“MissionOuray” An experienced first timers Jeep Jamboree ride along!

Mark M. DeNittis September 12th– 14th, 2008

The phone call came last minute on Wednesday night (9.10.08) from editor, Frank (n’beans) Ledwell, “can you be in Ouray, Colorado this Friday to ride along with the folks of Jeep Jamboree USA?” “Sure, I can leave after my class finishes at 7:30pm, drive through the night and get there sometime Saturday morning.  At this time Frank was dealing with hurricane Ike that was targeting the Texas coast and Houston, his hometown, and my old chefing grounds. Communication was quick and mostly I spoke with Corporate Jeep Jamboree HQ to figure out just who I was to connect with once I arrived. Kudos to the JJUSA Team for the great communications on such quick notice.


Note: Ouray is pronounced “YOU-ray” not “Oooooh-ray” or “Hooo-ray” it’s “YOU-ray” as my good friend, Colorado native, Josh so kindly reminded me. He wanted to bonk my noggin, for improperly pronouncing it, when I first told him I was headed to “Ooooohray”.  I tried to talk him into letting me borrow the Crane-Hi-Clearance rig for the run as my Jeep is currently under surgery receiving something to the effect of a well known tomato vegetable juice implant.

9.12.08 8:30pm – 9.13.08 7:30am

This was my first trip to Ouray (YOU-ray) and certainly won’t be my last. I still had no clue where I was supposed to meet or what I was even supposed to do. I just know I was supposed to get connected with Kathy of JJUSA. I love these types of renegade road trips, I thrive on them. They remind me of my earlier days, and according to my wife and family, those days really never ended for me in the first place.  The trip down was awesome. I had never been through that area of Colorado. A full moon, clear skies and nobody else on the road, what more could I ask for? Getting to the Blue Mesa Reservoir around midnight I was in awe. The scenery was spectacular! The actual driving time took me about five hours from Denver to Ouray (YOU-Ray). I stopped a few times to along the way to take in the view, stretch and catch 30 minutes of sleep here and there so I wouldn’t careen off the road at 65-75 miles per hour.

Ouray, (YOU-Ray) Colorado is absolutely magnificent. I stayed just above Main Street on the second switch-back at the Chalet-Expi (back of my Ford Expedition) in a room with a view, nearly 360⁰ degrees of view mind you.

Having been on a total of two hours of sleep since Friday morning I needed some coffee. I recalled that a young couple, former students of mine had a bakery in town on Main Street, and it just so happened the first one I pulled into was theirs, the Beaumont Artisan Bakery and Café owned by Erin and Trevor. I walked in and with a hearty “I hope there’s no garnish on the floor” a saying they would surely recall from the days of classroom kitchen cleanup time. Erin had their bright eyed 16-month old snug as a bug in a backpack style sling while she worked the counter, tended to customers and slung dough around. They are well known for their artisanal breads and killer pastries. Stop in if you get a chance as it is the perfect spot for coffee, breakfast, lunch or planning a luncheon picnic for the trail.

· Beaumont Artisan Bakery and Café 460 Main Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-4677

9.13.08 – 7:30am – 9:00am

A phone call from the new Jeep Jamboree event manager Kathy came around 7:30am and gave more insight into where I had to be. The Jeep Jamboree breakfast meeting was above the fire station in the community center. The breakfast was big, filling and just what I needed after a long night of traveling. The coffee and Doritos at 3:00am just didn’t cut it.  All the food for the event was put on by Lamplight Restaurant & Catering by a husband and wife team. The Jeep Jamboree coordinators brought them all the way in from Monticello, Utah.

I met some of the head honcho JJUSA folks, introduced myself and expressed I would greatly appreciate riding shotgun with someone as my Jeep was still awaiting the 8 hamster replacement. They teamed me up with ‘Than Larsen a.k.a. Leather Head, a retired aviator from the Salt Lake City area. He had his leather aviator’s cap and goggles on just for the ride. I mean we would be traveling at more than 12,000 feet above sea level so why not wear them. I had flashbacks of Snoopy in his Red Baron doghouse. The JJUSA folks warned me that Leatherhead was a wild one, I expressed that I wouldn’t get him into too much trouble then. They didn’t know I had a reputation of my own that actually made the pairing quite perfect. As we exchanged general formalities it came to light we both had much more in common than just our wild reputations. He had been an integral part of the writing of “Lovin’ Dutch Ovens” cookbook by Joan S. Larsen (his former spouse). Leatherhead was the tailgunner for the group we were in, his 2004 mostly stock Rubicon TJ could easily traverse the trails ahead.

9.13.08 – 9:00am – 5:15pm

Meeting at the trailhead just south of town I took in the first of many magnificent views. The importance on attendee safety, comfort level and Stay the Trail couldn’t have been stressed more. I thought this was a very respectable approach considering the nature of the wide array of experience levels of the all the attendees. We headed out to trek across a multitude of trails that were very scenic and mildly challenging. For flatlanders visiting the Rockies the challenge factor may have been considered more moderate. For me personally it was certainly much different than the open throttle, boulder strewn hardcore trails I am used to maneuvering. Even stranger for me was riding shotgun in another Jeep, I felt so cheap, dirty and guilty, like I was cheating with a mistress while my darling TJ sat silent in Denver.

Animas Forks, Ghost Town, Picayne Gulch, and Corkscrew Gulch were some of the trails that were on today’s agenda. Basically it was meant to be a large loop that would lead us back into Ouray (remember it’s pronounced YOU-RAY) Scenic views were bountiful and around every turn. Leatherhead and I had a wonderful time speaking about our various life experiences, children, grandchildren and the like. It made for one of the most memorable days of wheeling for me. Isn’t that, in part, what the “Jeep Lifestyle” is about, camaraderie the outdoors and creating lasting memories?! We had a diverse group of folks from all over the U.S. and one woman from British Columbia. Some first timers and some seasoned veterans of longstanding Jeep Jamborees. A lunch stop at the Animas Fork Ghost Town gave me an opportunity for two things, No. 1. Get some magnificent photos and No. 2. SLEEP. Being noon now and having only two and a half hours of sleep over the past thirty-one hours I kicked the seat back and “zonked out” for a solid 45 minutes. The Animas Fork Ghost town made for some great photos as well.

The next portion of trail brought us up through an interesting valley. Over 90 years ago they built a cable tram. Laying one solid cable the length of the valley is mind boggling even by today’s technological standards. Traversing mild switchbacks we meandered our way to 12,693 feet above sea level. GPS is a wonderful invention and Leatherhead was well versed in GPS navigations. He had this whole trip already dialed into his unit. Large, a mild word to use really, snow capped mountains and rolling high country meadows made for such scenic views. Finishing this section we made our way down into Silverton, Colorado to get to the next section of trail known as Corkscrew Gulch which would bring us back to Highway 550 approximately where we started our day.

While climbing the first steep incline at the start of the Corkscrew Gulch trail, one of the more modified CJ’s of the group had vapor locked. Within minutes the experienced team of Jeep Jamboree folks, one whom was a Mopar expert riding along in his Cherokee, they had that gremlin squashed in no time. The next issue was a little more difficult, another 4×4 coming up the section of trail we were coming down. Not such a big deal really however there was really not much room at all for passing on this section of trail. The nice thing about this stop was certainly the scenery, snowcapped peaks, green mountains, red dirt mountains and Colorado blue sky made it all worthwhile. I actually dozed off yet once again for a few minutes to catch up on some more sleep. After figuring the passing by thing out, it was another twenty minutes back down to pavement. Corkscrew is a stretch of trail that gets into the trees with lots of whoop-dee-doos. The Ouray (YOU-ray) General Store can be seen sitting high on a cliff west of the highway, Leatherhead informed me of the longstanding Ouray (YOU-ray) town joke of this neat little cliff side dwelling, not really a store at all! When out-of-towners ask about where to get anything the locals suggest that they attempt going to the General Store on the cliff.

Hitting town by 5:15pm our Trail Leader Larry (no not the cable guy) was surprised that we did the whole trail in such a quick manner, getting back to town well before the anticipated time of 6:00pm.

5:30pm – ???

Needing a place to stay, more so shower and clean up I decided not to stay another night in the Expi-Chalet. Leatherhead suggested that the Matterhorn Hotel may have some vacancy. The Matterhorn is centrally located on 3rd street, what really isn’t centrally located in a small town like this?

The Jeep Jamboree dinner and raffle was from 6:00pm – 8:30, the JeepTales.com team Alan and Jackie were there to download attendee’s photos to be put up on the www.JeepTales.com website for future viewing. The food was plentiful and filling. Lamplight’s well known Bow Tie Pasta Salad, Iceberg Salad with Fixin’s, Big Honkin’ Beef Steaks, sautéed veggies all served with a classic Baked Potato were enjoyed by all. The meal was topped off  with Chocolate Brownie Cake for dessert. Dinner is always a great time for meeting new folks, I sat with a couple and their daughter from near Denver and a gentleman from Baton Rouge, LA. He was concerned about family down on the coast that had just weathered hurricane Ike. The folks winning the “I traveled the farthest to attend the Ouray (YOU-ray) event” clearly went to the two women from Costa Rica.

After the dinner Jeep Jamboree did the all awaited raffle of prizes from event sponsors. From the TeraFlex toolbags all the way to the full set of free tires, to the future Jeep Jamboree Event Tickets for two. The neat thing about the person who won the Jeep Jamboree for two was, this was his wife’s first JJ and obviously she was now posed for a second JJ in the near future.  As Paul Harvy would close “and the rest of the story” from that evening was interesting to say the least and better explained or more appropriately told in a Trail Bytes feature at the http://jeepgrilleadventures.com/trailbytes.aspx setting.

To sum up, Jeep Jamborees are everything they claim to be and more. The focus on camaraderie and safe trail practices was amazing. The trail leaders and trail gunners deserve and extremely big thank you. They are complete volunteers and expenses for these trips are completely out of their own pocket. They just love doing it, are well experienced 4 wheelers, great at it and truly enjoy meeting folks. Way to go JJUSA I am sure with www.JpFreek.com being the official publication of Jeep Jamboree USA there will be future events myself and/or the other JpFreek team members will attend. To plan your next Jeep Jamboree go to http://www.jeepjamboreeusa.com/ for more information.

Additional Note: A friendly shout out to Josh, I hope I covered the pronunciation of YOURAY enough to your satisfaction. Hopefully future visitors to our great state won’t be as so inclined to improperly pronouce it by sounding it out by how it is actually spelled “Ouray” mistakenly calling it OOOOOOOH-ray! LOL 🙂