2002 Chile Challenge    
By Ken Womack

Las Cruces has some of the best rock-crawling trails in all of America. I had read about them since 1992 and had always wanted to go. A small group of 6 SHR Members planned on going and I was the only one that hadn’t been there before. I was going this year with a new (old) Jeep, “The Red Rocker”. Jerry Paul Higgins, Steve Weinberg, Karl Pretzer, Shawn Pagan (riding Shotgun), Swede Garpne and myself made our way. Swede and I left together, Karl and Shawn from The Woodlands area. Steve and Jerry Paul had left at different times and we all met at the fairgrounds outside Las Cruces.

Wednesday morning had over a hundred rigs in the parking lot ready to go. There were some of the wildest 4x4’s there I had ever seen, many were chopped and bobbed, armor plated and built up with 1-ton axles and flexy suspensions. Cropped flat fenders with pipe reinforcements and angled thick steel rockers are all the rage among the hard core “Big Boys”. The idea is to build up for protection against the inevitable rock damage that is sure to happen. They use huge 1-ton axles to be strong enough for whatever comes up on these extreme trails, and they are indeed extreme.

Karl and Shawn signed up for the extremes and hard trails, while Swede, Steve and I did the medium and hard ones. Steve Weinberg ran a hard trail Wed. and decided to run with us the rest of the event.

Amatista Ledges

Our first trail was Amatista Ledges, rated medium on LCFWDC’s rating system, though it was actually hard by some standards. Our trail leader led us out to the Chile Canyons and to the trailhead. The trail had some really wild downhill ledges, some up to 7 ft. tall. They were pretty cool! This trail had bypasses for those that wanted to use them. Swede rode with me that day and took some good pictures.


Jerry Paul was having a great time testing the awesome flex of his wild and pretty white TJ with heavy-duty axles, trick suspension and 38” tires. I was getting used to my lower gears and loving it! But even with my new 35” tires and 70 to 1 crawl ratio, I was doing just ok. On one section I slipped into a ravine too close on the right and almost pulled the right front tire off the rim. Some careful spotting and the ol’ Hi-Lift Jack got me out with some help from fellow wheelers stacking some rocks under the tires.


There were several steep ledges and a few off-camber spots to keep us satisfied. Our trail leader did a fine job of showing us a good time. Jerry Paul did so well on this trail that he signed up for an extreme trail the next day.

San Diego Peak

This trail was also rated medium and was a very enjoyable trail, my favorite of the series. Our trail leader and his sidekick were very knowledgeable of these trails and even knew much of the local history. We had a fairly long drive to get there, but it was well worth it. Swede had his Scrambler running today and was going strong until midday. Our trail started with “Articulation Alley”- some ridge running and ridge crossings with some sandy washouts and arroyos. It was a pretty awesome combination of terrain, not hard-core, but pretty interesting.

Bill took us to The Mine Loop, a loop of tight trails that takes you close to 3 mines. There isn’t much left but some timbers and mine shafts, but it was cool anyway. One Steep road with tight switchbacks took us close to an old mine shaft that we walked to and observed from a safe distance. The trail down was narrow and tight and kept up the pucker factor. We all did very well going down this steep narrow, slightly off camber trail. Once on the bottom we took another trail that took us to some sandy arroyos that we could build up some speed on. It was true fun!


Swede had to leave and go to town to work on his suspension and tranny mount, so the trail leader set his course back to the main road and Swede took off for repairs. We continued on to view some pictographs made by the “Ancient Ones”. This involved a short ¼ mile hike up the canyon. It was pretty cool to see these drawings. We all speculated as to their meaning and even if this may have been a classroom area. We returned to our rigs, ate lunch and continued on back to the trail. It was up a steep, rocky climb to the summit of San Diego Peak. Our view was awesome and pretty. We left from there to run down the mountain and back to air up. This was a fine day of wheeling!

Broad Canyon

Broad Canyon is an old favorite of Swede’s; having done it several times, it was a sentimental favorite for him. Steve and I were ready too, as well as about 20 rigs altogether. This trail was rated hard and was a taste of the more extreme trails in the area. After the ride to The Canyon, we entered the narrow chute to see our first major obstacle and huge boulder right next to a smaller one. The better-equipped rigs just crawled right up and over with just barely scraping. Swede’s Scrambler did it too. Then it was my turn. I started ok, but slipped down on the rocker and caught an edge and peeled it back like a sardine can. After that I was unable to climb over and had to back off the giant rock and go around. One Jeep broke a tie rod, but the guy behind him welded it up for him. 

This trail was one awesome obstacle after another. Steep, rocky ledges and dry waterfalls: all were challenging, some extreme, and some with bypasses. Steve’s “Colorado Blue” 

was doing great until a right front brake line broke. I had an extra and Steve put it on while the guy behind him helped him bleed the system. There were only a few minor breakdowns and they were fixed in short order. Even though the trail was hard and there were many rigs, the flow was pretty decent.

This trail took nearly 6 hours to go ½ mile! It was pretty extreme to me, but a cakewalk for the hard-core boys. Swede did this trail pretty good and was clearly enjoying himself, as well as Steve and myself, although I still can’t laugh at body damage yet! 

The Dona Ana Mountains

For the last day of the event, Swede, Steve and myself, decided on a milder trail, rather that Off Broadway, another rated hard trail that was similar to Broad Canyon, but with fewer bypasses. I decided that I wasn’t really equipped for the “hard” trails at Las Cruces. To me they were really extreme, and their extreme trails were “crazy”. Not a problem, because there are all trail levels. We chose The Dona Anas for their view and the awesome hill climbs. Although we signed up for medium, they were so few people signed up, that the medium and hard were running together.

We had about 10 rigs. We got there and started our climbs. Our trail leaders were excellent. Neither had low gears, but both had a keen sense for showing us fun and were excellent spotters and storytellers. They led us to some slickrock hills, some canyon washes, ridges and very steep, rocky hill climbs. One was called “Mother’s Worry”. It had a ledge near the top and an arch called “The Eye of the Needle”. 

We parked on an off camber hill and walked to “ The Alpine Slide” to see if we actually wanted to do it. I declined, seemed it defied the laws of gravity to me. Nobody else wanted to either, so we came down a snaky winding trail to meet the other group. We left for the final obstacle of the day, “The Good, Bad, and The Ugly”. We had lunch there, and then tried to climb the rock face. It was fun and we had a great day. Many thanks to the trail staff, as they did their best to give us a hoot of a good time.

Dinner and Raffle

Steve, Swede, and myself, showered and found our way back in time for the excellent dinner of steak and chicken breast, with sides. It was very tasty! The raffle had some really awesome equipment to win, but no SHR members were lucky that night. Swede stayed for the raffle, but Steve and I left to get a jumpstart on the long drive. Karl and Shawn had left earlier after they couldn’t find parts for Karl’s Scout.

Near Disaster For Swede

Swede left for home at 3:30 am, but got “ran over” by an 18-wheeler just past El Paso. 

The truck hit his trailer and then the front of his Dodge Truck and ran him clean off the road! Luckily Swede was not hurt too bad, mostly shook up, but his Jeep, trailer and truck were a mess! Steve and I were clear to Junction when Swede called him. He was renting a car for the return to League City. Although it was a bad situation, Swede was ok, and that’s the best part of it.

Conclusion

LCFWDC did an excellent job putting on this event. It was my first there, and I enjoyed it. For the rest of the group, it was cool too. Swede has had better times, but still had his sense of humor. Karl and Shawn had a great time. Shawn and Karl also spent time at night to help out some folks who had broken parts. Karl got to run with some old Buddies and Jerry Paul discovered that he was one of the “Big Boys”! Steve had some fine times as well! I wish I could have run with them, but I was taking it easy this time. Many thanks to Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club for their hospitality and their hard work!

Ken Womack…