Overlanding in South-West Oklahoma
How we almost rolled an XTerra at an AirBnB
Vaccinations, good weather, and too much time spent indoors meant it was time to plan an off-road trip with some friends. Due to some personal constraints, we ended up planning the trip for SW Oklahoma, in the Medicine Park area. We'd been there before when we did the Oklahoma Adventure Trail (RIP Oppo) and liked it. Also, I should note that when I say "off-road" I usually actually mean "overlanding but without selfie sticks" and this article is no different. Though we all have capable off-roaders, we generally stick to roads and trails you could confidently do in a Honda Civic.
Yes, I'll get to the "almost rolling" part in a bit. But first!
Cast and Characters
Evan/Akio (Me!) - 2001 Land Rover Discovery - Purchased in 2017 during our second cheap car challenge, the Rover is mostly stock with slightly larger than stock tires and a CDL linkage fitted.
George - 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk - Purchased in 2017 George's "Toaster" Jeep has seen some serious shit over the years, though most of the documentation was lost when OG Oppo was murdered. The Toaster is mostly stock except for aftermarket rock rails and slightly larger tires.
Taylor - 2015 Nissan XTerra Pro4X - Purchased in 2018, Taylor's Nissan is the only manual of the bunch and is 100% stock.
Brady and Kate - 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD - Purchased like... last week, Brady's Taco(ma) was the end result of his Wrangler needing new ball joints at 30k miles and that not squaring with his idea of what a newer car should need. This is the Tacoma's first outing, but unlikely to be its last!
Planning and Prep
Honestly, we didn't do a ton of either for this trip. As mentioned, we'd done the Oklahoma Adventure Trail (OAT) a couple of years ago and knew some of the stuff in the area we wanted to hit. We figured we'd get a house near the Medicine Park area, hit Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Black Kettle Grasslands, and Quartz Mountain.
Almost none of that happened.
In fact, five days before the trip our AirBnB host canceled on us with no warning or explanation. Hooray! This led us to emergency book a different place. While the new place was quite a bit more expensive than the first, and further away, it did boast some outdoor activities available on-site including what looked like a little off-roading. Either way it was the best available in a bad situation, so we booked it.
Additionally, the weather forecast was grim for the days we were out there, with rain and thunderstorms predicted, so we made tentative plans to just hang out in the middle of nowhere and get day drunk as our "Plan B".
Day 0 - Arrivals
Due to a track day that Brady and I were supposed to attend being cancelled and George being in Oklahoma City for unrelated reasons, we all arrived at the "cabin" a little earlier than expected. This meant George stopped by a market on the way out to pick up stuff to make chili and that was well underway by the time I arrived.
The AirBnB itself seemed to be a mixed bag. What we'd naively hoped was poor photography skills turned out to be the infamous "AirBnB crop" where hosts take or crop photos in such as way as to make places look more remote or larger than they actually are. In this case, the host managed to take photos which included some of the impressive views from the house, while obscuring the nearby neighbor (singular) and random RV parked in the field. While the inside was indeed nice and modern looking, it was pretty clearly a recent renovation on an older doublewide (albeit a large, very nice seeming one) and some of the renovations weren't holding up well.
Still, for a last minute backup the views were indeed impressive and the common areas spacious, so we called it a win.
After some delicious chili and probably too much whiskey, we all turned in.
Day 1 - The Oklahoma Adventure Trail Revisited
After a slightly later, boozier night than expected, we got a late start out of the cabin and decided to hit some of our favorite parts of this leg of OAT, minus Medicine Park and the wildlife refuge as we were going to get to those Saturday... probably.
But first, we decided to go on a bit of an explore on the property.
After following a dirt trail for a bit, Brady and Taylor had discovered a washout in the road which made for an entertaining "warm up." The Rover, XTerra, and Taco descended without incident, although all three left diff marks in the soft dirt. However George, knowing this was about the limits of the Renegade's clearance, decided to take a line further to the left to avoid the rut. Seeing this, we quickly waived him off as the roll potential looked too great to risk. (Remember this for later) He backed up, took the same line as the rest of us, and didn't have any troubles to speak of. That Renegade is always a surprise!
After that, we set out west to pick up OAT and follow it south and east, backwards of how we'd done it the first time. After a couple hours of pleasant trail driving, we came to our first water crossing. When we did it in 2017 it was wide, deep, and very cold, complete with floating ice chunks.
River crossing in December 2017
This year it was done of those things, and we crossed with ease and little worry.
After some more fairly sedate driving on dirt roads, we reached the river crossing we aborted during our full run of OAT because the water was too high, too fast, and the banks didn't look like we'd be able to get in or out without damage. This time, however, we were approaching from the other side with lower water levels so... maybe?
I was a hard pass.
George was a pass.
Taylor was a pass.
Brady was game!
After clearing some driftwood he set off...
... and made it in!
However, the opposite bank was really more of a wall than a ramp, and with a sickening crunch the brand new Tacoma's front bumper got booped. Try as he might, Brady just couldn't find an angle that could get him up the bank.
Ok... so he definitely didn't turn around in the river, but if he did and got facing the other way, he attempted to climb up the bank he had just gone down.
Nope! The Tacoma belonged to the river now!
After several attempts to climb unassisted we tried using traction boards to get him unstuck, but to no avail. Finally we put traction boards under all four wheels and lined up the Rover for a recovery. With a roar of the ancient Rover V8 (or was it the transfer case?) the Tacoma reluctantly made its way back onto solid ground.
Damage to the bumper was minimal, having damaged some clips on a trim piece, so we continued on the trail.
At this point it was late and we were all thinking about the steaks waiting for us back at the cabin. However, right before we rejoined the highway the road sort of disappeared into a large dirt clearing.
Clearly some donuts were in order!
Well, for two of us. The Rover's full time 4WD and the Renegade defaulting to front-wheel drive meant trying to get sideways was pretty pointless, so we were trying to find the road instead. Luckily Taylor got some epic photos of the Tacoma in action while George found the road.
And a cop.
George spoke with him as we sat sheepishly in our cars, wondering what mess we'd gotten ourselves in.
Turns out not a lot. The cop was looking for some cattle that'd gotten loose and was mostly interested if we'd seen them. We had not, so he warned us if the game warden, who was right up the road, saw us on not-a-road (though we're pretty sure we were on a road... probably) he'd write us a citation. Dodging that bullet, we got back on the highway, eager to get some food in us.
Once all the mud and debris had cleared from our tires, the drive back was uneventful. Once back at the cabin we grilled up some steaks, talked, edited photos, drank whiskey, smoked cigars, and played video games into the wee hours...
Day 2 - Play Dead and Roll Over
Saturday we awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so to speak, eager to get out to Medicine Park, Mount Scott, and the wildlife refuge!
And by that I mean... not that.
I woke up first, worried I'd slept in but otherwise feeling OK. It was a long while before I saw anyone else. Taylor showed up next and was a little fuzzy, but also ready to start the day. However, as the others appeared we discovered Brady was hung over, Kate was having stomach issues, and George was concerned he had contracted strep.
Well, since this is a vacation, I sat my butt on the couch and played a smattering of Mario games while Brady and Kate napped on the couch, Taylor worked on definitely not-work, and George tried to gather himself. Around noon I saw the writing on the wall and cracked a lunch beer.
George ended up at the nearest urgent care (40 minutes away) but was negative for strep and COVID, which is good. We ended up playing video games and just hanging out until dinner, which was lovely, and then decided we'd take the cars out to an overlook on-property for sunset beers and photos.
First problem we ran into with that plan was the horrible noise the XTerra was making. As Taylor tried to pull away from the house, the XTerra started making a grinding squealing noise that we could hear clearly from inside the house. Having played this game before, we were pretty sure meant he had a pebble in his brake rotor dust shield. After identifying the offending wheel, we (and by "we" I mean "Taylor" while the rest of us provided tools and commentary) quickly took the tire off, located the offending pebble, removed it, and popped the wheel back on.
THEN we headed out for sunset beers.
And it was good.
And then not so good.
We figured it might be fine to do the washed out area from Day 1 in the dark, have another beer, and then head back up to the house. Brady hit the obstacle first and cleared it with ease. Taylor went next, but wanted to try a new line...
The same line we warned George off of the first day.
Very quickly it all went wrong.
He may have been in a bad spot, but it sure did make for a good photo!
I was taking photos and didn't immediately notice an issue, but did notice he stopped moving in an odd spot. After looking up from my camera, I saw he was at a very odd angle.
Apparently he took a line too far to the left, hit the high, soft dirt on the side of the washout, and the front slid in, forcing the driver's side rear to rotate and, hit the limit of his flex, and pop up in the air. The net effect was he was at odd angles in all three dimensions and any attempt to extricate himself solo would likely end in body damage or a roll.
We quickly hatched a plan.
Pulling him out via the road was a bad idea, as it'd likely cause him to slide into the wall. Or roll. While the other side of the ridge was grassy with an eventual drop-off into a creek, we figured there was enough room for a short tow strap to get him on all four wheels again, keep all the paint on the car, and the shiny side up. I lined up the Rover, once again called to duty because it was the heaviest with the most aggressive tires and already more or less in the right spot, and George grabbed his recovery hitch (nicknamed "Mr Stabby") from the Renegade.
We tied off, took up the slack and began to tow. 1st gear, low range, center diff locked, HDC engaged (can't hurt, right?).
Mercifully after a short tug, the XTerra's rear wheel plopped onto the ground, and shortly thereafter he was safe, grounded, and undamaged.
Taylor, wanting to get back on the horse, insisted we proceed anyway. We uncoupled the vehicles and as I worked on getting back on the trail, Taylor tried getting down the hill, this time with the correct line, and succeeded. Though I wasn't super in the mood I also followed, as did the Renegade.
We sat on the top of the hill listening to frogs and loons from the nearby pond, and had another celebratory beer. (Don't drink and drive! No. Seriously. This was private property and while it sounds like we were drinking a lot it, we had maybe two beers spread over many hours.)
The drive back to the house was uneventful and we closed out the night with more whiskey (we never learn) and video games.
Day 3 - How do you close a mountain?
And suddenly, we were on the last day!
We awoke slowly as most of us had been kept up by the sounds of vermin eating the house from the bottom up. (Country living, I suppose.) We quickly packed up the house, did the dishes, loaded up our cars, and hit the road.
Today we were FINALLY going to hit Mount Scott and the Wichita Mountains.
Our first disappointment came from the near-constant rain.
Our second came when we rolled up the Mount Scott, only to find the road to the summit closed. Again. This is the second time we've been to this mountain and the second time we've found the gate inexplicably closed. Apparently it is closed to vehicles in the mornings so people can hike, but open to vehicles in the afternoon. Since this was solidly "the afternoon" apparently a light drizzle is enough for them to shut everything down.
If I sound angry it is because I am.
After voting that the majority of the group didn't want to hike in the rain, we plowed on to the Meers Store and Restaurant, an amazing little roadhouse boasting a great selection of heart-stopping food, only to find it packed full of people with what looked like a very long wait.
I guess this kills the road trip?
This kills the road trip
So it does. The heading is there any everything!
We opted to go our separate ways and our respective drives back home were wet but uneventful. Taylor stopped by the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for some hiking... the jerk.
Overall I'd call the trip a pleasant success. Though we didn't do any really serious off-roading, that isn't what we'd set out to do. We wanted a chill weekend with cars, friends, and dirt roads and that is what we got. We got in a little bit of trouble, but made it out without damage or injury, ate some good food, and played a lot of games.
All in all, an unqualified success and one we hope to repeat. Soon.