By Liesl Greathouse
REGIONAL—(August 6, 2013) Long ago, Montrose was the support town for the mines in Ouray and Telluride. Today, Montrose serves as the support town for tourists visiting those two places. One local, Clay Greathouse, has had the unique experience of working in all three towns during the summer as a Jeep Tour Guide. Here are some of his thoughts on making a living from mountain visitors.
While Montrose supports both Ouray and Telluride, the differences between the two mountain towns could not be more apparent. “Ouray caters to working class folks, like people who work in construction and even the Amish,” Clay explained. “Telluride is more for resort folks.” In regard to how the two towns treat Jeep Tours, Clay said, “In Ouray, it appears that people come to Ouray for a Jeep Tour, it being the highlight of their whole trip. In Telluride, it is kind of more of on their list of things to do, like hiking, biking, fly-fishing, etc., but is not the focus.”
The appeal of Jeep Tours to people can be summed up in the famous words of Francis Kuboski, the famous owner of San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours in Ouray: “It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Clay elaborated in more general terms, “It is the best way for folks who are not ‘the athletic elite’ to get up into the high country, as well as for the disabled to see it. Going up into the mountains, people see things not seen in town and are entertained by the Tour Guides, while learning local history.”
While the economy has affected tourism, in the world of Jeeps Tours things have been getting better, although the clientele has changed. “This year and last we seemed to have had a lot more working class people rather than rich and famous people,” Clay said. “It makes me think that the resort areas are trying to lower prices and offer deals to get people in. Maybe the working class were not as badly affected by the economy as the rich.” Clay has noticed that more people are coming from the Eastern Slope/Front Range, showing that people are preferring to travel in state more than out of state or abroad.
As compared to long ago, technology has not had a huge affect on Jeep Tours. Cell phones have added a sense of security as people, including Tour Guides, can call for help when necessary, instead of having to be on their own. GPS has not had a bit affect on Jeep Tours, except for adding the bonus of Geocaching while on Jeep Tours (an activity that Clay tries to include on trips).
As Clay sees it, the main reason for the decline in Jeep Tours has been the limit of access to roads, due to Forest Service restrictions, and the popularity of rental Jeeps and SUVs. “The uniqueness has been taken away,” Clay said. “In the 60s and 80s, people generally did not have a 4×4 vehicle. It was a very, very unique experience to go up into the mountains and drive over rocks. Now, someone can do it with their SUV.”
When Clay reminisces on when he first started doing Jeep Tours in the 1980s, he brings up how busy the Jeep Tour companies used to be. “I remember how when I started, we used Jeep pick-up trucks that could hold 12 people each. When I would go to the tour office, we would have 5-6 of those Jeeps in front full and ready to go. Now we often get 2 or so people a Jeep. But it has still been pretty good this year as compared to the last couple years.”