It was a cool summer morning in the foothill town of Georgetown, California. From the wood-rail balcony of the Georgetown Hotel, guests sipped coffee and took in the spectacle below. On the two-lane country street, a few dozen Willys Jeeps lined up five abreast, wheels pointed "upcountry," toward the High Sierra. Opposite the hotel, members of the Rotary Club and the Georgetown Rifle and Gun Club prepared breakfast for the gathering crowd and handed out bag lunches of fried chicken. There was an excitement in the air, anticipation of a weekend of camping and Jeeping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Twelve months earlier, a small group of Rotary members gathered at the home of Mark Smith. The focus of the meeting was to develop a fundraising event to help the town's struggling economy. Several members had made scouting treks over the Rubicon "Road" to Wentworth Springs and the Rubicon Valley, and decided a weekend Jeep trip might be the answer to their dilemma. Member Harold Krabbenhoft suggested the soirée be called the Jeepers Jamboree, and Smith was officially named "Jeepmaster." The year was 1952.
On a cool morning in late July, I pulled my rig onto that same two-lane street and parked in front of the old Georgetown Hotel. Across the street, eager four-wheelers lined up in front of the Jamboree office. Six decades had passed since that inaugural event, but excitement levels were still high, everyone anticipating the next four days of driving the Rubicon Trail.
There are few off-road events that have stood the test of time, shifting economic cycles, and the threat of environmental extremists; yet the Jeepers Jamboree has thrived. Since 1953, Jeepers Jamboree guides have led more than 35,000 vehicles and 102,000 guests to the 19th-century resort in Rubicon Springs. Over the years, hundreds of magazine articles, TV shows, and documentaries (in more than a dozen languages and 100 countries), have rendered the Rubicon an international icon of 4WD trails. As for the Jeepers Jamboree, it has earned a reputation as the "Granddaddy" of 4WD events.
Growing up less than a two-hour drive away from the Rubicon, I hadn't grasped the extent of the trail's true notoriety until traveling in Africa, Europe, Australia, and South America. When I'd mention I was from California, everyone would ask if I had been to the Rubicon and would say that they wanted to drive the Rubicon Trail if they ever came to America. The word Rubicon has become iconic, synonymous with Jeeping and 4WD sports.