All posts by trailteam


SMORR – May 2018

Our trip to Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch last weekend. Enjoy!

Posted by Fort's Trail Team on Monday, June 4, 2018

New Years Resolution 2018 – More 4×4 fun!

We kicked off 2018 by hitting the snowy slopes of The Cliff’s Insane Terrain on New Years.  5 brave Trail Team members and a few passengers made the trek.   It was a VERY cold morning and it didn’t get much better throughout the whole day…  -15 was the wakeup temp.

The Cliffs had a scavenger hunt that day.  Laid out in the snowy trails were 6 hidden markers that could be found by using clues provided at the office.  It should come as not surprise that “Super Taco” blazed all the trails and beat everyone to the grand prize.  A free years membership to the park.  Super Taco fended off competitors of all sizes and styles…  And he has never been to this park before!  Amazing!

Link to the Photo Album:


Southern Cruiser Crawl 2017

The Fort’s Trail Team ended our 2017 “Season” with one of our favorite events in the TLCA lineup…  Southern Cruiser Crawl (SCC).  SCC has been a “must” event for our group since our first time venturing to Hot Springs Off Road Park in 2013.  It’s a mix of old and new trucks, great food, lots of friendly faces and most importantly… It’s a great off road park.

The event has been building year over year…  What started out as a small club event for Cottonland Cruisers has turned into a nationally recognized destination.  Forts Trail Team has been there to watch some of that growth.  Our first year at SCC was three years ago and we brought two trucks.  This year, we had a fleet of six trucks from Central Illinois caravan down the 8 hour drive south.  Our 2001 Tacoma dubbed “300” amazed us once again by showing its durability in trouble free operation on and off the trails, not to mention the drive to and from Hot Springs.  

Fall in Arkansas this year was hot.  Normally when we do SCC it’s a nice warmth in the sun, but when in the shadow of trees or in a valley… Its cool air.  Combine that with the first hints of fall in the tree colors…  And it’s nearly the best time of year to be there.  This year…  It was lot of dust and a heat everyday.  Highs during the days closed in on 90 degrees.  We are breaking a sweat…  Add to the dust from the truck in front of you and you suddenly feel like it’s Mojave Road all over again!  In all honesty, high 80’s while in the shade are not bad.   If you haven’t been there, Hot Springs Off-Road Park has lots of shade.  Every rolling hill is covered with trees and we are deep in these canopy all day.  Rarely do you find yourself in the wide open sun.

   The event is centered around this park…  And it would seem that three years of hitting these trails would make the event a casual drive.  But that’s not the case.  We brought some new people with us, so that is always a thrill.  We did manage to find some new trails, which I did not think was possible!  And, we did some “Night Wheeling” and managed to get backwards on one of the harder trails in the park.  It was a constant adventure!   

One notable highlight was when “300” got stuck.  It all happened when its over ambitious driver, Fort’s Maintenance Tech Hunter, decided to follow a line that the rock crawling buggies had just ripped through.  Watching the recovery was just fine for the rest of us…  We got to see a show from a world famous truck.   Marlin from Marlin Crawler pulled up and rescued the Tacoma with ease.  Lots of pictures were taken and lots of jabs have been thrown at Hunter since.  All that was missing was popcorn!


The camping was a highlight as well… As this picture below will illustrate.  Camping with new guys is always an adventure when they have not prepared their gear!  Somehow…   This one sided tent was able to sleep two guys for three nights!

This year, as In years past we have used the KOA in Hot Springs that is just five minutes away from the event.  They have great shower facility and it’s a quiet atmosphere to retire too after running trails all day.  We found out on day two that their breakfast is a pretty good deal as well.  Bonus!  KOA’s have all levels of service.  They have small cabins, RV Hookups and tent space.  We all tent camped.  KOA’s have always been a great value for stops when travelling the country, and this one in Hot Springs is on our good list.  

Mother nature gave us our final wakeup call on Sunday.  The driest of weekends always ends with rain.  (Because, what fun would packing your tent up be if everything was dry?)  At 6am Sunday morning… And big storm front moved through and made sure everything was soaked.   

Southern Cruiser Crawl happens in October…  It’s on the Fort’s Trail Team to-do list every year.  If you want a fun, end of the year, 4 wheeling romp…  This is the one to do.  Let us know if you are interested in going as we always have room for more folks.  Its also worth noting that this event is made for every type of wheeler;  Buggies to stock trucks can have fun here.  Food is provided every night and it’s a big party afterward.  The KOA does book it’s cabins pretty far out in advance…  Otherwise, you can plan this trip around the event registration later in the summer.

Beware though…  One trip to Arkansas for this and you will always want to go back!

Join us!

Kokopelli Trail Expediton with Cruise Moab

Wanted:  Cruise Moab registrants with an extra taste for adventure for this years Overnight run on the Kokopelli Trail.  Trucks must be lifted, modified and protected from the extreme trails that will be between you and Moab.  Additionally, be prepared to cook and camp for yourself as we will be on the trail for three days and two nights.  Also, if you can bring those pudding cups with the gummy worms for the camp potluck, that would be great.

While that might seem like a bit of a stretch for the official Kokopelli Overnight registration, it’s not too far removed from what Stan Wright was asking of the intrepid adventurers who signed up for his guided tour to Cruise Moab 20.

This overnight run is not a new thing for Cruise Moab.  For the past few years they have run a multi-night “overlanding” style trek from Grand Junction to Moab via the Kokopelli Trail.  The 142 mile trail has a little of everything including the route that sends you over Rose Garden Hill and and a sidetrack up the Top of the World trail.  That mileage may not seem like a long distance on paper, but believe it or not, it takes a constant pace to finish in under three days.  This outing is a draw for anyone not familiar with the area or wanting a taste of overlanding.  The registration filled up quick and they couldn’t take everyone who applied.  

I will admit to being a “noobie” on this type of overland trip.  I had read the trail notes on “MUD” from years past…. It sounded amazing and equally stressful.  I had even sold the trip to a few friends and co-workers after selling myself on it.  Registration goes fast.  Four trucks in my local group tried to get on the run…. Three of us made it.  Fortunately, I was one of those three.  A lesser man, and a true friend would have bailed when the fourth truck was left behind…. I am not that good of a friend.

We had months to prepare.  That was good and bad.  It gave me a lot of time to think about my truck equipment…. And then start over-thinking personal gear.  Fortunately, this run was being guided by Stan Wright (same one at the beginning of this magazine!) and Chris…  Any questions we had about what to expect would be laid to rest by the experienced guides.  We received an email from Stan with expectations of our trucks and a special area in “mud” to start sharing information about the planned trip.  Also, we were encouraged to add some background on the rest of the adventurers.  Of course, it turned into a drool session when we saw the modifications some of the guys/gals had done to their rigs in anticipation of this trip.  

There were folks registered from New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego and all points in between.  We just about hit the four corners of the US of A with this crew.  Drivers and passengers were all ages and we even had a celebrity dog along for the trip!   It was a diverse vehicle lineup.   A newer GX body, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, a diesel swapped 62, a few 80’s, four 4Runners and a couple 100 series.  You have to stay disciplined to stop watching all the cool trucks around you or you might do something dumb on the trail!  

The night before the event start, several of us decided to camp out at the trailhead in Rabbit Valley.  (Never saw a rabbit BTW). About 8 trucks had set up to get a bonus night of camping before we hit the trails at 10AM the next day.  It was a nice head start to meet a few of our merry band of adventurers.  April in the high desert is beautiful camping weather.  Cool and dry with clear skies.  

Stan showed up the next morning for the drivers meeting with a big pile of local burritos…. Now this could be a test…. Do you throw down burritos before an eight hour trip on a rough and tumble trail?  I risked it.  They were delicious.  Local flavors win again!  We had the group pow wow…. Rules, inspections and expectations were taken care of.  We would have a long drive to get to our first campsite.  Buckle up, let’s move now and prepare for some amazing views.

It was just that.  The first day’s drive was a long winding trip to the Mesa, that had us scrambling to beat bad weather.  Heavy clouds loomed overhead that morning and we were getting some drops on the windshield.  Stan explained over the CB that we would be in bad shape if a downpour arrived, leaving us on slick orange surface mud (I remember a similar feeling at Mardi Krawl…. No thanks!).  We moved along quickly for the first few hours.  After we reached the top of the Mesa we had our chance to take a breath and take a look.  Amazing views that you can only dream about from the interstate.  No doubt, you sucking it all in while driving, but a stop once and awhile lets you really admire the huge vistas that no camera can ever capture.  

Part of our preplanning had us pack a shareable meal for a potluck on night one.  We got the camp area with lots of time to set up and start cooking before dark.  This was my first chance to see all the possible overlanding combinations.  Rooftop tents of a few different varieties.  Awnings galore.  And a few folks setting up traditional tents.  Supper was anything but freeze dried camp food.  Brats, Chicken Tacos, homemade Soup (kept frozen for the trip in a portable freezer)..  So much food that we couldn’t kill it all!  Thank God there are not bears in this area…. We would have been surrounded!  We spend the night hearing some great yarns from TLCA President, Ross Woody.  Most of us had no clue that a minor celebrity had tagged along for our trip!  (I didn’t get his autograph!)

Day two on the trail had us running all day to get to top of the world.  We started off at 9AM…. And arrived at the trail entrance at about 5PM.  It was a tremendous day with winding trails that kept us seeing sights of the snow covered San Juan’s in the distance.  So far, nothing had held us up.  No cows, gastric distressed drivers or broke-down trucks.  According to Stan, this was unusual.  They normally were dealing with some sort of breakdown every time they start this adventure.  Could we beat the odds?

We headed up “Top of the World” trail for some great “light” at the end of the day.  The sky was blue and the clouds were minimal.  Remember what I said about breakdowns?  It happened.  It sounds like it’s bound to happen on a trip like this.  And in reality…. You should be mentally prepared for your personal truck being the problem that holds everyone up.  Recovery gear is highly recommended from the start for this reason.  Our group had some old trucks, and we ran at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone was safe.  Surprisingly, it was the newest truck in our group that had the first failure.  The Tacoma had succumbed to poorly modified front diff carrier that had given way at the body mount.  There was a scramble to assist, but it didn’t appear that we could solve this halfway up “Top”.  It was decided that the taco was drivable enough to head back down to our second night’s campsite in the valley.  The rest of the crew were able to get to the most scenic photo shoot in Moab.  Really, the best photo spot in the United States until somebody proves otherwise.

The trail damage had held us back about an hour…. We were coming down from “Top” in nearly full darkness.  It was a scramble with lots of auxiliary LED’s in all directions and a huge dust cloud.  When we got back, we still had to time to cook some dinner at the campsite and set up a campfire with all our remaining firewood.  It was a big BS session with lots of laughs and stories that any Toyota lover would appreciate.  That night, our youngest trail runner declared that she had adopted 10 new Dad’s on this trip.

The next morning was rough.  We found out that the damaged Tacoma was out of the run.  They would have to head back to Moab after finding the differential mount had been completely sheared off.  Adding to this…. Our 4Runner from New Hampshire was now getting a very loud whine from the rear carrier.  They did not feel safe enough to make the journey to Rose Garden Hill.  The two injured trucks limped back to Moab.  (What happened in Moab is a great story of folks helping each other out if you want to hear about it sometime.  The kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.)

I personally have a history with Rose Garden Hill and it didn’t end pretty last time I was there.  Google:  UCA repair with ratchet straps for an idea.  To be honest… I was happy to sign up for this tour and have guides at the ready to lead us down.  I had met the criteria to make this trip, but Stan and everyone else in the group were weary that I would have some extreme trail damage with my light setup.  I had my heart racing as we approached the obstacle laden hill.  It is no understatement to say that our spotters, Stan, Ross and Chris were brilliant.  I did end up with a scratch on the side of my truck…. But nothing that I could not have done at the local off-road park.  We were feeling the advantage of having experienced wheelers with us.  This kind of leadership can make all the difference between a great day of off-roading and the worst day of your life.  There is a giant fence that separates the two, and you can fall onto either side very easily.  

A completed Rose Garden Hill is nearly the end of the trip… And that is a heavy feeling.  We did wander for an hour through a canyon on the way to our finish in Moab.  It was as chance to rip through 20+ water crossings… It was a serious refresher after days on a dusty trail.  I made it my goal to cover the 4Runner every chance I got.  We had some chatter on the CB’s and spent a seriously long time glad handing and wishing well to all of our fellow travelers.  We had survived, for the most part, and were enjoying each other’s company.   We were all slow to break up the party at the beginning of the pavement.  If given the chance, we probably could have gotten half the group to head back to the start and do it again!  

Stan and Chris have been leading this trail run for a few years…. And have been threatening to hand it off to other volunteers.  Any of you folks who go to these events know that it takes a lot of manpower and personal commitments to make anything like this happen.  Please.  Help out when you can, and be sure to thank those that do.  Thanks to our trail leaders, Cruise Moab and TLCA for putting on a great event!  

Long Strange Trip…

This past weekend we had our Open-house and “Hog Roast here at Fort’s Toyota.  We had an amazing turnout of our “regulars” and a bunch of new people stop by the store to check out what we have going on.  At one point, Gabe, a customer that I have known for only six months said, “You guys are the fun dealership”.  That gave me a laugh and I really appreciate that he could see that we are a family store that values relationships.  Something that is harder and harder to do in this day and age of consolidation and corporate ownership of car dealers.  It was turning out to be a great event.

About an hour into the festivities…  I spotted a “Cottonland Cruisers” shirt on a guy who just arrived.  I know this logo very well…  Cottonland Cruisers are a chapter of the Toyota Landcruiser Association (TLCA), and I have spent a lot of time on the trails over the past two years running with this group at their headline event, “Southern Cruiser Crawl” and at other TLCA events.  I didn’t recognize the man standing in front of me, and I had to immediately ask him if we’ve met before.  

“One time a couple years ago… You picked me and my buddy up when we rolled his 4Runner” (At Southern Cruiser Crawl.  SCC for the rest of the story).  Ah!  That moment in time started to flood my mind.  It was like a hollywood movie flashback!

It was SCC 2015 and my first time attending the event.  I had arrived in my 2010 4Runner at Superlift offroad park in Hot Springs Arkansas all by myself.  I was supposed to be with another coworker, but he fell a day behind.  I didn’t know a soul.  I registered and started heading up the main trail of the park solo to see what this event was all about.  Within minutes of hitting the trail…   I come across two guys walking towards me.  “That’s odd”, I thought, “nobody walks at an off-road park!”  I stopped and asked if they needed some help.  The two guys told me that they had just rolled their 4runner onto its roof a ways up the trail.  They noticed I was lacking a winch and were in need of recovery, If I could give them a ride to the office… That would be great.  

They hopped in…  We chatted for a few minutes on the drive and I found out they were from NW Illinois!  What are the odds of that???  It didn’t take long to find help.  Seconds later I was hood to hood with a train of FJ Cruisers.  Based on the gear and mods I could see, these guys looked like they knew what they were doing and I stopped them to see if they could help.  

Bart, was the lead FJ and he made a call on the CB to his fellow trail runners.  The Louisiana Land Krewesers (As I would come to find their name later) were a group of experienced “wheelers” and it sounded like a couple of guys in the group were eager to jump in and help.  

At that point, I had nothing better to do than to watch the recovery.  Frankly, I was alone here and I was happy to have a purpose driving behind these guys on the rescue mission.  Also… If this place “flips” vehicles… I should probably roll in a group!  After about an hour of watching them overturn this 4Runner and get it back to basecamp… I had learned some names and got a feel for the group.  Nice guys and gals.  They let me ride with them for the day and I ended up spending the weekend hanging out with at their base camp with their “krew”.

John, the man standing in front of me at the Fort’s Hog Roast is the tiny snowball that started my avalanche of 4×4 travels and friendships over the next few years.  

Since that fateful day when I “rescued” John and Ryan.  I have made trips to Mardi Krawl, the official TLCA Louisiana Land Krewesers off road event in Alabama.  My Wife and I have met up with other members of the group in Moab to run trails as a small group.  All the while, we hung out together morning noon and night.  At one point, I earned the trust to find myself holding the hand of Jonas’ daughters as we watched from a giant boulder while he worked his FJ up Hell’s Gate in Moab.

I’m not even going to get into all the fun our Trail Team had with Roger and his contingent of LLK guys at SCC 2016.  Ask Matt Wagner about that sometime.

When I went to Cruise Moab this year…  I barely got through the gate before running into LLK member, Kevin and getting a big bear hug…  Then I was handed a cold beer.  

I am not sure it gets any better than that!

This all comes down to John and Ryan rolling their truck!  This is not a fact that is lost on me.  Life takes twists and turns and we can never predict where it’s going to take us…  it’s possible that I may have befriended these guys without running into the stranded guys over that weekend… We will never know.  

Side note…. my coworker made it down the next day and was impressed that I got to know so many people so fast…. I think that’s why he always sends me ahead now!  

Also…  Flipping a 4Runner takes talent… I have yet to see anyone in any of our groups do it, or come close!

Eric Stahl


Wheeling and overlanding are not the only way to make friends… But they are a great way to surround yourself with like minded Toyota aficionados.  

If you are interested in checking out what we do at Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) events or want to camp and “wheel” over at Badlands…  We are fully capable and willing hosts, guides and organizers.  Lets make plans to hit the trail.  Our Facebook page is the best way to stay on top of what we are doing, otherwise, stop in to the service department and see Matt Wagner or myself, Eric Stahl.

The First Rule of Trail Team

Whats the first rule of trail team?  Any guy/gal who watched a particular movie in the last decade will immediately follow that question with the response:  “Dont talk about Trail Team?”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, “Talk about Trail Team…  A lot” is rule number two!

Rule number one:  Your factory stock Toyota Truck is a capable 4×4 right off the showroom floor.  You do not have to load it up with performance parts to enjoy your Toyota off-road”.

That may seem to contradict what the aftermarket industry is pushing.  There are an endless suppliers lined up to make your truck more “capable”.   This may also seem contradictory to the Fort’s parts department, as they offer some great accessory brands.  But this is the fact:  Your stock truck is ready for anything right out of the box.

Your factory Trail Edition and 4×4 vehicles come with world class mechanical parts.  Axles, suspension components, metal skid plates and the technology to back it all up.

Now…  You are probably saying, “You guys have extra stuff on your trail trucks” and you are right.  We did try for a few years to run completely stock trucks when going to Badlands Offroad Park in Attica, Indiana and FJ Summit 8.

Since that time we have found that leading folks on the trails also requires the ability to assist in the case of a recovery.  It becomes a balancing act of adding features that are a complete necessity while not intimidating our “Daily Driver” customers from running the trails with us.

The 2010 4Runner that we affectionately call “Treehugger” (Long story, ask sometime) had some absolutely necessary items installed this past year.  A winch for recovery and a CB Radio.  Those two items can save a lot of headaches when out on the trails.

Again, with the balancing act…  We dont want those bits and pieces added to the truck to scare you away from seeing what your Toyota truck can do.  These additional items are there to assist when needed!

When we do accessories on our trucks… We stick with tried and true brands.  Our guys back in parts carry Pro Comp, ARB, ICON, OME and TRD equipment that will let your truck grow as much as YOU want to.   Cody, Nate and Mason have been helping equip Toyota owners in the Greater Peoria area for years…  All the while keeping on top of the newest gear.  (The temptation is amazing!)  Our Toyota techs;  Dustin, Drew and James have been installing everything in our Toyota shop.

If you want to build up your truck… We can help.  If you want to leave it “stock”… You will never get an argument from us!

All we ask is that you give us a shout if you want to hit the trails!

See Matt or Eric in service for more details on the Trail Team Excursions.