Over Easter weekend our, for lack of a better term, Adventure Group, set off to complete the eastern half of the appropriately named “Oklahoma Adventure Trail.” It was to be 900ish miles overlanding though rural Oklahoma, seeing the sights along the way. No! Keep reading! Don’t scroll past!
Ugh, I don’t think they’re coming back. Well for the two of you that are left (Hi Mom!) we did the west half over New Years and it was a blast! So much of Oklahoma is wild, beautiful, and barely inhabited.
We knew the east half was going to be much different as it shares more in common with Arkansas than New Mexico/ Texas panhandle. We were particularly looking forward to the Kiamichi Trail (or K-Trail, for short) which promised to be some seriously challenging off-roading.
The cast of characters was the usual: George his Jeep Renegade, Taylor in his Nissan Xterra, and me, “Akio”, in my recently resurrected Land Rover Discovery. Taylor’s partner Charlie also joined as a ride-along.
(PS I try not to mix the term “overlanding” and “off-roading” but expect me to slip... frequently.)
Day 0 – Tulsa to Turner Falls (Davis, OK)
Day 0 was our usual highway munch. Hit the turnpike and queue the tunes.
Fortunately, despite setting off around 7PM we didn’t encounter any problems or errant wildlife and hit the cabin around 9PM. I also managed to not expose Taylor’s Secret XTerra to Charlie, who was riding with me in the Disco.
The cabin was as we remembered: small, odd, and full of bugs. At least the creek was full and the weather was tolerable.
Day 1 – Turner to Hugo
I’m just going to say it now: this day was boring. Like… read the parts about exchanging presents and then move on to Day 2. Or get yourself another cup of coffee.
In Top Gear style, we bought “presents” for each other.
As previously mentioned, I bought the Renegade some googly eyes… because how could I not?
I’d originally purchased the XTerra a pack of OEM “4X4 OFFROAD” stickers because… originally… the XTerra was 2WD. Now that I was contending with the secret XTerra I figured I had three angles of attack: cheerleader/ soccer mom, JDM bro, or truck bro. I opted for the first two, if only because I had a hard time finding truck nuts on short notice.
George bought the XTerra crew custom made Bunson and Beaker hats, but Etsy being Etsy they didn’t arrive until after the trip. He bought the Disco a bunch of inclinometers because tippy. They are actually very nice.
The rest of the day
Was, sadly, boring. We pretty much just drove around on backroads and got held up by oilfield traffic. And a school bus.
Also apparently all dogs in Oklahoma are suicidal and kept attacking/ darting out in front of our cars. Those owners can go to hell and I would like to have a strong word with the doggos themselves.
Luckily we made it through with no pupper murder on our consciences.
We did stop at a cool old fort.
And a cool old bridge.
And a really nifty lake.
But then we were at the casino, our overnight halt… which was a thing.
Day 2 – Hugo to Mena
Arlight. The trip isn’t off to a terrific start, but on the bright side there was nothing under the Land Rover in the morning. So either it is out of fluids or isn’t leaking….
I guess I should fill it up.
Day was immediately more promising, thankfully. After a short highway jaunt, we were suddenly on logging roads. Not exactly the Pan America Highway, but we’ll take it. We even got to do a water crossing!
We also found a creepy rock. There was a lot of creepy shit in this area.
That said, the logging roads were smooth and unbelievably pretty. Who knew you could find forests like this in Oklahoma!
The roads were fun, but relatively unremarkable.
Towards the end of the day we hit the Three Sticks Monument. I… uhh… it was some metal sticks. In the ground. Commemorating [mumble mumble mumble]. I’m sure it meant something but I mostly just had to pee.
Ok yes, this guy has a good write up. Apparently it has something to do with malicious logging pratices and JFK showing up to commemorate the opening of a new highway.
After the monument we hit the trail. The Kiamichi Trail, in specific.
For about 500 feet.
Then we diverted to County Road D4697. I’m going to guess it has a fancy name, but for us it was just a really cool taste of what was to come tomorrow, when we return to do a large section of the K-Trail.
D4697 was challenging, but not overly difficult… until we came across a downed tree. At first we though we’d tow it out of the way. Then we thought we’d go around. Then we thought we’d do both.
Being the narrowest, the Renegade offered to go first and get the tree out of the way for the Xterra and Disco.
This did not go well.
Unfortunately, between too many cooks in the kitchen (too many spotters, no clear lead), a very loose very large rock, and a slightly saggy Toaster… While attempting to go over a rock, it kicked and lightly damaged the Renegade’s rear bumper cover and the rear skid plate. Not too terrible, but it did cause a lot of adjoining panels to pop out, because 2016.
Afterwards, we decided to go ahead and move the offending rocks. So much for leave no trace…
The rest of the trail was fun, challenging, and an excellent warm up for...
Day 3 – Kiamichi Trail
Well… first off we woke up in a cabin full of ghosts. I wish I had taken more pictures, but it was weird. If nothing else it had two binders of conspiracy theories, courtesy of the owners.
Shortly after pulling out (heyo) we were got onto the network of trails that crisscross the Ouachita National Forest.
Again, nothing really to speak of in specific but the roads were fun, challenging, and surprisingly pretty. Low range and traction control got a good workout, though I didn’t feel the need to lock the center diff at any point.
The recent rains in the area created a lot of scrary washout. No challenge for our three amigos.
After a long drive we reached the Three Sticks Monument and shortly thereafter got our first taste of the Kiamichi Trail!
No…. that isn’t deja vu. Day 2 through day 4 we were in the same 50 mile area and, indeed, ended up a Three Sticks again. This time, however, instead of taking the D4697 we continued up the Kiamichi towards the Fire Tower.
It was a hell of a thing.
Lots of rocks.
And much payoff.
The goal of the drive was the fire tower, which is exactly what it sounds like.
I don’t usually go places and think “people should be doing more to protect this” but the fire tower certainly inspired that. The structure is largely intact, for now, but is missing all but one guy wire and most of the wood is nearing the end of its life. For a relatively small investment this thing could be preserved for years to come, but alas I don’t think that is going to happen.
We took a bunch of family photos, had a
beer soda, and headed back down the K-Trail to meet up with the Muse Trail.
The Muse Trail looks pretty epic on a map, but the only thing I had heard about it was it was great ATV trail.
Now we know why.
The trail was steep and technical, but only really challenging when we had to drive down a waterfall.
Mostly, it was so very narrow.
While the sound of the branches stripping out cars of their clearcoat will ring in our ears for many years to come, most of the scratches will buff out and those that don’t can remain as scars from a life well lived.
After (what felt like) an eternity of this, we hit an unexpected homestead and immediately the road was transformed into a pleasant mountain dirt road. I shudder to think what it costs to maintain something like this, but we were happy to have it.
With the light fading, we finished our descent and hit the overnight halt for some cheap Mexican food followed by some well-deserved whiskey.
Day 4 – Heavener to Locust Grove
First stop of the day was the Heavener Runestones. Honestly, none of us knew what to expect here. Surprisingly, though certainly a tourist trap they were (A) open on Easter Sunday and (B) the park was nice, well accommodated, and free.
We poked around and took pictures, but in the interest of time ultimately decided not to do the hiking trail.
The weather today was a stark contrast to the previous. While we had been enjoying crisp, mid-60 afternoons and plentiful sun, today was misty and cold. Certainly had its own charm, but also meant I burned through over a gallon of washer fluid over the next 24 hours.
Also I did a big skid.
Later, we stopped at a dam because it looked cool. Then we realized… there was a boat in the lock!
We stayed and watched the big ass barge use the boat elevator, and then made our way down to the beach.
As George said at the time, given the weather at present it was pretty hard to imagine a time when this would have been a pleasant experience, though it probably was just yesterday.
Ahh well. Pretty!
In a day that was already pretty full, we had one last OMG WTF moment: We drove through a cult town.
We were on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and then, suddenly, we were driving on a paved road through a little community. It had hand painted signs and decidedly unusual architecture.
Taylor came over the radio asking to stop.
George and I were both creeped out, though we didn’t know why at the time, and declined.
Apparently it was Elohim City and is loosely connected to Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, plus a bunch of other sketch stuff. So not really a cult, just an ultra-conservative ultra-right-wing isolationist community with a charismatic leader that decided to locate itself deep in the wilderness of Oklahoma…
We continued on, and soon were barreling down what looked like a pretty awesome road in complete darkness. Taylor got to lead as he wanted to try out his spiffy new off-road lights. We were OK with this because… let’s face it… no one wants to be the first guy to see the deer.
Luck was with him and we all made it to the hotel without incident.
Day 5 – Locust Grove to Tulsa
That morning, I had a critical decision to make:
What kind of flowers should I plant in my new planters? I’m thinking pansies?
Seriously. I get why Disco people sneer at stock running boards now. This is… not good.
Day 5 largely resembled day 1, unfortunately. Lots of farm tracks, not a lot to speak of.
George and Taylor did re-try their infamous 0-60-0 run, this time with Taylor losing by about a car length. I sense a re-rematch on the next one. (The Disco abstained because really…)
Somewhere along the way, George managed to pick up a screw in this tire. Weirdly, rather than swap out for the spare he opted to use a plug kit to get the Renegade back on the road. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen one of these in action. Against all odd, he got it plugged in fairly short order and we were on the way again.
Our last stop of the day was the White Water ORV park below Keystone Dam, just outside of Tulsa. This is where we took the Secret Xterra a week ago to give Taylor some practice and see if the Disco’s top-end rebuild was a success.
We parked up on the rocks for one last family photo…
…stopped by the waterfront for another and a
…and then took the “scary hill” (which no longer seemed scary) out of the park.
This trip was a lot of fun and completely different than the west half. Where the west was broken up by lots of little, interesting stops, the east was largely just driving… a lot of it kind of boring. We’ve all agreed that if we were to do it over again… which is to say when we do it over again, we’d cut out the first and last days and maybe allow more time for the K-Trail.
Also go ahead and apply protective coating to the vehicles.
In reality though, it was a hell of a lot of fun and much like OAT West, unexpectedly awesome.
Would (will) do again.