Tall and majestic bluffs are treasured sights to behold at Beaver Lake. Long ago, settlers believed treasure was buried along these rocky cliffs.
Explorers today can see evidence of digging, plus remnants of a mine, along Salts Bluff. The cliff towers some 100 feet above the lake between Rocky Branch and Lost Bridge South parks. Boaters can't miss it, immediately east of the large Point 5 sign on the shore.
The pits and mine remains are on public Corps of Engineers land so it's open for visitors to see. That is, if they have what it takes to get there. It's a rugged, slippery and difficult bushwhack along the bluff face. Adventurers must truly want to explore Salts Bluff to make the trek.
First, it takes a boat to get there. Second, there's no beach or place to tie up along the bank. A small gap is situated between Salts Bluff and the next bluff to the east where it's possible to tie a line to a log or rock on shore. The gap is strewn with large boulders and gnarly timber, but offers a steep, tough climb to the face of Salts Bluff.
This is no place to tie up a nice new boat. Any vessel is going to get scratched tied to this rocky place. Yet that's where two bluff visitors tied up an already-scratched aluminum boat to explore this landmark bluff.
One of the pair was Alan Bland, a retired Army Corps of Engineers ranger who worked at Beaver Lake for decades. He's paid many a visit to Salts Bluff and has knocked around nearly every bluff on the reservoir.
Bland led the climb to a level dirt shelf that extends along the belly of the bluff, beneath the top. It's tough going, but only for a couple hundred yards, with fallen trees and briars to hike around or through.
Steady going reveals signs of digging along the way. Pits of various size are evident. At one spot, weathered timbers and a mine shaft or tunnel opening are seen.
"Rumor was 150 or 200 years ago that there was Spanish treasure buried under the shale along this bluff. People thought if they dug beneath the shale they'd find Spanish treasure, but alas, there was no treasure," Bland said.
Some 100 years ago, Bland continued, Mark R. Harrington began exploring bluffs along the White River and other bluffs in the Ozarks. He searched for artifacts of Native American "bluff dwellers" who took shelter and lived beneath rocky overhangs. Years after his travels, the book "The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers" was published in 1960 as a collection of his field notes.
Bland owns a copy of the book. In the chapter about Salts Bluff, Harrington notes that he found corn cobs, basket remnants, pieces of pottery and the bones of food animals and human bones "all more or less gnawed by rodents." Bland isn't positive, but thinks Harrington's collection is in a New York City museum.
The bluff is named for a white salt-like substance found along its face that some believed had medicinal value, Harrington writes.
These scenic cliffs are plentiful from the headwaters of Beaver Lake to the dam. They dazzle the eye today, but to Native American bluff dwellers they were home, sweet home.