The Rubicon Trail

rubicon trail

Rubicon Springs
Prior to its settlement by Anglo-Americans the area which is now passed through by the Rubicon Trail was settled by Native Americans. The first recording of Anglo-Americans in the region was in 1844 when the Stevens-Townsend-Murphy Horseback Survey Party went through the Rubicon Valley. 23 years later in 1867 two brothers, George and John Hunsucker claimed 160 acres in the area as their home and are credited with discovering Rubicon Springs, natural soda springs.

The brothers began bottling the water and sending to surrounding areas and they were the first to build a bridge over the Rubicon River. Eventually they sold their property to Sierra Nevada Phillips who constructed a 16 room hotel at the location in 1889. The Rubicon Flyer, a four-horse stagecoach made regular trips over the trail to Rubicon Springs to bring visitors. In 1908 Ralph Cowell purchased the property. That same year enormous flash floods destroyed much of the trail. Cowell didn’t give up and he replaced the stagecoach with a new four-door Dodge horseless carriage specially equipped to handle the rough terrain of the trail. After Cowell died in 1926 the property changed hands several times and the hotel and surrounding buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually the land took them back. In 1985 the property was purchased by a group of private investors. The property is designated as an off road vehicle recreation area and natural timber preserve.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a small cabin-like building on the Rubicon 27 miles from Georgetown at 5,000 feet elevation. Little is known about its founder but he is believed to have been an African-American trapper and trader who settled in the area in the 1860s. He was well known and friendly to many hunters, prospectors, loggers and others in the area who would stop there as a welcoming gathering place. 60 years ago it was purchased by Irma Lawyer who, like “Tom”, welcomed people, especially offroaders. Today it is a small bar where the few locals gather and snow wheelers in the winter, offroaders in the summer, are welcome. Guests decorate dollar bills with names and dates and staple them to the walls and ceilings.

Rubicon Trail Map  Offroading
Prior to World War II the Rubicon Trail was a partially well maintained route from Georgetown to South Lake Tahoe. It was common for a traveler to see many other vehicles on the road. Over the years storms and floods eroded and changed the trail while new paved highways built made it easier and faster to travel to South Lake Tahoe via Placerville and highway 50. In 1953 the depressed economy of the once booming gold rush town of Georgetown prompted a group of locals led by Mark Smith to discuss the possibility of an annual jeep trek from Georgetown to South Lake Tahoe. The men made several scouting trips and took their idea to the Georgetown Rifle and Pistol Club and the Georgetown Divide Rotary Club who backed them 100%. The men worked hard to gain publicity for their event and although most jeeps in 1953 were old military machines and few citizens owned one, after the war, the company had developed the CJ series, Civilian Jeeps. In 1949 it came out with the first four-wheel drive. Kaiser bought the company in 1953 and made the popular CJ5 for the next 30 years. When Jeepers Jamboree kicked off on August 29, 1953, 55 vehicles and 155 people set out. It was a raging success. By 2011 there were 319 jeeps carrying 769 people. The Jeepers Jamboree is a 2-3 day event which hosts an overnight camp. It has been visited by numerous entertainers and celebrities including the Air Force Marching Band, two A-7 jets which flew over the Rubicon Meadows camp site at just 600 feet, and Piano Bob whose piano was helicoptered in.

The Jeepers Jamboree and Jeep Jamboree have adopted the “Tread Lightly” program which ensures that motorists stay to the jeep trail as well as clean up any spills or refuse. At the beginning of the trail “spillkits” and bags are provided to recreationists all summer for their use and to help ensure the integrity of the landscape. The El Dorado County Health Department has played an active role in the environmental safety and conservation of the trail area.

The 60 year anniversary of Jeepers Jamboree is due in 2012 and already plans are underway with a special interest being taken by the California State Parks Commission which plans on having rangers in attendance to present historical and environmental information to participants. The Rubicon trail is technically open all year round, but often impassable in winter as it is buried in snow and ice. Vehicles must be heavily modified before attempting the trail and it is recommended that individuals interested only go with experienced off road recreationists.