From iFly Indoor Skydiving and Hydrous Wake Park to Six Flags and SpeedZone, it is no secret that Frisco and the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex have exhilarating and adrenaline-packed entertainment destinations. While these thrilling attractions are found in our ever-growing concrete jungle, there is another world of excitement that takes place away from the concrete, outside of the hustle and bustle of our urban paradise. For people who love pushing the limit and living on the edge, the road less traveled never looked so good.
An uneven, muddy or rocky road would be considered a driving nightmare for those of us who are used to our pristine North Texas highways and roads, but for some thrill seekers, the rougher the road, the better. In fact, for a group of adventurers commonly referred to as “off-roaders” or “crawlers,” no road is the best road of all. To them, it is not about how rocky or muddy the road is that stretches in front of them, but more about the opportunity to traverse through terrain that the average person cannot. These drivers get to take in the beauty and majesty of nature with a close community of fellow off-roaders. Interestingly enough, some of the “roads less traveled” are right here in North Texas!
Learn the Lingo
By definition, off-roading is “exiting the pavement and driving on natural terrain, ranging from coasting over smooth dirt roads to scrambling over boulders and rocks.” The surface can be almost anything other than typical or smooth pavement. Popular spots often include muddy fields, riverbeds, bogs, sand dunes, beaches, mountains, gravel, boulders and even roads that have fallen into disrepair. If a spot is not paved (or not paved well), it is fair game for off-roaders. Randy Putt, the president of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Christian Crawlers 4×4 Club, says, “Off-roading is simply driving a properly-equipped four-wheel drive vehicle off of paved roads for a variety of reasons. Some like the challenge of driving trails that regular two-wheel drive vehicles cannot. These trails contain challenges including large rocks, mud, sand, loose gravel, water crossings and trenches. Others like more of a cross-country style of off-roading, commonly known as ‘overlanding’ or ‘backcountry travel,’ where the destination is not the goal, but they experience the sights and sounds of nature while traveling off of the pavement.”
Rock crawling entails driving highly-modified four-wheel drive vehicles such as trucks, Jeeps® and “buggies” over harsh terrain like boulders, mountain foothills, rock piles, mountain trails, etc. Rock crawling is about slow speed, careful, precise driving and high torque that is generated through large gear reductions in the vehicle’s drivetrain. Rock crawlers often drive up, down and across obstacles that appear seemingly impassable. Vehicles that rock climb primarily have four-wheel drive and require large tires and flexing capabilities. Rock crawling usually does not cover a lot of territory.
Phil Jones, a veteran off-roading enthusiast and member of the Toyota Trail Riders Club, explains, “Trail off-roading usually covers more territory than rock crawling. Trails are found in off-road parks, as well as federal and state lands. A network of dirt roads can make for interesting trails. Depending on the terrain’s difficulty level, off-roading can be done by stock vehicles with not much clearance. Off-road parks usually provide maps, along with trailhead signage complete with difficulty rankings.” Typical rankings of trails include “1 Diamond,” which can be completed by stock vehicles or “2 Diamond,” which requires bigger tires (one or two sizes bigger than manufactured stock tires) and clearance (at least a two-inch lift). “3 Diamond” requires vehicle protection (bumpers and rock sliders), “4 Diamond” is nearing rock crawling status and “5 Diamond” is rock crawling.
Long distance trail off-roading, where camping is part of the adventure, is considered going on an expedition or overland trip. This is an incredibly popular, worldwide activity. The fashionable way to travel is by classic Land Cruiser or Land Rover. Some adventurers strap a rooftop tent on their vehicle or use an off-road trailer that hauls the tent.
Baja is another unique style of off-roading that is popular in the western states where desert land is prominent. Mudding is more popular in the southeastern states where water is plentiful.
Tools for the Trail
When it comes to the vehicles that enthusiasts use for thrill-seeking fun, they are nothing short of well-equipped and, depending on skill level, fully decked out. Mr. Jones shares, “Trucks, Jeeps, sport utility vehicles and motorcycles have dominated the off-roading scene for decades. When four-wheel all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) were introduced, the demand created a new industry for after-market accessories. Seeking a more comfortable option with a roof, many people gravitated toward the notion of an off-road golf cart, which quickly evolved into the side-by-side vehicle (UTV). These come in two, four or even six-seat configurations.” Mr. Putt feels that the most popular off-road vehicle in the U.S. is the Jeep Wrangler. He says, “Jeeps are legendary for their off-roading capabilities right off the showroom floor. Toyota also has several models such as the Tacoma pickup, 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, which are very popular for the backcountry style of off-roading.”
A large and imperative part of off-roading or crawling is making sure that you and your vehicle are fully and well-equipped. Dean Cline, a veteran off-roader and the chapter liaison of the Dallas/Fort Worth Christian Crawlers 4×4 Club, says, “The equipment needed depends on what type of off-roading you want to get involved with.” He clarifies, “For me, I like to rock crawl. I have a three-and-a-half-inch lift with 35-inch tires. You will need tow hooks on the front and back. It is never-ending on upgrades. The best thing to do is figure out what type of four-wheel drive is appealing to you and thoroughly research it. A four-wheel drive vehicle is the only real requirement. Everything else just helps keep you safe and makes your vehicle more capable. After someone has wheeled their stock four-wheel drive a few times and has an idea of what type of trails they want to do, they will typically start an upgrade with a suspension lift of two to four inches and larger tires,” Mr. Putt says. “This modification allows the vehicle to have more ground clearance, which allows you to drive over larger obstacles. The next set of modifications is often what we call ‘armor,’ including skid plates to protect the underside of your rig, steel bumpers and rock rails to protect the area under your doors. Many drivers will then purchase a winch to help pull vehicles over or up an obstacle they may be stuck on.”
Another very important piece of equipment is an off highway vehicle (OHV) decal. These decals are necessary for a vehicle to be considered legal when wheeling on state-funded property. The money for a decal goes toward maintaining local parks. Texas Parks and Wildlife has public lands with off-road access and provides grants to private off-road parks. The OHV decal is required for any vehicle (motorcycle, ATV or full-size vehicle) that off-roads on these territories. Decals can be obtained at a variety of locations, including Freedom Powersports, which has stores located conveniently in McKinney and Lewisville.
Take Part in a New Adventure
If you have never ventured off the road, away from the beaten path, you are missing out on an exciting hobby that is gaining popularity across the country! Though it seems a bit technical and somewhat involved, it is not something that is too difficult to become involved in and excited about. Mr. Cline urges those who may be new to the sport to understand that it is a family-friendly hobby. “We encourage bringing your family with you,” he says. “The next most important thing to know is that you do not need a built-up rig to enjoy four-wheeling. I have always encouraged new owners of Jeeps to try them stock first, to get an idea of how well they can do with a complete stock rig. After that, develop a plan for your modifications.”
Steve Wilson, veteran off-roader with Toyota Trail Riders, forewarns, “It can be expensive and will be addictive. You often hear people on runs say, ‘you have to pay to play.’” Mr. Wilson also recommends that drivers do not rush into making modifications without doing research. Attending local club meetings provides the opportunity to meet people who have a similar interest and can give you honest feedback and suggestions on properly modifying a four-wheel drive vehicle. Mr. Cline agrees, saying, “Research and meet all of the great people out there in the 4×4 community. Everyone is always willing to help,” he says. “You can add a little bit at a time to your rig, so the money does not hurt you that much.” Regarding additional advice for novice off-roaders, Mr. Putt adds, “Always wear your seat belt and never go off-roading alone. Always go with at least one other vehicle. Always carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher. Find a local club that knows the trails.”
To get started, Mr. Jones suggests determining what style of off-roading interests you most. “Most people start out with basic trail off-roading. From there, they modify their vehicle to venture into either rock crawling, overlanding or more difficult trails. If a beginner has not chosen a vehicle yet, riding along with someone who does off-roading can be beneficial for learning the pros and cons of various vehicles.”
If you are interested, but not completely sold, many clubs and organizations around the area let people go on a ride-along to experience the thrill of off-roading or crawling. Mr. Putt explains, “Our club is always willing to let non-members ride along with an experienced club member to see what it is all about. Just contact one of our chapters and we would be happy to help schedule a trail run you can ride along for.” Mr. Pullen adds, “We hold beginner classes for those who are new to Land Rovers. We teach the owner about the capabilities of their vehicle, trail etiquette and driver safety.” Off-roading at organized events, joining a club, subscribing to off-road publications and participating in online forums helps people become familiar with all aspects of off-roading.
Bring on the Mud
Even though North Texas is an urban metropolis, there are a few parks in the surrounding areas where off-roaders and crawlers can go to have some serious fun. Bridgeport, Texas, which is only a short drive away, is home to the popular Northwest OHV Park. Northwest OHV Park allows visitors to witness and be part of the unexpected beauty of an old rock quarry with limestone bluffs overlooking the city. Shallow water in lower sections and thick woods provide fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Whether you are an OHV enthusiast looking for a thrill or a spectator simply getting back to nature, you can enjoy the park and explore more than 25 miles of trails. All of the trails are mapped and posted with difficulty ratings for the various vehicle types, so you always know your location and what to expect from the terrain. The 300-acre park is devoted to OHV riding and driving ranges, from graded gravel roads to wicked rock hills. The park is open Saturdays and Sundays during the summer from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter.
Nestled in the piney woods of East Texas is the Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area (BMRA). BMRA boasts more than 1,850 acres of pure enjoyment for dirt bikes, Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) and OHVs. There are more than 27 miles of single-track trails for dirt bikes and many more miles of trails for UTVs and OHVs. There is a 16-mile adventure trail for dirt bikers or ATV riders looking for a less demanding ride. There are trails that even the novice UTV and OHV riders will enjoy! Like Northwest OHV Park, the trails here are mapped and rated with signage at the trailheads. BMRA has campsites for tent campers and has two cabins and five bunkhouses available to rent nightly. BMRA is open every weekend from 8 a.m. on Friday until 6 p.m. on Sunday.
If you are ready to travel the great state of Texas and head down to the hill country, Mr. Jones says Hidden Falls Adventure Park, just northwest of Austin, Texas, is worth the drive. Katemcy Rocks in Mason, Texas, is also popular with rock crawlers. “Further away, Big Bend National Park has nearly 90 miles of off-road trails, the longest of which is 26 miles. More trails can be found next door at Big Bend Ranch State Park.
The Honobia Creek/Three Rivers area in southeastern Oklahoma has numerous trails, as does the Ouachita National Forest in southwest Arkansas. Not far from both of these forests is the K-Trail. This 90-mile trail runs from Clayton, Okla., and terminates near the Arkansas border. Mr. Jones explains, “My favorite place to ride is The Gila and Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, as well as trails in Moab, UT. While I have done a lot of trails in off-road parks, I prefer the overland style across long stretches of unpaved roads.” Of his favorite places to ride, Mr. Putt says, “Two of my favorite off-road parks are Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch and Hot Springs ORV Park in Arkansas. Both of these parks have great facilities and more than 1,000 acres of trails. These are also excellent places for beginners because of the well-marked trails and the verity of terrain.” Mr. Wilson claims Ouray, Colo., as his favorite place to ride outside of Texas. “Ouray is headquarters for the annual Toyota FJ Summit, which we have attended six times. It is open to all Toyota four-wheel drive models and is attended annually by several hundred people. The event generally sells out in less than 30 minutes once registration opens! Debbie, my wife, attended her first Toyota Summit in 2010. She was hooked. She came home, traded in her car and bought herself an FJ Cruiser,” he recalls.
The Off-Roading Community
Off-roading and crawling are highly social activities, and many clubs and organizations make up the patchwork of the tight-knit community. From Facebook groups to riding groups and organized clubs, outdoor enthusiasts all share one common desire: having fun!
The Christian Crawlers 4×4 Club is a Christian-based family organization that believes in good, clean fun. The goal of the organization is to provide an exciting and safe 4×4 adventure for the whole family. Members drive everything from stock to highly-modified four-wheel drive vehicles. The organization’s founding club is located in Arkansas, and they have chapters in northern Louisiana, Dallas/Fort Worth and central Arkansas. There is also an ATV club in both Arkansas and Oklahoma. The club holds monthly meetings and tries to schedule at least one trail run a month. Christian Crawlers also conducts an annual club fundraiser called “Rock the Ozarks,” where off-roaders from the surrounding states are invited to meet at an off-road park and wheel together for three to four days. Mr. Putt shares, “It is like a big family reunion of like-minded off-roaders. Last year, people traveled from seven different states to participate. All the proceeds from these events are donated to local charities.” Fellow Christian Crawler, Mr. Cline, adds, “We have cruise-ins for people to show off their rigs, see other rigs, fellowship and learn more. We also have runs, where we will go to off-road parks as a group for a day.”
Mr. Jones is a member of the Toyota Trail Riders (TTR), a Dallas-based organization for Toyota off-roaders. The club holds monthly meetings, monthly driving events at area parks and an annual, large-scale event called “Lone Star Toyota Jamboree” at Barnwell Mountain OHV Park. “Off-road clubs are beneficial, especially for beginners who want guidance on how to equip their vehicle, navigate technical terrain and learn trail safety,” Mr. Jones says. “TTR organizes guided runs for beginners for the primary purpose of introducing them to the sport, teaching them how to be spotted and to experience what their vehicle is capable of.”
The president of the Texas Rovers club, Christopher Pullen, got into Land Rovers and off-roading many years ago in England. He bought his first Land Rover in the U.S. in 1993. Mr. Pullen recalls, “In 2001, I joined Texas Rovers, a Texas-wide, Dallas-based club that promotes family trips, camping and many social activities based around our vehicles.” He continues, “We have done trips to Utah, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado. The club supports the principles of Tread Lightly, a national organization that promotes stewardship on American lands and waterways.”
Other area clubs and organizations include the Lone Star Land Cruisers (LSLC) and Texas Freedom Offroad. LSLC has three regional chapters and more than 100 members statewide. It supports a family-oriented environment where members can gather for the purpose of exploring, preserving and enjoying the remote areas of Texas and surrounding states in their Land Cruisers and other four-wheel drive Toyota products. Texas Freedom Offroad was established in January of 2015, and the club was created for like-minded Jeep enthusiasts who seek new adventures and meeting new friends.
Events for Enthusiasts
After having understood the camaraderie, friendship and fellowship of this exhilarating and somewhat addictive hobby, and learning about the clubs and organizations that have formed because of it, James Sackey, the CEO of Amleon Entertainment, decided to bring various motor vehicle subcultures together for more opportunities to share their vehicles, experiences and love for the sport. Amleon Entertainment is an organization based in Dallas/Fort Worth that is comprised of unique individuals who share a common interest in motors, music and having fun. Mr. Sackey created and started his own brand of events three years ago. He explains, “We produce, host and promote several motor events throughout the area. I had previously been invited to participate in a rally that took place once or twice a year, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I have had with a car. This was what sparked my interest in hosting my own events. I started hosting rallies and meets once a month. They grew very quickly, as no one else was doing them anymore, and they were somewhat of a fresh take on the auto enthusiast scene. Events are typically static, meaning cars are parked for display and not driving anywhere.”
Currently, Amleon Entertainment hosts three different events on a regular basis. The first is their most popular event, which is the AEI Monthly Jeep Meet. It takes place every second Tuesday of the month. The second event is the monthly Supercar Meet, which caters to those with high-end sports cars and luxury cars. Mr. Sackey adds, “Our third event, the rally, is a little less regular than the others, as far as what day of the month it takes place. The rally is a different route every time with a different starting and ending venue.” Mr. Sakey continues, “My favorite part about what we do is getting everyone together to socialize and have fun talking about motors and just kicking back. Our events are high-energy, so everyone has a lot of fun. I love the networking element tied into what we do. Our events see a wide range of backgrounds in people, from mechanics to wealth managers. It is fantastic to mix such a various set of demographics in one place on a consistent basis. Our first event this year had a solid turnout and about 40 vehicles showed up. We had Jeeps, a McLaren, a 5.0 Mustang, a De Tomaso Pantera, a Nissan Z and so many others. It was an amazing way to kick off the year.”
It is easy to see how these auto enthusiasts are so invested and immersed in the hobby they have grown to love. Mr. Putt explains, “While some like off-roading for the challenge of conquering a difficult trail or building the ultimate off-road rig, the part I enjoy the most is the camaraderie and the friendships you develop. Most folks in this sport are always willing to help. Whether it is helping direct you on a difficult trail, helping recover your rig when the obstacle is just too big or helping you make repairs when something breaks on the trail, it is like family.” Mr. Wilson can relate, as his favorite aspects lie in simply getting off the pavement, making lifelong memories and enjoying time with family and friends who share a passion for the sport.
Whether you are drawn to the idea of navigating seemingly impossible terrain, the breathtaking views trails can produce, decking out a 4×4 vehicle or simply being a part of a popular and growing subculture, off-roading and the community that surrounds it will welcome you with open arms. North Texas and surrounding areas are home to some of the most exciting off-road and crawl spots in the state. Once you start down this road, you might not be able to slow down! The people are nice, the trails are vast, the rocks are enormous and the scenery cannot be beat. Maybe it is time you venture out on the road less traveled.