It has been over a decade since my days on the assembly line in Detroit building the Grand Jeep Cherokee, so the 2008 Ouray Jeep Jamboree served as a reunion to the very product that sparked my automotive passions. I had driven the vehicle many times on the testing grounds at the factory so I was excited to see how the vehicle would hold up to the rigorous demands of the mountainous terrain in Ouray, Colorado. This former mining town is a Jeep family favorite with hundreds of miles of scenic backcountry trails earning it the title “Jeep Capital of the World.”
Our first day of driving began at sunrise with a meet and greet with Jeep owners who shared the history of the Jeep Jamboree. I learned that Jeepers, as they call themselves, gather annually for a two-day, four-wheel drive adventure. These off-road treks have a long tradition dating back to 1953 when 4×4 pioneer Mark A. Smith organized the first Jeep Jamboree and voyaged across the Sierra Nevada Mountains by way of the old Rubicon Trail. A year later, Willys Motors – then manufacturer of Jeep vehicles – became involved with the adventure, and Jeep Jamborees have been an off-road tradition ever since.
Every level of expertise from novice to veteran can participate as long as they have a Jeep vehicle with a 4-LO transfer case and if you don’t, Jeep rentals are available throughout town. Jeepers are divided into groups with experienced guides on hand to help drivers navigate the most challenging off-road situations. That knowledge did nothing to quell my nervousness as we began our first trail, Engineer Pass, a 28-mile long trek at a 12,805 foot elevation.
I chose the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for the first leg of the trek. The Rubicon model features removable doors, fold down windshield, flared wheel fenders, single round headlamps, seven slot grille and 18 inch cast aluminum wheels. That extra inch of wheel circumference came in handy since the roads were rough from the start. We experienced every range of weather – rain, sleet and even snow as we made our way up to the summit on the narrow passageways carved in and around the mountainside. However, the Rubicon’s agility and handling made the ascent seem effortless. I felt in control despite the morphing road conditions. The Wrangler served up a solid performance of endurance climbing along the switchbacks through several mining sites well above the tree line with ease.
Our next trail, Imogene Pass, provided stunning views of Telluride at a 13,114 foot elevation. The scenic drive with views of several waterfalls and canyons took us through 18 miles of dirt roads and loose rock. I had the opportunity to witness the diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee in action as we made our way to Fort Peabody for lunch. The Cherokee proved that even the upscale Jeeps can get down and dirty. The luxury vehicle features front and rear Electronic Limited-Slip Differentials (ELSDs) in Quadra-Drive II, an active transfer case and an electronically controlled clutch pack which provides superior traction management perfect for steep uphill climbs and loose-rock descents. It is constructed with 7.7-inches of ground clearance, a 34.1 degree approach angle, 20 degree breakover angle and 27 degree departure angle ideal for crossing even the toughest trails. Best of all, the Cherokee can tow a healthy 7,400 pounds when properly equipped making it a durable option for your off road experience.
Overall, both Jeep products proved they have the muscle and chops to endure even the harshest of conditions but in a choice between the two I would definitely chose the Rubicon with its enhanced steering control.
As for the overall Jeep Jamboree, there were definitely moments were I questioned the line between adventure and insanity as we creeped along those mountain roads with 10,000 plus foot drops. However, this adrenaline pumping test drive is a worthy experience for thrill seekers. For more information about the Jeep Jamboree please visit: www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.