Camp Jeep 1998, Camp Hale, CO.

Since Camp Jeep started at 8am, and the parking lot opened at 7:30am, dad and I got up bright and early and headed to Camp Hale to try to get a good parking place. We got there about 7:50am and got a good spot on the second row of vehicles about 60ft from the main gates. Camp Hale is about 23 miles from Vail, and once you turn off the pavement to enter Camp Hale you’ve got a 3-mile drive down a washboard road before you actually get to Camp Jeep.

The first thing we did once we got to Camp was sign up for the Jeep 101 course. I wasn’t very interested in running the 101 course until I discovered all the “test” vehicles were going to be 1999 Grand Cherokee WJ’s. We were in the first group to drive the vehicles. The WJ I drove was equipped with the new 4.7L V8, NV247, and veri-lok axles. It was a nice rig to say the least, and any doubts I had about the ZJ’s replacement disappeared after seeing and driving them in person. The throttle was very responsive and the engine/transmission did an incredible job of braking the vehicle on downhills (much better than my XJ), and in fact, I was instructed not to use the brakes when going down hill. I must say I’m impressed with the way the WJ handled offroad, granted, the course was designed for beginners, but I think it offered a nice challenge for a stock vehicle. The WJ is definitely bigger than the XJ…

Our engineering round table wasn’t scheduled until 1:30, so we decided to check out the concept Jeeps and vendor display tents. The first tent we hit was the 1999 Grand Cherokee Learning Center. We got to check out the new 4.7L V8 with it’s 235hp and coil-on-plug ignition (eliminates the spark plug wires). They also had a new NV247 on display with some nice cut-away models, and I got a chance to check out the WJ’s new 3-link rear suspension and new front steering setup.

Next we hit the engineering exhibit tent where we learned about 3-D solid modeling prototyping, run-flat tire technology, the new Veri-Lok differential from Dana/Spicer, Bosch ignition and injection systems, Delphi equipment, new Johnson Controls systems, and got to check out a TJ without a body on it (chassis, drivetrain, suspension).

Then we were off to the part I’d been waiting weeks to see: the Jeep concept vehicles. On display this year was the Icon, Dakar, Jeepster 2000, Tobasco TJ, Ultimate Rescue TJ, and Ultimate Rescue Cherokee. I had the privilege of meeting the man who designed/built the 2 Ultimate Rescue Jeeps and the Tobasco TJ: Greg Cote. The bumpers, roof racks, and roll cages on both Rescue Jeeps were done by Mears Metal Products out of either Michigan or Minnesota. So, I drooled over the concept Jeeps for a while, trying to get any info from the engineers on hand as to whether any of the concepts would be produced and when the Cherokee would be redesigned. I couldn’t get much out of them, but it looks like the “new” Cherokee (called a KJ) should be due out around 2001 or 2002.

And of course we had to hit the Jeep stores to get the obligatory Camp Jeep memorabilia, and of course I had to complain to the Mopar booth about them not having “Camp Jeep 1998” tire covers that would fit 31×10.5 tires. 🙂 Somewhere along the line we had lunch and checked out the vintage Jeep tent. Among the Jeeps on display were an original Jeepster, a CJ-2A w/PTO, an FC-170, and a CJ-5 Super Jeep.

As turns out we scheduled our engineering round table at just the right time: it rained almost the entire time we were in the round table, and that was the only time it rained at Camp. The round table wasn’t quite was I was expecting though. I went in expecting a Q/A session between the owners and the engineers, but it was more like a marketing session where we all talked about our likes/dislikes, why we bought Jeep Cherokees, and future improvements we’d like to see. Oh well, I got to voice my 21 year-old offroader views on the future of the Cherokee.

Eventually dad decided he was getting a little “Jeeped out”, my feet were getting tired, and we’d probably been to every tent at least 3 times, so we decided to call it a day and head home to the hotel in Vail. We pulled out of Camp a little before 4pm and headed back to the hotel to look through all the info and brochures we’d picked up at Camp. All in all I would say it had been a pretty good day. We came to Camp to do three things: see the concept Jeeps and the WJ, talk to Jeep engineers, and go offroading. So far we’d seen the concept Jeeps, drove WJ’s, and talked to the engineers, now all that was left was two days of trailin’…

Day Two would be an all-day “Blue” trail called Chlohesy Lake. I had originally planned to do a page about that trail, but it was really pretty easy, and not a whole lot to see, except for the lake (which as incredible) at the end of the trail. It really wasn’t much of a “challenge”, but for a family with a stock rig, it would make a nice day trip/trail.

Camp Jeep isn’t just Jeep 101, engineering exhibits, and trails… it’s really setup for the whole family. There’s a fairway with arts and crafts tents where you can decorate pots, make cookies, and plant a tree. It’s got games and activities for kids such as archery, a velcro wall, “moon” walk, and even a pint-sized 101 course with PowerWheels Jeeps. You can also take fly-fishing and fly-tying classes, go mountain biking on bikes provided by Camp Jeep, or take a hiking trip. For a more “family” oriented report on Camp Jeep, check out David Jones’ report on Camp Jeep 1997 on ORC.

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