Four Hot Trails From The Chile Challenge
Each February, the interstate highways crossing New Mexico see a sudden influx of serious-looking vehicles. Huge tires, tubed frames, and many of them somewhat scarred from encounters of the mineral kind. They are an unusual sight as they fly down the road on trailers. Perceptive fellow travelers probably wonder, Where are they all going? We know exactly where the parade is headed. A large cross section of the nation's rockcrawlers is headed to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for the annual Chile Challenge.
The Chile Challenge isn't the biggest annual rock-centered event. That crown is most certainly reserved for a certain spring ritual in Moab. And the trails around Las Cruces aren't the most difficult in the country. There are certainly more difficult trails in various locales. But nowhere else has such an event grown up so quickly around its extreme trails. Lest reader mail deluges us, we will be clear that the Chile Challenge is more than just extreme rockcrawling. There are great trails for all levels of experience and vehicle modifications, including truly scenic rides for the new stockers. The local hosting club, the Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club (LCFWDC), does an outstanding job of organizing the event and making everyone feel welcome. The event serves as the winter quarterly meeting for the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association (SWFWDA), so the vehicle count from the big regional association's six states is always high. The Chile Challenge is also home to all the typical accoutrements of a big event including vendor displays, some great evening meals, and one of the biggest raffles of the year.
Even so, it is the trails that draw return visits year after year. So many people come back, in fact, that the registration for 2008 was limited to 350 vehicles to keep from overwhelming the local trail system. And the four extreme trails are the centerpieces of the trails that keep people coming back.
This magazine wasn't the only 4WD-enthusiast publication there to capture a slice of the excitement for its readers. But we were the only ones who spent all four days behind the wheel of a vehicle out in the rocks on the extreme trails. We have only missed this event one year since its inception in 1991 and have run the hardest Las Cruces has to offer dozens of times. But these four trails, run under early spring skies, are so good; that we keep coming back each and every year. We love them, and you will also. So here, in the order we ran them in 2008, are the Big Four of the Chile Challenge.
We first walked the trail now known as Rocotillo Rapids many years ago when the LCFWDC was still frantically working to get the first vehicles through the steep, narrow canyon. There is just no way, we remember thinking. The club had started groups from both the top and the bottom of the canyon. After several weekends of work, the two groups had still been unable to meet in the middle. They feared that the rapidly approaching Chile Challenge would leave the new trail still unfinished. Knowing that we would undoubtedly be driving it, we sort of hoped they were correct and wouldn't get it finished. But finish it they did, and we drove it that first year. Well, drove most of it. Back when the "big dogs" of the sport were running 35-inch tires, only one vehicle made it all the way through the canyon without assistance by a winch that first year.