It’s not surprising that many people think of the Rubicon Trail only in connection with the Jeepers Jamboree. In the 60 years that Jeepers Jamboree has made its annual trek from Georgetown to Rubicon Springs, the organization has popularized the trail for off-road throughout the world. Its challenging terrain and spectacular scenery make for a grand adventure.
From the start of the Jeepers Jamboree ride at Loon Lake, elevation 6,348, to Rubicon Springs, elevation 6,165, the trail goes through a red fir and lodgepole pine forest. It is granite country, and the trail is either dirt or a series of large boulders and smaller rocks, with grades up to 30 percent.
The Jeepers Jamboree only runs two adventure trips a year: the Jeepers Jamboree and the Jeep Jamboree. During the rest of the season, the Rubicon Trail is used by other 4-wheel drive organizations, individual off-roaders and hikers.
The trail has been a familiar local route for centuries. It was a well-known path for the Washoe Tribe of the western Great Basin and Maidu groups from the northern California foothills. Grinding rocks at the waterfalls near Rubicon Springs are evidence that they gathered there.
The first Europeans to see the Rubicon River were probably a group that split from the Stevens-Townsend-Murphy party and went on horseback from McKinney Creek at Lake Tahoe, arriving at Sutter’s Fort in December 1944.
After the gold and silver rushes ended, and settlers in northern California and Nevada turned to ranching, farming and tourism, the Rubicon Trail was used by ranchers to drive their cattle and sheep to summer grazing in the mountains.
In those years, the Rubicon Trail started in Georgetown, ran through Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Wentworth Springs, on to Rubicon Springs, ending at McKinney’s at Lake Tahoe.
In 1869 George and John Hunsucker established a stopping station at Rubicon Springs.
They bottled the mineral water and packed it by mule to sell in Georgetown and McKinney’s at Lake Tahoe. Rubicon Springs became known as a place where “hunting was excellent, game plentiful and the scenery grand.”
Regular stagecoaches ran to and from Lake Tahoe to Rubicon Springs and to and from Georgetown to Rubicon Springs beginning in the 1870s.
In 1877, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors proposed to appropriate two-thirds of the expense for the construction of the road from Wentworth Springs to Tahoe City, if citizens of the Divide would furnish one-third. In 1887, 20 citizens and taxpayers of Georgetown Township presented a petition to the Board of Supervisors “who state on August 3, 1887, that the trail or highway from Wentworth Springs through Hunsucker Springs (Rubicon Springs) and connecting into Hunsucker’s Grade is to be declared a public highway.” Today it is a county-owned, non-maintained road.
The Rubicon Trail is now within the Eldorado National Forest, created in 1910.
In 1908, the first motorized vehicle, a Mitchell touring car, drove into Rubicon Springs, carrying passengers from San Francisco.
Tourist services closed in 1926. In 1985 a group of local investors under the name The Rubicon Soda Springs Group purchased the property from Bohemia Inc. The group leases the resort to Jeepers Jamboree and other groups for their enjoyment.
Bob Sweeney, grandson of former County Supervisor James Sweeney, who was one of the investors in The Rubicon Soda Springs Group, said his grandparents spent their honeymoon on the first Jeepers Jamboree trip 60 years ago. He grew up with Jeeping.
As Trail Boss, Sweeney is the ultimate authority for the ride and responsible for the safety of the participants. “The trail is looking good this year,” he said. “The county has done some drainage work and will be constructing a steel bridge over Ellis Creek.” Sweeney and volunteers spend days before the ride going over the trail.
Sweeney said part of his role is to be the “mouthpiece” for Jeepers Jamboree. He travels to places such as Nevada and Moab, Utah to advertise the ride. “I love to share the High Sierra,” he said.
He also works with sponsors, vendors and advertisers. “Our sponsors use the event as a proving ground.”
“The vendors have an opportunity to talk with the drivers and get their feedback on how their products are working,” said Sweeney. The Jeepers get a chance to talk directly with company representatives.
To go on the ride, Jeepers Jamboree vehicles must be in good mechanical condition, have off-road tires and a roll bar or hardtop. When the drivers stop for breakfast at Loon Lake before starting the trip into camp, they must make their vehicles “Rubicon-ready.” Among other requirements, they will lower the tire pressure and remove all hubcaps and steps.
On Saturday during the Jamboree, the Rubicon Springs meadow is filled with vendor tents.
As the Jeepers roll out of the Loon Lake start on July 26 and 27, Sweeney will greet each one, handing out a bag of useful items for the trip, and wishing everyone a safe and fun ride.
After the challenge of the Rubicon Trail, Jeepers will have two or three days to relax, enjoy great food and entertainment, fish, swim, hike, socialize, taste some spring water, read or nap before heading out and climbing Cadillac Hill to Observation Point and traveling east to Lake Tahoe where the trail ends.
Historical information is from “Rubicon Springs and the Rubicon Trail: a history,” by Rick Morris and “Driven by a Dream,” Mark A. Smith’s journal.