This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.
The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.
You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.
I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at: http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Beaver Lake - April 2010
This was a windy cruise on Beaver Lake! Yesterday afternoon, the forecast looked good for paddling, so I loaded up my kayak on the Honda Civic and planned to get an early start on one of the area lakes. Last night, though, it began raining, and this morning did not look very promising. As I left my home about 6:30 a.m., the rain had stopped and there was a hint of clearing in the western skies. So, off I went for my morning bagel, a mug of coffee, and 45 minutes to read my latest novel. I was underway and headed to Beaver Lake about 7:20 and arrived at the dock about 8:00 a.m. As usual, the lake was deserted.
The skies to the east were still overcast, but there was blue sky in the west. A stiff breeze was blowing out of the northwest, and the lake was covered with waves; there were white caps out on the more exposed areas. Conditions today reminded me of other times I’ve been out on this wide, open, and exposed prairie lake. The prevailing winds in this area are out of the west, and this lake does not have a sheltering depth of trees along the northern and western shores.
Beaver Lake is just on the outskirts of Humboldt, and Interstate 90 runs parallel to the shoreline. A small water tower on the southern edge of Humboldt is a good landmark to the access point. The road toward the lake runs alongside the school and the cemetery up to a bridge over the Interstate. There is no sign, of course, but there is a turn to the east (left) just before the bridge over the Interstate. The lake is down that road a mile or so and visible off to the north. There is a “public access” sign just before turning off the gravel road into a lake access site, complete with a dock and a ramp, a good parking area, and a vault toilet.
As I stood on the dock looking to my left toward the north, I saw row after row of waves rolling in toward the southeast. The temperature was about 50 degrees and there was a strong wind blowing. It was chilly enough for me to put on a light parka before heading out.
From the dock, a large island is situated about 200 yards off shore. The wind direction and strength meant that I would have to head across the wind through rolling waves to approach the irresistible island. There is something about islands that seems to lure paddlers toward them. In this case, I could see the sheltered waters in the lee of the island, and I wanted to cruise along the shore looking for wildlife and to observe the budding bushes and trees.
As I got into the waves heading toward the island, I began to feel some apprehension. The waves were breaking over the bow of the kayak, and I had to paddle with concentration to navigate these roiled waters. I thought about the consequences of capsizing the kayak that far from shore – alone on the lake in very cold water!
Still, I made it to the island and did cruise along the shoreline. While in the past I have seen egrets and great blue heron on the island, today I saw only clouds of blackbirds flying around the trees.
I headed around the southern end of the island and moved over to the southeastern shoreline. I was heading into the wind and waves on this part of the lake, but I just continued powering on until I could turn with the wind and head down into the eastern bay. After the turn, I was going with the wind, and the waves were not much of a problem. I wanted to locate a waterway that leads into the wetlands, a channel that I found last year. The landmark for the turn south into the waterway is an old windmill. There is a narrow passage through deep water and lots of old cattails and other aquatic vegetation that winds south to a large pond.
Along the passage, there are several beaver lodges, and I did see two beaver swimming along. One was swimming directly toward me, but by the time I fumbled my camera out with my cold hands, he had dived under the kayak. The water in the passage was calm, in contrast to the whitecaps out on the main body of the lake.
I cruised down the passage to a large pond that was filled with ducks and geese as well as several more beaver lodges. This is one of my favorite parts of the lake, and I very much enjoy cruising down this isolated passage looking at the wildlife and plants. The calm waters were also a relief after the rough time getting to the passageway.
On the way back to the dock, I had to move back into the wind-whipped waters, this time padding first right into the wind and then moving across the wind through the rollers again. Moving into the wind, I was reminded of the advice of my paddling pal Jarett Bies. The trick, he said, is in pushing the paddle rather than pulling it. Then I remembered also the advice of Pete Larson who taught me the importance of grasping the paddle toward the blades to get maximum power from the stroke. Using these lessons, I paddled into the stiff wind and through the waves back to the eastern shore and then around the southern end of the lake to the dock. By the time I got back, I had some water in the bottom of the kayak, my pants were soaked from the spray, and my glasses had become spotted from the water blowing in my face.
Again, I thought of how I prefer to paddle Beaver Lake when the water is warm and the wind is gentle. I guess that it is good to practice paddling in rough water, but the tranquility that I love about kayaking is a little more difficult to maintain in such conditions. Beaver Lake does not have high banks that tend to provide an area of shelter from the wind. Still, any day on the water is better than going to the gym!