Fifty years ago, "Jeepers Jamboree" was a name born in jest. It was suggested by a small group of Rotarians and friends who met at the home of Mark Smith to work on an idea to boost the depressed economy of the Georgetown Divide. Today, Jeepers Jamboree, Jeep Jamboree USA, and the Rubicon Trail, where it all began, are practically household names. Well, at least they are to the 3000 Jeepers who navigated this rugged and renowned trail in celebration of its Golden Anniversary this summer.

In the five decades since the first annual Jeep trek across the Sierra Nevadas from Georgetown, California, to Lake Tahoe via the old Rubicon Trail, this event--composed of a 22-mile-long, bone-jarring drive at speeds of 3-5 mph with a stopover in a site of wilderness beauty--has become a legend in the annals of Jeeping and 4x4 history throughout the world. In 1953, "Jeep Master" Mark Smith led 55 vehicles and 155 people up granite slabs, over boulders and logs, and down the torturous Big Sluice Box into the peaceful Rubicon Valley, to camp in the meadows, where native Americans and turn-of-the-century adventurers came to drink and soak in the healing water of the Rubicon's mineral springs.

Today, more than one hundred thousand 4WD enthusiasts, hailing from around the globe, have made the trek over the trail that changes every year as a result of heavy snowfall. Daimler Chrysler's Jeep division has pledged that every vehicle it produces is "Rubicon-ready," and nearly every modern-day manufacturer of SUVs and trucks has used this location to test its back-country models. Smith is now known in four-wheeling lore throughout the world, and he established Jeep Jamboree USA, a series of 4WD events in the U.S. and on the Rubicon that attracts thousands of participants each year.

Jeepers Jamboree, headquartered in Georgetown, is now a bustling business and an obvious boom to the local economy. For instance, it took 108 Jeep trailer loads to haul in non-perishable goods, while over 700 pounds of BBQ beef and 1128 pounds of pork loin were helicoptered in, along with other perishables for this year's Jeepers, who used 18,000 paper plates and 18,000 sets of plastic silverware during the two days of recuperation scheduled in the middle of the now four-day-long event. A name born in jest and the bright idea of some locals has gained fame throughout the world. TT

Caretaker in Paradise
"I love the remoteness and the beauty," says Merlin Scott, summer caretaker of the Rubicon Springs, from the porch of his rustic cabin, during the 50th Anniversary of the Jeepers Jamboree. Scott, who's spent four months of the year for the past decade in this peaceful valley, was surrounded by nearly 3000 four-wheeling enthusiasts busy at play and relaxation after their drive into the Springs.

So how do four-wheelers relax on the Rubicon? After setting up camp, they soak in the mineral springs, tinker and repair their own or someone else's Jeep, check out the vast display of Jeep vehicles that range from old to new, bone stock to modified, as well as the latest in the rock-crawling Jeep models.

"Our numbers this year for the Golden Anniversary were about twice what they've been the past few years," says Scott, "because of the Jamboree, and because there's an increasing interest in four-wheeling all over the U.S. We had Jeepers from many other countries, as well. Since I started with Jeep Jamboree USA in 1972, I've seen it grow from a man's sport to a family event."

While some are interested in "their machine against the elements," Scott likes the fact that many visitors to the Springs are also interested in outdoor adventure and the valley and its history. Over the weekend, there were guided hikes and Scott was always ready to share the history of the valley from its days as a summer paradise for Indians to the first-known settlers and its resort era.--S.M.

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