Rock stars

Rock crawler Rick Jenkins of Farmington in his custom modified Jeep negotiates an obstacle.

Even before Rick Jenkins was born, he was riding shotgun in vehicles climbing impossibly steep inclines.

“My entire life,” Jenkins, 37, said of his experience in riding up unnatural hills. “I was in the womb, and my parents were four-wheeling in a 1977 International Scout II.”

So it only seems natural that Jenkins, of Farmington, is one of the competitors in the annual W.E. Rock Grand National Championship, Sept. 8-9, which will rumble and rock in Chokecherry Canyon on Bureau of Land Management land outside Farmington.

It is the culmination of a five-day celebration, Four Corners 4X4 Week, with events also geared to the novice and the aficionados who don’t have the wherewithal to fashion their rides into vertical-climbing machines.

When the national championship returned to the Four Corners area several years ago, the idea was to create an event that would attract more than just the extremists, said Tonya Stinson of the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Wednesday and Thursday (Sept. 5 and 6), there’s dedicated trail rides that people can sign up for in the rock crawlers or the side by side and do these trail rides,” she said. “There is a lot of fun off-roading opportunities for locals and visitors.”

The weekend will see championship in five categories; two sportsmen, which features vehicles not specifically built for climbing, and three pro, said Rich Klein, president of W.E. Rock Events.

“The pro-class vehicles are specially built with competition in mind,” he said. “Most of them wouldn’t make good trail rigs. They’re built for vision and being nimble, not so much for being comfortable.”

Drivers work in tandem with a spotter who is outside the vehicle, helping with tire placement to get the vehicle through the obstacle without hitting any of the boundary cones.

Having the national championships in Farmington made sense because it’s relatively middle ground between the coasts, the BLM is welcoming and the terrain is perfect, with a number of obstacles, so it always remains challenging, Klein said.

“It’s an iconic rock-crawling area,” he said. “It has a lot so big verticals. It’s just a really cool location visually. And the terrain features themselves are sandstone, all very vertical. The rock formations there go from ground level up towards of 50 or 60 feet in some areas.”

And that kind of turns it all into a spectator sport.

“Getting guys to drive across a ledge 40 or 50 feet above ground level is a great way to thrill the crowd and push the drivers to their mental limit,” Klein said.

And to a certain degree, drivers like Jenkins and other members of the local Cliffhangers Four Wheel Drive Club have a bit of a hometown advantage.

“You definitely have a sense of adrenaline,” Jenkins said. “The driver really wants to get through, you walk through course and made a plan. As a spotter, can I put his front tires in the right spot better than the last competitor? We did have an obstacle like that in 2010. I had a perfect rock stack. We stacked the rocks, got through the gate, then I went up and cleared rocks. We were the only guys to get through the gate. The nerves were definitely at a heightened state.”

And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being on a climb.

“Being competitive, I really enjoy,” he said. “Growing up, my parents took people out with stock jeeps then would they always did the trail running stuff. I always just wanted to be part of a team and be competitive. Off the road, all of us are like family. On the rocks, its head-to-head competitive, everybody wants to win. Everybody hates losing more than they like winning.”

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