Some time in early May, we received an e-mail from Jason "Yoda" Coleman, vice president of Jeeps of North Texas (JNT), asking if we wanted to cover the club's first annual off-road event. Well, being the avid off-road enthusiasts that we are, we immediately jumped at the opportunity to go 'wheeling. When Jason told us the name for the event was initially a toss up between "JNT's What the Hell are We Thinking Holding it in August event" and "JNT's Sweat Fest," we reneged and told him we would get back to him the next day to let him know if we could make it.
For anyone who has not been to Barnwell Mountain in August, you should know it can get a little hot and dusty. An August event in Texas? Right. Well, insanity won out over reason and we said we would go.
Jeeps of North Texas is a family oriented, Dallas/Fort Worth-based club made up entirely of Jeep owners, and it has been in existence since August 1997. Originally started by a few local Jeepers, JNT's membership has grown to more than 200, and it continues to grow monthly. Consequently, its lay to claim is the title of Texas' largest Jeep-only club. It has become an active part of the community, taking over 4 miles of Adopt-A-Highway cleanup, parades, food drives, show 'n' shines, truck and tractor pulls, and anything else it can get involved in. Also, JNT is an active member of other off-road and land associations.
Jeeps of North Texas' club philosophy is to offer its members a variety of events to participate in, ranging from mild to extreme off-roading, and catering to all Jeeps, from stock to highly modified. It believes in keeping a family atmosphere and making the Jeeping experience fun for all those involved. We rolled into Barnwell Mountain recreation area, located just outside of Gilmer Texas, on the 16th of August for JNT's inaugural "Lone Star Trail Fest" with our windshield wipers going as a rare August cold front was moving through the area. You couldn't order better weather for an August event in Texas. The rains moved through quickly, soaking the ground just enough to keep the dust down and the air temperature a little below scorching.
Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area is comprised of 1,800-plus acres of land purchased by the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition (TMTC) for off-road enjoyment. It is located approximately 5 miles east of Gilmer. It offers more than 40 maintained trails ranging from two to four in difficulty on a scale of five (five on some trials if it rains) and all trails are posted as to difficulty for OHVs, ATVs, and motorcycles. It is one of the premiere 'wheeling areas in north Texas.
You can find more information on Barnwell at www.texasmotorizedtrails.com. We arrived in the early part of the afternoon when some of the participants were coming in from early runs with some awesome reports. We could hardly wait to get our Bronco (it was an open 4x4 event) unloaded and head for the trails. We made our way to the registration tent to get out of the rain and were greeted by Benny Rice, the treasurer of the club. She and her husband George did a fantastic job organizing and registering more than 130 vehicles and more than 200 people.
Now we were ready for the first evening run on the mountain. We headed for a trail named Whatever.
We have been to Barnwell before but were not familiar with this trail. When we asked what it was like, words like "steroids" were used to describe it. So, off we went. As we made our way through the trail, we were amazed by how hard it was to keep all four tires on the ground. Kenny Bedenbough, in his '97 Cherokee XJ, and Damon Cooper, in his '02 Wrangler TJ Sport, showed some nice flex, but they were still unable to avoid getting some air. This was definitely a fun trail to start with.
Soon after the sun went down, we went to meet the other Jeepers who had signed up for the night run. As we barreled down the road that leads into the camp, we came around the last corner to find more than 100 lights staring us down -- we were going the wrong way. We had no idea so many vehicles would be waiting.
After getting turned around and getting the mass of Jeeps organized, we hit the trails. It was a late night of trail riding and then off to the hotel for some much needed rest.
Saturday morning arrived much too early, but we got there to see the trail organizers getting things lined up. This was no small task for 130 vehicles, but it was done efficiently and quickly. We were very impressed with the setup. One of the great things about Barnwell Mountain is the diversity of trails. There is something for every level of experience. With names like Spider Ravine, Venom Loop, and Fun Country, you know you're in for a good time.
The event included more than just the trial rides, though. Saturday afternoon was reserved for the rock garden challenge, a 300-400-feet-long rock trail that requires some pretty good driving skills to navigate. Well, Chris Graves of Unique Concepts won the event by running the length of it in 58 seconds. We have never seen a Jeep bounce around from rock to rock like that before and probably won't again. It was, as one person put it, "A wild haired, mashed skinny pedal run." Of course an RTI ramp was present, too. Chris Graves took this event, too, with a whopping 112 degrees forward on the 30-degree ramp. After the rock garden challenge, it was off to eat and win prizes. Big Dave's Chuck Wagon provided dinner for more than 200 people.
It was definitely in the tradition of a true Texas BBQ. After dinner, there were 114 prizes to raffle off from event sponsors such as AFM Enterprises, Tennessee Off Road, and 4WheelParts Wholesalers. Clown Co. (Mike McWhorter, a JNT member) provided koozie art and printing, and Henry and Bev Sermersheim donated a winch for the raffle. The local Gilmer volunteer fire department will be the recipient of a portion of the money collected from the raffle to help purchase needed fire-fighting equipment.
The following morning we headed for Twister, the location of the highly anticipated powderpuff run. Not coincidentally, one staffer's wife was going to be a participant. Surrounded by Jeeps of all sorts, she drove admirably in "her" Bronco. In fact, she won the event. It was understandably difficult for the Jeep club to give out a prize to a Bronco owner, but in the end, it had the last laugh. The prize was a T-shirt that read, "It's a Jeep thing. You wouldn't understand."
All in all, the entire event was a great success and very well organized, especially for a first attempt. If we are fortunate enough to be invited again next year, we believe we will have to accept, August or not.