By Randy Putt

One of the things I love about living in Arkansas is the fact that there's always just enough mild days in the winter to keep you hanging on till spring! Such was the case this January 7th weekend where the daytime highs were forecast to be near 60 degrees. The other great part of living in Arkansas is being able to explore the Ozark National Forest, and that's just how we planned to take advantage of the mild days the Lord had provided for us on this occasion.


This trip was put together on short notice by a few fire fighters from Little Rock, Tod and his friend Tony. Their work schedules only allowed them Thursday and Friday off so they were looking for some other folks that could join them on a two day offroad trip through part of the ONF. They found some in Jayston, who has lead many trips in this area and his cousin Will, who had recently gotten his first car, an older model Toyota Forerunner. All these guys drive Toyota's so if I was going to join them on this trip I needed to recruit a few other Jeeps! I was able to get my fellow club members James and Brad to accompany me. I drove down to their campsite Thursday after work and Brad met us at the Big Piney overlook at 9:00 on Friday morning. Although the firemen had to head back to Little Rock late Friday afternoon several of us decided to continue until Sunday. We met James and Alan at camp near Deer Arkansas (their high school mascot are the Antlers believe it or not!) on Friday night.


Will's Forerunner
Jayston's Tacoma
Tod's Landcruiser
Tony's new 2015 Tacoma
James's TJ Rubicon
Allan's FJ Cruiser
Brad's TJ Rubicon
Randy's JK


As it turned out we wouldn't do much wheeling on this trip unfortunately. One of the things that I like about overland style travel offroad is the fact that you never really know what to expect and you have to deal with whatever problems arise and make the best of it. Well this trip definitely proved out that idea.

We were supposed to meet a few others at the agreed 9am rondevu on Friday morning but they couldn't get there until about 12:30 so we decided to do a few short trails in the area and meet them about 12:30. Jayston was leading and we descended on a nice trail that had just enough challenges to keep everyone interested. This was the first trip out for Tony and his shiny new 2015 Tacoma and he got to try the electronic hill decent and rear locker on his new ride while on this trail. As we reached the bottom of the hill we stopped at a water crossing with two small waterfalls and got a few pictures. Areas like this always tempt you to leave the established trail and climb the rock ledges in the stream bed. Our groups always follow Tread Lightly principles, however and stay on designated trails. If everyone would do this I think it would prevent the needless closing of so many trails. Please always remember to tread lightly so we can preserve the beauty of God's creation for future generations.

After we crossed the stream we came upon a mud hole in the middle of the trail. While Tread Lightly teaches us to stay on the designated trail, many times someone has cut a secondary trail to go around obstacles such as large mud holes and downed trees. Jayston always tries to stay on the main trail if we can do so safely, so he checked the depth of the mud hole and made the decision to go through this one instead of around. Murphy however had a different plan, as Jayston eased into the mud hole, about six feet in it dropped off more than expected and he was nose down into the mud and going nowhere! He quickly tried to back out of the mud but the steep bank caught his rear diff and he could not clear it. By the the time someone was able to take the alternate route around the mud hole and get him pulled out his front end had been under water for about 15 minutes. Once safely on the other side he immediately started to have issues with his alternator and automatic transmission. Jayston carries some spare parts and just happened to have another alternator so we found a campsite just down the trail to pull over and evaluate the situation.

After the alternator was replaced and the transmission fluid check for water he decided to drive down the trail a ways and see if the transmission would stop slipping, as it turned out it just got worse and he lost reverse altogether and could not shift out of first gear. Jayston, Tony and Will made the decision to leave the group and Tony pulled him off the trail and down the highway to meet a friend that was bringing a trailer to tow him the 2.5 hours back to NW Arkansas. The rest of us waited on another person that was supposed to meet us, but when they didn't show by about 4pm Tod decided to head back to Little Rock and Brad and I decided to head on to the agreed upon campsite for Friday night where we were to meet James and Alan.

We met James in Deer and he lead us a few miles off the highway to a nice campsite for the night. We were able to text the coordinates of our campsite to Alan and he rolled into camp about 11:30pm from OKC. We left camp about 9am Saturday morning and James took the lead. We were down to four vehicles at this point. We had just been on the trails for a few hours when something didn't sound right on my Jeep. It sounded like something was loose in my front suspension. As it turned out I had broken my rear track bar relocation bracket. We strapped it back together the best we could to get me going again and when we stopped for lunch we decided to try to add a length of chain for added safety. After lunch we followed the trail to the highway passing one of my favorite landmarks, Car Wash Falls, where, if it has rained lately the water falls from a bluff over the trail and you drive right through the waterfall. As it would have it the water was flowing on this occasion. At the highway, we decided to find our campsite for the night and park my jeep. I then jumped in with James so we could do some more trails before it started getting dark.

We went by the old Union school house that you can still go inside and then on to an old homestead to show Brad's daughter who had not seen it before. We ended up driving back to camp after dark. At camp we got a good campfire started, cooked dinner, and enjoyed the campfire and all the great fellowship that I always look forward to. There's just something about a campfire that is relaxing and many times causes you to put your life back into perspective.

Sunday morning everyone ate some breakfast and after breaking camp we agreed, that with my broken track bar mount, it was probably best if we all headed home. Alan headed back to OKC, James and I back to NW Arkansas, and Brad back to northern Louisiana. Even though we only got to wheel a total of about six hours over two and a half days it was a trip to remember and another chance to reunite with good friends and experience God's beautiful creation. I couldn't complain, but next time we're leaving Murphy at home!

Until we meet again,

This is Randy aka Trailfrog signing off

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