I have always loved the Arbuckle Mountains. Even though they are mere foothills when compared to their Rocky and Appalachian cousins, I find them just as captivating. Their rustic beauty defined the landscapes where I went hunting and fishing while growing up. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to them. The Arbuckles have always provided a quick escape from daily life simply because they are so close to home. It wasn’t until I traveled to the Crossbar Ranch, ATV and RV Park to try out their trails that I became aware of how close to home the Arbuckles really were.
My mother used to talk about growing up on “The Ranch”, located a few miles west of Davis, OK in the heart of the Arbuckles. As I prepared for this story, I did not, at first, realize that “The Ranch” and the Crossbar Ranch were one and the same. I also learned the Crossbar was formerly the Butterly Ranch. My grandfather, Buddy Mulkey, started working for the Butterlys after he graduated high school, earning $80 a month plus room and board. He eventually leased the Butterly Ranch for his own cattle operation. During the mid sixties, he moved my grandmother and their three children to reside on the ranch property in the main house. This was their home for the next half decade.
Things look different now. There is a camp ground with restroom facilities and RV hookups along with a small gift shop that offers concessions. There isn’t much cattle to be found, and there are no horses to be shoed only the occasional flat from one of their ATV rentals. The ranch house where my mother lived for a memorable period of her childhood still remains. Gone are the maids house, bunk house, and corrals that my grandfather used. Today the house serves as lodging for Gary Taylor, Ranch Foreman for the last four years. He maintains the trails, tends to the property and probably knows the trails better than anyone. He was gracious enough to show me some of the trails even though the temperature was in the triple digits.
As I first entered the park and crossed a low water bridge , I didn’t really know what was going to be waiting at the end of the two mile drive up the mountain. The information I had gathered along with my personal connection to the Crossbar was making this trip more exciting. I topped a hill and saw the main building, but I wasn’t really sure if the place was open. Turns out I was the only person foolish enough to go ATV riding that day.
Summer is the park’s slow season, with only four or five riders on a good day. The obvious cause is Oklahoma’s unforgivable heat. However, during the spring and autumn months, the park may have 90 plus riders a day. Taylor commented on the park’s typical rider.
“There are a few big groups that regularly come to ride. We get a lot of traffic from Texas. In fact most of the riders that come here are not locals. What we are seeing more and more are side by side vehicles and those are mostly Polaris RZRs. Side by sides seem to handle the terrain and trail widths just fine, but with the growing popularity and variety of SXS’s I will probably start widening the trails.”
The Crossbar Ranch has a variety of terrain to both skilled and novice riders. There are two trails from which to choose, the blue and red. The blue trail is easier and is mostly flat but the rider still knows they’re in the Arbuckle Mountains. I experienced some of the Red trail which offers the best views and provides riders more of a challenge. I realize challenge can be a subjective word for seasoned riders, but there was one descent that put me on edge. I basically had to ride the brake and negotiate the ATV to keep as much tire contact with the rocks as possible hoping to not topple forward. To call me seasoned or even a frequent ATV rider would be stretching it, but I spent three days riding in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming as well as riding trails in Alaska and Arkansas. I would say the Crossbar’s trails were just as intense. Taylor made the comment that some riders say the Red Trail is harder than trails they ride in Colorado.
The Crossbar’s trails are a great alternative to the sandy bottoms of the Washita and Canadian Rivers which seem to be a favorite destination for local off road enthusiasts. Riders will enjoy both scenery and trail variety different from than long flat endurance rides of the nearby river bottoms. One minute you could be climbing a steep rock incline and the next you could be bogging through a creek into a soft packed timber trail.
The Crossbar Ranch was bought by the city of Davis in 1996 for campground expansion of the Turner Falls Park. The conversion of the 6,800 acre property to an ATV and RV park didn’t begin until 2004. It now features over 52 miles of riding trails and spacious campgrounds with 28 electrical hookups for RV camping. There are also a few events hosted every year including a race held by the Oklahoma Cross Country Racing Association.
With so much beautiful acreage, the park would like to offer other attractions. Tom Graham, Turner Falls and Crossbar Park Manger, commented on the possibility of adding more attractions in the future.
“Some things we would like to add are horseback riding. However this would be difficult because we don’t have a great water source. We would need a better water supply for this to be a reality. There is also talk of organized hunts where hunters could draw in by lottery. This is a challenge too because the ranch is in Davis city limits. There could even be package deals where consumers could enjoy attractions at both parks. Again, none of this is certain, and we are really just throwing the ideas around.”
With or without these ideas, the Crossbar Ranch and the Arbuckles in general are a great way to spend free time. They might not be the mountains they once were, but for some, a small adventure can be found around every bend in the trail. For me I am glad to know the Arbuckles are always close to home.
For more information about Great Plains Polaris and their services contact www.greatplainspolaris.com