Oklahoma 'wheelie' perfect for fall riding adventure 

Hit the red dirt "¦ or the sandy dirt, or the rocky dirt, or the hard-pack clay dirt, the mud or a mixture of them all. In this Red Dirt state, one can even get a taste of desert dunes in Little Sahara State Park, ride in the extraordinary wooded lands of Eastern Oklahoma, or through the wide-open spaces of Western Oklahoma. Experience flatlands or elevation changes that offer scenery, wildlife and challenges most citizens don't know is right here at home.


There is no better way to experience what our state has to offer than to climb on " or these days, climb in " an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or side-by-side. Not much compares to the adrenaline of flying through the air with the wind at your face on four wheels " a feeling that is familiar to many Oklahomans.

"Oklahoma offers more diverse terrain, scenery and challenges within a small radius than any of the surrounding states," said Oklahoma native Ty Davis, president of Moto Marketing USA Inc., a power sports marketing company.

With the state's vast terrain, one can see why the Sooner State is just one big playground for off-road riding"a great way to include the whole family to enjoy fall's cooler weather and outdoor scenery.

"We are blessed in Oklahoma," said "Sky" Guy Cooper, 1990 AMA 125 Motocross national champion from Stillwater. "The best dirt in the world is right here. People might say dirt is dirt, but I've been riding everywhere and that's just not true."

Cooper's way of life is on two wheels, but after all the pounding on the motocross track, the 45-year-old husband and father has added the enjoyment of a four-wheel ride on his Yamaha Rhino or Polaris RZR side-by-sides, some of the latest waves in the power sports market.

These side-by-side ATVs, also known as utility-terrain vehicles (UTVs), are multifaceted and commonly used for property maintenance, farm work and hunting. But with souped-up engines and jacked-up suspensions, it's a new adventure.

"You can actually jump these things," Cooper said. "It's not like the old John Deere Gator. These machines have great articulation."

Some communities in Oklahoma are even making it possible to legally use these units for some on-road purposes. For example, Weatherford passed a city ordinance in August, legalizing all side-by-sides in the city and on county roads, according to Rob Garrett, Oklahoma sales representative for Motorcycles Tires and Accessories. High fuel prices and the level of safety these vehicles have were the main motivations, said Weatherford Mayor Mike Brown. Other small communities are also working toward this movement.

Metro riding enthusiasts can find open and private trail systems and riding areas within a reasonable commute. Crosstimbers Riding Area at Lake Draper is the closest ORV area. Within about two hours, one can be at Little Sahara, Stillwater 500, Keystone Lake, Lake Murray or the Kiamichi Mountains in Anadarko. Drive a little further to the Ouachita Mountains and see some beautiful fall foliage, rocky bluffs and canyon creek crossings.

"My personal favorite place is Stillwater with its diverse landscape and terrain," said Davis, who uses his Polaris RZR for performance, but also has a six-seater Polaris Crew to commute family and beach gear at the lake house. "It's versatile, safe, agile and fun."

Local cross-country motorcycle champion Chris Tucker also enjoys side-by-sides just about every weekend, including at his favorite place, Lake Draper.

"My dad raced off-road cars in the Eighties, so I guess I'm following his passion for the off-road," said Tucker, who takes his wife and 7-month old son in his Polaris RZR for an occasional outdoor venture. "The side-by-sides are fun because you have a rider with you, not behind you. It makes riding more social and safe."

The industry's numbers have proven the popularity and remain steady throughout Oklahoma, even in an overall economic downturn.

"ATV sales are declining in the U.S., while the newer segment of UTVs continue to increase in market share," Davis said. "Competitive events remain steady and enthusiasts continue to ride."

According to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Federal Highway Administration, the state's top-rated motorcycle/ATV/UTV trails are:

Little Sahara State Park, Waynoka: Offers sand dunes as far as the eye can see from 25-75 feet tall and ranked in the top 5 off-road parks by ATV magazine. Lake Murray, Ardmore: Marked trails cross grassland forest and rolling hills in a 1,000-acre riding area with elevation ranging from 750-820 feet. Some trails may be too narrow for UTVs. Gruber Recreation Area, Muskogee: Home to enduro and trail races, with about 450 acres of rocky and dirt soil, elevation ranging from 500-720 feet with 100-foot cliffs along riverbanks and 100-foot climbs. Open year-round, helmets required. Prague: 225 wooded hilly acres with sandy soil and rocks, including 25 miles of trails. Ponca City: Great trail area offers camping at Kaw Lake, 12 miles east of Ponca City. Beaver Dune State Park, Beaver: 360 acres of sand dunes. Broken Bow: Open timberland mountains with muddy bottoms. Must have a land permit to ride in the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area, "but it's well worth having hundreds of miles of back roads and trails," said Rob Garrett of Motorcycles Tires and Accessories. Appalachia Bay, Mannford: Also known as "motorcycle island," these 600 acres of riding offer sandy terrain, open beaches and wooded trails with moderate elevation changes. Ouachita National Forest, Southeast Oklahoma: Muddy valleys and up to 2,000 feet on both sides of the Talimena scenic drive. There are many recreational areas, and one can venture in the forest to camp, hunt and fish.  

"Valerie Kramer Davis

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