It's been an exciting 50-year ride for the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based New Mexico 4-Wheelers (NM4W). Incorporated in 1958, the original club name was Albuquerque Jeep Herders. However, the club was never restricted to Jeeps, and the name, New Mexico 4-Wheelers, was adopted in 1976. Regardless of name, the club has always been committed to fun, safe, responsible, and family-oriented off-highway adventure.
Twenty people attended the first Albuquerque Jeep Herders meeting held on August 6, 1958. The newspaper notice invited "all owners of vehicles with 4WD or rough-road capabilities."
One of the first club runs was to the Mt. Taylor area of the Cibola National Forest, 70 miles west of Albuquerque. It was September 1958, and four vehicles participated: a CJ-3, CJ-5, and two Willys Station Wagons. The off-highway section was a Forest Service road that wound up the mountains through pine forests and open meadows and ended at the La Mosca Peak fire lookout (elevation 11,038 feet). Those carburetors must have been well-tuned!
In 1959, a group of 22 vehicles hauling 64 people caravaned to the Gila Cliff Dwellings near Silver City, New Mexico. According to the trip report, the group "encountered a nearly perpendicular trail on the side of Copperas Peak that had been strewn with boulders by recent rains. They also had to ford the hubcap-deep Gila River 18 times before reaching the remote cliff dwellings. The club picked up three Fort Bliss, Texas, military men who were stranded in a pickup truck on the rocky route." This route is now paved all the way to the ruins.
Looking back, it seems that people did more with less. In a 1960 outing to the Rio Salado Valley near Socorro, New Mexico, the club newsletter reported, "Dr. Homer Musgrave's Jeep fell into a hole of quicksand, and it took a number of Jeeps to get it out. The Jeep Herders also pulled a deer hunter's car out of the sand." If winches were used, it wasn't mentioned.
Fifty years is a long time for any organization to carry on. What are the secrets to longevity? Alan Gilmore, now a Colorado resident, was an active member from 1983 to 1995 and a four-wheeler before and since. He says, "The club has always been conservation-conscious. We stayed on established trails and abided by the same rules on the trail as on the highway."
That meant no drinking, no shortcuts, and no racing.
None of the 1958 charter members still belong. Pat and Sue Brady, 22-year members, are the longest-standing current members. Why has the club remained intact for 50 continuous years? Pat explains, "We're nondenominational. Pickups, Suzukis, Rubicons ... it doesn't matter. We accept everybody. And we're dynamic. We like to do lots of different things, and we change. Members have been into sand drags and hard-core rockcrawling, but trail riding, easy to hard, has been the mainstay of the club."
As with any organization, there have been ebbs and flows. In 1983, the club was running out of steam. Alan remembers, "My wife Marty and I were in our 40s and were the youngest members age-wise. The charter members were getting older and driving on dirt roads, not trails."
After scouting for more challenging trails, Alan and Marty introduced the group to "new" areas including the Caballo Mountains in southern New Mexico. The Caballo Trail, on BLM land, is rated Hard and remains a club favorite. Caballo offers big rocks, shelf roads, and the history of Palomas Gap, a notch between mountains that allowed stage coaches to travel between New Mexico and Texas.
Over the past few years, the club has been stable at 70 members/families. The club strives to retain existing members and attract new members by offering a well-rounded schedule of activities. There are trail rides at varying levels of difficulty, campouts, and participation in outside events and the political arena.