Towering pines, maples, hickories, and sweet gums grow densely in the mountain ranges of southeastern Oklahoma. Rocky ravines cut deeply into the towering slopes, and twice each year, the hum of 4x4 rigs can be heard echoing across the landscape as four-wheelers come to challenge the variety of trails near Yanush and Clayton, Oklahoma.
For several years now, the Fort Worth Dallas Four Wheel Drive Club (FWD-FWD) has been hosting off-road events in this area, including the Oktober Trailfest and Memorial Day High Country Trail Ride. A year ago, however, corporate lumber conglomerates closed off access to some of the long-used 4x4 trails in the Kiamichi Mountains near Clayton. Expecting several hundred vehicles for the trail runs and slated to play host to the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association's quarterly business meeting at the fall event, FWD-FWD scrambled to find alternative four-wheeling opportunities.
Fortunately, the owner of a large parcel of land near Yanush agreed to allow FWD-FWD to develop an off-road park for the club's use. The location was along the western flanks of the Winding Stair mountain range, one of the sharply defined ridges that make up the Quachita Mountains. This range extends from eastern Oklahoma into western Arkansas. Quachita is the French derivative for the Choctaw Indian word that means good hunting grounds. Still a bit wild today, some folks claim to have seen a Bigfoot-like creature in the Quachitas. Two scientific expeditions using advanced infrared cameras and tracking equipment have not been able to prove the existence of any such creature.
The club went to work on the leased land and developed a number of routes to provide challenges for a wide variety of vehicles, from completely stock to radically built-up. The ravines and washes on the mountainside were made use of and now interconnect with several easy loop roads. The trails are rated by FWD-FWD on a scale of 2 (easy) to 6 (very hard), and the difficulty rises considerably when the trails are wet, with some of them becoming impassable.
The first day of Oktober Trailfest, we joined a group of Jeepers from Texas and Kansas to tackle a couple of the difficult 6-rated trails. The first one, known as TSOB, climbs a steep route littered with numerous boulders. Midway, the rocks and ledges become much larger and most of the vertically challenged 4x4s ran into trouble. At the upper end of TSOB lies the meanest obstacle on the trail, and only a couple in our group conquered it. Fortunately, there's a bypass. The obstacle is a very steep, very abrupt off-camber rock slab that is incredibly slick. Because of the angle of the surface, you are virtually guaranteed to slide into the rock wall at the right.
We continued on to Limp Pine, a 6-rated trail that climbs a steep ridge and loops back to the bottom. Many off-camber opportunities exist on this winding hill climb. The downhill section has a number of spooky drop-offs and tight off-camber squeezes past huge trees. A challenging option near the bottom follows along a dry watercourse packed with rock steps and boulders. Locked front and rear and equipped with a flexible suspension, our Jeep Cherokee XJ negotiated this section successfully. We found out later, however, that landing hard on a big rock somewhere along this stretch of trail bent the transfer-case shift linkage.
The following day, after a few repairs were completed, we returned to the off-road park to check out some of the moderately difficult trails. Skyline Drive was an easy 2-rated climb to the high point on this property. A tranquil pond lies at the top and was a wonderful spot for lunch. From there, we followed a group driving down the Lone Pine Trail. Although it's rated 4 when going uphill, the downhill portion is more moderate, with a few tight spots and some off-camber ledges.
Moderate Turtle Hump Trail (4-rated) seemed pretty tame compared with nearby TSOB, but a truck attempting to scale a steep, dry waterfall adjacent to the loop road provided ample evidence that it wasn't as easy as it looked. Someone in the crowed told us that this spot was known as Pucker Sluice. Not far from that point, another trail known as JoJo's Yo Yo (4-rated) is apparently a no man's land for fullsize 4x4s because of its many twists and tight turns among the trees as it winds back and forth on the hillside. JoJo's shares sections of John's Walk (6-rated), which offers up some serious ledges for the more radically inclined.
For information on the next Oktober Trailfest or Memorial Day High Country Trail Ride at Yanush and Clayton, Oklahoma, visit www.fwd-fwd.org. The Quachita Mountains have indeed been good hunting grounds for the Fort Worth Dallas Four Wheel Drive Club in its quest for new four-wheeling and challenging rock-crawling opportunities.