While the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas are indeed flat, that terrain's flatness terminates in eastern Oklahoma where rolling hills of unfarmed and undeveloped lands containing forests adorn the state all the way to the Arkansas border. The eastern Oklahoma town of Clayton is at the base of a mountain loved and hated by rock crawlers. The multiple annual crawler events provide a nice revenue stream for this otherwise unknown town. For destination style off-roading, the nearby Clayton Trail and connecting K-Trail start right off the main highway running through Clayton.
Around 1900, the mountains and river area were named Kiamichi, and at some point the Kiamichi Trail came to be known as the K-Trail. Primarily an east-west route, the K-Trail is approximately 90 miles running from Clayton, OK to Mena, AR. While it is a public access dirt trail for motor vehicles, it runs across public and private lands and much of the trail exists on many navigation maps. From valley floors, to hilltops, to hillside ledges of the Kiamichi Mountains, the trail does not disappoint. Terrain ranges from smooth dirt to rocky and rough areas that slow the 4x4 parade to actual parade speeds. Heading eastward, the trail enters the southern portion of the beautiful Ouachita National Forest on the Oklahoma side and continues into the Arkansas portion.
While I had heard of this enticing trail for years, it wasn’t until early 2015 that I had the opportunity to explore the famed, yet intimidating trail. Intimidating? How so, you ask? Take a wrong turn and you might wind up at the wrong end of a gun held by an angry land owner, which happened to a group years ago. Misjudge the road, and you might roll over, as did the Unimog-style rig the weekend after I was there. Attempt to go through a mud puddle and experience flat tires due to sabotage. This happened to numerous off-roaders during the summer of 2015. A board with large spikes was later uncovered from one side of the trail. As of this writing, the sheriff is still looking for the saboteur.
I accompanied a seasoned guide who knows the trail quite well. He goes by the name of Tulip, has his own “Got Tulip” branding, and leads expeditions with either his 80 series Land Cruiser or his 2014 Tacoma. Our small group arrived in Oklahoma on Thursday night and hit the Clayton Trail on Friday morning. For this trip, Tulip brought his Land Cruiser, I had my 4Runner, Ben had his Tacoma, and Martin brought his bright yellow Jeep Rubicon. I joked with Martin about how difficult it was going to be for me to Photoshop out his Jeep.
Our weekend adventure coincided with 2 days of thick fog and periodic rain. When I say thick fog, I mean like horror flick fog…creepy and spooky. Each time I stepped out of my rig to head off the trail for some photo opportunities, I found myself paying closer attention to the sounds of the forest, as my eyes were blocked by the infinite curtain of fog. Everything seemed louder. The unknown sounds behind me were either a small critter or a serial killer. Sure, the sun was up and making the fog glow, but when your eyes look in the direction of the sound so your brain can verify what the source isn’t, that fog is menacing.
Fog wasn’t as much fun as the unscheduled mud fest. Where drainage was lacking, muddy pools of water covered the trail and deep tire ruts. Fortunately, our extraction gear remained dry. No one experienced issues as we trudged almost grill deep through the longer and deeper sections. In dry areas, we experienced the occasional off-camber sections, and a few areas that allowed our trucks to flex. Some of the more technical spots have bypasses, but we never turned down a challenge.
I’m sure the views from the higher ledge sections of the K-Trail are astounding. We could probably see many valleys and mountain tops for miles, but like a window seat on a commercial liner flying through clouds stretching across multiple states, the scenery was hidden. We arrived at the legendary K-Trail fire tower.
I hope to revisit the trail during the Fall season to experience the changing colors. The K-Trail runs parallel with the famed 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive, known for spectacular Fall Foliage spying. Surely the K-Trail scenery is far more glorious than anything a paved road has to offer, right? I plan to find out.
Tulip has been leading off-road expeditions throughout Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas for many years. His limited runs are designed to explore the scenery, as well as historical structures, and staying off of pavement as much as possible. You can follow Tulip’s adventures on the GTC Adventures Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GTCExpeditions
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