There are always a collection of good stories from every Jeep Jamboree that has taken place since 1953, when Mark A. Smith and a group of Rotarians started taking Jeep trips across the legendary Rubicon Trail. And so it was six decades on with the first annual Roof of the Rockies Jeep Jamboree, held in Snowmass, Colorado, earlier this year. This was one of 32 Jeep Jamborees Smith's company led in 2013, in locations across the USA.
As 129 Jeep vehicles took to the high country trails in the Snowmass/Aspen region southwest of Denver, close to 300 participants ranging in age from three to 82 and hailing from 32 states, began another chapter in JJUSA's legacy of taking everyday adventurers -- as well as a cadre of hard-core off-roaders -- to some of the most scenic and historical regions of the U.S. for the four Fs -- fun, family, friends, and four-wheeling. This all-new Roof of the Rockies Jeep event even made history, as JJUSA was the first motorized group to gain permission to access to some of the most picturesque dirt tracks in the lower 48 that wind through the world's second largest aspen forest and ascend to heights of over 12,000 feet on the western slopes of Colorado's Continental Divide.
"We like to take Jeep enthusiasts to different areas of the country, leading trips for people who wouldn't go out and run trails by themselves. This area had never been used for an event like this before, so we worked on it for two years with representatives from Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service," explained Pearse Umlauf, vice president of JJUSA. Umlauf, along with his event staff, Will Morgan and Erin Lara, were approached by Jeep enthusiast Michael Weil to consider Snowmass for an event because of its natural beauty, great trails, and the host of recreational and other activities in the area. "Our reputation of doing backcountry events in a responsible manner preceded us," said Umlauf, "and Weil and his team of trail guides from the Hi Country 4Wheelers did a great job of prerunning the 10 trails used for the event that were graded using the ski trail system, running from green to black diamond."
Like all Jamborees, there was no typical attendee; some were first-timers and many were Jeepers who have followed the Jamborees for years, completing dozens of events and often using them as a way to keep up with family and friends across the country. If you think Jeepin' is a young person's activity, Tegan Dice, three, might agree with you, as the son of Samuel and Martha Dice, from Pinedale, Wyoming, was on his second Jamboree. Tegan and a number of young children who rode along on the Roof of the Rockies trip were joined by enthusiasts of all ages, including 70-year-old Chris Breedlove and his bride Martha, 68, of Nacogdoches, Texas, who are spending their 50th anniversary year traveling around the U.S. to Jeep Jamborees. Two octogenarians in attendance were by no means rookies or scenic riders. In fact, each drove his own Jeep vehicle on the trails and, between the two, they have been to some 50 Jamborees. Newton Bernstein, 81, of Culver City, California, drove his 1996 Grand Cherokee that he says "is hanging in there, like me!" Bernstein, who loves the Big Bear Jeep Jamboree located near his home, came to Roof of the Rockies because he likes getting up into the mountains. He enjoyed the "sightseeing and a little rockin'." For Sally Freeman, 82, of Highland Ranch, Colorado, the Roof of the Rockies and JJUSA is a great way to spend time with family and catch up with friends. This experienced Jeeper drives a Jeep Liberty that she has upfitted over many years and takes it on some of the country's hardest trails in Moab, Utah, and Ouray, Colorado. Freeman has also turned her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren into enthusiasts as.
The Snowmass/Aspen region was the inspiration for John Denver's famed folk song, "Rocky Mountain High," written with Mike Taylor, when Denver lived in Aspen. This is one of two official state songs of Colorado, which was given its name by the Spanish for the terrain's red color. The Centennial State is also called Colorful Colorado, and the mountainous area, beset by the Roaring Fork River that ribbons through its valleys, is an artist's palette of blue spruce, white-barked aspen, multicolored alpine wildflowers, and red rock. As with each Jamboree, one of the goals is to provide participants with a history lesson about the region and to showcase local cultural events. During the two days of guided off-road driving along 10 trails in the Gunnison National Forest and the White River National Forest, Jeepers motored past the ruins of abandoned mining sites and learned how Colorado's silver mining led to the development of the now-ritzy ski towns. The event timing also allowed Jeepers to attend the state's oldest rodeo and a free outdoor jazz concert, and to join in one of Snowmass' traditional summer Valhalla Nights, an evening adventure held at Elk Camp at the top of the mountain's gondola, with "light up the night" activities that included a climbing wall, lawn games, an outdoor barbecue and s'mores by a campfire.
"We were able to show the local community that our group of Jeep owners and four-wheelers are responsible people who care about the backcountry, and we rescued two local hikers who were caught in one of the rain deluges," said Will Morgan of JJUSA. "The local emergency services entities and other incident command groups were very vocal about our professionalism and attention to detail. When we left, we were invited back for next year as the first group to ever be issued an off-road permit for a motorized event."
"Pearse and I worked with Pitkin County and the USFS for two years to get a permit," added JJUSA's Erin Lara. "They were so over-the-top happy with us that they are already looking forward to next year." So are local coordinator Michael Weil and a lot of Jeepers who attended this inaugural event. Jeep Jamborees USA has completed all of its trail rides for 2013, but registration recently opened up for the 2014 season. There are 33 trail rides scheduled. If you want to attend any of them, visit jeepjamboreeusa.com to register.
Snowmass, sometimes called "Old Snowmass" by the locals, is an unincorporated town located in Pitkin County. Located near the Continental Divide, it sits in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains in the Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains, at an elevation of approximately 8000 feet above sea level. Situated in the valley of the Roaring Fork River, near the mouth of Snowmass Creek between Aspen and Basalt, the town consists largely of a post office, a collection of commercial businesses, surrounding houses and ranches, and a booming resort complex, in the heart of one of the top ski areas in the country.
Despite its name and its reputation as a world-class ski resort, Snowmass is not simply a one-season Colorado wonder. More than 3000 acres of terrain parks and halfpipes woo skiers and snowboarders, but 40 miles of hiking and biking trails keep adventurers on the move when the snow retreats. There are also lots of activities on the ground, with festivals, free music events, and a rodeo held each summer. When the flakes fall again, a groomed cross-country ski trail links Snowmass to Aspen.