that same time, my friend John Leflar’s dad bought a blue 17-foot square stern fiberglass canoe. It was kind of a double hull configuration and weighed roughly 150 pounds. If we worked together, three of us could lift it onto the top of John’s Volkswagen Van. We were free to roam. The War Eagle was our favorite destination. Then in college several of us bought our own canoes. Probably because of its proximity to Fayetteville, the War Eagle was where we honed our paddling skills.

After college our canoe trips in general and War Eagle trips especially became less frequent. Usually when we got away for a trip, we all gathered at one of the big name streams. In the “Conservation Esthetic,” Aldo Leopold makes the point that nature is not something that happens in exotic locations, but it goes on everywhere. He states, “the weeds in a city lot convey the same lesson as the redwoods; the farmer may see in his cow-pasture what may not be vouchsafed to the scientists adventuring in the South Seas.” War Eagle is close to home, but it is a special place.

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October 2013 – Autumn on Beaver Lake

Autumn has arrived on Beaver Lake. It’s a season of cool mornings, warm afternoons and light wind. Of the four seasons, I do believe fall is my favorite. Of course when a person passes sixty birthdays, he learns to appreciate each season for what it offers. But in autumn everything takes on a certain crispness. Skies are bluer, clouds are whiter, and the air is fresher.

Sharon and I were able to visit Beaver twice this month. Both times were short Sunday afternoon paddles. Both trips started from Doc Roufa landing just upstream from the Highway 412 bridge. We start at this landing frequently because it’s only a 10-minute drive from our house in Springdale.

Cedar Bluff

Cedar Bluff

Sunday afternoon, October 13th was mild. The temperature was in the upper 60’s. There was a fair breeze out of the south. We slid our kayak in at Doc Roufa. As is our custom, we headed upwind. Our theory being that it is easier to travel with the wind on our return when we were tired. So we paddled toward Blue Spring and Cedar Bluff.

We paddled a few hundred yards along the east shoreline. There was a low bluff and a large house. Past the house was a vacant shoreline. The shoreline was steep and rugged. As we paddled along, a dog came down the hill to the lake. He never got close enough to identify, but he at least had some Lab in him as he nonchalantly waded in and commenced swimming. His destination was the other side of the lake. It is roughly an eighth of a mile across the lake at this point. We were concerned that an approaching bass boat might hit him. But as it turned out, this dog was no novice. We observed closely as he held up to dog paddle in place until the boat cleared on by, then he powered on. Several minutes later he climbed out on the far shore and trotted up to his home.

The most notable thing about fall on Beaver is the lack of noise. Yes, there is an occasional fishing boat, but those guys tend to get on by. The jet skis and water skiers have already been driven in by the cool water. By and large, the birds are not singing in the fall as they do in the spring and summer. It is just refreshing silence. We paddled on past the bridge over Brush Creek on Blue Spring Road toward Cedar Bluff.

Cedar Bluff is one of my favorites on Beaver. Not because of the bluff itself — it’s just a nondescript rock bank — but it always has wild flowers. The bluff faces the west so it gets the brutal afternoon sun during the summer.
The rest of the year is a pleasant warm micro climate. The flowers apparently like it.

Autumn flowers seem to me to differ from spring flowers. During autumn, flowers aren’t as bright. They make up for it by blooming by the thousands. Every spot on Cedar Bluff that had any soil at all was sporting an aster. Each aster was covered with dozens of violet blooms. It was a kind of pastel violet, not too bright. Intermixed in the asters were the remnants of the goldenrod, its yellow flower starting to fade. Goldenrod is also in the aster family by the way. If you look really closely at the flowers, you can see the typical aster arrangement of petals. When there was a spot left, there was a white aster-like flower.

Asters

Asters

At the end of Cedar Bluff we turned around and headed for the car. With the breeze we were back in 30 minutes.

Sunday afternoon, October 20, was an anomaly for this time of year. It was cool and windy. Beaver was just shy of white capping. We put our kayaks in at Doc Roufa again. This time we broke the rule and headed downwind. I thought the bluffs north of Highway 412 might shield us, but I was wrong. After 15 minutes or so, we turned around, not wanting to do a major upwind paddle at the end of the day. It looked like the north facing bluffs at the entrance to the Brush Creek arm might provide shelter.

It was surprising how well the kayaks handled the wind. It as was slow but if you stayed after it you could make steady progress without too much effort. After 45 minutes we reached the mouth of Brush Creek and slipped under the bridge on Blue Springs Road and out of the wind. It was a relief.

While we paddled around in Brush Creek, our first eagle of the year soared overhead. It was riding the wind, heading northwest. Then a pair of vultures flew overhead. They came close enough that I could hear the wind in their feathers. Soon after that, we headed back.

The wind was still blowing as we reached the White River Arm. A 45-minute paddle out took about 20 minutes on the return trip. A nice young man, of about 10 years, offered to help Sharon with her kayak. We loaded the boats, thanked the boy and headed home.

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September 2013 – The Devil’s Eyebrow

Northwest Arkansas is known as a hotbed for biodiversity. We are an ecotone. That means our location is a transition from one ecosystem to another. Ecotones tend to have species from both ecosystems. Think of a map of the U.S. Arkansas sits between the Great Plains and the Gulf Coastal Plain. We also are in the transition from the humid east to the drier west. Essentially we are a mixing zone.

From a biodiversity point, The Devil’s Eyebrow is the crème de la crème. These 2000-plus rugged acres at the head of Indian Creek on Beaver Lake have so far escaped development. Every cloud has a silver lining. The silver lining of the 2008 great recession was that the Devil’s Eyebrow came up for sale. Last year the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission teamed up with The Nature Conservancy and bought the Eyebrow. Now the property is conserved. It is a boon for nature and the citizens of Arkansas.

It was cool and calm the morning of Sept. 7.  Just before dawn, our group of kayakers met in the parking lot at the Northwest Arkansas Community College. The group included an ecologist, a microbiologist, an ecological engineer, a horticulturalist, a reformed dentist, a poet, and a businessman. Our destination was the Devil’s Eyebrow via Beaver Lake. Forty-five minutes later we were launching our yaks in glassy smooth water at the Lost Bridge recreation area. Only one boat was visible from the launching ramp. The calm was about to be broken.

The intrepid kayakers launching at Lost Bridge Recreation Area

The intrepid kayakers launching at Lost Bridge Recreation Area

It’s three and a half miles from Lost Bridge to the Eyebrow. Each paddle stroke moves the kayak about 10 feet. That’s 528 strokes per mile. Three and a half miles is 1,848 strokes. For the first hundred strokes, conversation was polite. The next couple hundred we were getting familiar. Six hundred strokes and we were old friends. Stories were a flyin’. Knowledge was being transferred. The lake branched. Then it branched again. They all looked the same. At 1,500 strokes we came to yet one more branch. I went to the right. Three hundred strokes later we paddled up to a large gravel bar at the end of the lake. We got out and stretched our legs. I was relieved to see a property sign that said “The Nature Conservancy.”

Indian Creek on Beaver Lake

Indian Creek on Beaver Lake

We came to witness the biodiversity. The Eyebrow delivered. Of course, with seven folks talking full speed there was little wildlife. But the flora could not escape. A blue flower was growing on a bluff near our landing. I waded through some mud to get a closer look. It turned out to be Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica). Lobelia is a common plant but I have never identified it before. It grows in damp woodlands in late summer. According to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, the scientific name syphilitica comes from a mistaken belief that the plant cures syphilis. As we moved on up Indian Creek, it was one plant after another. Smartweed, wild hydrangea, spice bush, gum plant, day flower, goldenrod, and the prize of the day, pawpaws. We were in the middle of the biggest pawpaw patch I have ever seen!

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a fruit tree native to American. The fruit grows in bunches much like bananas. They ripen in late summer. Pawpaws are harvested by shaking the tree and picking the falling fruit off of the ground. Opossums, squirrels, raccoons, fox and birds all eat pawpaws. The Zebra Swallowtail butterfly also uses the tree as a host plant (Georgia Wildlife Federation).

Pawpaws

Pawpaws

Until the end of World War II, pawpaws were common in American homes. Since then, it has become easier to import tropical fruits. The pawpaw is now more of a novelty than a food. I do not remember ever eating one. The taste is a cross between bananas and vanilla custard. Pawpaws may become commercially available in the near future. There are now several pawpaw orchards. Hopefully, they will become available locally. The data on the Internet indicates the tree is easily grown. To get fruit, more than one tree is needed as the pawpaw does not fertilize itself.

The pawpaw tree goes way back in American history. According to Barry Glick of the GardenWeb, DeSoto, who explored the south in 1540, wrote of the pawpaw. At the time, Native Americans cultivated the tree for its fruit. George Washington is said to have been fond of pawpaws and Thomas Jefferson cultivated them in his gardens at Monticello (Earthy Delights). In 1810, Lewis and Clark’s expedition ran low on provisions. They survived on pawpaws and nuts (from Peterson’s PawPaws).

Unfortunately for us, the pawpaws were not ripe when we stumbled upon them. We moved on up the creek bed. Eventually, we found a trickle of running water. The highest diversity in the Devil’s Eyebrow is reported to be in the glades. In the interest of avoiding ticks and chiggers, it was decided that exploration of the glades was for a future trip. We headed back to the boats.

It is 1,800 paddle strokes from the Devil’s Eyebrow back to Lost Bridge. It was hot. There was traffic on the lake now. A guy came by on a hydrofoil water ski. That was kind of cool. It was still hot. I dipped my hat in the lake. The cool water dribbled down my neck. Thirty minutes later I repeated the hat dip. Another 45 minutes of paddling and the trip came to an end. Seven friends loaded their boats. We headed home thinking of the next trip.

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August 2013 – Walking where Thoreau walked

The East Branch of the Penobscot River. Thoreau and his crew paddled and polled their batteau upstream on the Penobscot to reach the base of Mt. Katahdin.

The East Branch of the Penobscot River. Thoreau and his crew paddled and polled their batteau upstream on the Penobscot to reach the base of Mt. Katahdin.

During the summer of 1846, Henry David Thoreau made the first of three trips from his home in Boston to the Maine woods. His goal was to experience the wilderness and the glorious Penobscot River and lake scenery and to climb Mt. Ktaadn (also spelled “Katahdin”), the second highest mountain in New England. Thoreau wrote the account of his adventure in “The Maine Woods,” which is now available as an ebook on the internet for free. I encourage everyone to find it and give it a read.

I know of what I speak, since earlier this year I was reading “The Maine Woods” for the first time. And, in what some might call a synchronistic moment, my friend David Thrasher called and said that he was headed to New England this summer to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Marcy in upstate New York. As luck would have it, he asked if I wanted to go along. Of course I said yes, then immediately set about the task of convincing my wife, Sharon, that she wanted to go to upstate New York and Maine for vacation this summer. I was successful, and when July came around, we loaded up the red truck with two kayaks, a tandem bicycle, backpacks, hiking sticks, and boots and headed off for the great north woods.

Millinocket Lake. Millinocket was a natural lake that was enlarged by building of a dam on the outlet in the early 1800s. The water is still clear and near pristine, proof that reservoirs don't automatically go eutrophic with age.

Millinocket Lake. Millinocket was a natural lake that was enlarged by building of a dam on the outlet in the early 1800s. The water is still clear and near pristine, proof that reservoirs don’t automatically go eutrophic with age.

In Thoreau’s time, just getting to the Katahdin region was an adventure. To get from Boston to Bangor, Thoreau traveled via a steamer and then rail. From Bangor he traveled by coach to Lincoln in Maine. The 45-mile trip took two days. Once in Lincoln, another 45 miles trek to Katahdin was in store. This leg of the trip was made by batteau (a flat-bottomed boat) and on foot. Sharon and I had it much easier. We just drove our air conditioned truck right into Millinocket, Maine, on modern highways. Then it was 16 miles on a secondary road to Baxter State Park and 7 more miles on well maintained dirt roads to the base of Katahdin. The whole trip could be made in 7 hours from Boston if necessary.

As mentioned earlier, a batteau, as far as I can tell, is a long, flat-bottomed boat, possibly similar to the jon boats that we use today for trout fishing on the White River except bigger. Thoreau described the batteau as a “light and shapely vessel calculated for rapid and rocky streams.” They were 20 to 30 feet long and 4 to 4 ½ feet wide and made of white pine. Later he gave his estimate of the weight of a batteau at 3 to 5 or 6 hundred pounds. They paddled and poled these boats up the Penobscot River, into its tributaries and across the many lakes of the region.

The thing that impressed me most about Thoreau’s trip was the condition that people must have been in during the era. Sharon and I tried paddling our kayaks up the river starting from Medway near East Millinocket, Maine. The guidebook said that from this put-in we could either paddle 2 miles upstream or 5 downstream. Since we had only one truck and no shuttle, upstream seemed the logical choice. The Penobscot is a wide and fast river. I nosed out into the current; it wasn’t white water, just fast flowing water. By paddling hard I could make some headway. Quickly I figured out that I had to eddy hop if I was going to get anyplace. In an hour, we managed to make about a half mile up river. Thoreau’s crew traveled miles up this river and its tributaries, even pushing up through rapids and waterfalls. When the river became impassable, Thoreau and his crew carried the boats upstream on primitive portage trails. We turned around and drifted back to the truck in 15 minutes.

As Thoreau and company worked their way upstream, the river gave way to a series of lakes and streams. Lakes in Maine are very different from Arkansas’ reservoirs. In the first place, they are natural lakes created by glacial action. Secondly, because they are natural lakes, the water surface elevation only fluctuates a few inches through the year. That allows the shoreline vegetation to become very well developed. In addition, being natural lakes, they are much rounder than our reservoirs, making them very wide in places. However even in Thoreau’s time, damming had enlarged some of these lakes. Thoreau’s crew paddled their batteau all the way across these large lakes taking turns paddling to maintain progress. We pushed our kayaks out into Millinocket Lake. Katahdin dominated the skyline just as it had for Thoreau. We hugged the leeward shoreline to avoid heavy waves.

Abol Pond. Thoreau and his crew camped near Abol Pond in 1846 before they climbed Katahdin.

Abol Pond. Thoreau and his crew camped near Abol Pond in 1846 before they climbed Katahdin.

It is hard to tell exactly what route Thoreau followed from Lincoln to Katahdin. Most of the lakes and streams that he mentioned cannot be found on today’s topographic maps. The names, or at least the spelling of the names, have changed over the years. I could find just enough similarity to know that his route was close to the road going from Millinocket to Baxter State Park today. Further upstream toward Katahdin, the lakes became smaller. Mainers refer to these lakes as ponds, even though some cover over a hundred acres. We drove into Baxter and launched our kayaks in Abol Pond. I believe Abol is very close to where Thoreau’s crew made their last camp before heading up the mountain.

Indian Pipe in the forest duff along the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Indian Pipe in the forest duff along the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Even though there was a road leading to the launch, Abol was basically a wilderness lake. All of its watershed is contained within the forested area of Baxter State Park. Other than two loons and several ducks, we were the only ones on the lake. Abol is a shallow pond. In places we paddled through wide swaths of Pickerelweed with its blue flowers sticking a foot and a half above the water. There were also yellow and white lilies. The shore was lined with Spruce, White Pine, Arbor vitae, Birch and Maple. Most of the shoreline had understory vegetation of bushes and ferns, except one hillside that was almost clear under the trees. The water was very clear. We paddled for a couple of hours. All was silent.

From Abol Thoreau went overland roughly 12 miles to Katahdin. Today those 12 miles are the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Several times Thoreau described the inner forest as being “dark.” It was dark. The dense vegetation overhead kept sunshine out. The forest duff was a thick, three-dimensional matrix of moss, lichens, bunchberry and ferns. The dark green color seemed to absorb light. It was here that we fully encountered the nemesis of the north woods, the black fly. After a few hours of hiking, and swatting, Sharon and I headed back into Millinocket to rough it in our bed and breakfast.

The intrepid explorers at the summit of Mt. Katahdin the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

The intrepid explorers at the summit of Mt. Katahdin the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

The next morning, my friend David met me at the B & B and he and I headed out to climb Katahdin. We drove the 16 miles out to Baxter State Park. Then we waited in line for 30 minutes while the ranger checked everyone’s entry permit. I wonder what Mr. Thoreau would think of having to purchase a permit in advance to visit a wilderness?
I won’t say much about the climb except that it was the hardest 10-mile hike that I have ever made and it was all on the Appalachian Trail. From the summit we could see hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and dozens of lakes. Much of it in as good or better health than it was during Thoreau’s visits. It was comforting to see so much wild land remaining in one place.

I came away from the trip to Katahdin with the deepest respect for how rugged our ancestors were. They worked and traveled this wild land with equipment that we would laugh at. Our little expedition with our high tech equipment and lightweight boats was nothing compared to their adventures. Nevertheless, there we were, two old geezers walking where Thoreau walked.

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July 2013 – And then the Water Rat said to Mole…

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. (The Wind in the Willows)

A while back, Sharon went off to a women’s camping workshop sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Part of their training was kayaking on Bull Shoals Reservoir. On her return, she mentioned that she would like to get a kayak. I admit to a weakness for boats, but a kayak! Kayaks are maggot boats. On river trips, kayakers always pack their gear in your canoe. Then they constantly come around bumming cold drinks. In rapids, kayakers get in the way with all their playing and such. No decent canoer would ever be caught dead in a kayak.

We discussed it for a while. Well ok, we discussed for … two and a half years. Then one day I was surfing the internet and saw some video of these guys cruising Puget Sound in sea kayaks. About the same time my son, Shane, announced that he was taking a job down near the Gulf Coast. Well, now things were getting interesting — sea kayaks, Gulf Coast, winter trips south. Sounds like a match made in heaven. So this spring, we found ourselves the proud owners of two touring kayaks. As a result, the spring has been spent messing around with kayaks.

The first thing to learn about kayaks is how to get into the fool things. Getting into a kayak is kind of like pulling on a pair of socks. First, you sit on the top of the kayak. Next, you stick your toes in, then kind of pull the thing up around you. It’s not all that tricky, as long as the kayak is sitting on the showroom floor. Things are little different when you actually get to a lake. The second thing you learn is that a kayak is not all that stable when you are sitting on top with your toes tucked inside. Now you get to learn how to get out of a kayak. It’s really just the opposite of getting in, except it’s all done upside down. Needless to say, lesson three goes quickly. Lesson four reviews entry and introduces the proper exit.

After only a few tries, we mastered entry and exit. We were on to actually paddling. Our first few trips were to Lake Fayetteville. Lake Fayetteville is a nice little lake just five minutes from our house. For neophyte kayakers, the really nice thing about Lake Fayetteville is that there’s a sandy beach from which kayakers can easily launch. A person can actually get into the kayak sitting on dry land and then kind of hand walk down into the lake, thereby avoiding the entry and exit dilemma. The other nice thing about Lake Fayetteville is that the water surface elevation only varies by a few inches. As a result, the littoral zone, that area where land gradually transitions into lake, is well developed. The littoral zone and the mixture of forest, pasture and restored prairie around the lake provide amazing biodiversity, especially the birds. Oh, I forgot to mention lesson five. When looking upward at birds, keep body centered over kayak.

Sharon at Beav-o-Rama

Sharon at Beav-o-Rama

There were a few setbacks, but we gained confidence quickly. In no time, I was anxious to try the boat out on the open water of Beaver Lake. So on a breezy Saturday morning in June, I launched at Beav-O-Rama and headed uplake toward Niells Bluff. In this portion of the lake, the water hits the bluffs right at the base and the bluffs tower overhead. The kayak handled the breeze very well. Upwind was slower than downwind, but not overly hard. Paddling cross wind took a bit of getting used to but also turned out to be a reasonable effort. The next morning Sharon and I headed out together. We paddled along the base of the bluffs. At the end of the bluff was a patch of trumpet creeper and a ruby throated hummingbird who sang like it was in hog heaven. I’m here to tell you that Sunday morning kayak rides have now become the routine around my neck of the woods.

Sharon at Henson Bluff

Sharon at Henson Bluff

So what are the pluses and minuses of switching from canoe to kayak? Well, on the plus side, the kayak is faster. Of course, faster is relative. We’re talking 2 miles per hour instead of 1 ½, but that’s faster, nonetheless. Kayaking is also much less subject to the winds, and this opens up far more potential days on the lake. On the minus side, at least for now, the kayak is much less stable. I’m hoping that as my confidence builds in the kayak, stability will come. But, in my canoe I frequently layout my journal and camera in the bottom where I can reach them quickly. I fear that would invite disaster in the kayak. Also, the cargo capacity of the canoe is much greater. We can camp in comfort out of our canoe. In the kayaks we would be extreme minimalists at best.

So the kayaks have joined our corral of boats. Our messing around has taken on a new dimension. I have to say, the experience has been well worth it.

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June 2013 – White River from Saint Paul to Patrick

On May 26th, the muses finally came together and provided an opportunity to venture out into the Ozarks. Sharon and I the loaded green canoe on the red truck and headed out Highway 16 from Fayetteville toward the town of Patrick. We were supposed to meet my friend and co-worker, Brad Hufhines and his wife, Stephanie, at the Patrick Bridge over White River. Just past Crosses, we saw Brad and Stephanie headed toward Fayetteville with his red canoe on top of his brown Suburban. Well, I said to Sharon, I guess we passed the town of Patrick. So, I found a wide spot in the road and turned around. As it turns out, Brad was running into the store at Crosses to get a little gas. Soon enough, we regrouped and headed on down to the bridge as planned.

The Patrick Bridge is a little more than a low water slab, but not much. When we pulled up at 9:30 that morning, three boys were busy jumping off the slab and floating down stream. It was about 68 degrees and the water was certainly cool, but they didn’t seem to mind. The game must have gone on all day. When we got back to the bridge a few hours later, they were still at it; but by this time, they had progressed to jumping in on the upstream side and riding the current through the box culvert. Brad and I loaded his canoe on my truck and we all headed on down Highway 16 to St. Paul.

At the White River Bridge just downstream from St. Paul, we pulled off the road. This was to be our launch site. Let me take a moment here to thank whoever owns the property next to the bridge for leaving the access open. I should also thank folks using this access for not littering. The site was basically clean. Perhaps if more recreationalists would respect the land, more of these informal access points would remain open.

A rock garden near St. Paul turned out to be a good place to relearn our paddling strokes.

A rock garden near St. Paul turned out to be a good place to relearn our paddling strokes.

There was a bit of apprehensiveness about putting in at St. Paul. While I was confident that it was floatable, none of us seemed to know much more about the float we had planned. From the USGS topographic maps, I could readily see that the gradient of the river was about 20 feet per mile, which makes it comparable to the Mulberry River in steepness. But there was not nearly the volume of flow that the Mulberry normally has during the spring. At that moment, I suspected that our little excursion could get lively, and I was right.

We unloaded the boats. I pulled my truck back up by the road just in case it rained, and we took off heading downstream toward Patrick. It was now in the mid-seventies. There was a strong south wind, but we were headed north so it didn’t really matter. We were comfortable in tee shirts and shorts. The water had a nice clear green color, and the flow was adequate but not high. In the first riffle, I noticed a blue smudge on a rock which indicated others had gone before us. I was starting to feel good about the day.

Sharon and I have paddled a lot together, but not in white water. She knows all the basic paddle strokes — draw, sweep, cross bow draw, forward and back strokes etc. But like I said, we have not done a lot of white water.

The next riffle was what we call a rock garden in the Ozarks.

As the flow picked up, rock gardens gave way to chutes and turns.(White Near Patrick)

As the flow picked up, rock gardens gave way to chutes and turns.(White Near Patrick)

Like the name implies, there were lots of rocks sticking up just high enough to catch a canoe. There was ample water to float through so we headed in. I was shouting directions to Sharon — “draw, cross bow, draw, sweep etc. – as we tried to avoid the rocks. Well, Sharon knew the strokes, but her recall was a little slow. We went through the riffle kind of like a pinball. The green canoe was now the scratched green canoe but we were still dry.

We drifted into the pool below the riffle. Sharon asked, “Why don’t you just say left or right? That would be much clearer.” Well, those that have paddled white water with me before understand that I only know two directions and they both were pronounced “left.” That often leads to confusion. We proceeded on. Brad and Stephanie were up ahead. Their daughter Stella was sitting in a camp chair in the middle of their canoe.

Indigo Bush

Indigo Bush

I’m happy to report that for the first couple of miles, the riparian zone along the side of the river was almost fully intact. Dense vegetation lined both banks and there were wild flowers galore, with pink Phlox being the most abundant followed by white Pentstemons and red Fire Pinks. But the prize for the day was Indigo Bush, a large bush with dozens of rusty, purple, spikey flowers. It was a pleasure to paddle alongside the mature forest.

After we passed the confluence with Fanning Creek, the volume of flow picked up. Rock garden riffles turned into white water chutes. With each chute, Sharon gained a little confidence in her paddle strokes. She was even starting to read the water. By the time I yelled a direction, she had already started. We were becoming a team. Brad and Stephanie were now a bit behind us.

At one particular rapid, all of the flow concentrated into a narrow chute roughly 15 yards long. At the end of the chute, the current ran square into a huge boulder. The water pillowed up on the boulder and shot off to the left. It was clear that one missed stroke and we would be swimming. I nosed the bow of the canoe into the chute and off we went. At just the right point, Sharon reached out over the left side of the canoe and did a perfect draw stroke. I hit a sweep stroke in the stern followed by a rudder and we were through.

Brad, Stella and Stephanie Hufhines

Brad, Stella and Stephanie Hufhines

Below the rapid on the right of the canoe, there was a strong eddy formed behind the boulder. On impulse, I pushed the bow of the canoe over the eddy line and hollered “cross bow.” Without hesitation, Sharon reached across to the right of the canoe and dug in with her paddle. I laid out on a low brace in the stern. In a flash, the canoe spun around and we were sitting in the eddy facing upstream. It was a perfect eddy turn. We sat there and waited for Brad, Stella and Stephanie to come through, just in case. They did fine.

On downstream, the river turned more northerly and the valley opened up. The river now flowed through a wide alluvial valley. Unlike the Buffalo or Kings rivers or even the White further downstream, there were no bluffs, or even much rock of any kind to constrain the river. The river was still very attractive, but there were signs of bank erosion almost everywhere. Even in reaches with intact riparian zones, the banks were eroding although not as dramatically as where the riparian vegetation had been removed. One look at the soil on an eroding bank told the story. It was nothing but silt and loose gravel. It was alluvial soil, which has virtually no resistance to erosion.

Alluvial soil in the valley bottom has no resistance to erosion.

Alluvial soil in the valley bottom has no resistance to erosion.

Just past the Highway 295 bridge at Combs, we stopped for lunch. Brad and Stella went swimming while Sharon and I ate our peanut butter sandwiches. Overhead a bird was flying around erratically. That’s strange I thought. On closer observation it turned out to be a bat, in broad daylight. Stephanie said that seeing a bat in daylight was bad luck. The next thing you know some small birds chased an owl out of the trees, heralding even more bad luck. Shortly thereafter, we loaded up and paddled on down to Patrick. The boys were still playing at the bridge. Several others had joined them. Brad shuttled us back up to the truck. After we transferred the canoe, we headed home. I’m still waiting on the bad luck to fall. I think we skated by it … this time.

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May 2013 – What’s in a Name

Weather and work have conspired to keep me off of the water this spring. I can’t do much about the weather, but I vow to rectify the situation regarding work over the next few weeks. But neither weather nor work have kept me from thinking about Beaver Lake and the White River. Back in January, I agreed to make a presentation about Beaver Lake and our water supply at the Pettigrew Days annual pot luck supper and community meeting down toward the headwaters of the White River. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I’d drive to Pettigrew, eat some good country cooking, give the standard presentation and head home. Then I learned that this event had been going on for over 30 years and that the first speaker was one Orval Faubus! Man, now the pressure was on.

While doing some research to update the presentation, I started wondering just why “White River” is “White.” It should have been an easy question. I grabbed my journal and headed down to the U of A library to find the answer. Four hours later I had lots of interesting material, but not a clue as to the origin of the name. So I turned to the source, Susan Young at the Shiloh Museum in Springdale. Susan directed me to the journals of Henry Schoolcraft. From there, a few quick clicks on the computer and I was sitting at the website of the Lower White River Museum where the material was there for the taking.  The story goes way back.

The first European to encounter the White River was the Spaniard Hernando de Soto. De Soto arrived in south Florida in the 1530s supposedly looking for the legendary fountain of youth. After a few years wandering around in the swamps, de Soto turned his thoughts to more practical matters and headed west to find oro, which in Spanish means gold. In 1541, his travels brought him to the banks of the White River just downstream of present day Batesville, Arkansas. The Native Americans living in the region referred to themselves as Casqui. De Soto therefore referred to the river as “Rio de Casqui” or river of the Casqui. While de Soto had taken a fortune in gold from the Inca a decade earlier, he didn’t find the gold he was searching for on this trip. About a year later, he died of a fever someplace in southeast Arkansas or northeast Louisiana.

The Casqui themselves did not refer to the river as “Casqui.” According to the Lower White River Museum, the Native Americans referred to the river as “Niska” or white water.  Today, the term “white water” conjures up a vision of raging rapids challenging rafters and kayakers. The White River is a great place to kayak or raft, but not for the white water. Niska had another meaning. The water of the White River has always been crystal clear, especially as it flowed across the Springfield plateau of Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri. The water also flows over limestone that has a grayish white color.  So the name Niska actually referred to the color of the river.

Marquette and Joliet explored the Mississippi River for France in 1673. When they arrived in Arkansas, an alliance was formed with the Quapaw marking the start of a hundred years of French dominance. The French trappers and settlers spread out into the region. As they settled, they adopted the Native American name for de Soto’s Rio de Casqui, calling it “Riverie au Blanche” or White River.

In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold French Louisiana to the United States. The White River watershed was a part of the purchase.  Henry Schoolcraft then explored the region in 1818. Schoolcraft made perhaps the first recorded canoe float of the White by a U.S. citizen. However, English-speaking settlers were already in the region. Schoolcraft canoed down the “Great North Fork of the White” out of Missouri. The Great North Fork is now referred to as simply the North Fork River. The Cherokee who lived in the region referred to the river as “Unica,” which also means white water. The white settlers had also adopted the name White River. The name has stuck ever since.  So the name White River goes back at least hundreds if not thousands of years.

white-river
The name White River came from an American Indian term, “Niska,” which meant white water. The reference was to crystal clear water flowing over white rocks.

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