By Dave Woods
The Joplin Globe
BRANSON Mo. —
It was a weekend of firsts for me. I headed to Branson last Friday for a Memorial Day excursion out in the Ozarks and checked in on a few outdoor attractions.
I usually spend my Branson weekends camped in a theater seat, checking out traditional music and comedy shows. I love them, but sometimes I want a change of pace, a little diversion and the opportunity for a quick sunburn.
I avoided the Strip on this trip. I scheduled an all-terrain vehicle tour of a Taney County ranch north of Branson and an afternoon kayaking on Table Rock Lake.
At Triple-G ATV Rides, around 10 miles north of Branson on Highway 176 in Walnut Shade, owner Doug Gaar took me on a guided tour of his family’s 400-acre, cow-calf, horse and hay operation.
Down on Table Rock, I set up a floating lake adventure with Kayak Branson. Both sounded fun.
I had never dipped more than a toe into Table Rock or Taneycomo and had never been on a four-wheeler. I did have a Big Wheel as a kid. At Triple-G, Doug operates Polaris, Yamaha and Kawasaki quads. (That’s ATV talk for four-wheeler).
“It’s just plain fun driving ATVs,” Doug said following our outing. “People that are attracted to the zip lines or kayaking or bicycling trails really enjoy this. We customize the rides to whatever experience level our riders are. We take beginners who have never been on ATVs and we have rides for experienced people.”
Color me inexperienced. The trail rides lasted two hours, including an ATV safety session.
Doug said that Triple-G’s seven-mile course offers something for every rider. On my trek I spotted deer, vultures, hawks, turkeys and big box turtles.
“Everyone tells us that they love the trail,” he said. “It’s the beauty of the terrain and the nature. We see wild life fairly often and that’s refreshing.”
Doug said he and his family have taken great care to preserve the landscape. The trail follows cow runs, Bull Creek and the old Harrison, Ark., to Springfield stagecoach line. The trail crawls up and down steep and rocky terrain, crosses wet and dry creek beds, fields of tall hay and Ozarks forest.
“It is definitely natural,” Doug said. “We didn’t take down any large trees. We just cut the trail through the natural terrain. You get a feel for what the Ozarks was like a hundred years ago.”
I don’t think my ATV driving skills embarrassed my family or the Globe. It was an adventure I’ll repeat, and best of all, no bones broken.
Over on Table Rock Lake, Carla Wright, owner of Kayak Branson, a lake float outfitter, knows why interest in kayaking is growing. Carla and her husband, Rodney, have been in the kayak business for more than six years. In that time, the couple has seen the interest in kayaking explode.
“It’s the beauty of being outside and enjoying the fishing or having a picnic,” she said after my float. “It’s a family thing. All ages do it. It’s a very relaxing thing to do. If you want to be alone it’s fun to be on the water. It’s comforting to be alone with your thoughts.”
Kayak Branson offers kayak and paddleboard floats for individuals or groups on Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes. I opted for a quick float on Table Rock and we headed to the state park to put in.
My excursion was unguided and I was a little cautious. Carla assured me they hadn’t lost anyone.
I slid my kayak into the lake and paddled out into the waves. In retrospect, I suspect it was a little too far out in the lake for a beginner.
Kayaking is a solid workout. After 30 minutes paddling around the cove, I was spent.
I slowly paddled back to shore, packed up and turned in my life jacket. It was a great experience. Scratch that one off the bucket list.