travel - the usa - jeep jamboree

over in the states, jeep jamborees have become something of a phenomenon, an affordable four wheel driving weekend to "bring you back to life" jonathan crouch

Wonders Whether It Could Catch On Over Here

"It's A Jeep thing... You wouldn't understand... "

Bumper sticker. Ninth Annual Ouray Jeep Jamboree, Colorado. USA

Then again, perhaps you might - if you'd been on a Jeep Jamboree. Jamborees are for everyone who yearns to discover the real America - and that includes millions of Americans. That Marlboro man experience the brochures talk about but never deliver. The land of mountains and rocky trails you see in the Jeep Cherokee adverts, lone vehicle and dust cloud speeding across the prairie.

Affordable, fun and open to anyone, they're held all over the United States from February until the end of October at venues from Miami to Michigan, New York to New Jersey. And they're as exciting for committed 'Jeepers' as for those taking their first, tentative steps towards buying the world's best-known four by four vehicle.

If you decide to come, then expect to be immersed in Jeep culture and surrounded by people for whom this vehicle is a way of life. Indeed, to call them enthusiasts is probably something of an understatement. They come, they eat and they attempt to conquer the rocky trails and mountain passes, with picnic boxes and drinks coolers always at the ready.

Regular participants come from all walks of life and, sharing a common passion for the product, see their annual Jeep Jamborees as a kind of pilgrimage. These events do after all, represent a chance for them to test themselves and their Renegades, Wranglers and Cherokees in the most demanding and breathtaking terrain the States has to offer.

Not that those that haven't yet bought (or physically can't bring) a Jeep are excluded. On the contrary, if you want to join in, its simply a question of renting one and tagging onto a friendly convoy which takes its time and enjoys the scenery as much as the driving challenge itself. Other makes of four-wheel drive? Well they just don't exist ya know ? Jeepers, if you had the temerity to turn up in a Chevy, a Toyota (or a Land Rover for that matter) who knows what would happen?

Whether you're a first time four-wheel driver or you've plenty of experience, the Jamboree organisers won't be phased. They provide numerous guides and friendly experts to help their guests though - and make the whole thing fun for any other members of the family you decide to bring along.

I joined one of the most famous events in the programme, the Ninth Annual Ouray Jeep Jamboree, held in the heart of Colorado's old Gold mining region in the Rocky Mountains. Ouray sits over 7,800 feet above sea level, the capital of an area known as "Little Switzerland" and is criss-crossed with trails formerly used by mining prospectors.

This gathering, it was soon clear, had attracted a cosmopolitan bunch of 'Jeepers'. Increasingly, it seems, owners and admirers are travelling from long distances (including Europe) to attend the Jamborees, Jeep hire being straightforward and relatively cheap in a number of the areas used. English enthusiasts have been slow to catch on but the UK importers are keen to change all that.

Even a brief chat with committed Jamboree Jeepers reveals why. Many first came with friends before buying their Wranglers or Cherokees but were quickly hooked by the experience and before long returned as owners. They say that if you should pay your $185 per person and sign up for a Jamboree weekend the next time you're passing through the States, it could happen to you too. Yes really.

Jeep Jamborees

What You Need To Know

Cost: $185 per person (over 15yrs) / $85 per person (7-14yrs) / $55 per person (6yrs & under) - infants free. (Alaskan event costs are $200/$100 & $60 respectively)

What's Included: All Food / Guides / Permits / Trail Access / Vehicle Prizes

(arrange accommodation yourself - recommendation lists available from organisers)

Who To Call?: Jeep Jamboree USA, PO Box 1601, 2776 Sourdough Flat, Georgetown, CA 95634. Tel: (011 - 916) 333-4777

(European Jeep Jamboree Organisation, Rodenburgstraat, 61 6811-HN Arnhem, Netherlands. Tel: (31) 85-455-950. Fax: (31) 85-516-164)