Las Cruces Chile Challenge
By Tolan Harding, Photos by John Chaney

As Hot As You Like It!

I picked up John Chaney at 7:45 am loaded up my new 2004 silver Rubicon and left heading west on I-10.  We stopped for a quick lunch just north of San Antonio at the “Worst Bar-B-Cue in Texas” which is actually pretty good.  30 minutes after getting out of Texas, we were in Las Cruces.  We checked in at the hotel and headed for the fairgrounds.  We checked in at the fair grounds and immediately saw Pam Random of Oz Video.  Pam did the TTR3 video at Gilmer.  We talked to her and learned she had 4 camera operators and is planning a 2 disc DVD set.  John and I headed out to try to find some dinner but were not very luck.  It seems many restaurants close at 9:00 pm.  We stopped by a bar that was still serving appetizers and then headed back to the hotel and got set for an early start.

Thursday was a moderate trail day, San Diego Mountain.  We headed off for about 20 miles on road and another 10 miles of dirt road going behind a Border Patrol checkpoint and back toward San Diego Mountain.  The local university in Las Cruces owns much of the land around the mountain and has closed access across their land to the mountain.  Fortunately, a local landowner allows the Las Cruces club access across his land.  Most of the trails are loops around the lower canyons of the mountain with a few climbs and drops.  A lot of the trail is off camber and feels worse than it is.  It is never comforting to look over into a canyon drop off one foot off the trail.  We worked our way around the base of the mountain and then up to plateau just short of the top for a lunch break.  About this time, a CJ sheared a leaf spring pack bolt and lost a pinion shim as well.  Ever resourceful John Chaney suggested that the shear pin out of a Hi-Lift jack would work as a temporary replacement.  Just below the plateau was an abandoned mine shaft and you could look vertically down into the length of the shaft from the edge of the trail.  After a quick lunch of green chile burritos, it was time for the optional hard climb to the top of the mountain.  John and I were doing fine until the Rubicon’s lack of ground clearance caught me.  I pinned the Rubicon in place with a large rock stuck under the transfer case skid plate. 

After trying to back off the rock and go forward of the rock, it was decided to jack the Rubicon up and put some rocks under the tires.  With the front tires boosted up and the back end on the Hi-Lift, I was able to back off the rock.  After picking a better line, up we went again.  Unfortunately, I high centered a rock again and had to back up and pick a new line.  On the new line, the Rubicon pulled all the way to the top no problems.  The front and rear lockers and the 4:1 transfer case make short work of rocky climbs.  John and I both decided we needed to pay a lot more attention to choosing the correct line up and around obstacles.  John and I were both used to driving taller Jeeps with bigger tires and lifts where clearance is not as much of a limiting factor.  After driving back down, we headed back to the hotel for a short break. 

That evening we headed back to the fairgrounds to have dinner there and got ready for the Land Action Fund Night Poker Run.  The run had about 25 vehicles and was an easy trail called Box Canyon.  This was my first night run and was a lot of fun.  John and I had a straight working until the last card and ended up with nothing.  A four of a kind won the pot, which was split between the winner and the Land Action Fund.

Friday was a hard trail, Sandia Gulch.  My Rubicon was the only stock vehicle on the trail.  Now that John and I were paying more attention to line selection, we did not get stuck at all.  The hardest obstacle on the run is the V-rock.  The V-rock is a large boulder broken in two pieces across the trail.  There is no by-pass.  The rock is across the trail at about a 45-degree angle with one piece in the middle of the trail.  The right side of the rock, as you face it, is the side you hit first.  The line over the obstacle is to approach it straight on with the right tire climbing the rock and the left tire in the air.  The left tire then hits the second piece of the rock and once the front wheels are on the rocks, you pivot around to the right on top of the rock and allow both rear tires to climb up the rocks.  Next, you come down off the rocks and immediately turn back left to get back on to the trail.  With the front and rear locker engaged and John spotting, the Rubicon went up the right rock, got the left tire on the second rock, pivoted around and slowly drove down and off.  Not too bad for a stock Jeep.  Several other vehicles with bigger tires and more lift had a lot of trouble with the V-rock.  The jeep directly behind me made it over the V-rock and then snapped an axle shaft (A Dana 35C with a Detroit Locker).  With all the vehicles over the V-rock and a broken jeep blocking the trail, it was time for lunch, burritos again, this time warmed up on the manifold, yum yum!!  The broken axle shaft was fixed and the rest of the trail was pretty uneventful.  Sandia Gulch is a fairly short trail but very rocky and technical, but still lots of fun.   

John and I headed back to the hotel for a quick clean up and then back out to the fairgrounds for dinner and the ice cream social.  We sat down to eat, watch the raw footage of the trails from Oz Video and enjoy the camaraderie.

Saturday was a moderate trail, Amitista Ledges.  Many of the obstacles are hard and there are several bypasses.  Today is when the weather change drastically.  We had been in t-shirts enjoying sunny warm days; today we were being lightly pelted with sleet, snow and light rain.  It was just enough moisture to make the rocks very slick.  I skipped a few hard obstacles as did a few other jeeps but we still had a great time.  By picking our lines carefully and John spotting me over several obstacles and we were able climb everything we wanted to.  An International Scout on our trail was having transmission problems and ended up leaking fluid.  The transmission got so hot that the leaking fluid caught fire when the Scout stopped after running hard up the trail.  Fortunately, fire extinguishers were close at hand and no major damage was done.  I towed the Scout up the trail to a by-pass and another jeep from an extreme trail pulled him out the rest of the way.  The Rubicon did a great job of climbing up the trail while pulling the Scout.  Even on the up hill climb on the by pass the Rubicon had no problem pulling the Scout. 

Saturday evening was the dinner and raffle.  Again, the food was good and plentiful and John and I sat watching the raw video footage of the trails.  John and I finally caught up with Jay Albrecht and Karl Pretzer; we had seen them in passing at the fairgrounds but still had not talked.  We also talked to Jerry Paul Higgins whom we had seen several times.  The raffle was on and I won a calendar and Mechanix gloves.  Several members including Shawn Pagan and Swede Garpne won prizes.

The Chile Challenge overall is a very good event.  The trails can be mild to wild and every type of vehicle from a grocery getter (stock Toyota 4-Runner) to a 46 inch tired jeep-buggy hybrid can be seen.  There is something for everyone. 

Tolan Harding