Despite the fact that New Mexico has some of the flattest land in the world, it also offers some of the most rugged mountains. Some of these mountains are extensions of the Rockies and feature pine forests, lush meadows, and fish-packed rivers and streams. But that's not the ruggedness we speak of. The real rough stuff lies in the southeastern regions, where short mountain ranges are interspersed with high plateaus and plains. Areas devoid of streams and towering pines, where even cacti struggle to survive. It's this portion of the state where you'll find the roughest trails in the country, and not surprisingly, it's also home to the Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club's annual Chile Challenge.
Held yearly over the fourth week in February, the Chile Challenge is a recess from the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association's Winter Quarterly Meeting. Once the minutes are read and the land rights defended, enthusiasts from 33 different 4WD clubs representing five states, along with hundreds of visiting 'wheelers, take to the trails of the San Diego and Doa Ana mountains and the ever-popular Chile Canyons within the Robledo Mountain ORV Park. The trails range from extreme waterfall climbs to pleasant strolls through sand-bottom arroyos, each offering its share of spectacular views and challenging terrain.
This year's event was held February 21-24 and was met by fabulous weather, despite what the meteorologists had predicted. The sun was shining, and the 'wheelers were smiling, as they aired down to nothing and hit the trails. We met up with a good cross section of rigs and landed on Patzcuaro's Revenge where the first waterfall tested the skills of even the most competent drivers. Once the entire group had conquered or winched over the falls, endless amounts of boulders and rock ledges hindered the path, leaving the group to push their vehicles to the point of breakage, simply to make it back to camp to do the same thing the following day.
We got a late start the next morning, but it gave us a greater appreciation of what the vehicles endured. After a short, but treacherous hike up Rocotillo Rapids (we left the flip-flops in the rental car, luckily), we met up with the trail convoy, held up by blown tires, boogered U-joints, and gnarled driveshafts. Rocotillo was no walk in the park, and it wasn't going to let a soul get away without less than a scratch, something our shorts-wearing crew quickly discovered.
The day came to a close, and we headed back to the Las Cruces State Fairgrounds where most of the participants had already gathered for an evening BBQ and raffle. Although many still had a day of 'wheeling ahead of them, we made our exit and got to the airport just in time to wait for a plane to carry us back to California. We'd done the desert. Or maybe the desert did us. Either way, we'd fallen in love with New Mexico and the Chile Canyons and were reveling in the camaraderie that's inherent to your first time on a trail. It was rugged out there for sure. Lucky for us, that's exactly how we like it.
It starts with a down slope through Big Jim Canyon with plenty of ledges and small waterfalls. The Bath Tub is the axle breaker.
Heads up and down four canyons with several ledges and drop offs, the Grease Pit is a deep crack that must be straddled to pass. You can literally change your oil without crouching.
San Diego Mountain
One of the more scenic runs, this trail offers tough sections too with sandy arroyos, rolling boulders, and very off-camber paths. Articulation Alley will push your driving skills to the limit, as well as the tough switchbacks and washouts.
Upper Broad Canyon
A series of rock playgrounds with waterfalls, steep hills, rockclimbs, off-camber 'crawling, and slickrock traversing. Large tires and at least one locker are a plus.
This trail offers three levels of excitement depending on which path you follow in, on, or around the mountains. Mostly off-camber and steep slopes along with rocks, more rocks, and then a few more. The highlights are the Eye of the Needle and the Alpine Downhill.
The official trail leads through a sandy, boulder-strewn arroyo bottom, though there are many obstacles along the way to put your vehicle and skills to the test. The Snake Pit is the toughy of the bunch, with large boulders, tight squeezes, and wall climbs.
A sandy arroyo with boulders and ledges that change with every rainfall, the rocks here are famous for sticking it to every 4x4 that passes.
The latest addition to the trail system, the Gulch is a narrow trail with an off-camber feel. It has small waterfalls, enormous boulders, and a lot of ledges, and twisty climbs.
This trail leads up one of he Chile Canyons and offers multiple large boulders and steep waterfalls, most of which will have you pulling a winch cable. Like all of the extreme trails, lockers, winch, and a minimum of 33-inch tires are required.
Another Chile Canyon run up a grueling arroyo, crossing over boulders, rock ledges, and near-impossible waterfalls. Along with many off-camber traverse sections over sand and sandstone, this is probably the toughest trail in the area.
After an easy start, this trail climbs through the Chile Canyons and culminates into seven consecutive waterfalls. It also offers spectacular views of the historic Mesilla Valley and surrounding areas.
The name says it all. This one's out to get you. The first waterfall will deter most, and the large boulders, ledges, and remaining waterfalls will get the rest. This trail was used as the site for the 1998 BFG Rock Crawling Championships. It's a biggun'.
Hy-Tech Automotive & 4x4
Jack Key Jeep and Chrysler
Los Amigos Spray-On Liners
Off Again Off-Road
Premier Power Welder
Randy's Ring & Pinion
Tiny Bits of Silver
Tuffy Security Products
For More Information
If you'd like to learn more about next year's Chile Challenge, call (505) 522-0803 or visit the Web site at www.zianet.com/lcfwdc. To contact the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association, go to www.swfwda.com.