|Chili Challenge Trip - February 2006
Las Cruces, NM, February 2006
|by Kathy Howell|
The Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association holds its winter quarterly meeting in Las Cruces, NM, hosted by the Las Cruces 4 Wheel Drive Club. As part of the quarterly event, the Chile Challenge provides four days of difficult and challenging trails to the 250 participants from mid America and the west.
For our group from Colorado, this was a welcome break from Arctic freeze that had settled in and a shake down run for Darrel Turner’s new motor home and Jeep Grand Cherokee, Bill Boitano's new pick up truck and trailer, and John Howell's new lift on his Rubicon and new pick up truck and trailer.
Darrel and Judy Turner left a day early, but the rest of the gang caravanned together leaving early Monday morning, February 20. Greg Beery, James Massie and his son, Talyn, and John and I met in Boulder and then met Bill and Roberta Boitano south of Denver. The four vehicles traveled together to Albuquerque where we met the Turners and spent the night. For dinner that evening we rode the tram to the top of Sandia Mountain and dined at the High Finance Restaurant with a gorgeous view of the setting sun.
The next day we drove into Las Cruces learning about the history of the area and the trails from James Massie, who had lived in Las Cruces before coming to Colorado five years ago. We made our way to our various motels and campgrounds, cleaned up our vehicles so they would pass the noxious weed inspection, and headed to the Southern New Mexico State Fairgrounds to check in and check things out. In camp we also met up with Jon and Sue Matson, associate club members from Illinois.
Our trails had been scheduled ahead so we already knew which trails we were doing each day. For the most part the trails are in the Chile Canyons of the Robledo Mountains to the northwest of Las Cruces. The “trails” are the gulches and washes created by years of rain and weather revealing rocks, ledges, and waterfalls creating a haven for rock crawlers. The trails have names like Amatista Ledges, Hopping Jalapeno, Dońa Ana Mountain, Sandia Gulch, Patzcuaro’s Revenge, Cayenne Crawler, and Habanero Falls and all the trails have rocks - BIG ROCKS. The first day we got off to a rocky start, figuratively and actually. We had a large group and there were so many breakdowns that our relatively short trail turned into a long, hard day. There are ledges that dropped you into the gulch and ledges to climb out. There are bypasses for the most difficult obstacles, but most wanted to try the obstacle. The big obstacle on this trail is the “Bathtub” which required you to make your way through a pile of rocks and then straddle the “Bathtub” in hopes of not dropping a tire into it.
For the second and third days we again played on the rocks. The trails have different names, but they all have rocks. In addition to the rocks, there is a lot of off camber both on the ridges and in the gulches. My particular favorite is “Pucker Ridge.” I drove it a few times, but could never get enough nerve to actually look out the window at tire placement when the driver side was on the low side. We played on the “Grease Pit” on the Hopping Jalapeno trail. It is named because the vehicle straddled the grease pit beneath. Then, there is the “V Rock” on the Sandia Gulch trail. The “V Rock” is a pretty serious obstacle for many of us. The “V Rock” is what you think it is. It’s a rock in the shape of a V. All you have to do is straddle the V. However, the entrance and exit to the “V Rock” are what made it interesting. With good spotting we surprised ourselves as we made it over this rock without much problem except that on the exit with a hard turn coming off the rock, BoiScout’s tire came off the bead. There was a big puff of dust and the tire was flat. Surprisingly, it was easy to fix and we were on our way again. As we were ending the Sandia Gulch trail, our trail leader decided to take us home via “Lee’s Rock.” It had several ways to cross it with varying degrees of difficulty. Greg took the most difficult path and gave us all a thrill as his vehicle started to roll. He gunned it and pulled it out of the roll. When we told him we thought it was going to roll, he didn’t believe us until the watched the video of it later that evening.
On the last day, rather than run our assigned trail, we decided to watch the big boys on the extreme trail, Patzcuaro’s Revenge. From the spectator’s overlook, we climbed down into the gulch for an up close and personal look. These rocks are even bigger here but the vehicles and buggies in this gulch were up to the challenge. It was incredible to watch these guys climb what seemed like never ending rock walls.
This is a different land than we know in Colorado. It is a desert. There are no trees. There is no grass. Everything that grows has thorns on it. There had been no rain for 130 days and the locals were grateful for the rain shower we had one evening. There was more off camber in three days than I have seen in all the years of four wheeling in Colorado. But, the weather was warm, the sunsets were spectacular, the people were friendly and welcoming, and the Mexican food was outstanding (except for the night that half our group did not get served). There is one more thing we would never see in Colorado. The local sheriff and his staff supported the event by monitoring the trail head to ensure that all participants were registered and monitored some of the extreme obstacles on horse back.
We were happy to end the four days with no MAJOR breakdowns. However, during the week we did find our way to the dealership for service for both Chevrolet and Jeep, repaired a tire at Discount Tire, bought a tire at Wal-mart, used a bungee cord to hold the fender on Bill’s Scout, and we know the location of every Checker, AutoZone and Napa Auto Parts store in Las Cruces.
On the two day trip home we visited White Sands National Monument. Of course, in this National Monument, no vehicles are allowed on the sand dunes, so they were a bit nervous to let us in with our vehicles in tow. We had to assure them that we would not take the vehicles off the trailers. We also stopped at the UFO Museum in Roswell. I have always been a somewhat doubting believer, but after that museum visit, the doubts are gone. It was a great, fun trip.
P.S. BoiScout had many admirers. There was always a crowd checking out Bill’s Scout.