February 19, 2012 – Neill’s Bluff

It’s 7:55 AM as I pull up my pickup to the wide spot on Habberton Road near Neill’s Bluff.  The temperature is 37o F and cloudy.  But the wind is calm.  Calmness trumps temperature just about anytime.  A person can always dress for the cold.  There is nothing you can do about the wind.

Neill’s Bluff on Beaver Lake in mid-winter.

Neill’s Bluff on Beaver Lake in mid-winter.

Karst features including caves, solution channels and springs are present on many of Beaver Lake’s shorelines.

Upstream from Neill’s Bluff is shallow with numerous islands. Many are high enough to have permanent vegetation.

Cliff Swallows' nests.

Cliff Swallows' nests on Neill's Bluff.

It takes me about 5 minutes to unload the canoe and slide it down the steep bank. This spot is not really a put-in location. One advantage the canoe has over a larger boat is that it can be put-in just about anywhere. There are a couple of Canadian Geese flying overhead, and a murder of crows raising Cain someplace.

This put-in spot on Habberton Road is near where Neill’s Bluff Road used to cross the White River and go on to the east to the old Mountain Home School. According to the 1958 USGS topographic map, the old school was abandoned in 1932. Today, if you wanted to get to the old school, you would have to come in from Blue Springs Road on the other side of the lake. The area near the put-in is surprisingly rural considering it is only about five miles from downtown Springdale.

The water is green and murky.  Compared to my trip in January, it is murkier.  The tip of my paddle, which is about two feet deep at the deepest, is invisible.  I am heading uplake.  There is a low bluff on river right, my left, about a quarter of a mile away.  This bluff is not high, only about 20 feet above the water.  It is limestone and it displays lots of “karst” features.  Karst is a term used by geologists and hydrologists to describe a region with limestone bedrock that contains dissolution features.  In plain English that means the area has features such as caves, sinkholes, and springs that form where the limestone is dissolved by chemical reaction with water.  The term comes from a region in Serbia, the Dinaric Kars where karst features were first studied.  Karst is the Germanized form of the Serbian Kars.  So this bluff has lots of solution channels, caves and cracks.

My canoe glides on by the bluff.  The water is glassy smooth.  A bald eagle flies overhead.  He is the third eagle I have seen this week.  He checks me out, decides I am too big to eat and moves on.  The lake in this area is wide, but really shallow.  The river’s floodplain has been flooded, but just barely.  Everywhere there was a high point on the floodplain, there is now an island.  Some of these islands are high enough to have permanent grass and live trees. The islands are covered with dead trees.  Most of the trees fell and have stayed in place.  Others are flotsam that washed downstream during floods and gets hung up in the live trees on the islands. Birds seem to like the islands as they are abundant.

By 9 AM, the clouds have cleared out.  It is becoming pleasantly warm.  I pull off my parka and fleece vest.  The day is turning out nicely.  There is one more bluff upstream that I can see.  It is not a huge bluff, only a couple of hundred feet long and about 35 to 40 feet high.  It has lots of ledges.  Each ledge has accumulated enough soil to grow a bit of grass and trees.  It is now time to turn back.  I have moved upstream about 1 ¾ miles from my put-in.

Canoeing down lake seems easier today even though there is not wind.  I cover the entire 1 ¾ miles in about 35 minutes, close to walking speed.  But I still have time to observe a pileated woodpecker and two red headed woodpeckers.

Because of my quick return, I have time to explore Neill’s Bluff.  Neill’s is much larger than any bluff on the lake down to this point.  My estimate is that it is 75 feet high and several hundred feet long.  Several nice homes have been built at the crest of the hill above the bluff.  Unlike the other two bluffs that I have explored today, Neill’s Bluff does not have cracks and caves.  What it does have is overhangs.  On each overhang there is a colony of cliff swallows.  Cliff swallow nests are made of mud and look like gourds stuck to the cliff wall.  Evidently they sometimes build the nests too close to the water as some of the lower overhangs are full of nest markings, but no nests.

My time is now up.  It is 10:03 as I pull into the shore below my truck.  It takes about 5 minutes to load.  At 10:08 I am headed home.  I will be back at the house by 10:30.  It has been a fine and pleasant morning.

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