For most intrepid four-wheelers, the journey is the thing. Especially if it involves climbing over mammoth boulders and scaling vertical walls and doing other acrobatics that most drivers would find impossible.
The Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Chile Challenge on Oct. 12-16 at Caballo Lake State Park south of Elephant Butte. A number of trails carved from the hillsides of the Caballo Mountains offer a range of challenging tests for drivers and their families.
“We have scenic trails and then they get a little bit harder as they step up,” said Duke Knight, club president. “The scenic ones are the easier ones. Then you get into the next level that’s moderate, the next level is hard, and the next level is extreme.”
It’s the latter two where winches often are seen tugging vehicles over areas that could scarcely be called trails at all.
“When you get into the hard trails and the extreme trails, that’s where you see some of those crazy rigs with the super big tires and lifted up real high. They’re main purpose and the attraction to the drivers is the trail as opposed to the scenery. I usually tell people, those are the guys who see how far they can go before something breaks.”
Knight said he anticipates about 150 vehicles and their drivers will be on hand, with a draw from across the country and more.
“It’s an international event,” he said. “I’ve met folks from Mexico and from Canada. New York and Washington and everywhere in between.”
For many years, the event used to be held on Bureau of Land Management backcountry acres surrounding Las Cruces.
But seven years ago, the BLM asked the group to move north to its present location as it is away from the population center of Las Cruces.
“Because it’s most of the week event, a lot of people put in for vacation time and they’re with their families and they make it into a vacation,” Knight said. Although there’s really no spectators because it’s way out in the sticks, but a lot of people hang around in the campground, visit and have a nice camping trip and in the evenings we have things under the pavilion like piñatas for the kids and films from different trails.”
When it comes to the trails, Knight said he’s a guy that likes the scenic route, in particular the Palomas Gap.
A level 3 trail, it starts low, then gradually climbs an old mountain road built by Chinese laborers in the 1800s. This road was used to haul water from the river to the new railroad. It hugs the side of a canyon and is narrow in spots.
“It’s really something to see,” he said. “There are petroglyphs out there and I’ve seen big horn sheep and deer. You get so high into the Caballos and then you stop up on top. It’s just beautiful. It’s a fantastic vista on top.”
Regular, stock four-wheel drive vehicles with drivers who have some experience in back-country driving can access most of the easy and moderate trails without too much difficulty, although a lift of three to six inches and bigger tires makes the ride easier, Knight said.
The hard and extreme trails are for drivers with significant back-road experience using modified rigs specifically designed for the punishment.
“Some of those things, you can tell they started out as a Jeep,” he said. “And some of you can’t tell what they used to be.”