5-14-19 Big Bear Lake

For our second camping adventure we decided to go to Big Bear Lake, somewhere we’ve never been. It’s a complete contrast from Borrego – we went from below sea level (the Salton Sea) to 8000+ feet up the San Bernadino mountains. Big Bear is only about 100 miles from our house, but wow, what a difference.

After a stressful drive up the 15, 215 and 210 (trucks, big trucks everywhere), we reached the base of the mountain and things chilled out. Kathryn’s new Jeep did a good job towing the caravan up the mountain. The whole rig and owner pictured below.

IMG_4475We took the more direct and steeper route, route 330 out of Redlands to 18. The Jeep stays in low gears a lot, but in general it made the climb easier than expected. And the views along the way…spectacular. We crested at about 7300 feet, way above the smog of east LA and shortly came to see the lake. Hard to believe it’s only two hours from our house, and correspondingly hard to believe we’ve never been here.

Once there, we traversed the small town on the south side of the lake and went looking for our RV park. Unfortunately, when we arrived we realized that the park looked and felt nothing like the pictures in the website. Pretty rookie move on my part, and lesson learned – always look at the campground with Apple or Google maps before you commit. If I had done that, I would have seen that the “campground” was surrounded by industrial sites and right next to a busy road. I was pretty discouraged when I saw this, but given that we had prepaid (another lesson!) and that we had no idea if another campsite elsewhere was available, we pulled into our humble site and hooked up.

That experience pretty much set the tone for this entire trip. Big Bear was not what we had imagined. There was some beauty around the lake – for example, the rainbow over the lake pictured above this post, taken during a rainstorm on Thursday. But in general the area around the lake was busy, crowded and not that scenic.

We made the best of it. When the weather was bad, I spent the time writing the first content for what is now this blog, so that’s a plus. We did some nice hiking along the Town Trail – got some much-needed exercise and got outdoors. And we did have one big wilderness adventure.

Talking to a bartender in town, we learned of a scenic mountain lake – Bluff Lake. He let us know it was the more pristine experience we were looking for. So that afternoon we set out to find it.

We drove about 5 miles up a steep, rough dirt road (thanks Jeep!) and found the lake. This was how I had imagined Big Bear – wild, unspoiled and beautiful.

P1020612We did some short hikes around the lake, took a lot of pictures, and generally reveled in the place’s beauty. This what was we had hoped for.

P1020620There was a foundation from an old homestead built among the rocks – I can hardly imagine what it would have been like to build on that site decades ago. Just getting materials and labor up the mountain would’ve been challenging.


The pictures may not do Bluff Lake justice, as the light was bad – a cloudy, whitish sky. But we were very glad we had made the trip up the mountain, and seeing the extensive dirt road complexes outside of the immediate Big Bear Lake area gave us some hope that we could visit the area again and get the nature fix we expected.

While Bluff Lake was the star of the trip, we had one last adventure to recount. The weather turned bad on Thursday – snow was predicted for that night – so we decided to leave early and head down the hill. We took the less agressive route down the mountain, route 38, and we were happy about that. It was an equally scenic drive, less steep, and kept us out of the worst of the weather.

But when we reached “civilization”, we encountered some horrific traffic just outside San Bernadino on the 215 south. We crawled along at 2-3 mph for a while, then we tuned in to NPR and learned why we were in a massive traffic jam. I’m pretty good at planning and avoiding predictable traffic problems, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined that we would be impacted by a military jet crash near the freeway. Just about 45 minutes prior to our arriving, the now-infamous F-16 crashed, police closed the freeway and we poor schmucks had to find our way out and further south. It took us two and a half hours to get past it all by routing through surface streets through beautiful Perris CA. With a couple of hundred thousand other unhappy drivers.

We arrived home about five hours after we left Big Bear, more tired than expected. But we had some adventures, conquered adversity and came away with some interesting stories to tell.

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