Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Rim of the World

This weekend, I decided to flee Los Angeles and head somewhere a little greener. At the top of my ever-growing list of places to visit in Southern California was the Rim of the World Highway – a long stretch of scenic road in the San Bernardino Mountains. Most people, I assume, take City Creek Road (state highway 130) straight up from smog-filled San Bernardino, but I decided to start instead on the western edge of national forest.

Coming in on highway 138, my first scenic view was of Silverwood Lake. This man-made lake was filled in 1971 with water from the California Aqueduct as part of the State Water Project. Between this overlook and the town of Crestline, there wasn’t much else to see – just a long, winding highway and acres and acres of pine trees. There are a few turnoffs onto smaller roads along the way – one of which is Old Mill Road. Melodrama fans might recognize that one from the Nic Cage / Meg Ryan tearjerker CITY OF ANGELS. It’s where Meg Ryan gets hit while daydreaming on her bike.

My second stop was a hiking path near Camp Seeley. In the 1920s, this was a thriving lumber mill. Today, it's a 4-H camp. (It also served as a summer haven for Lindsay Lohan in Disney's remake of THE PARENT TRAP.) An unmarked road to the left of the camp entrance leads to a quiet trail, complete with a swimming hole and a heart-shaped rock. (Better photos of Heart Rock can be viewed here.)

While I was hiking in the the San Bernardino mountains, I found myself captivated by the constant flickering light in the trees. I’ve always been amazed by the particular shade of green that's produced when summer sunlight shines through a thin leaf. Somehow, the color seems alive. Equally captivating were the beads of clear pine sap that reflected the sunlight like sparkling diamonds. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest impression...

I headed east on Rim of the World Highway, past Twin Peaks (no, not that Twin Peaks) and Rimforest, to Lake Arrowhead… which was a bit anti-climactic. The lake is accessible to the public on only one side. That side, naturally, is clustered with shops and, on this particular holiday weekend, was completely overrun with tourists. I moved on pretty quickly.

For those with a bit more patience, there's a boat tour of locations made famous by Hollywood movies including F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927).

Not far from Lake Arrowhead, just east of the ranger station, the observant driver can catch a glimpse of a few candy-colored buildings off the side of the road. The buildings are hidden behind a fence with several prominent “no trespassing” signs. I might not have paid any attention if I hadn’t remembered that, a few years ago, I read about Santa’s Village in the book L.A. Bizarro. (I even blogged about it.) Alas, Santa has long since moved to cooler quarters...

… and, presumably, so has JACK FROST – the killer snowman in the 1996 horror comedy of the same name, which was shot in the nearby town of Fawnskin. I really liked the old-fashioned, rustic look of this town, which sits on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. In the 1800s, the township was an artist’s colony. It was also popular among gold diggers, loggers and (as the name of the town suggests) hunters. Today, one of its most prominent coves is a home to bald eagles in the winter.

There’s still a little bit of snow visible on the highest peaks above Big Bear Lake, but most of the ski trails have been re-purposed as hiking/biking trails for the summer season. The most famous trailhead in Big Bear is called Castle Rock. All of the tour guides I consulted said I could find it about halfway between the village and the dam. The implication was “You can’t miss it.” I missed it five times, driving back and forth along the same stretch of winding road… until finally I noticed an unimposing sign in near the city limits marker. I’d been warned that there was “limited parking,” and this turned out to be an understatement. But I eventually found a place to park on the side of the road – with the passenger door of my car flush up against a rock wall and the driver side door opening into traffic – and hiked about two miles to the tallest peak I could see. From there, I had a bird's eye view of beautiful Big Bear Lake.

A bit more movie history: Big Bear provided the environs for Oliver Stone's early horror movie THE HAND (1981), and Castle Rock is allegedly the site where Little Sister throws herself off the cliff in D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915). The same view was featured in THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE (1936), Henry Fonda's first film, and THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS (1941), an early John Wayne picture.

I came back down the mountain via highway 130, which boasted one particularly good view of multiple layers mountain peaks. At first glance, the ridges looked like rolling clouds. This photo was taken at about 5,000 feet above sea level. After that, it was all down hill – back into the city of smog.

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