What is worth six hours of roundtrip driving? How much time do you feel you need to spend before going home?
If we’re talking riding a trail for the first time, then for me it’s almost a no-brainer. Our first nine years in the DFW area, I was not a mountain biker. Now that I am and we are back, getting away from the crowds holds more value than ever, so any time at all is worth it.
(Update: I have posted my helmet-cam video from this ride. It shows the terrain and the scenery, albeit shakily. https://youtu.be/7iiKvs1Bi5M)
That’s why when long-time DFW mountain biker Greg Broussard posted an event for a ride in the remote Wichita Mountains, I jumped at the chance. Greg is a strong rider in fitness and technique. That combined with a rocky and mountainous destination made it the perfect opportunity for my first riding road trip of 2017.
It ended up being just Greg and me. When he transferred his gear and his bike to my tiny Mazda 2, I was amazed it all fit. From our meeting point in Denton, mundane weedy fields and stubby trees lined the highways on our route to Medicine Park, Oklahoma.
Once we arrived, however, mountains suddenly jutted from the otherwise featureless landscape. The small town sat next to a clear stream, nestled between large, rolling mountainsides. The hills were mostly grassy, generously sprinkled with large boulders and rubble.
It was about 10 AM, and we were set to meet local riders at 11 at Base Camp Outfitters. We found it quickly among only a handful of buildings downtown, and then turned our attention toward trail fuel.
“I ate breakfast at about 6:15,” I said. “I’m going to need something for energy.”
We found about four parking spots marked for CockEyed Bob’s Cobblestone Cafe. Most likely a house at one point, its walls seemed to be made from rounded stones embedded in dried mud. Inside, we were surrounded by photos of the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, where I had been a few years before on a family camping trip (see post with pics at the top here). I knew that if the scenery on the ride came even close to comparing, the drive would have been worth it.
I ordered the short stack breakfast with eggs, bacon, and tater tots. Everything but the bacon was the best I’ve ever had. That doesn’t mean the bacon was bad–it just wasn’t the best ever. The owners were very friendly and knew the riders we were supposed to join.
Filled up and paid up, we drove 30 feet to Base Camp Outfitters’ back parking. A table and chairs sat in the small yard between the shop and the street. Full suspension mountain bikes with aggressive treads waited in a small rack to the right of the shop’s front door.
Back at my car, Greg donned his typical open-face helmet and no pads, while I looked like I was ready to joust. I guess I’m just more averse to cuts and busted teeth than most riders.
We heard hubs buzzing as our volunteer local guides trickled in from their earlier group ride. Several of the guys were about our age, which was comforting. That doesn’t always mean their fitness will be down there with mine, but it helps.
We rode on town streets briefly before turning onto a gravel road. A slow climb spit us out onto the trails and then we climbed a rocky trail that seemed to wait for the switchbacks to throw its technical challenges at us. This made for slow-going and, I’ll admit, a couple of dabs, even for Greg.
The view once we reached the top was worth the effort (see introductory photo). Local Steve pointed out and explained many points in the distance, including a section of trails near the lake that were closed due to an elk hunt that weekend.
Soon we reached an intersection hub, and took off on a trail that local Chad said they built primarily to reach a scenic boulder outcropping called “The Crag.” It offered some flow, some technical fun, and great views. We didn’t stop once on that loop, and it turned out to be my favorite trail of the day–impressive for something the guys slapped together over a summer.
Next we hit a fast descent down a partially washed-out section, and then a steep climb up a long slab of rock that I wasn’t up to making without a little hike-a-bike. The payoff, of course, was another sweeping vista.
From that scenic spot we headed down another fast descent, into a section nicknamed Diving Board, then the Emergency Room, which stopped me more than once. It features sections of level and uphill pedaling over rocks half the size of my wheel, with some larger. It also boasted The Ambulance. While any mistake there could mean a ride in its namesake, it isn’t a particularly difficult feature. We sessioned those features a couple times while the guys snapped pics.
The challenging technical climbing sections kept coming after that, and my heart rate had me wishing for a 42-tooth rear ring. The guys have done a great job of using the existing rocks to build trails that stay interesting, whether you’re going up, down, or sideways. And, unless you are an expert, you will go sideways.
Before we started the Orange Trail, all the local riders but Kye (the 16-year-old who joined us) left. He and Greg sped to the top of the first climb, and I took a wrong turn without them in view. Kye’s comment when I reached them? “If you would have kept up, you wouldn’t have got lost.” Ah, yes, his dad obviously started him early in the mountain biking traditions. The trail was a fun mix of open-field and woods that featured some long sections of riding over smooth rock, ending with a loose, switchback descent back to town.
Next up? Chad led us from Base Camp and through the downtown streets to the Fish Trail, a recent addition to the Medicine Park system. It offered up yet another grand view from the top, and one of my favorite sections by far–The Lion’s Den, a fun alternative line made of large boulders that are part of the descent from the trail’s peak. The Fish Trail descent was a blast all the way back to the downtown streets.
Featuring some open fields, some wooded sections, and amazing views while riding through scenic boulder fields and rock gardens, Medicine Park trails are vastly different from anything else that close to the Dallas Metro area.
I would say Waco or Austin are the next closest places to offer anything similar, but that is not based on personal experience. Dinosaur Valley features tough terrain, but not the views. Sansom Park in Fort Worth serves up some views and rocky terrain, but not in quite the same extremes. The hills where I started riding, in northwest Arkansas, are just as big or bigger, and some definitely are rocky, but they are completely wooded. Only in parts of the state I haven’t ridden are there sweeping views directly from a mountain bike trail. Sure, several trails in Moab offer all of it in bigger quantities, but getting there is much less practical.
I’ll mention again the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a place not to be missed–especially if you are right next door already. Combined with that, Medicine Park makes for an ultimate weekend getaway. Your favorite navigation tool knows how to get you there. The trails themselves? I could show you, but sadly, I cannot explain it after just one time there. Basecamp Outfitters will be glad to point you in the right direction.