For those who were looking for a little change of pace in desert rockcrawling or a bit more challenge on the gargantuan ledges of the Chile Trail system, they found it. For the many people attending from Colorado's Front Range and the Midwest who look forward all winter to the annual Chile Challenge as a brief precursor to emerging from winter's wet and cold hold, well, maybe next year. When El Nino parks off the coast of California, it can bring rain to the rocks of the desert Southwest. And rain it did, for all four days of the 2005 Chile Challenge. Or as Event Chairman Jerry Ward announced it on Saturday night, "The 2005 Chile Challenge, Mud Festival, and Championship Fishing Tournament!" To say that the event was wetter than normal this year is like saying a hurricane is a bit damp and breezy.
Each day begins with the participants lining up for the trail runs for which they have pre-registered. The event features trails of all skill levels but is best known for the hard and extreme rockcrawling in the canyon bottoms northwest of Las Cruces. This trail system, dubbed the Chile Canyons system, was jointly developed by the Las Cruces office of the BLM and the Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club. With names like Big Jim, Hopping Jalapeno, Habanero Falls, and Tabasco Twister (the hotter the chile, the tougher the trail), the action on the Chile Canyon trails is appropriately smoking.
The Chile Challenge has also served as the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association's winter quarterly event since its early '90s in-ception. A growing number of vendors are on site displaying their wares to the hordes of enthusiasts who populate the 350-plus vehicles.
We always bring our most capable rock-crawling vehicle to the Chile Challenge, so it has been a while since we have enjoyed the charms and scenery of the easier trails. All four days had us signed up on the various extreme trails of the Chile Canyon system: Habanero Falls, Tabasco Twister, Rocotillo Rapids, and Patzcuarro's Revenge were on our menu.
What we weren't looking for found us anyway: rain! The limestone ledges of the Las Cruces are slick enough when they are dry, but when wet, they can be downright silly. Thursday opened with many hours of rain so heavy that many of the participants opted to spend the day in camp. For the first and only time in Chile Challenge history, we chose to stay in camp on Thursday due to the weather. Friday's trails were run under a heavy overcast, but at least there wasn't water actively slicking the rocks. Saturday, the final day of the event, brought a mixture of rain and sunshine that had us swapping between T-shirts and full coats and raingear from hour to hour. Obstacles that were a challenge during the preruns in the early part of the week were insurmountable in the rain-slicked conditions, and many winches got a thorough workout.
The epic sagas of water-challenged trails were loud and long as people gathered for the Saturday evening meal and waited expectantly for the raffle. Even with the stream-lined method of calling out the lucky tickets, it still took in excess of 45 minutes to announce all the winners and many dozens of four-wheelers went to bed happy, laden with their booty.
The long-running Chile Challenge continues its prominent and well-deserved reputation as one of the premier rock-crawling events in the country. Information and registration forms are available some-time after Thanksgiving each year at www.lascrucesfourwheeldriveclub.com. With Las Cruces, New Mexico, located in a desert environment, chances are there won't have a mudfest and fishing tournament every year What will be there every year is the great rockcrawling trails that have firmly established the Chile Challenge as a must-do rite of spring.
The final ledge on the Habanero Falls Trail has several optional routes. The most difficult requires very exacting tire placement and a tolerance for verticality to climb successfully.