(I had started this blog entry before the death of our cat and didn’t have the heart to finish it until now.)
With Marc finally able to enjoy a day off this past weekend, I decided to drive up into the San Bernardino Mountains to take a look at Big Bear Lake. Big Bear enjoys quite a reputation in southern California as their only true mountain playground and ski area and I had always pictured it in my mind’s eye much like the terrain and ambiance of Lake Tahoe. We were sorely disappointed.
Deciding on taking a loop route we left Redlands to Yucaipa and Hwy. 38 which does a long and tortuously winding ascent to over 8000 foot elevation. I was expecting a much more lush forest experience than what we saw, which was primarily oak-strewn high chaparral with a lot of dryness. Fall colors were just starting and I did note that there were several forest service campgrounds and hiking trails which at this late date were being lightly used.
Traffic increased when we got within five miles of Big Bear city and before spotting the lake we stopped at a Von’s to pick up a picnic lunch. Approaching from this direction, the toe end of the lake, it appeared very small for all its notoriety. Pulling over to a small park behind the post office right by the boat slips and docks we had a wider view and still weren’t impressed.
Given that Marc’s feet were really bothering him due to being on them such long hours, we decided not to stop to explore other than finding another small park along the way called Boulder Bay which afforded some picture taking opportunities. It was a beautiful fall day and many families were out enjoying it. Large homes dot the shoreline, scrunched together like a valley subdivision.
From town, the highway 330 quickly drops away to the valley floor about 20 miles away. The basin is usually full of haze or smog so it was no surprise that my photos were greatly compromised. This side of the mountains appeared very rugged despite the amount of traffic on the winding highway. Marc and I both commented that come winter with snow and ice this highway probably becomes a disaster area strewn with wrecks.
No part of this loop is really suitable for RVs, save for possibly a small trailer or pop-up. Grades are steep with switchbacks and there is a ton of traffic waiting to pass slow-moving vehicles. Coming from Big Bear towards the basin it is a 14 mile 6% downgrade around sharp corners. Take heed.