Watching four-wheel-drive vehicles climb near-vertical cliff faces might not necessarily seem very spectator-friendly, but the W.E. Rock Grand National Championships Sept. 7-8 in Farmington is a spectacle to behold.
What’s more, the local Cliffhangers Four Wheel Drive Club, has organized a series of events — Four Corners 4X4 Week — on the days preceding the championships designed to entice and encourage wannabe rock crawlers to give it a whirl.
Four-wheel drive owners can sign up for trail rides (eventbrite.com) on Wednesday, Sept. 4 and Thursday Sept. 5), with local drivers as guides.
The six different excursions on Wednesday are through renowned off-road are Chokecherry Canyon, and several include parts of the championship course, said Rick Jenkins, president of the Cliffhangers Club.
“Chokecherry Canyon is 21,000 acres of (Bureau of Land Management) property that’s considered a recreation area,” Jenkins said. “There are 3,800 acres of open off-highway vehicle space, so what we’ve done is put together trails. What’s unique about Chokecherry Canyon is everything is pretty much within five to 20 minutes of pavement.”
In addition to the two difficult runs, there are also two runs of medium difficulty and two that are easy, he said.
The easy runs are ideal for novice four-wheelers with stock vehicles, Jenkins said, while the medium and difficult runs require vehicle with some modifications.
“The medium trails out here, you typically have to be in a lifted vehicle,” he said. “And they’re going to want to have a little bit larger tire. They’re also going to want a limited slip or locking differential in the rear. And we recommend at least tow points in the front, something you can hook a strap to so if they’re not making it, we can give them a little tug.”
The difficult runs are for experienced off-roaders with significant vehicle modifications.
“For the hard trails, you want to use 37-inch tires and full-locking, front and rear differentials, winch and tow points front and rear,” Jenkins said. “The hard rocks on the trail, you can typically expect to have a tire in the air, you can possibly lay the vehicle on its side. Most of the walls are four- feet- to- six- feet- tall and we also have alternating terrain where the front tire on one side could be two feet in the air and popping the opposing rear tire three feet in the air. You’re really working the suspension.”
Thursday’s runs are similar but include one special, easy one in Largo Canyon.
“Largo Canyon is mainly an oil field, but with a lot of Indian ruins and petroglyphs,” Jernkins said. “Most of the time, you won’t even be in four-wheel-drive, but people like it because they can get out and hike to the ruins and the petroglyphs.”
On Friday night, downtown Farmington turns into four-wheel-drive heaven with the area blocked off for a vehicle show, featuring such categories as prettiest and ugliest four-wheel drive, best of show, as well as live music, vendors and a flex ramp to test a vehicle’s suspension.
As for the rock crawling championships, it’s a great family event, said Rich Klein, president of W.E. Rock Events.
“The vehicles are moving real slow and it’s a trial type of competition and not a speed-oriented competition,” he said. “You’re performing on a course that everybody else has to do the same course and whoever does the course the cleanest and scores the least amount of penalty points wins.”
The area is almost tailor-made for the event, Klein said
“The terrain that the guys compete on is a lot of very slabbish rock instead of broken boulders, and it’s big,” he said. “Those ledges are slabs are 50 or 60 feet, so the guys are climbing up 50- to 60-foot waterfalls. That sandstone is old and windy, the elements have shaped it, so it really makes for neat terrain for drivers because it is so big and the spectators can get up close and personal. They can stand almost at the bottom of these cliffs watching the drivers go up them or come down them.”
Among the competitors making her first run at the championships, 15-year-old Jewell Jenkins has been riding in off-road vehicles her whole life, but just started competing this season.
“I don’t really have any expectations, but I hope not to get any breakdown time,” she said. “I want to have good communication and just do my best and have fun. It doesn’t matter the most where I get placed. It’s always great to get podium but I’m just happy if me and Dad have a lot of fun and don’t get hurt and I’m totally fine with it.