WHEN my sister Brittany and I purchased our very first Jeep Wrangler JK in 2012, we had two missions: one was a quest to meet ‘the father of all Jeeps’; the second was to visit the famed Rubicon Trail.
After spending years educating consumers on why they should buy a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, we needed to visit the Rubicon. How can you honestly tell people how amazing a Jeep Rubicon is if you haven’t visited its namesake? And, after following a few leads, we were told the ‘father of all Jeeps’ lived right outside the Rubicon Trail in Northern California.The stars must have been aligned, because both our missions were going to happen in one trip.
I still remember reading an article about Mark A. Smith – the founder of the Jeep Jamboree – the night before we met him. It mentioned he had the word ‘Jeep’ tattooed on his behind. It also claimed he led a group across the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia – Mark and his team used six Jeeps to make the crossing in 122 days. There’s a great Dirt Every Day episode that shows some of the footage from Mark’s 1978-79 Expedicion de las Americas.
After packing our red JK for a road trip, we found Mark and his wife Irene nestled in the historic mining town of Georgetown, California. They moved to Georgetown in 1951, when Mark purchased his first Jeep for $500. Irene mused: “Mark had found Shangri-La. We were honeymooning in Georgetown, CA, and we had jobs in Las Vegas. We had to call them and tell them we weren’t coming back.”
After hearing about The Rubicon Trail, Mark got together a group of friends and started the first Jeepers Jamboree in 1953, a trek down what is now the world’s most popular and intense recreational 4x4 trail. Since those days, the popularity of recreational off-roading has elevated to new heights, allowing Jeep Jamboree USA to create organised Jeep trips across America. Ever since Mark passed away in 2014, we have made it a point to participate in a Jeep Jamboree event every year.
For the 2017 trip, Jeep Jamboree USA offered 31 different events across America; most of the events were scheduled with check-in on Thursday evening and two days of trail riding, with everything wrapped up by Saturday evening or Sunday. To get the trip started I met Dirt Every Day’s Fred Williams and his Jeep ‘Tube Sock’ in Denver, and, on our way to Ouray, we stopped in Golden, Colorado, to meet with Jeep Jamboree USA president Pearse Umlauf. Pearse mentioned that Mark’s two favourite Jeep Jamboree USA events were The Rubicon and Ouray, and Mark loved visiting the Rockies in September to see the Fall (read: Autumn) colours. In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of The Ouray Jamboree, we knew we were in for a special treat.
After breakfast with Pearse, we made a mad dash to Ouray for event check-in and vehicle inspection. Once you check-in to your own hotel, all you have to do is show up, as Jeep Jamboree USA takes care of all of the scheduling and planning.
Jeep Jamboree USA tries to make each and every one of its events safe and family friendly, and most of the trail guides have attended Jamboree events over the years with their families and love it so much that they come back year after year as trail guides. If you need something, they have it for you; if you forget your CB radio, someone will find one for you that you can borrow; if you break something, they will find a way to fix it. It’s how Mark treated people, so his staff still continues to live his legacy.
After a few hours of sleep, Fred and I woke at 6.30am and headed to the Ouray Community Center where Mark and Terry Chris (Jeep Jamboree USA coordinators) greeted us with coffee and a delicious hot breakfast. We broke into our trail group, jumped in Tube Sock, and introduced ourselves on the CB radio as we headed out on the trail. Everyone in our group had been on another Jamboree event in the past, but Fred and I had only ever been on the Rubicon trip.
Day one involved a trip from Stony Pass to Buffalo Boy, and we were left in absolute awe of the Aspen leaves glittering in the sunlight – there’s a reason they schedule this Jamboree in mid-September. The weather is crisp, the air feels refreshing, and every single photo you take is stunning.
We spent the first half of the day cruising through the mountains, and we finished the day with a scenic trail-ride back to Ouray before sunset. The trails are mild but there are intense switchbacks in Colorado and, as with any trail ride, it’s important never to go out alone, and to ensure the vehicle behind you is always in your rear-view mirror. After we got back to town, we headed back to the Ouray Community Center where Jeep Jamboree USA provided dinner. We hit the hay early so we were ready for another day on the trails. On day two, with a different group of Jeepers, we tackled Imogene to Ophir. There was plenty of snow on our way to Imogene Pass, and we felt as if we were on top of the world when we finally made it to the top of Imogene. After lunch, Fred and I stopped for a coffee in Telluride, and then we made it back to Ouray for the celebratory prime-rib dinner.
We had an absolute blast on the trip and we’re already looking at the 2018 Jeep Jamboree USA schedule to see which events we will attend next year.