When it was over, I was physically drained in a way I hadn’t been in a long, long time.

I was soaked to the bone, a bit groggy, and many of the muscles ached inside my aging body. As I trudged back to the vehicle, each step required my full attention.

But it was worth it. The eight-mile, five-hour kayak trip down the Big Piney River that me, my wife, Wendy, our youngest daughter, Claudia, and our adventurous Welsh Corgi, Gertie (the Permapup) had completed last Sunday was an experience that will leave a lasting impression on all of us.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

We arrived at Boiling Springs resort (west of Licking) before noon, and were soon being shuttled upstream in a pickup truck with a trio of kayaks in its bed. Before long, we were dropped off at Sand Shoals, with many miles of Big Piney current between us and the boat ramp located a few yards from where we had parked.

The conditions for our trek were ideal – temperatures were in the high 70s, and the river was running at a perfect level with water that had spent a few months warming up to just the right point since winter left the region.

Moments after we all put in, Gertie and I realized we were in for a challenge. Our kayaks were the kind where you more-or-less sit on top, and our combined volume (especially mine) made us a bit top-heavy.

Over the course of the first couple of miles, Wendy counted seven times that me and the dog went overboard. Each time, I laughed and either stood up if the river was shallow enough or made may way to the nearest piece of shoreline that appeared to offer space to get back in. Gertie always followed and eagerly got back on board.

Every time we dunked, I was sure we were getting closer to staying topside. And ultimately, we learned how to balance (with Gertie staying put near the center of the boat, nestled instinctively between my outstretched legs) and went in only one more time the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Wendy went in only once and Claudia stayed afloat the whole dang way.

As we cruised downstream, the sights and sounds never ceased to be downright captivating. As we paddled through many calm stretches and numerous sections of relatively merciful rapids, we passed numerous large bluffs (some of which hung right out over the Big Piney) and traveled through what at times looked (and felt) like Amazon jungle, with deep, lush forest featuring dozens of species of trees, some draped with big vines. All the while, a talented assembly of animals and birds provided a soundtrack perfectly suited for any jungle-themed setting.

At one point, an unseen squirrel or bird was chattering from the trees in such a way that it seemed like monkeys might suddenly appear on the branches.

Claudia even said, “it’s like we’re going through the jungle.”

Being fans of all types of turtles, we enjoyed observing them along the way. Large logs on the shoreline or sticking up from the depths almost always hosted a perching red-ear slider or two, and we twice saw one of those oddly flat softshell versions slink into the river off of flat rocks at water’s edge.

At about the six-mile mark, I was pleasantly surprised when a baby softshell spent a few minutes being a passenger in my boat. The kayaks we were aboard were the kind designed with a couple of holes in the bottom, which allows some water to freely come and go from the craft.

I figure my little aquatic reptilian buddy came and went the same way (although the coming part was probably not done as freely as the going).

Naturally, we did stop about halfway for lunch on a gravel bar. We also saw a group of young men and women in canoes doing a little fishing. When we went past them in McKinney Eddy, a guy in one of the canoes said they had done pretty well and the goggle-eyes were biting.

When we were putting in, our driver, Rob, had advised us that when we were several hours downstream and saw a big overhanging bluff with a large cedar growing right out of its top, were about a mile from the end. When we saw that natural feature, it was like we had been refueled.

Then when we saw the boat ramp and the canoeists unloading there, I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment. I could tell Gertie did, too.

Then came the realization that my frame isn’t really designed to be in that position for so long, and the subsequent hardship of getting back to our vehicle. But I can’t say it wasn’t worthwhile.

It just comes with the territory if you want to be an infrequent – but intrepid – Ozarks river trekker.

Whew. It was fun seeing Gertie out cold in the back seat on the way home. Kind of made me feel like something “big” had just happened.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.


You’ll probably never find the place, because it’s in the middle of nowhere, 35 miles from somewhere, and a good eight miles off the nearest paved road.

The only way to reach it is by spending the final mile or two negotiating a barely discernable strip of road covered by a deep layer of leaves that winds tightly between the trunks of tall trees and shrubs, and is far too narrow for a big SUV or pickup.

But if you ever had the chance to witness the breathtaking view of the many huge bluffs, miles and miles of forest and dozens of mountain-like hills adjacent to this incredibly unique piece of real estate in southern Phelps County, your jaw would drop and your voice would involuntarily utter a quiet, “wow.”

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

I know, because I did, and mine did.

Lifelong Texas County resident Joe Richardson bought the 40-acre tract about 25 years ago after coming to realize it was one of the most beautiful and picturesque places he had ever seen.

And for good reason. Perched atop a nearly vertical incline well over 300 feet above the Big Piney River, and surrounded on virtually all sides by hundreds of square miles of pristine, undisturbed Mark Twain National Forest wilderness, the strategically located spot is pretty much one of a kind.

Standing next to the “Turkey Track Lodge,” an unassuming shack Old Joe put on the property for the purpose of having a place to eat and sleep on hunting outings, it’s impossible to not be in awe of the natural wonder that lies before you. I would compare it to scenes I’ve witnessed in the Great Smoky Mountains region, and other parts of the North Carolina high country.

Obviously, the elevation of the landscape isn’t of the same magnitude, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the same kind of example of God’s immense handiwork, just on a slightly smaller scale.

Richardson says that more than one United States Forest Service employee who has seen the Turkey Track view has told him it’s the most beautiful panorama they know of. I know he’s not exaggerating.

It’s crazy pretty, and I’m so glad to live in a place that’s in close proximity to such natural wonders.

I don’t regret in the least that Joe and I went out there on that one-day winter we had last week, when the temperature never got above 40 and rain drizzled down the whole dang day. But I want to go back someday when the temperature is warmer, so I can just sit down on the pine straw carpet provided by numerous native shortleaf pines and enjoy the grandeur without being concerned with hypothermia.

I want to watch a hawk glide by without having to flap its wings for five minutes. I want to see a deer walk along the edge of the precipice, looking for succulent acorns.

And I want to hear the breeze blow through the trees along the edge of the bluffs.

There are great views and there are greater views. There are great feelings spurred by those views and there are greater feelings.

I’ve seen many a big view in my time, and few have been more profoundly captivating and produced stronger feelings than the one from the Turkey Track Lodge. With the gleaming waters of the Big Piney twisting through the valley hundreds of feet below, with ancient rock walls lining the river’s path in almost every direction, with winged carnivores majestically soaring by like participants in a natural air show, and with numerous species of trees adding the finishing touches, this stunningly beautiful Ozarks scene earns the “greater” label, hands down.

Thank you Lord.

Some photos and a short video of the view are posted on the Herald website, www.houstonherald.com. They don’t really do justice to the real thing, but they offer a glimpse.

Oh, by the way, one needs to act with care when standing beside the Turkey Track Lodge. The edge of the cliff is close by, and it’s a long way to the bottom.

There’s an old saying a co-worker recently reminded me of: It’s not the fall, it’s the sudden stop.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.