to Big Bear
By Ann Nelson
The world is full of beautiful places. All of the forests,
lakes, mountains, canyons and natural areas in Southern California are truly
some of the most majestic, offering visitors a welcome respite, along with
quiet moments. If you are yearning for skiing in the winter or swimming at the
lake in the summer, Big Bear, surrounded by a vast pine forest in the San
Bernardino Mountains of Southern California is the place to go!
Three thousand years ago Big Bear Valley was occupied by the
Serrano Indians. Afterwards the area was populated with trappers, prospectors,
lumbermen, cattlemen, dam builders and fox farmers. In 1860, William Holcomb
was hunting bears and discovered gold instead.
Within weeks of the discovery, hundreds of miners flooded
into the area creating “boom camps.” The town very quickly mushroomed into a
population of over 1,500 miners, storekeepers and “glitter girls.” Today the
area has approximately 5,000 full-time residents.
Since the filming of “The Call of the North” in 1914, so
many motion pictures have been shot in Big Bear Valley that it has been
referred to as “Hollywood’s back lot.” Daniel Boone, Disney’s Old Yeller and
Paint Your Wagon were filmed here. Many of the Bonanza episodes were shot here
in the 1960’s.
My friends Pat, Jessica and I decided to make our escape to
Big Bear with my dogs Murphy and Megan. Prior to our trip, we knew we wanted to
stay in a cabin close to town and the lake. The Golden Bear Cottages turned out
to be the perfect place!
The rustic mountain getaway, established in 1924, offers 29
cabins, ranging in size from studios to seven bedrooms. Half the cabins are
pet-friendly with fully-fenced yards. We quickly settled into our two-story
cabin with a huge rock fireplace, spacious kitchen, whirlpool tub and silently
wishing we could stay forever.
The five-acre historic property, rated among America’s Top
20 Family Vacation Resorts by Rustic Vacations.com., had everything we needed,
including a swimming pool, sandlot volleyball court and horseshoe pit. We
walked to the lake and drove into town in less than five minutes.
The alpine slide, just a short drive from the cottage, was a
thrill ride we had heard about and couldn’t wait to experience. I have to
confess, all of us are over fifty years old and well aware the slide may be
better suited for eight year olds, but we didn’t care.
We checked our egos at the starting gate and took off up the
hill on the chair lift. After a quick lesson, we were safely strapped into our
slides and went flying down the mountain, screaming and laughing all the way.
We felt as though we did not have a care in the world!
We spent a few restful hours recovering back at the cabin
before driving to the Peppercorn Grille for dinner. The restaurant,
specializing in steaks and seafood, is a long-time favorite of the locals. The
food is fabulous! During dinner, inspired by the cozy setting, we decided our
trip needed to be soulful, creative and adventurous.
After a good night’s sleep, Jessica surprised Pat and me
with a homemade breakfast of fresh coffee, omelets and hash browns. The picnic table in our spacious backyard was
beautifully laid out with everything we needed.
As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed off to The
Art Garden for a Stained Glass Class. We sat around a big cozy table while
Jeannine, one of the owners, taught us how to assemble colorful sun catcher
projects. Jeannine, a creative designer with 17 years of experience in glass
art, was inspiring to be around. The class is filled with laughter and fun! The
Art Garden offers walk-in weekend workshops, ranging in price from $20-$40,
plus tools and supplies.
We booked a jeep tour for the afternoon. It didn’t take too
long for us to realize what a wild ride we were in for! This jeep tour was by
far one of the best and most exciting I’ve ever experienced. Our driver Jim,
close to 80 years old, is an active member of the mountain rescue team and
probably in better physical condition than most 30 year olds.
We bounced around on the original wagon and truck trail
roads in a Pinzgauer heavy duty jeep, exploring the ridges, canyons, meadows
and gold rush sites. We stopped along the way for short hikes and history
lessons. Off Road Adventures offers year-round tours, including tours of
Mountain Majesty, Wild Horse Meadow and Jacoby Gulch.
Visiting The Moonridge Animal Park was another highlight of
this trip. The zoo is the only alpine zoo in the U.S. specializing in alpine
wildlife. It is home to 150 orphaned and injured wildlife, representing over 89
species. One “good citizen” of the zoo is Huckleberry, a three-legged bear cub
who came to the zoo with a severely injured right foot. From what I’ve heard,
he was close to death and malnourished. Today he is in good health and romping
around with two other Black Bears.
Big Bear, the very first mountain recreation area created in
Southern California, is the home of the two largest ski resorts in the area.
The first ski jump was erected in 1929. The slopes are perfectly suited for all
levels and encompass terrains spanning four mountain peaks. Ski lifts are
generally open well into April.
If you’re looking for the perfect outdoor adventure
destination, Big Bear is hard to beat. There are 23 miles of shoreline around
the lake, access to hundreds of miles of biking and off-road trails, eight
marinas, two public launches and three swim beaches. The lake is the ideal
place for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rowboats.
Depending on the season, wildlife observers will be
entranced with sightings of mallard ducks, bald eagles, great blue herons and
mud hens. We already have another trip planned and can’t wait to come back!
(800) 461-1023 or www.GoldenBearCottages.com Prices range
from $79 to $899 a night.
Art Garden: (909) 584-8768 or www.ArtGardenofBigBearLake.com
Off Road Adventure Tours: (909) -585-1036 or
Big Bear Visitor Center: (909) -866-4607 or www.BIGBEAR.com
Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego.