Chile Challenge: New Mexico's 26th Annual Rockcrawling Event

For 26 years running, the Chile Challenge has been home to some of the best rockcrawling action in the U.S. This year, the event took place at Caballo Lake State Park Riverside Campground. Every morning participants staged for their trails and headed out on a short drive to the trailheads. Crystal Canyon was on the agenda for the day, a difficult-rated trail that gets down to business right away.

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Towards the beginning of the trail is a climb up a dry waterfall nestled in a narrow canyon. The trick is to line up on the far right  then work to the left once the rear tires start to climb. The longer wheelbase rigs made quick work of the climb while others struggled. This Land Cruiser running Trail Grapplers had no trouble finding the right line.

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Once the group made it up the waterfall, the fun continued. Here, the canyon takes a turn and goes down a small, rocky ledge.

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Sometimes you just have to float a tire in the air to make forward progress. This turn caught a few leaf-sprung rigs by surprise.

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One final challenge in Crystal Canyon is the V-notch. Pick the wrong line, and you may find yourself lifting a tire and leaning into the rock wall. Once past this point, the trail becomes easier all the way to the top.

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Another Day, Another Trail

This time, we lined up for The Shaft to Off Again. Both of these trails are rated extreme and require a minimum of 37-inch tires, lockers and a winch. The Shaft boasts a series of difficult ledges near the top of the canyon, the first of which has three different lines that work for different vehicles. This Jeep YJ had a short wheelbase and was low and stable in off-camber situations. He chose the far right line and crawled straight up.

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Another Jeep YJ in the group had a much different build philosophy, with big tires, 2½-ton Rockwell axles and a much higher ride height to clear the large differentials. On the same ledge, he chose to go right up the middle with some throttle.

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Challenging Brandon

On Friday, Jim was our trail leader on Brandon’s Challenge in a Formula Toyota buggy. This short canyon is filled with non-stop boulders that offers multiple lines throughout.

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Several vendors came out to support the event and got some trail time in between manning their booths. Iron Rock Off Road brought out its recently completed Jeep project.

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The action was non-stop as our large group stretched through the entire canyon. This is just one of many sections along the trail that offers several lines to choose from.

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At the end of Brandon’s Challenge is a small, jagged ledge between two large boulders. Climb the wall on the left side or split the two large rocks on the right as this Jeep TJ did. A narrow road leads back to the main access road from here.

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Green Canyon is one of the major arteries through the area and is the jumping-off point for many of the other trails run during the event. The canyon itself can offer a full day of challenges. We caught up with Synergy Manufacturing’s JK twisting its way through the polished boulders.

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All of these trails are found near the Caballo Mountains in the high desert. Many of the canyons are narrow and traverse through some harsh terrain. Several species of cactus and yucca dot the hillsides along with a variety of other desert life. While we stuck to the harder rockcrawling canyons, several trail offerings explore the more scenic roads in the area.

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A Spicy Event

By now, you may be asking yourself: Why is it called the Chile Challenge?

The Rio Grande valley lies just to the west of these trails and is home to the world-famous Hatch Chile. Every day we passed fields of Chile plants on our way to the trails. If you finish your trails early, make the short drive down to the small town of Hatch and indulge in a green Chile cheeseburger; you'll thank us later!

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Want to see more 'wheeling from out west? Check out our other Trail Reviews outside California.

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