Gilmer or Barnwell Mountain or TMTC
By Doug Chartier

By whatever name, it has great promise of excellent four wheelin’.  Well, “promise” isn’t exactly accurate.  It ALREADY has some good wheelin’.

Entrance to the area is through a gate at the back of a highway picnic area.  More on that later.  The area has the same “commercial” look and feel as Shiloh Ridge.  Nothing wrong with that, only an observation.  It is, after all, a commercial endeavor.

        

 The 8:00 a.m. meeting time and trail starting time was another “normal” wheelin’ deal.  Didn’t start on time.  That’s ok.  Gave us a chance to walk around and see the sites.

 The commercial aspect: A trailer for an office, another trailer for fast food, Porta-Pots and an ice cream wagon that came in later. 

So, it has the commercial look and feel as opposed to the outback wilderness of Las Cruces, Hot Springs, Big Bend and other “unimproved” areas.  In the “outback” one knows it may be a real chore to recover a vehicle or treat any other type emergency.  In the commercial areas help is a short distance away.  They even had an ambulance on site.  Don’t know if it was called out or was there just in case.

The trails: The term “the ground is rotten” was heard more than once.  This referred to the surface, which was easily broken.  My guess is that the trail cutting involved a disruption of the surface that caused subsurface cracks in the earth that easily gave way when tires started putting pressure on the surface.

My BFG ATs did not perform well at all.  The surface just kept flaking and churning.  There was very little traction available.  My winch got a good workout.  I expect that the hills will become more solid with use. 

Those with more aggressive tread did not experience the looseness of the earth to the same degree that I did, but must add that it appeared that a really aggressive tread was necessary.  BFG MTs and similar treads were having trouble too.  Swampers and Boggers were in their element and did well.

 Another observation regarding “commercial”.  It was crowded.  Reminded me of a small lake in a desert area on the 4th of July.  Motorcycles, 4 wheelers and 4x4s everywhere.  This actually did not create a problem on the trails themselves.  As near as I could determine the trails were all rather short.   It is almost like a single trail is more like an obstacle or two with a bit of trail connecting them.  This had the effect of separating different groups so that many more could enjoy the trails and not run over each other.  Back on the main road connecting the trails the evidence of many groups going to different trails became apparent.

 In the future I suspect a day’s activities will take on the following type scenario.   “Wanna do 15 first?”  (It will probably have a real name by then)  “No, we have a couple of newbies, so let’s do 7, then over to 13 and then 15.  We might even get 31 in before lunch.”  This is totally unlike the wilderness trails where we do a long single trail that has a beginning and an end and takes most of the day.

 Speaking of lunch, it is now time to talk about the picnic area at the entrance to TMTC.  Half dozen or more big cement benches and tables, lots of parking room, shade trees, trash barrels, shed covers over all the tables and a good distance from the highway.  It is a nice roadside picnic area.  The wheelers leave the trails, drive a quarter mile to the picnic area, stop off at the Porta-Pots if necessary and then sit down for a nice comfortable lunch.  A single shed and table can accommodate about 20 people.  There were about 6 or 7 in my lunch group, and we kinda rattled around in the shed area because there was so much room.  Nice, clean and comfortable and a real plus to the total days activities.

 The group I was with did not have the cohesion that I normally see on the trail.  It seemed to be more of a collection of individuals than a group with a specific purpose.  This has nothing to do with the area, and again is just an observation.  A group of High Rollers would be the same here as anywhere else – fussin’ and fightin’ about … nah, just kidding, but I did miss the familiar faces, predictable behavior AND helpfulness and personal concern of our club members.

 Maggie and I (Maggie is my 6 month old Bloodhound pup) arrived a minute or two after 8 a.m. after leaving Houston around 3:30 a.m.  Suzie had to stay home.  She was very disappointed.  This was Maggie’s first trip, and she did well for the first time out.  I took the passenger seat out of the front of the TJ and made a nice bed for her there.  She does require a bit more room than Suzie.

 We did two or three trails that involved long hills.  Had trouble on all of them – no traction.  Had to winch on two of the three hills, and there was a broken axle or drive shaft on each of the hills.  This was again attributable to the looseness of the earth.  Building up rpms in an effort to gain traction took its toll.  I did not have the traction to crawl.

 On one of the hills the YJ behind me broke a drive shaft.  The narrow trail prevented someone in front of me returning to do the winching.  Not that I expected anyone to do that since the YJ was behind me.  After turning around I winched the YJ about half way up before I had to change positions.

 During the position change I began to slide sideways into a couple of trees.  Was unable to retain the pressure on the YJ and move, so another Jeep with a Warn 8274 came to the rescue.

He locked on and allowed me to disengage.  I did, but was unable to get off the trees with the other winch cable in the way, and the YJ would be forced to drive in the area where I was stalled out.  The first 8274 suffered a burned out wire shortly after beginning his pull.  Another 8274 was brought in.  This gave me the opportunity to get out of the way.

 Maggie began to get a bit sick shortly after noon, so she and I left between 1 and 2 o’clock.  I wasn’t too happy about having to be winched everywhere I went either.

 We had a good time, and I was impressed with the trails.  It is going to be a worthwhile place to run.  The trails were relatively dry.  The looseness of the hills was not water related.  It was just loose dirt.  I expect that this will be an entirely different set of trails after a good rain.  You mud folks will probably be very happy with it.  For rock crawling it was lacking.  At least I did not see rocky areas.  “Earthy vs. rocky”, does that make sense?  Lots of trees, dusty main roads, excellent “personal facilities”, good camp out areas (saw several campers and tents), very nice picnic area, lots of shade and even some breezes in some places.

 This would make an excellent overnight run for the Southern High Rollers.  It is roughly 225 miles from downtown Houston with good high-speed highways all the way.

Other pictures from Gilmer:  

 
 
Shawn Pagan’s “Flexin” TJ  


Although a bit hard to tell in this picture, Shawn is very stuck...  

      Alan & Mimi Dobbs’ brand new Discovery II