The Rock Crawlers 4WD Club has grown to more than 200 member families in Arkansas and surrounding states, even though the Forest Service has closed many of the most challenging trails traditionally enjoyed by local four-wheelers. Last year the lack of challenging trails for the 11th annual Roctoberfest led to a stronger partnership between the Rock Crawlers and the Byrd family.
Surrounded by the Ozark National Forest and the Ozark Highlands Hiking Trail, Byrd's Adventure Center has always served as base camp for Roctoberfest. It is nestled beside the Mulberry River on Forest Road 215 just six miles east of Highway 23, between Ozark and Fayetteville, and is popular with canoeists, kayakers, rockclimbers, and campers. However, Roctoberfest is the camp's biggest and most profitable event. So, rather than risk losing the four-wheelers altogether, the Byrds asked the Rock Crawlers to develop a series of looping trails on their spacious property.
Last year's event was so successful that the Adventure Center allowed the club to enhance the high-challenge course this year and develop a long hillclimb on another section of the property. The Rock Crawlers spent countless hours placing additional boulders in the rock pile, some weighing as much as 12 tons. The members also cut back brush on a previously clear-cut mountainside to create an awesome five-stage course, complete with diagonal rock ledges, tight turns, and old stumps.
On the last weekend in October, 200 trail rigs, 500 campers, and hundreds of daily On On the last weekend in October, 200 trail rigs, 500 campers, and hundreds of daily spectators gathered to watch the King of the Rocks Challenge. And for those less inclined to watch or participate in the competition, the club members also led hundreds of 4x4s on trail rides along the scenic and moderately challenging Forest Service trails that still remain open.
The Challenge began with an elimination round on Thursday morning. Each segment of the course was timed, and penalties were assessed for backing up, winching, scraping a tree, or touching a boundary ribbon. The course was laid out so the hundreds of spectators could have a good but safe view of the event.
The course started at the popular mini-Rubicon Rockgarden. For this year's event, the club lengthened the garden and placed a pair of huge boulders in the center of the course. The rocks claimed several axles, hubs, and driveshafts, and a backhoe had to lift several rigs off the rocks. But the new challenges met with overwhelming approval from the crowds and contestants alike. After lunch the competition moved into the Trenches, which is a pair of deep, S-shaped grooves, followed by the frame-twisting Dinosaur Tracks and the Grave a 3-foot-wide pit lined with stone slabs. The club provided an optional pair of railroad ties for contestants to use at their discretion, but using the ties cost them points.
Friday, the surviving rigs moved across the valley to the three lower sections of the new five-stage hillclimb. In addition to wet dirt and slick leaves, the climb included several rock ledges, logs laid across the trail, and tight turns between stumps.
Sam Patton of Sam's Off Road Equipment gave the most dramatic performance of the day in his CJ-7. In his typical competition style, Sam hammered it. When his front tires hit the first rock ledge, the Jeep launched vertically and spiraled 270 degrees clockwise before crashing to the ground. As soon as his co-driver and spotter, Mike Cox, ascertained that Sam was OK, he got busy winching the CJ back upright. Sam took a time penalty and completed the hillclimb. At the end, John Loyd of John's 4x4 was the point leader.
Saturday morning, in a steady rain, the 18 trucks that had survived the elimination rounds competed for 10 prizes and the title King of the Rocks. The finals started with a run of the Rockgarden in Reverse. Most of the teams that completed the elimination rounds looked good in the Reverse Rockgarden, with some 'crawling the course in less than a minute.
On Saturday afternoon, the competition returned to the Trenches, but the backhoe had added some surprises, which were underwater due to the rain.
In his red, stainless steel Scrangler, John Loyd was the first to run the Trenches. He was making good progress until he plowed into a berm at the end of the last turn. John tried to force his way through but only succeeded in twisting his front driveshaft. Then, while attempting to complete the course with his winch, he snapped the winch cable. The backhoe lifted the Scrangler off the course, and John took a penalty for failing to complete the section.
Travis Branch of Bonanza, Arkansas, made a very competitive run in his red Superlift 7 coil-conversion CJ. Unfortunately, as he raced through the mud to the last obstacle, he slid out of bounds, which cost him the race.
Because of the heavy rains and the concern for spectator safety, the planned grand finale course was not run in competition, but we look forward to seeing it next year. Again, no contestant completed the courses unscathed.
When the points were finally totaled, John Loyd of Billings, Missouri, took Third Place. Ed Hoffman of Cedarville, Arkansas, who came as an observer last year, went home, built a CJ-7, and came back strong this year, finishing in Second Place. And Sam Patton of Tulsa was awarded the title King of the Rocks.
Roctoberfest 2000 was another great success, both because of the great competition and because of the money it raised for local charities. In the end, the club was able to donate $2,500 to the Ozark Fire Department to help buy badly needed equipment. And, a few days after the event, they presented a check for $6,000 to the Northwest Arkansas Community College for the scholarship fund. The college president was later quoted in a local paper saying that the four-wheelers were "leading the way" in service organization contributions.