2015 JK Experience Middle America Tackles Texas
Being the smallest of the Nitto Tire JKX presented by Discount Tire, the Middle America trip consists of only three days and nine Jeep JKs, but that doesn’t mean there was any shortage of adventure! This inaugural JKX Middle America trip was held entirely in Texas, which currently is swimming in weather – for those of us on JKX, all the water just made it more fun!
The group of participants came from a number of neighboring states and met up Friday evening in Marble Falls, Texas to introduce everyone to the group, sticker up the JK's and grab a bag full of goodies and T-shirts for the weekend. After a brief drivers meeting, we hit the sack early in preparation of our 8 am departure time the next morning.
The JK Experience is the ULTIMATE off-road adventure designed for 2007 and up JEEP JK's. In true adventure fashion only the trip leader, Mel Wade of Off-Road Evolution, knows where we will end up each day – it’s wake up, pack, eat, fuel, and hit the road. So at the trip start I was in the lobby at 8 am, already filled up on hotel eggs and pancakes, ready for adventure and unsure of what lied ahead.
Our convoy of vehicles headed through and then out of Marble Falls, Texas until we left the pavement at a sign reading "Hidden Falls Adventure Park."
Unsure of how last night’s torrential downpours had affected the park, Mel Wade, our JKX guide, checked in with the park staff to decide which trails would be best on this wet, and rainy day. After a quick air down we hit the trails.
It wasn’t long before we came up on the first main obstacle, an off-camber rock ledge climb covered in slick mud. Some were able to make it unassisted while others would opt to pull cable before sliding sideways into the trees. This would set the tone for today — mud, rock, and a little bit of throttle applied when needed. The park, which sits on approximately 3000 acres, offers mile and miles of trails — from ridges and hill climbs to creek bottoms, this park offers a little bit of everything.
For lunch, we stopped below a scenic waterfall giving everyone in the group a nice photo op.
After an hour or so we were back at it and headed up a creek bottom trail known as "Wet and Wild," giving our Nitto Trail Grapplers a chance to show us how good they really are. This trail was slick, muddy and in some places had water deep enough to swallow a 37-inch tire.
Upon finishing "Wet and Wild" we headed to a plateau overlooking some of the park for a group photo and after a quick snap we were headed back to our beginnings in Marble Falls, Texas for one more night.
The next morning it was the same drill — wake up, fill up, and meet in the lobby ready to go. A quick drivers meeting and we lined up to hit the highway, again unsure of where we were headed.
After an hour or so of driving northwest through some country Texas towns, we turned off the highway and into a well-known Texas off-road park known as K2 or Katemcy Rocks. You could feel the excitement in the air as we checked-in and aired down our tires, knowing only what reputation has led us to believe, and that was that we were headed into some good technical rock trails.
The night before, true to the theme of this trip, we were pounded with torrential rain which flooded parts of the park — we left the staging area and immediately dropped into a creek bed that had easily 35 inches or more of water, which according to the park staff is a rare occurrence. Talk about adventure, we were now wheeling in jungle-like surroundings that just as well could have been Bolivia.
Shortly after our Texas jungle adventure, we hit the rocks that make K2 famous — red granite that gives K2 the nickname "Moab of Texas". Tackling trails known as "Fenceline" and "Shortbus," our group enjoyed the challenges before heading back to the staging area for some amazing grilled hamburgers and socializing among the group and staff of K2.
After lunch we were back on the red granite rocks of central Texas. After a group vote, it was time for more difficult terrain and the K2 staff knew right where to take us. With our trail spotter in full Dave Roberts mode, he doled out precise instructions to drivers as they manipulated their rigs through technical climbs that could very easily take out doors and fenders if the right line wasn’t taken. Evidence of a happy group could be seen through endless smiles and cheers as each vehicle made it through unscathed.
We ended the day on an optional obstacle known as the "Dolphin" which only our K2 staff trail guide was able to make in his rear-steer TJ "buggy". Eventually it was back to the lineup and on the highway headed again towards a destination unknown to the group. We would end up in Brady, Texas for the night with plenty of time to grub up, have some cold beverages, and hit the sack.
Day 3 would mark our final day of JK Experience Middle America and there was no shortage of adventure and thrill. Continuing the intense Texas weather, we had our nightly wake up weather alert and local tornado watches combined with hail storms, flash flooding, and intense lightning storms.
Meeting up in usual fashion outside the hotel, we lined up and headed down the highway we had come in on the evening before. This only fed the excitement as we all had our fingers crossed we would end up back at K2 and that’s just where we were headed. Knowing what lied ahead, we quickly aired down and anxiously awaited to be lead back out onto the trails to see what else this park had to offer!
This day would challenge the group to the full potential of these incredibly built Jeep JK's and our spotters. On a tough trail called “The Escalator,” we ended up getting 3 JK's up the climb and through the immediate rock garden that followed before being slammed with a hail storm that the locals consider "mild". Everything is bigger in Texas.
We left the park earlier this day than the last in order to hit the pavement and make it to our final destination on time, however our 4-wheel adventure was far from over. The flooding in Texas left roads with river crossings that could easily wash a vehicle away if not approached with caution. Our JK's made easy work of the crossings and before long we were pulling into the "Hanger Hotel." Built to look like a 1940s, WWII airport hangar, this amazing boutique hotel is a minute's walk from the Gillespie County Airport and 3.4 miles from downtown Fredericksburg.
After posing for a group shot on the tarmac in front of the hotel, we broke off for showers and a change of clothes before meeting back up and heading into Luckenbach, Texas. A place made famous through country music, this town gives off an early country/americana feel and the evening was complete with live music, bar, and plenty of unique pieces of history keeping us wandering the area. Some of us were lucky enough to be treated to a private music session from a local artist. At the end of the day, we continued on at the hotel – eager to reminisce about the past few days and sad to see it end.
The 2015 Nitto Tire JK Experience Middle America was a complete success. “Texas was awesome. We’ll definitely come back to this area. There are tons of Jeeps and full-size 4x4s,” says Mel Wade. Epic weather, epic wheeling, epic company — epic is the only word to sum up this amazing adventure across Texas. Looking forward to the next JKX, this time on the West Coast, September 5-12, 2015. Visit jk-experience.com for more info. Nitto Tire JKX presented by Discount Tire would like to thank the following sponsors: Title Sponsor Nitto Tire, Presenting Sponsor Discount Tire, TrailJeeps, KMC Wheels, Northridge 4x4, Dynatrac, Not That This, Off Road Evolution, EVO Manufacturing, Rigid Industries, Mastercraft Safety, Low Range 4x4, Truck-Lite, Revolution Gear & Axle, JKS Manufacturing, Warn, King Racing Shocks, Adart Co., Mother Polish, and AquaHydrate.