Chokecherry Canyon Farmington, NM
Story by Rick Jenkins
Photos by Mark Knight, Wes Bond and Cliffhangers Four Wheel Drive Club
There are many trails within the Chokecherry Canyon area of Farmington, New Mexico. One of the most popular trails in the Canyon is Gladiator. People come from far and wide to test their mettle on the trail. The trail offers optional bypasses that allow the driver to choose the difficulty level with which they are comfortable. There is also a tiptoe version of the trail. What makes these two routes unique is that it allows for those with 33s and 35s a chance to run a trail that others with 42s are running.
Gladiator begins in the southwest corner of Chokecherry Canyon. The trail starts in a wash that we refer to as the “backside of the canyon.” It takes roughly 15-minutes to get to the trailhead from the canyon entrance off of Piñon Hills Boulevard in Farmington. Gladiator can take a full day to run, so ensure that you bring sufficient water, food, PPE, and all of the items needed for a successful trip.
The Gatekeeper is a 5-section climb that starts in a wash on the backside. It takes some nice roll throughs, front digs, and bumps to make it over this section of the trail.
Once you make it to the top, a scenic view awaits you, with a passenger-side view of the wildlife area to the west. From here, continue through a notch that connects to the bypass viewing area.
At the viewpoint, there is a drop into a small canyon; this is considered the true Gladiator trail entrance, the Gladiator Waterfall. Over time, the rocks at the bottom have moved, and the sandy bottom has dropped by roughly twelve inches in the last four years. This particular obstacle is continually changing. It never fails to provide thrills and sometimes sends you over backward.
Squeeze your tires through the first waterfall, work your steering as your front end pulls you up into a pool-like obstacle. This obstacle has claimed more than one axle shaft from many an unfortunate driver.
Not only are there an extraordinary amount of exciting driving obstacles throughout the trail it also offers a diverse array of scenic vistas. The bypass routes often end with viewing areas where you can watch others traverse the obstacles. These views provide you with an opportunity to see what the climbs look like and decide if you want to take a shot at them. Over the last few years, several new additions have been added, referred to as the “side pieces” to the main trail. These obstacles are typically more extreme.
So bring your rig and enjoy a day on the Gladiator trail. It offers four-wheeling challenges suitable to various skill levels; it provides you with unique views only found in the desert southwest.