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The Whole Enchilada

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Cole Quinnell | Writer
Posted July 1, 1997

Rockin’ in Las Cruces, New Mexico

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  • The 1999 Chili Challenge sported 19 trails, four of which were tagged with the rating of extreme. When the SWFWDA says extreme, or even hard, they mean it. For those without lockers, there are plenty of moderate and easy trails that will still challenge driver and vehicle. If your vehicle has at least 33s and one locker, the hard trails are fair game. Only those with 33 or larger tires and two lockers are allowed on extreme trails.

  • The last of seven waterfalls on Habaero Falls is the most difficult and the only one you can bypass. It claimed two Jeeps the day we were on the trail, but not the YJ shown here.

  • There were a handful of Jeeps at the event testing Warn’s coil-spring conversion kit, including Harold Off’s Scrambler. This part of the country is excellent for durability testing because it’s easy to be harsh on equipment.

  • One of the shocks on Harold’s CJ-8 snapped during a simply incredible display of articulation. It’s believed that the shock broke because of the unique mount that Harold fabricated to make the system fit the Scrambler.

  • Southern New Mexico is the land of rocky ledges that love to catch driveshafts and other underpinnings. Sand and loose rocks don’t help matters, and a little luck is needed as well as a lot of skill on most obstacles.

  • Several of the waterfalls have the perfect height and incline to catch CJ-5s and 7s. A little angle on the attack helps; too much angle gets scary.

  • We’ve ’wheeled with Chip Monk of Farmington, New Mexico, a couple of times and still don’t believe that’s his real name. But there’s no denying how well he works his YJ over the terrain.

  • The problem with the last waterfall was that Monk scooted right up it in his Skittles Green Wrangler. That meant that the rest of this hardcore group just had to do it. Final score: Jeeps 1, waterfall 2.

Las Cruces, New Mexico’s claim to fame is it’s annual Whole Enchilada Fiesta featuring a 12-foot-diameter enchilada and a commemorative parade, but four-wheelers know it as one of the premier rockcrawling spots in the West.

This year’s Chili Challenge started the rockcrawling season with a bang, and a crunch, and a snap. The Challenge is the Southwest Four-Wheel Drive Association’s (SWFWDA) Winter Quarterly event. It’s held each February in Las Cruces, and it draws vehicles of all makes from coast to coast.

We only had one day in the warm desert spring, so we hit one of the toughest trails ’Cruces offers: Habañero Falls. Like the pepper, a little will leave you burning for quite a while. The trail is less than 1/4-mile long, but you have to top seven waterfalls before you can call yourself victorious. Some of the waterfalls are completely vertical and about as long as a CJ-5’s wheelbase. We witnessed every approach you can imagine to the various obstacles.

For information on next year’s Chili Challenge or other SWFWDA events, contact Mark Wolf at 505/856-8539.