So you want to go to the Bighorn Jeep Jamboree. My experience at the 10 annual Bighorn Jamboree near Dayton WY.
I do recommend signing up early. Most if not all Jeep Jamboree fill-up. I did notice at least a few people mentioned on Facebook that they wanted to go but they were on the waitlist.
Just picture a plate with a big scoop of mashed potatoes that someone cut the top off. That is the Bighorn Mountains. They are not as rugged as the Tetons, Sawtooths or even our local Cascade mountains. It is kind of like a table. Once to the top, it is more level than I would have expected. It is more hill-ish than jagged I have been told the range is about 30 miles east to west and 90 north to south. That seems about right to me. On the top, you can find rolling meadows, pine forest, and even some rocky areas.
I always wonder how the food will be at an event like this. It is always hit or miss. This year the Elk View Inn provided the food services. Both Breakfast and Dinner were served at the Lodge. I am happy to report they did a good job. Breakfast had your choice of favorites like eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes and biscuits, and gravy. For the lunches, which were also provided by the Jamboree, they had a lunch station setup. You choose what you want as far as meat and bread, and they make it for you. Dinner was also pretty good with a good selection of food like turkey and roast beef.
This location is a pretty remote location, and there are not a lot of hotels to choose from. The main two places that participants stayed were the Elk View Inn and Bear Lodge resort. Both are run and owned by the same people. If my memory is right, rooms will run you about 105 a night. There is no cell service in the area, so If you need to make a call, you will need to take a 20-minute drive to a higher location. The hotel does have WIFI, but its satellite connection does not work most of the time. The Elk View Inn where we stayed does seem to be a little behind maintenance, but nothing major and the staff was always friendly and helpful. There is camping and RV-ing in the area as well if you prefer to go that route.
They say that the weather changes by the minute in the Bighorns and they were not kidding. A few days before heading out on our trip I took a look at local temperatures. In Cody it was 87 and Dayton it was 37. Our first day there the temp was warm with clear skies. It was running in the high 80s. Saturday morning we woke to rain and thundershowers. The temps were not cold, but I did hear that one of the groups ran into some hale.
First and foremost Jeep Jamboree is a family event. If you are looking for extreme rock crawling then Jamboree is not for you. The organizers limit the size of the tires in this case to 37 inches for this reason. Each event has its level of difficulty. The Big Horns are on the more tame side, but the views more than makeup for it. If you like to get out and see the countryside and amazing landscapes, then the Bighorn trails are going to be hard to beat. Expect lots of wildlife and range animals. Elk, deer, moose, cows, and sheep all share this area.
Getting there can be part of the fun. On long trips, which take more than one day, I like to make the first day the longest. Mostly to get it out of the way but also so that you have time to deal with any issues that come up. We got up at 4:00 am and headed east out of Seattle and made one stop for breakfast. Post Falls is where we picked up my daughter who had spent the week with her grandparents. On the drive, you should keep an eye out for tourist traps. For example, If you are driving in Idaho and you see a sign that promises fresh wild Huckleberries at around milepost 16 you may want to keep going. We did stop, and they did not have Huckleberries. Thankfully, we did later find some while stopping for gas just a few miles down the interstate. We did plan for our overnight stay in Boseman Montana. The truth is I could have kept driving, but we had already booked a room. The next morning we headed to the Bighorns. Just before you get to the Bighorn mountains and just after you cross Bighorn Lake, there is a steep pass to climb. The sign read 10% grade. I have been on some very steep roads, but I don’t think I have ever seen a highway that steep. I heard later that some of the people attending Jeep Jamboree took their Jeeps off their trailers and then had their wife drive up the hill in order to save the transmission on their tow rig. That might not be a bad idea.
The day before and check in
We arrived plenty early in the day. We checked into the Inn and still had time to kill, so we decided to do some exploring. We found a few dead ends before we saw the start of the 020 trail. It was a somewhat easy climb past spectacular rock outcroppings. I noted that my teenaged daughter was only passively paying attention to the view. Luckily I know how to fix that problem. I asked her if she wanted to drive and of course, she did. This area is a pretty open meadow, and we were in 4 low, so I figured that she could not get into too much trouble. For the most part, she did great. It does take some time to figure out what speed you should be going at any given time but she was reading the lines well.
After A few hours of messing around, we headed back to the lodge to check in with the Jamboree. The tech inspection was nothing much. Mostly the guy asked what trails we would like to run and told us that we could pretty much run anything we wanted. I guess I have a small complaint here. It would have been nice to have more of a chance to talk about each trail to help make a decision. We were just handed a trail list and told to pick. With that said, I am happy with the trails. We picked Wilderness and Woodchuck. After tech, you head over to sign up and fill out paperwork. The check in was fine and we had a good time speaking with some other Jeepers from all across the country. After that, we headed to the dining area at the lodge where it was pretty dead. I had hoped that something was going on, but I guess we needed to wait until morning. It almost felt like a false start to the Jamboree. My guess is that they plan it this way to give people a little extra time in case they have trouble on the drive there.
Day 1 – Wilderness
We got up, had a good breakfast and grabbed our lunch. I did one last look at the Jeep to make sure that everything was ready. We then lined up according to which trail we were running. This was an excellent time to chat before heading out. The Jamboree staff called all drivers together for a safety meeting to review the rules of the trail. Things, like pack your trash out and donâ€™t drink on the trail, were discussed. Mostly standard stuff to responsible wheelers but still important.
After the meeting, we hit the trail. The Big Horns has a lot of open sage meadows with forest in-between. Most of the area is open range meaning that there are lots of cows and sheep. The altitude was between about 7,000 and nearly 10,000 feet, and it was several miles of dusty roads before we made the start of our trail. The beginning of the trail was in and out of the woods with a low difficulty level which leads up to a small reservoir. As we were heading down a hill, several cows decided to kind of run alongside us. Cows are not the most graceful animals in the world, so it was pretty entertaining seeing them run. At one point many other cows joined in for kind of a mini-stampede. Not wanting to upset the cows several of us just stopped and let them go. It was at this point that they just started trotting down the trail. I think they wanted to go wheeling too. They did end up with another group of cows which is where they stayed and let the rest of us pass. Along the way, the trail crossed a number of streams until we ended up where the trail turned into a kind of a rock garden. It was mostly dirt with basketball sized rocks. It was a few miles of this. I don’t remember how but I was placed behind a stock TJ to help keep an eye on them. I tend to help out a lot on the trail, so trail leaders seem to see me as one of their assets. I like helping people, so this is fine with me. The TJ did fine but with a few small hits along the way. Our JKU on 35s and 2.5-inch lift did not even touch the skid plates.
The trail dead-ended at kind of a mine site where we stopped for lunch. We left the engine running so that we could fire up our inverter. The 1500 watt inverter runs our panini sandwich maker. Who does not like a hot sandwich on the trail? The only issue is that is that my panini maker gets terrible gas mileage. We chatted some more and did some exploring before heading back on the trail. Heading back, at some point a blueish Rubicon had a rock come up and bash into the inner fender. I did not see it so I don’t know if it was a bad line or just a rock that somehow flipped up. Oddly enough this was the only person who I heard complain about the Jamboree trail difficulty. He said something about it not being as hard as at home which I can understand. I do think that he still had a good time.
The best part of the day for me was crossing The West Fork of Little Goose Creek. Coming from Washington, we don’t get to do this type of drive. There was nothing technically hard about driving across, as long as you keep your speed down but it was still cool. We all drove across without issue. The trail leaders asked if I could lend a hand. Sure I said. They asked for me to run second to last and take over tale as toward the end. They told me that there was a CJ7 who started with us but broke down with ignition issues. He was riding along with us in a trail guides rig, but they were going to stop and tow it back to the lodge. Tail gunner duties were utterly uneventful. I did a quick check of the Jeep, and we headed to dinner. Dinner is one of the nicest parts of the day. This is a time where we were able to speak with other wheelers from all around the country including at least one family who was also at the last Jeep Jamboree we attended.
Day 2 Woodchuck
In Wyoming, they say that the weather can be anything and they are right. We woke to some thunder and lightning with some heavy rain. I was entertained by the fact that several people did not appear to be ready for the weather. In fact I was chatting with one of them who was buying a rain poncho in the gift shop right before the run. There were three more ponchos, so I got them all just in case someone in our group needed them.
On this run, there was a fiery older gal with who I assume was her daughter. She was from Lake Tahoe and brought her Jeep Compass Trailhawk. The leaders asked if they could stick the Trailhawk in front of me and of course, I said sure. At the time I was told that they had four low which is not totally correct. The run leaders asked if I could keep an eye on her to make sure they were doing ok and to let them know if there were any issues. This is a perfect example of how the guides went out of there way to make sure that everyone was safe and having a good time.
We headed out with the Compass Trailhawk right in front of us and the rain coming down hard. My wife and I remarked how funny it would be if we ended up on the same trail that Emily my daughter drove two days before. As we drove on that is precisely what happened. But as the weather had changed so too did the personality of the trail. The rain turned the top layer of dust into cat snot. With the rain coming down and the nearly new white Trailhawk in front of me we turned on to the 020 trail. As I looked at the rigs in front I noticed that they were having more of an issue than I would have thought. You can bet I kept a close eye on the Trailhawk as they started there climb. To my surprise, the Compass was not only climbing but was noticeably doing better than some of the JKs. At least the ones with more street type tires. There is something to be said about correctly working traction control. This fiery gal pretty much just held the right pedal down and left it there. Believe it or not, this is exactly what I have heard that you need to do in a Jeep Renegade and I think the compass works the same way. Hold your foot down and let the traction control figure it out. We too had a little bit of an issue when the wife slid into a rut. Of course, hard right foot got us clear. The Trailhawk’s success over the Wranglers would be short-lived as that was the only hill where it out did its bigger brothers. We waited at the top of the hill for a few JKs that were having some trouble with the ruts. Then we were off to a large open bowl with what looked like gray ants all over it.
As we moved on the guides stopped to spot the rigs over a rock obstacle. I had to smile, this was the same rocks my daughter drove over two days before and with no spotter. I guess she can pick a good line. Although the Compass was still making it was having more trouble with grip. As we got closer gray ants turned out to be hundreds of sheep and I am pretty sure a guard dog or two was with them. We continued on the trail past a gate and onto a part of the trail we had not been on yet. We stopped in a wooded area to take a break. One of the Jeeps was having trouble with losing air pressure. My guess is that they slid into a rock and knocked the bead loose while climbing one of the muddy hills. The guides were on hand to help with the tire change. By the time I had noticed and offered up my impact driver they already had the tire off.
We ran into an issue with the lugnuts. They had some type of cap over them. The nuts were 18MM while the caps where 19MM. I think they are meant to be removed before taking them off, but I don’t think they realized it. We did get most of the caps off, but a few were not cooperating. I took out my fine tune adjustment tool (also known as a hammer) and helped one of the guides pound the caps off using a screwdriver and a knife. I did ask if he wanted to use the angle grinder, but he decided to continue to use the hammer option. When the caps were all removed, we quickly got the tire back on. The guides thanked me and others for helping out. It is not like I have not been helped out myself. I am always glad to lend a hand when I can.
We were off again. We came to another little valley where the trail crossed a small river. I did not know it at the time, but it would be the little Compass’s undoing. We moved on and started climbing a hill on the far side of the valley. The Trailhawk then just stopped. It seemed to buck a few times before continuing up. Just past the crest they pulled over and stopped. I got out to see what was going on. They said that it would not go into 4 wheel drive. The dash was throwing errors like a Christmas tree. We tried several things including disconnecting the battery, but the little Compass Trailhawk was done for the day. As locations go, this was not bad. There was a connecting road that they could take back to the main road and they would not need 4 wheel drive. One of the guides went with them and they headed back. It should be noted that the Trailhawk just needed to dry out. It was fine later that day.
More meadows, open ranges and in and out of the woods followed by a few stream crossings. We stopped at a nice vista for lunch where we fired up our sandwich maker. After lunch and on the way back we stopped at a large rock where one of the guides drove up on it. Of course, we did too. To my surprise, only one other Jeep took the opportunity to for a little photo opportunity.
At one point in the trail, we made a U-turn. The steering became very sluggish. At low RPMs the wheel would not turn. I looked under the hood to see what was going on. The fluid level was fine and it was clean however it was pretty hot. I decided to add some air pressure to the front tires which makes it a little easier for the power steering pump. At least it should help which it did. We still did not have much steering at low RPM but as long as I knew that I could change my driving enough to make it work.
We headed back to the lodge where we got cleaned up. I found out that some guy was pressure washing the jeeps on the other side of the parking lot so I got in line. When it was my turn, I asked him a few questions. I was surprised to find out he worked for the lodge and was not part of Jeep Jamboree. Wow, but what a good idea. He was not asking for anything, but I gave him a nice tip as a thank you. He did a pretty good job of getting all the mud off the top side. After the Jeep was all cleaned up, I did my underside check before heading to dinner. Several awards were handed out before the big raffle. The presenter, Marylin from the Jeep Jamboree, said that a few years ago they got rid of the small raffle prizes like a t-shirt or 10% off coupon in favor of few but more substantial prices. Five winners were selected from all the participants. We were told that those people would be entered into a drawing which would be held in November. I was not paying much attention but I very clearly heard my name. I was a little surprised since I normally don’t win anything I can use. Not that I don’t win because I do just my bad luck means I normally don’t win things that I want. For example, I have won several winches over the years. All of them have been given away to a club or friends who needed them. While still on stage I was even more surprised when I hear the next name called. Wendy. WHAT? Wait did I hear that correctly I thought. Out of 70 Jeeps and about 140 people they called us, my wife and I, twice. A few people jokingly claimed that it was rigged. Which I jokingly replied,” Yep the best 5 dollar bribe I ever made.” We do have to wait until November to see what we won but we thought it was pretty cool.
To sum things up. Jeep Jamboree is a family event. It is great for wheelers who want to get out and enjoy the trail. It is good for newer wheelers to get their feet wet in a safe environment. Although you will find expert class wheelers this event is not an expert class rock crawling event. Each event has a different feel and the difficulty level of the trails is different. As far as locations they could not be any more different, from the high desert to the Oregon forest. If you are new to an area the Jeep Jamboree is a really good way to get to know it. The guides for the Jamboree are excellent and friendly. Just remember if you don’t sign up this year you will be another year older before you do.