Texas is 28 times larger than Rovers North’s Vermont, 14 times larger than my state of Maine. Overlay a map of Texas over a map of Europe and you’ll see it cover Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, parts of Belgium, France, Italy, Croatia and the Czech Republic. It takes over 13 hours to drive the 879 miles east to west, 11 hours north south. In my ignorance, I once asked a Dallas executive if he drove to our joint meeting in San Antonio. (It’s a 4- hour drive, the same as Boston to New York.) He just stared at me incredulously.
Size mattered when I flew into Dallas to attend SCARR 2016, held again this April at the Barnwell Mountain Off-Road Park in Gilmer, TX. First came a motel stay near the Dallas airport. Portland, ME (by far Maine’s largest city) offers 6 hotels around its “Jetport.” Dallas offers you 202 lodging options in the vicinity of the Dallas-Ft Worth International Airport. I found a late night meal and almost got lost trying to find my motel amongst the airport sprawl.
My phone rang the next morning and I found the 2008 Range Rover of Jon Button outside waiting to drive me on the last 125 miles of my trip. Since the vehicle usually waiting for me at a motel is my 1966 Series II-A, I considered the upgrade—in terms of Land Rover and companionship—significant. Jon has participated in several SCARR’s and has no qualms about testing his Range Rover’s capabilities on the trails.
Our first stop was to DuSouth Rovr in Dallas, a two-year-old Land Rover specialty shop. The building had a near hospital operating room cleanliness about it; standing out amongst the vehicles there was a ‘97 Defender 110 with a 3.5 V-8. Enthusiasts Aaron Lowery, another ‘08 Range Rover owner, and Logan Klein, with a much modified ‘91 Range Rover Classic, run the company. Logan bought his Range Rover when he was 18, and he now has 182,000 miles on it.
He’s rebuilt the top end of the motor and has modified it for more extreme off-roading, including longer shocks, new radius arms, differential guards and a custom rear bumper. He’s planning on driving it at Moab and attending the Solihull Society’s National Rally this fall.
We convoyed with the DuSouth group and headed east for the two-hour drive to Gilmer. The Texas Rovers Club spends much of a year planning for the South Central Area Rover Rally, held from April 20–24, at the Barnwell Mountain Off-Road Park in Gilmer. Once again, Laura Shacklette, McKinney, TX, stepped up to coordinate the massive effort of renting the park, organizing 5 days of trail rides for 110 vehicles, three meals daily for over 250 people, special events for kids and adults, an enormous raffle night, two big banquets, set up and clean up. She had a terrific team in Joey Pitts, Christopher Pullen, Kevin Didion, Larry McBeartly and Sarah Caldwell. The results were, as you would expect in Texas, big.
The Barnwell Mountain Off-Road Park offers over 25 miles of trails on 1,850 acres. With the support of the Snell Motor Companies and their Land Rover dealerships [see sidebar on p.15] the Texas Rovers Club rented the entire park for nearly a week. A man at the front gate enforced the “Land Rovers Only” edict. The East Texas town of Gilmer sits between the culinary influences of Shreveport, LA and Dallas, TX, so the modern-day chuck wagons that fed the hundreds of enthusiasts offered up the regional preferences of each state. Journalistic ethics compelled me to test the homemade doughnuts, the piquant breakfast offerings as well as the Texas BBQ; I can report that all were terrific. The SCARR organizers have learned the preferences of their participants, so the campsites range from the sleep-deprived “Fun Zone” to more sedate locales. There’s so much room that you really need a Land Rover just to get between the campsites; the main camping site, Camp Maybe, is a 10-minute ride from the main gate. The camping ranged from Airstreams to “Tent Mahals” to the back of a Land Rover. Unlike recent years, conditions stayed relatively dry throughout the week.
Although I could hardly meet everyone at this year’s SCARR, it did seem that a lot of newcomers brought their Land Rovers to this year’s festivities. Marc and Ayse Hellig drove their ‘92 Range Rover Classic 500 miles from Odessa, accompanied by two dogs named Amstel and Shiraz; it’s a safe bet that their names reflect their own- ers’ preferences. Marc hails from Johannesburg where his first vehicle was a Series III Land Rover. On this trip their fuel mileage at 75 mph on the highways dropped to 13.5 mpg, but they’re more than happy with that given the Rover’s 150,000 miles on the odometer. Philip Sterling of Salida, CO, found an ‘88 RHD Land Rover 90 Pickup with a 200 Tdi that had been sitting for “a while,” but he enjoyed the 868-mile trip to his first SCARR. He’s part of a team that bought a forlorn motel, the Amigo Motor Lodge, in one of Colorado’s most stunning locales; it reopens this month as a “boutique motel” that he hopes will host Land Rover events one day. Andy and Isela Truong, Spring, TX, brought their Discovery I and their kids, Trevor and Kalani, to tackle her “Mud Life Crisis.”
No one attending SCARR could ever complain “there’s nothing to do!” You could sit and relax by your campfire and show up at the Main Pavilion for communal meals; the Snell Group threw in a Meet-N-Greet one night. You could ogle the incredible range of Land Rover models, from stock to trail-only, from Series Land Rovers to the newest Range Rovers. Kids could watch Kung Fu Panda on an outdoor screen, complete with all-you-could-consume root beer floats. You could test the strength of your family ties at the “Family Blindfold Obstacle Course.”
Led by trail run coordinator Joey Pitts, Paradise, TX, you had opportunities each morning, afternoon and evening for off-road- ing—from pleasant jaunts through the woods to sphincter-clenching, axle twisting, rollover-potential extreme trails. Names like “Jeep Eater,” “Solihull,” “Spider Ravine” and “Humdinger” hinted at what lay ahead. Whether an experienced off-roader or a novice, you had the chance to learn new techniques or test your knowledge against the off-road conditions. Under overall dry conditions, drivers could still find stretches of thick Texas clay mud in which their Land Rovers could wallow and fill their tires’ treads. No doubt the car washes in the region did a landoffice business on Sunday, the final day of the event.
SCARR always seems to present something new annually; this year, it was “The Barbara Toy–Pollyanna Tribute Run.” The idea grew from conversations with Laura Shacklette, whose energy behind SCARR is, well, Texas-sized. “To a Texan, a car is like wings to a seagull,” wrote Lone Star state journalist Ronnie Duggar, yet it seemed like everyone driving their Land Rover at SCARR was male. Why not a woman-only trail run? Laura put Sarah Caldwell in charge and her re- search dug up the amazing story of Barbara Toy [see Sidebar this page]. Thus was born the Barbara Toy–Pollyanna Tribute Run spon- sored by Rovers North. On a Friday afternoon, 13 women took over the wheel of their Land Rovers: Sarah Caldwell (trail leader), Laura Shack- lette, Leona Kwait, Sara Neal, Brandy Vasquez, Lauren Dehart, Isela Truong, Lexi Perada, Elyse Pennington, Laura Malcom Alcorn, Katia Pajares, Janelle Whitehead, Jordyn Pitts and Christy Parr.
Off-road driving looks easier from the passenger seat than the driver’s; as many of the participants hadn’t driven off-road before, there were some visible nervous glances. I rode with Sara Neal, a cor- porate accountant with Gamestop who’d ridden often with husband Michael on off-road adventures, but never driven herself, in her Dis- covery II. Compounding her challenge was that the Discovery “was really Michael’s; he bought it when he was in high school!” She en- gaged low range and started off the narrow forest trail. It wasn’t long before we began an off camber climb that lifted wheels off the ground. The next challenge came when, inexplicitly given the weather, the firm ground dissolved into red Texas clay mud. Things got really slick as tire treads filled up and offered less bite. Sarah Caldwell organized trail marshals to help her guide novices up the steep, slippery incline. As they chewed up the surface, each of the preceding vehicles made it harder for their followers to find traction. Only a Range Rover with street tires required a yank on the final stretch. After nearly two hours you could see the drivers become more comfortable behind the wheel; I doubt that many will let their spouses or significant others hog the driver’s seat in the future.
Saturday at SCARR has always been special. You could treat your- self to the Fun Zone campers “Tire Challenge.” Equally Texas-sized was the extraordinary raffle with prizes from generous sponsors. After a very tasty BBQ dinner, Mark Caldwell took to the microphone to announce the winners to the groans of losers, such as myself. If you needed more excitement you could always participate in night trail rides, too.
Five days of off-roading and camping over thousands of acres, with over 100 vehicles and hundreds of enthusiasts of all ages–truly a Texas-sized success! If you’ve not made it to a SCARR, look ahead to your calendar for April 2017. It doesn’t matter which Land Rover model you own or how many days you can attend, just treat yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Story By Jeffrey Aronson,
Photography by Trent Landreth and Jeffrey Aronson