A DIRT ROAD CATCHES your eye while you’re following the asphalt on the way to somewhere else. Where does it go? What could you see if you turned around and took the time to leave the pavement and follow that tree-canopied trail? There are nearly sixty thousand miles of unpaved roads across Oklahoma—more than enough to circumnavigate the globe twice. That’s a lot of opportunity for exploring, and for the curious, there’s plenty to discover. But prepare to get a little grime on that fresh wax job in the process.
First, a tutorial in terminology. There’s a lot of four-wheeling in Oklahoma, often also referred to as offroading. That could include use of all-terrain vehicles and highly modified Jeeps, trucks, cars, or motorcycles taken to a specific location like an off-highway vehicle park for tackling challenging obstacles, deep sand, and rocky or technical terrain. Then there’s Overlanding, which also is sometimes referred to as off-roading. Overlanding celebrates the journey, may be done on four wheels or two, and usually involves nights beneath the stars. Highly modified vehicles are not required, but high clearance and four-wheel drive or dual-sport motorcycles are a good idea. You might not want to take your Miata on the K Trail.
Our focus is on overlanding, taking us away from paved roads and population centers in stock or slightly modified vehicles to explore Oklahoma’s backcountry in its scenic and historic glory. Granted, there are some nuances to such exploration—primarily involving access—but in the search for off-road Oklahoma, there’s plenty of excitement to be had.
Know Before You Go
Sometimes, an open or unlocked gate suggests public access but doesn’t really mean it. A thorough understanding of land access is essential before setting out for an off-road destination. While 95.4 percent of Oklahoma’s land is privately owned, the other 4.6 percent includes more than a million acres managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and nearly 300,000 acres of the Ouachita National Forest. With the privilege of access comes the responsibility to know and follow area-specific rules and regulations, which typically are available online, but it’s also wise to mine the resources of local knowledge, including county sheriffs, wildlife managers, the United States Forest Service, and outdoor recreation clubs.
If you have a flat tire on a rocky trail in the middle of nowhere, don’t expect roadside assistance to be able to help. Know what kind of terrain to expect and make sure your vehicle is prepared. Where the road surface is very rocky, robust all-terrain tires, aired down, will help prevent a flat. Having a fully inflated spare and the tools and know-how to change it are critical.
While good navigation software is today’s gold standard, old-fashioned cartography in the form of gazetteers and motor vehicle use maps offer excellent planning tools and provide backup in case technology fails.
Red Dirt Jeep Club, Oklahoma’s largest organization of Jeep off-roaders, requires the following for participation in club-sponsored group rides, but their guidelines are useful for anyone heading out on the trail, no matter what type of vehicle they’re using. Learn more at reddirtjeepclub.com.
• The vehicle must be in full working condition with all-time and full-time four-wheel drive.
• Tow points on the vehicle’s front and rear are required to facilitate safe attachment of recovery equipment if needed.
• Working seat belts are required for all vehicle occupants.
• A factory or aftermarket roll cage or normal roof and body pillars are required for safety. The lack thereof could spell disaster in a rollover situation.
Having the right tools is an essential part of doing any job. The same goes for recreational off-roading. Be sure you’re prepared with the following recommendations from Red Dirt Jeep Club.
• Basic First Aid Kit. Along with standard first aid equipment, also carry a list of the vehicle occupants’ allergies, medications, and emergency contact information.
• Radio. Communication with other group members is essential on trail rides. RDJC members primarily use short-range CB radios.
• Fire Extinguisher. Type BC minimum
• Basic Recovery Kit. Assuming at least one vehicle in the group has a winch, each vehicle should carry a tree-saver strap, tow strap, gloves, D-ring shackles, snatch block, and flashlight.
• Tire repair kit, portable air compressor, and jack. Use a hi-lift jack if the vehicle is equipped with a lift kit.
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