24th Annual Jeep Jamboree USA in Big Bear, CA

Jeepers Strike Gold Mountain & Big Bear for first SoCal run of the year

Jun. 15, 2016 By Justin Fort, Photos by Justin Fort and Dustin Dailey

When you’re a Jeeper, you’ve got to Jeep. Rocks, dirt, trees, trails – Jeep. You could also validate your parking lot certification, but that’s for poseurs – the 24th Big Bear Jeep Jamboree is not. This is a certifiable off-road gathering, with traditions and history and more than 100 Jeeps (plus a few alternately-equipped associates) ’froading and bonking and flexing over Big Bear’s ample terrain – and when you’re on-trail in Big Bear, CA, there is no shortage of trail.

Jeepers are so open-minded; whether you like square headlights, leaf springs, half-beds, full-fenders, flat fenders, Sawzalled fenders, no fenders, florescent green detailing, 20-year old bias-plies, flying drones or hunting them, everyone’s in.

Begun in the ’50s (back when Jeepers were still enjoying war-era surplus Willys and Jeeps and Mighty Mites), what is now known as “Jeep Jamboree USA” (https://jeepjamboreeusa.com/) is probably the iconic Jeeping series, with an organization that specializes in Jeepers jeepin’ and not much else. While there’s more than a few events out there that gather like-minded gearheads, few have lasted decades, and not many can offer 35 different runs in a year.

The Jeep Jamboree folks have made events like these approachable and friendly for first-time off-roaders, and willing hordes of more experienced Jeep types surround newbies with advice and support that turns down the wick on the freakout factor which may undermine and/or discourage the uninitiated. Unofficial arm-around-the-shoulder sanctioning from Jeep-Chrysler corporate doesn’t hurt attendance of these Jamborees, either.

A sporty gang of trail dogs rolled from Colorado to join the SoCal Jeepers, though they were naturally suspicious of how Gold Mountain Trail’s features were very Rockiesque, what with the area’s rock and crag-fest (more typical of high-mountain CO trails).

This pickup’d XJ is emblematic of the rig-building options available for owners of older trucks. In the end, it’s just sheet metal, right? If you’re with this Colorado gang, send an email to the author – he still needs to chat truck.

Randy Stockberger, who supports the Jamboree as a volunteer coordinator from the Inland Empire Four-Wheel Drive Club, reflected on the good-natured gathering of Jeepers. “Jamborees work to educate their participants about the ‘tread lightly’ and ‘share trails’ mentality, and how to use your Jeep, how to attack an obstacle in a low-drama fashion, as well as how to depend on each other,” Stockberger said. “[We look at] what can we do so you make it rather than ‘Hope you make it.’”

Mods to Jeeps on-trail varied wildly – if you’re a student of others’ work, there’s no shortage of innovative rigs. This sweet restomod Renegade was small block-powered.

The coupe treatment was popular on-trail this year, as were “subtle-killer” Jeeps that didn’t look overly dramatic, but went over everything.

Not as common a trail rig – or as common a Jeep – this rare 5.9-powered Grand Cherokee was remarkably clean, and brave enough to try and keep its black finish shiny.

In accordance with the “Bring ’em home alive” warmth of the Jamboree’s familial sensibility, pre-run inspections backstop basic safety and equipment standards for the newbies (and risk-takers alike), setting a minimum standard that helps new ’froaders feel a little more secure while they participate. Per se, things like tow-points and CB radios are required. The Jamboree folks also put a bit of a glass ceiling on attendees and limit tire size to 37-inchers, which maintains a symbolic separation from the “serious” and “radical adventure” Jeepers.

Shiny 5.9 Guy had traveled with family, all sporting Cherokees of one form or another (including two with open diffs and newbie ’froaders learning tire placement).

Two late-model Rubicons – both unstoppable, even with limited mods – shadowed the jamboreers Saturday morning. The CNTrail tent on the burgundy 2012 was so huge it had two floors – literally – and room enough for a queen-size mattress upstairs.

One of many groups of Jeepers that assembled at the rock garden/boulder field/tie-rod graveyard. Multiple groups on-trail meant that wide spots like this – remarkably common in Big Bear – could have used a stop light at times.

Amongst the dozens of Jambos being held this year, the Big Bear Jamboree – the first run of California’s 2016 Jeep Jamboree calendar – might be the West Coast’s cornerstone get-together for these folks. The Big Bearea is laced with trail options that, while not all difficult, are all valid out-there adventure spots that make a run with your jamboreeing Jeep buddies worth the trip. In fact, that balance of trails means this is an ideal neighborhood for a broad-appeal Jeep event like the Jambo, because newbies and first-timers (and tough guys who can admit they need to develop their trail skills) can get dirty without getting broken, while the serious dirt-eaters can clunk rock and break parts to their heart’s content.

Some trail features are more photogenic than others. This off-camber boulder-divot combination put short-base Jeeps in a hairy (yet low-risk) full-swap pinch.

The longer four-door Wranglers cope much better with trail details that eat shorter trucks.

Old metal like this CJ pops up regularly on SoCal trails, and in good states of preservation. Trail courtesy means its driver waves at the Toyota, arch-enemy or not.

At this year’s Big Bear Jeep Jamboree (number 24, and we are counting), 109 paying Jeeps and 206 people officially participated, dozens more lurked and tagged along, and many new Jeepers were in attendance. There were 18 more Jeepers serving as trail guides, and about 10 vendors supported participants and the raffle, including Teraflex, Rancho, Spider Web Shade, Dynamax and JKS. Falken was the tire sponsor, and Warn was the winch sponsor. For more information, head over to JeepJamboreeUSA.com.

Jeep Jamborees never last as long as you like – turn around and another one’s passed you by. Visit their website and find a run for you.

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