Fourth Annual Jeep Jamboree at Borrego Springs

Oct. 26, 2009 By Jim Brightly
We attended the Jeep Jamboree at Borrego Springs.

Back when the sport of off-roading was young and almost the entire West was open to wheeling, Mark Smith had a dream. Living in Georgetown, California, on the famed State Highway 49, near what was then the entrance to the famous Rubicon Trail, Mr. Smith’s dream was of an organization that hosted Jeep trips. The dream came true and the Jeep Jamborees were born.

To quote the Jeep Jamboree USA website: “Jeep Jamborees are off-road adventure weekends that bring together the outdoors, down-to-earth people, and their Jeep 4x4s. These off-road treks have a long tradition, dating back to 1953 when 4x4 pioneer Mark A. Smith organized the first ever Jeep Jamboree and voyaged across the Sierra Nevada by way of the old Rubicon Trail. In 1954, Willys Motors—then manufacturer of Jeep vehicles—became involved with the adventure, and Jeep Jamborees have been an off-road tradition ever since.”

Jeep "peeps" came in from as far away as Louisiana, Oregon, Arizona, and New Mexico, plus other states as well. Before each trail ride, a drivers meeting is held to go over the rules for the day

I’ve had the good fortune to meet and talk with Mr. Smith several times over the past three decades since I first met him at a media Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail in the late ‘70s—about the same time that he led a group of CJ-7s across the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia (if you want to see what can be accomplished by dedicated explorers with outstanding vehicles, order this DVD from I again talked with him on the Rubicon Trail in August 2006 when the JK Wrangler was introduced to the off-road press, and Mr. Smith was still as enthusiastic about Jeeps, Jamborees and off-roading as he had been in the 1970s.

While the rest of us awaited our turns, Jason McKee spotted his wife through an off-camber section.


Our red flag group aired down before entering Oriflamme Canyon.

Mr. Smith’s dream of Jeep Jamborees—which I’ve now experienced—has continued to burgeon over the decades, and now upwards of 30 Jamborees a year happen all around the country and every Jeep 4WD model is welcome. But it has to be a Jeep! No other brand is allowed.

Dave Plaster, a retired veteran, came over from New Mexico to enjoy the wheeling around Borrego Springs.

I recently attended the fourth annual Jeep Jamboree at Borrego Springs, which is a relatively new Jeep Jamborees since they’ve been happening since 1953. This was my first Jeep Jamboree but it won’t be my last.

Jerry Burgess carefully negotiated his ’05 TJ through a portion of “The Rock Garden.” Jerry had only been Jeeping for three months.

They say bad things come in threes; well, so do good things. There are three types of Jamborees; Signature, Classic, and Just Trails. Although a complete description of a Signature trip wasn’t available at press time, it’s usually a three-day adventure led by Mark Smith, which includes all meals (we believe, but verify this with JJUSA). Classic and Just Trails are both two-day events (with an extra day for registration); Classic includes two days of meals, while Just Trails provide the dinners only on both trail days.

The author’s Chevy-powered CJ performed flawlessly on Friday’s trail, and the Bestop luggage rack kept all his gear up and out of the dog's way.

Most JJUSA adventures also include a fireside chat to close out each of the two trail days. After dinner on the final day, you’ll also enjoy an exciting raffle in which you may win products that’ll more than make up for your entry fees. By the way, no Jeep Jamboree includes lodging, just the meals noted.


Articulation was the name of the game through the Rock Garden.

There are also three levels of trails offered to Jamboree attendees. When you register, you’ll fill out a form on which you list your experience as a Jeep driver and the equipment you’ve added to your Jeep. This information will allow the JJUSA hosts to determine on what level of trails you’ll most likely enjoy.

After a hot, dusty day on the trail, most Jeepers like the tradition of cooling off and telling trail tales around a campfire.

Each Jeep is issued a flag: red, orange or green. Red is for the more technical trails; orange is for the mid-level trails; and green indicates the trails on which stock vehicles being driven by novices will see some easy but fun challenges. I won’t go into detail right now what is required for each level—you can find that information easily at the JJUSA website.

Red flag trail boss P-Diddy (a.k.a. George) shows just how narrow the squeeze spot is on Saturday’s trail. Fortunately, we were going down the one-way trail, not up.

I will say, however, that whether you’re a novice in your first Jeep or a long-time Jeeper in a 27-year-old CJ (as we were at Borrego Springs) you’re welcome at a Jeep Jamboree. And more to the point, you’ll have a ball and more than likely learn something at the same time. I found it very much like going on a club run for the first time. You don’t know what to expect other than that you’ll have fun and see some great scenery, but you’ll also learn something. Depending on the sizes of the groups, each trail group had at least two experienced trail guides—trail leader and tail-gunner—and the larger groups had a mid-gunner as well.


Most Wrangler models could slide through the squeeze spot fairly easily, but only JKs with narrow fenders could fit.

The trail guides are usually volunteers from a local 4WD club (in this case, they were from the Inland Empire Four Wheelers, who also hosted the Big Bear Forest Fest seen here earlier this year) who’ve been over the trails many times and have performed a pre-run just prior to the Jamboree to assure themselves about the trails’ conditions. The trail guides not only escort you through the trails, but they also “spot” or guide you through the obstacles and will assist in repairing your vehicle should that become necessary. (On our Friday trail, our mid-gunner and tail-gunner had to return to the nearest town to secure some bolts and parts for a Jeep with broken steering components.) Suffice it to say that no Jeep is left behind; you’ll all be back for dinner.

A broken weld on the author’s two-stick T-case shifter forced the author to drive his CJ up this steep and slippery hill in 2WD low range. Luckily, the Goodyear tires, ARB locker, and Chevy small block combined to boost him over with minimal tire slip. 2WD with a locker is like 4WD without lockers!

Regardless of whether you’re a newbie, novice or highly experienced, if you own a Jeep, you owe it to yourself to attend a Jeep Jamboree somewhere in your home area (or travel a few states away to experience new trails and new people). Jeep Jamborees are educational, enjoyable, and safe.

Called “Heart Attack Hill,” this is the reason the trail is one-way. Although it’s climbable with a well-built Jeep, traffic would cause too much erosion. Newsletter
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