Summer weather is undeniably here. We’ve had heat advisories the last several days as temperatures remind me of my elementary school days (which is to say, “in the mid-90’s”) and humidity thickens to the point that just stepping outside results in a fine sheen of sticky sweat. It’s kind of terrible, but a sick part of me loves it.
My allergy congestion cleared up in time for the three-day (or so) getaway that Kalen and I had planned to celebrate our anniversary. I’m pretty skittish about planning vacations since our big trip to London and Paris, scheduled for April 2020, was abruptly and thoroughly aborted. We tried rescheduling it several times, but still haven’t felt safe making international plans, and getting my travel hopes dashed like that is something I haven’t quite recovered from.
All the same, we still wanted to get away and celebrate, even for just a few days. My parents generously offered to watch Pippin, and Kalen and I booked a fantastic little AirBnB on Beaver Lake in Arkansas.
Neither of us had much experience with Arkansas, but quite a few of our friends and acquaintances travel there frequently, especially for outdoorsy activities and speak highly of it.
We searched for places to stay near lakes and rivers that looked promising for using our paddleboards. Airbnb had quite a few options in varying levels of luxury, but we eventually found one that was adorable and near the water, Lakeview Haven. It also specifically mentioned that the area was good for kayaking, and I’m finding that there’s a decent amount of overlap between kayaking and paddleboarding, especially when it comes to casual, recreational pursuits.
My initial research said that Beaver Lake is the most popular lake in Arkansas, which made me fear that we had made a mistake with our booking. The “most popular lake” gave me visions of Lake of the Ozarks, with choppy waters, large, noisy speed boats, and e. coli. Not ideal for novice paddleboarders. But I also found a business that specializes in paddleboarding with lessons and tours and rentals, and even though we didn’t do anything with that business, it seemed like a good indication that we might be okay. And the cabin was at the far southern end of the lake, seemingly farther away from the more developed and touristy areas, so we stuck to the plan.
The cabin itself was a darling A-frame with a wraparound porch built onto a rather steep hill above the lake. I can’t recommend it enough. It was clean and bright, and just the right balance of spacious and cozy with a stunning view. (To view the listing and book a stay yourself, click here!) We took along some food to prepare, but got carryout a couple of times as well. Some people might balk at a 20 minute drive to pick up a pizza, but I grew up out in the country and this doesn’t bother me in the least, especially when we aren’t on any kind of schedule.
Northwest Arkansas had not escaped the rainy spring that so much of Missouri had experienced, and even though we had never been there before, we could tell the lake was high. We aren’t super sleuths or anything, but green treetops in the water is a dead giveaway.
If Arkansas license plates are to be believed, it is “the natural state,” and indeed, the lake, aside from being man-made, was otherwise pretty natural. We saw lots of fish, including two gar. Most of the fish we saw were swimming or jumping out of the water, and I didn’t get pictures of them because I am not that fast.
I didn’t get pictures of the gar because, although they were floating– no that sounds like they were belly up; hovering? No, that sounds like they were in the air. Anyway, these fish were in the water, maintaining position a few inches below the surface. Whatever you want to call that. They should have been easy to photograph, but I didn’t even try because, although they were about a foot long each, which is not huge as far as gar are concerned, I didn’t want to take any chance of falling in and tempting them to eat my toes. Here is a stock photo, though, for those who think my fear is ridiculously unjustified.
Okay, the stock photos that WordPress offers only have that one picture of a gar, which is a very good picture, and is very accurate to the ones we saw, but doesn’t show why I feared for my toes, so let me Google that for you.
I don’t have thalassophobia, but knowing those teeth could be in the depths makes it seem a very reasonable and rational fear.
Most of the fish were not that scary; minnows and perch and bass. We also saw lots of herons and swallows and vultures, a couple turtles, and several deer in the wooded surroundings.
One impressive bluff had trumpet vine (and something else as well) growing on it, no doubt sustained by the trickle of water dribbling down the rock face. As if the vines and trickling water didn’t seem magical enough, a hummingbird was flying around, chirruping and buzzing like the fantastic little maniacs they are. (Don’t believe that ‘silent ballet’ bullshit you hear. They are noisy and feisty, and it doesn’t make me love them any less, but you should know that ‘peaceful’ is not a good descriptor for hummingbirds.)
When we were actually on the lake, I was shocked at how little water traffic there was. Almost all of the human noise and boats we encountered came from a summer camp of some kind taking place across the water from our cabin. We couldn’t hear them inside the cabin but we could hear them as we paddled, and around midday they would take campers out tubing. At least, we assumed that the kids in the inner tubes were campers, because neither Kalen nor I had ever before encountered people in an inner tube wearing helmets, which seems very much like a safety and liability thing that a camp would have to enforce.
I don’t know what kind of camp it was, but it seems safe to assume that it was not like my camp experience. There was a lot of shouting and whistles, and sometimes that odd roar of a very large crowd all cheering. Something about the acoustics meant that most of the voices that carried were male voices, and I don’t know if it was an all boys camp, or if female voices were just the wrong frequency to bounce out to the water, but something about the shouting put me in mind of Lord of the Flies. Other times, the large cheers and shrill whistles had me thinking of the Hunger Games. I wondered if I was being a little grim, but the buzzards hanging out on the camp’s shoreline told me everything was fine, get a move on, there was nothing to see here.
We paddled for about three hours each on both Monday and Tuesday morning, and we are definitely seeing improvement in our skills as neither of us fell in this time. Monday was quite a bit warmer, but Tuesday had more wind, and both days we felt like we got quite the workout. We both have Apple watches and ran paddling workouts while we were out and about. I’m not sure I burned quite as many calories as my watch thinks I did, but it’s nice having some statistics. If anyone from Apple sees this, you should add GPS tracking to the paddling workout, like the outdoor walks, runs, hikes, and bicycling have. I know a lot of other workouts happen in one place and don’t really get much distance, but I’d like to know how far I paddled. As it is, I only get a GPS marker for where I started the workout, which isn’t particularly helpful. It makes sense for workouts like strength training or an indoor run, which aren’t going to travel beyond a specific location, but even as a beginner, I have a hard time imagining an activity that qualifies as paddling (kayak, canoe, paddle board?) that isn’t actually moving over a distance (and for anyone arguing about rowing on a rowing machine, there is a separate workout type for that). So think about it, Apple. I’m sure others would like that feature, too.
Beaver Lake seemed to be rockier than Truman, and as a result, the water was clearer, even with flood conditions, and we tried getting some underwater video as we paddled. Not very much of it was interesting, but I did give myself a scare when I was rewatching and floated past a sunken log. Nothing popped out of the log or anything, it just took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t a monster. Maybe I have a little thalassophobia.
After we finished paddleboarding on Tuesday and got all cleaned up, we explored the nearby area and found War Eagle Mill. I need to do more research about the mill itself as it looks like it has some pretty cool history. We got there shortly before they closed, however, and I think we missed out on a bit. From what I gathered, though, it is an actual, functioning grist mill, with a river-powered water wheel. In the shop, you can see some of the mill equipment, and while I didn’t get details on all the intricacies of the machinery, I did buy some cornmeal that they had ground, and captured this video of the belt and water wheel moving in time.
We purchased a couple of sodas from the gift shop (which also had old-timey toys, games, and candy, as well as some very tempting kitchen gadgets if, like me, you enjoy baking). If we had timed our visit better, I would have liked to try their cafe. I don’t think it was actually called The Bean Palace, but I took a picture of the sign because I do love beans.
We looked at the river and the bridge and the wheel as we sipped our sodas and watched the fish jump out of the water until I could no longer tolerate the sweat trickling down my back to my butt crack. The whole thing is probably more enjoyable when it’s not 94 degrees outside, but it was pretty good even then, so if you’re in the area, you should check it out.
We had a fantastic time at Beaver Lake. Paddling around was the perfect blend of exploring and relaxing, and the cabin was a lovely little hideaway. The area was beautiful and we feel so refreshed. Thanks for going on adventures with me, Kalen. Let’s go on many more!