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
Friday, September 03, 2010
Beaver Lake - September 2010
About twice a year I head west out of Sioux Falls on Interstate 90 to visit Beaver Lake, located just on the edge of Humboldt, SD. My last visit there was in April, and the landscape was just “greening up” after a long winter. This morning I made my “bookend” visit to the lake – spring to see the arrival of the season and fall to see summer disappearing. After my customary morning stop at the local bagel spot for coffee, a bagel, and an hour with my novel, I departed Sioux Falls as the sun was coming up on a brisk 50-degree day. By 7:45 a.m., I was at the “put-in.” This was the first day since April that I wondered whether a jacket would be needed.
The forecast for the day spoke of “breezy” conditions, and that seemed okay; after all, a calm day in South Dakota is rare. As I drove west with my kayak atop the car, however, I saw the battery level for my hybrid Honda Civic dropping down to a single bar; without “electric assist,” the maximum speed for the car dropped to about 55 mph. Headwinds out of the west caused a depletion of battery power, and that was my first tip-off to probable wind conditions on Beaver Lake.
When I arrived at the lake, I saw that the wind was whipping down the length of the lake from west to east. Beaver Lake is 300 acres in surface area (more than three times the size of Lake Alvin) with large open space along the west to east axis. There is little cover on the western shore to break the wind, so it tends to generate significant wave action, especially on that west to east axis. The waves in the open part of the lake today were one to two feet from trough to breaking tops with whitecaps.
As usual, though, there was enough variance in the shoreline to provide areas of sheltered water, some areas of light wave action, and also areas of heavy waves that can create apprehension for the solo paddler.
I seem drawn to the large wooded island located about 300 yards out from the public access point on the southern shore. That channel between the mainland and the island is the first area of concern for a paddler on a windy day: the wind seems always to come out of the west on my visits to the island. The eastern and northern shores of the island are home to a variety of bird life and are also generally sheltered from prevailing winds. The island, therefore, is irresistible to most paddlers.
As I approached the island, bobbing about in the waves, I saw four egrets slipping away from me. They flew off to the north, but I knew that I would encounter them again.
Moving away from the lee of the island, I was once more into heavy wave action, and I struggled across the wind to the northern shore and then turned west into the wind as I headed to the northern bay and the entrance into a wetlands area.
This wetlands area is my favorite part of the lake. My landmark, as usual, was an old windmill along the eastern side of this northern bay of the lake. I slipped through the channel and moved east down a waterway through the aquatic growth and beaver lodges.
The elusive egrets from the island had joined a large flock of egrets within the wetlands; there were more than a dozen of them along the shoreline or perched in trees. Slowly, I approached the flock with my camera ready and managed to capture several photos before they all departed.
As I left the wetlands and headed back into the main body of the lake, the heavy wave action began again. Water was breaking over the bow of my kayak, and I had to concentrate upon my steering and paddling until I reached the eastern shore. From there, the waves seemed to decrease, probably because of the lee created by the island, and I cruised along the eastern and southern shore of the lake in much smoother water.
As I was finishing my cruise, a Cadillac SUV pulling a nice boat entered the access area, and two older gents got ready to go fishing. I had to wait for them to finish at the dock, so I continued west around the southern end of the lake. Ready to harness the wind, I took out my big golf umbrella and sailed back down the lake along the southern shore. There was a great tail wind, so I just hung onto the umbrella and went “flying” back, creating a nice wake while steering with my foot-operated rudder. There was an element of “showing off” to the fishermen as I raced past them.
So, this was a good cruise. I really prefer calmer waters so that I can concentrate upon the landscape and search for wildlife, but there is also exhilaration in moving through the waves and wind.
My hands were actually cold today, even with the muscle movement involved in paddling. The signs of a change in seasons are apparent. Fall is approaching, and fall in South Dakota is really the beginning of winter.
As always, if you are interested in earlier narratives of visits to Beaver Lake, please check the index on the right side of the page under the name of the lake.