San Bernardino Mountains Trip
July 31, August 1, August 2, 2009
by Ted Kalil
Bob and Betty Oliver arrived at Heart Bar Campground at about the same time as I did on Friday afternoon and picked out our campsites from the many available “walk-up” sites. We each had some separate things to do in Big Bear first and then came back to our sites for conversation and dinner. Bob Jacoby had called and said he wasn’t feeling well so wouldn’t be coming, and Marian Johns said they had brake problems with both trucks and their coming would depend on getting new shoes. At around the meet-up time on Saturday morning, Nan Savage called to say she was on her way but had gone astray a bit. Bob Oliver had a problem with his CB; I loaned him a hand held unit but we were later to find that it also had a problem.
When Nan arrived, the two of us headed to Onyx Summit. Bob and Betty were close by and I radioed that we were on our way as we passed them. Unfortunately, he didn’t hear me or see us. When Nan and I got to Onyx Summit and met Greg Hoffman, the forest ranger, and his wife, Kelly, Bob hadn’t shown. We aired down and thought he’d be along any minute. After a while, I went back to where he had been parked along the highway and found him gone. I figured he had somehow passed us up. No cell service then, and the radio wasn’t good. We waited a while longer and then started out on 1N01 where we could get reception. I called Bob; no answer, left a message. A short while later, he called me and said they were on their way home, having missed us. When he didn’t see me, he turned around and went towards Barton Flats, then back to the campground. He left off my radio and a note, he said, and although I said we’d wait for him along the trail, he said they would continue on home. Sorry, Bob and Betty, I owe you one.
So we continued on and first went to the communications site on top, which had some great views of the areas below and beyond. Then back on 1N01, the Pipes Canyon Trail. This was one of the roads from the Big Bear area to Pioneertown before it was closed off at the bottom by private interests. The trail is rated moderate; it starts out easily enough but becomes more challenging as you go down. Greg pointed out many things to us on the CB as we were traveling and also when we stopped. This continued the whole trip. He was born and raised in Big Bear, has worked here all his life, and has an encyclopedic memory. (My memory is also like a book, but it’s a loose leaf with many pages missing and the rest in disarray.) On every trip I’ve gone on with Greg, and there have been many, I always learn things. I don’t always remember them, so it’s good to hear them again. From the top of the trail and on many sections going down, there were terrific views of the desert below and we could see places where the Sawtooth Fire had destroyed so much. Near the bottom, there’s an abandoned house that we stopped to check out and had lunch under a shade tree. There was a former onyx mining site close by and we saw where an ore tram had been. I’m thinking the original prospector was probably looking for gold but had an onyxpected find. (Note: for those who think puns are the lowest form of humor, it’s probably because their minds are far too orderly.)
Continuing, we went to where a campsite had been partially restored by an Adopt A Trail club, the Freelanders, and then on to where the trail was blocked by a gate and heavy iron rail fencing. The other side is owned by the Wildland Conservancy. The Forest Service has tried several times to trade them for other land so the road could be reopened, but negotiations have thus far fallen through
Back up the trail the same way we came, no other option. We had already encountered a group of the Freelanders who were doing some trail maintenance work. We again met up with them at the top before continuing to Onyx Summit. By then it was late afternoon; Nan and I decided to get gas in Big Bear City before heading back to the campground. Afterwards, we had our two person potluck, still great, before retiring a bit early since we were both tired.
Sunday, Jean and Sunny Hansen came to the campsite but had to tell us that they were both victims of food poisoning from Saturday night. They weren’t yet well enough to go on the run. Jean and Malcolm Roode did come, though, and were in good health. We started by going down the highway a few miles to the start of 1N45, the Santa Ana River Trail. This took us to Converse Station where 2N06, the Radford Truck Trail starts, and up we went. It climbs all the way from the Seven Oaks area to the top of the mountain, where it meets up with 2N10, the Skyline Drive and Grandview Loop. As you go along, sometimes you’re looking down on the valley we came up and other times at Big Bear Lake. It was another beautiful day and temperatures were moderate because of the elevation. The views were good, though there was some haze preventing really long distance observation.
Since we were doing well on time, we took a side trip to Lodgepole Pine. It’s located at a fifteen minute walk from where we parked, along an interpretive trail that gave various bits of information. Nan read to us from the brochure as we went along. The trees get their name from the fact that saplings were often used as support poles for native American lodges because they grow very straight and have few limbs. And here I thought it was named after a fraternal organization for Polish people. The memorialized tree itself may not have seemed that impressive, but is one of the largest in the country and the world. Back to our parking spot where we had lunch in a nice tree shaded area again.
From there we traveled to 1N54, Clark’s Grade, rated easy, and on down the mountain. There were many outstanding views along the way and a few other people and vehicles on the trail. This was the original road to Big Bear in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s hard to imagine how those vintage cars and trucks managed to negotiate this trail with all their shortcomings, and four wheel drive was practically non-existent. The road fell into disuse when new highways were constructed and eventually became impassable. It was more recently restored and maintained by the San Bernardino National Forest Association volunteers. We hit pavement near Seven Oaks by mid-afternoon and headed back: Nan and the Roodes took the low road to their homes and I took the high road to mine. Another great day in the forest. While attendance was low, those who came seemed to enjoy the trails; I’m happy if even one other person shows.