Road to the Roadshow: Big Bear Lake
Having established that I'm not ready for or perhaps worthy of Los Angeles, our sights were set on Big Bear Lake.

We'd talked about going before, but every time I said, if I'm driving to Big Bear Lake, then I'm driving to Disneyland. Mike, who continues to leave fliers from Disneyland on the kitchen counter on on my endtable, was hardly going to argue.  

(I miss Disneyland, but until they sort out the "let's offer a cheap payment plan for the locals, guaranteeing that crowds are worse than ever" decision implemented last summer, it's off the table. Oh, and remember how I said I wanted to move to Florida to be by Disney World and cruise ships? Yeah, one trip to Texas and a jillion madly itching mosquito bites by the end of the first evening reminded me of why that will never happen.)

So the L.A. getaway was scrapped, but Big Bear Lake would be perfect! The more I read about it, the more excited I got. Nature? Cool temperatures? Halfway between Las Vegas and San Diego? SOLD.

Being unfamiliar with the area, I chose a hotel with good reviews and a professional-looking website: Northwoods Resort. They had a free breakfast special, plus the rate dropped by twenty bucks during the few days I spent weighing my options. A good sign. (You'll notice that I use "I" a lot here. Mike prefers to make token consultations in the late stages. Since he thinks everything sounds good, this is for the best. One of us must maintain persnickitiness.)  

Now that I've been to Big Bear Lake, I'm still pleased with our choice. It was about as close as you can be to the Village, and the lake was a short walk away. However, we saw several other places that looked just as good, depending on what you wanted to do. If we were to go back and spend a week (A fortnight, a month, a lifetime? It is gorgeous.), we'd probably look for a cabin right by a marina, maybe one with a big jacuzzi. (BBL attracts a lot of romantic skiers during the winter season.) But, I'd also be just as happy to stay at Northwoods again.

We started the journey as we always begin, sighing over all that's left of Nevada Landing in Jean.

Nevada Landing, As It Is

It doesn't pluck my "senseless violence" vibe the way the Stardust does, but I hope in the future people will wait to tear things down until the day before new construction begins. Jean, about 20-30 minutes south of the Strip, is just a weird little spot in the road. Is someone ever really going to do something with the land where the Nevada Landing casino used to be?

Jean. Check. Primm. Check. California border. Check! (I always lift my feet when we cross, like kids used to do when going over railroad tracks.) Baker. Check. (Hey, the world's largest thermometer isn't working?)  

Next landmark: The Ruins of Rock-a-Hoola.

Rock-a-Hoola, Less All The Time

I was sure I had several photos of Rock-a-Hoola from five years ago, but guess what doesn't seem to be on the storage drive? The Disneyland trips from the summer of 2005. They're either on a CD somewhere, back when archiving stuff sucked like that, or... well, they may have been part of an unfortunate incident that also claimed my Halloween photos from the same year. We don't talk about it. But (cheerful look)! Here's a photo Mike took three years ago as we sped past the stand-still traffic in the opposite lane:  

Mike's Rock-a-Hoola Photo

I find it a little unnerving that the slide shown above, after sitting derelict for some years in the scalding Mojave desert between Las Vegas and Barstow, is now back in use in a Canadian waterpark. I know that this is just psychological, that the slide didn't become a worthless relict in just a few years, and I'm glad it has a new home, but still.

Normally the next landmark is just Barstow itself, as we take a moment to gaze at the Lenwood exit where we always get gas on the way back. Not this time, though! This time we exited onto CA-247 and drove into the Lucerne Valley.  

I can't believe we didn't take any photos. There would be nothing for a few miles, then a cafe with wifi access. Nothing. Nothing. Farms. Nothing. Nothing. Elementary school. Then Lucerne Valley proper, with its cute little bookshops and restaurants. (We thought about stopping, but we wanted to make the most of our night in Big Bear.)

In the distance we saw snowy mountains to the east and the a wall of mountains ahead of us. Wow, I hadn't really thought about how, to get into the mountains, we'd have to drive up the mountain. I tried not to think about it any further. My little hatchback complains on the gentle climb between Primm and Baker... maybe this was a bad idea.  

Now we were on CA-18, wending around, wondering where that mountain road would begin.

A few more curves later, and up-up-up we were going. Or "putt-putt-putt" we were going. Every time we were on the inside track, I'd express thanks to the universe for pull-out lanes (so the inevitable stack of cars behind us could pass) and for not making me drive next to the guardrail. (I hate driving by guardrails even on flat, empty terrain. And those concrete dividers? Shudder! I'm a gal who needs a shoulder for my car to cry on.)  

There are no photos of this part of the journey. Even though we were actually going the speed limit for most of the trip up, I was acutely aware of people hovering on our hammer (as Mike calls it), which always makes me feel like I'm farting at a tea party. I just want to apologize to everyone and bear the humiliation with an IV of chocolate. Then I start getting sarcastic and yelling at no one that - HELLO?! - I'm going the speed limit - HELLO?! - and everyone should back the $$#@^ off... usually. This time I was much more well behaved, having to save my breath for the "ohgodohgodohgodihatethis" and the leaning my body deep into the steering column because, you know, leaning forward helps the car move forward. Check out any book on Superstitious Physics. It's true.  

Thanks to my synchronized body movements and strategic loud exhales, it wasn't long before we found ourselves cruising around the "transient lake" of Lake Baldwin, actually the original Big Bear Lake until the dam was built. The drive around the marshy semi-lake was lovely - piney trees looked down at us, so much taller than the ones at the bottom of the mountain. My mood could finally match Mike's. (Who was as peaceful as usual for the haul up, pointing out the scenery and marveling at the turns in the road. Thank goodness one of us is sane, although I'll leave it to the reader to decide which.)  

Mike said he was sorry for ever mocking the "San Bernardino National Forest" signs when making our traditional drive along I-15. From the highway, it just looks like scrubby hills. But once hidden inside the forest, behold the towering Shangri-la.  

The drive from Baldwin Lake to Big Bear eventually took us past Starbucks, grocery stores, a KMart, and a middle school. Goodness, civilization? Up here? Why doesn't everyone live here, then?  

I mean, not long before, and just on the other side of the mountain, it's all tumbleweeds and brown earth and baking sun. But twenty twisty minutes away from that? Alpine getaway!

Northwoods Resort was easy to find. Follow the road along the lake; follow the curve; turn left into the Village. Voila. On the left.

As soon we parked and unloaded our luggage, some men came and asked us to move to the behind the hotel because a car show was setting up in the front part of the lot. We checked out before the car show started the next day, and at no time was there any indication that guests were supposed to park in the back. In fact, we saw people park there to check in every time we drove in or out, and as for the car show set-up, there was one trailer and one classic truck - that's all we ever saw. The woman behind the desk assured us that this car show was a huge deal, so all of this was just weird. No big deal to move the car, but weird.  

The woman at the front desk was a little weird herself. Normally I like that in a person (can't imagine why), and she was certainly friendly, but when I looked over one of the hotel fliers on display and asked her about something on it, she took the flier away from me and said, "Where did you get that?" I pointed to the display stand on the counter, right between us, holding fliers describing the hotel's amenities. She seemed nervous and the one I had taken to the side, away from me, and said it was for a convention group that was coming. Oh. Okay. Weird. Again, no big deal... but weird.

Our room was on the ground floor (rats), just down the hall. Everything inside the property strove for a rustic, ski-happy, hunting-amenable theme, with stonework and antlers and well-varnished log accents meant to reassure the traveler that the hotel is outdoorsy in spirit but modern and clean in deed.  

So, we opened the door to the room, and everything looked nice enough. The sink was separate from the toilet, which made me twitch with the hygienic implications, but Mike is Australian and used to it. (Later I scrubbed the handle to the sliding door. You cannot convince me that housekeeping does this, or that all previous guests are couth enough to wipe with one hand but slide with the other. I'm glad I didn't start thinking these thoughts until a few years ago. I like to think that I'm old enough to keep the germ squirms in check and not to someday end up on a reality show and made to lick shoes for therapy.)

The king-sized bed looked comfy:  

Northwoods Resort - Bed

Northwoods Resort - Wardrobe and Fridge

Mike was happy to have a fridge, although we both tilted heads over the TV in the cabinet, at a right angle to the bed. (No surprise that it swiveled to a tolerable angle for in-bed watching, but it was still odd, like someone was just set on making rectangles with the furniture and didn't try watching television from the bed, or maybe it's the hotel's way of discouraging television when there's a world of beauty outside. Bah, save it for the rooms with views.)  

Northwoods Resort - Punishment Bench

Above you can see the most uncomfortable piece of furniture I've ever encountered in a hotel room. It faced the television like it was laughing at us,daring us to even try to relax in a chair the Puritans would've thought seemly. (Save for that heathen upholstery.) Not bad for holding luggage, though. That red bag is what was holding our four chosen antiques (or "antiques" - but that's a story for later) for Antiques Roadshow.  

And now it is time to reveal... THE VIEW!

Northwoods Resort - Dumpster View with Squirrel

Well, somebody has to have the crappy view. I guess. And if I were the hotel manager, I'd save the best views for people who weren't grabbing the (relatively) cheap specials, like us. Still, it was disappointing.  

(But if you look closely, really closely, you can see a squirrel! That was nice.)

Never mind the view - time to join it! Hmmm, should we look for that Indian restaurant? (We broke out the netbook and tried the wi-fi. Not bad.)  

Out on the patio by the pool, I took a photo of Mike in front of all the nice rooms with patios and balconies that we did not get.

Northwoods Resort - Mike, Not Our Room

(Don't worry. Big Bear was so amazing; it didn't take long to get over a puny view.)

We set out back the way we came, turned into the Village, drove up the road and discovered that we could have just walked around the corner the other way and been there. Oops!

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant

Things were quiet in the Village. We parallel parked right out front of "Himalayan Restaurant" and looked forward to exploring all of the little shops up and down the street after lunch/dinner.  

Big Bear Lake Village

(See the lake in the distance? It's even closer than it looks.)

No link to the restaurant's website; sometime in the past month the site reverted to a domain parking page, but here's the Yelp scoop. (Mike's review is the most recent, as of this writing.) I wanted to look again at their menu, as I'm not sure exactly what I ordered, but I'll do my best.

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant (Inside)

We started with some papadums. Papayums, more like. (*knee slap*)

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant - The Papadums

Okay, I feel like when Derek Zoolander is explaining the "Earth to (Whomever)" phrase to Matilda, but about that "*knee slap*" gesture above.... Recently a certain mega-powerblogger had another mega-powerblogger do some guest writing on his/her blog. MPB #2 went out on a rant about people on Twitter who put an action between asterisks, like I did above. He or she went on about how people aren't really doing said action, so just stop, it's the downfall of humanity, everyone is a poseur, blah blah.  

Me, I went to WTF'ville. (In my head, of course, because MPBs - however enjoyable to read - can be vengeful. True, now I'm mentioning it here, but that doesn't count because it's really just me and you and the hamsters and eventually Mike, who always takes about a month to realize I've blogged because the man refuses to get with the RSS program, and the fact that I don't mention new posts to him makes me the saint of anti-marketing, but HI HONEY! and moving on...) That whole "action between asterisks" convention is ancient. I can vouch for as far back as the BBS days, and I'm sure it's older than that. How can MPB #2 fuss over this "Twitter trend"? And even if it were a Twitter trend... WTF, MPB #2? Parenthetically indicating action without literally doing the action (Laugh.) (Sob.) is an old writing device and really just the same thing.  

Also, for the record, I did actually slap my knee. You don't know, MPB #2. Just because your Twitter feed is dialogue-driven doesn't mean the rest of us aren't mixing in a little action. Oh, and if I do this? ♫♫♫ ♫♫? I may actually be singing. Stop assuming. *post-boggling smile of peace*

Okay, apologies for interrupting our lovely meal... We also ordered paneer (cheese) pakuda, which may or may not be like paneer pakora. No two Indian restaurants seem to spell things alike, but this one was very different from pakora I've had so far.  

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant - Cheese Pakuda

It's really just fried cheese, but the chutney (Tamarind? I forget.) was nice and the cheese tasted light, considering the frying. Mike could only try a little, having been recently tummy troubled, but I scarfed away.  

Of course we had naan:

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant - Just the Naan

Mike had the chicken tikka masala - reluctantly ordered to be cooked mild - and he found it flavourful and perfect. I found myself wishing for a kofta dish or a paneer dish that didn't involve spinach; I ended up settling for some form of aloo mattar (potato and peas):  

Big Bear Lake - Himalayan Restaurant - Mattar Aloo Thingie

Mine was also delicious, although it became sort of samey as time went on. (For the uninitiated, we spooned the food over rice, which was fragrant and not clumpy, exactly how I like it.)  

Usually we get water with Indian, but this afternoon we decided to try their ginger lemonades (described as being made with fresh limes, which I think may have been a translation error, of which there were several on the menu), and these drinks had a delicate taste, a very nice change. The ginger was subtle, and there were no refills, but it was a good complement to the meal.  

Full and pleased, we strolled down the street. Every shop was just adorable!

Big Bear Lake - The Copper Q

Quilt shops, scrapbook shops, yoga shops, culinary shops... but around this, a bowling alley like a big red barn, bars, the marina... something for all types and stereotypes.

Then there was this:

Big Bear Lake - North Pole Fudge and Mike

Oh, hey now. Hey, hey now...

Big Bear Lake - North Pole Fudge - Fudge and Apples

Big Bear Lake - North Pole Fudge - Happiness Behind Glass

We were so full from the Indian that we had to walk away, but not without checking what time they closed.

Yeah, that only lasted a few steps. Who were we kidding? Back we went. Fatties have an image to maintain, after all.  

We kept it simple: milk chocolate honeycomb for Mike and English toffee for me. Later, when there was room i my belly to actually try it, I wished we'd asked for fistful of everything. Mmmmm. (I'm only half-kidding. The price was low, the taste was spectacular, and we don't seem to really have a proper confectioner in Las Vegas. Or at least I can't find one. Chocolatiers, yes, and some fudge, but it's pretty limited. Maybe somebody will see this is and clue me in... although, fair warning, that would officially make you an enabler. And a beautiful person.)  

Mike, doing his Mugatu impression:

Big Bear Lake - Mike Reenacting Zoolander

Around we walked. Big Bear Lake has two cinemas. Researching before the trip, I'd tried to figure out which one was closer to the hotel. Heh. You can run from one theatre to the other in under 45 seconds. Maybe 30 seconds. Each has two screens.  

Big Bear Lake - Village Theatres and Mike

We were tempted to go, but the last show was at 7-something, and then what if, in this small city, it was packed? And we had to sit next to other people? Gah! What is this, 1977? Also, I have short legs that get tired if I can't prop them up on a railing. (Or, I admit it, the armrest between the seats in front of my chair. The railing is better, though, and we always arrive early so I'm likely to get it.) Yes, it's very complicated living with me. I hope this makes people think that I'm terribly worthwhile and interesting in ways they have yet to get to see, but I'm probably not fooling anyone.

I'm sure it's a very nice theatre, but we decided to make the most of the non-punishing daylight and the non-desert nature.

I guess that's why we didn't go play Skeeball, either. Sigh. I do love the Skeeball.

Big Bear Lake - Super Bear Arcade

Neither one of us was ready to stop exploring, so we decided to drive along the lake and find the Time Bandits ship. I had a general idea of its location from Google maps, but surely we'd just spot it as we drove along the water, right?

We headed west along the main road. We passed a tea room, several antique stores, a few grocers, some restaurants, and I don't think we'd eased through a half-dozen curves in the winding forest-lined road before we were both hollering, "Let's live here FOREVER!!!"

Gorgeous. Remote. Gorgeous. Remote. Gorgeous.

In addition to all of the above, we passed plenty of cabins for rental. We babbled about loading the hamsters in the car and renting a place for a month next summer, just relaxing and being where we're supposed to be, with cool air and pine trees and a place that makes chocolate honeycomb that tastes like happiness.  

What we were not really seeing was the lake, which was usually beyond the trees and the cabins. Thus, we weren't seeing the Time Bandits ship. When we got to the road that turns to go to the north side of the lake (which has a solar observatory, but it's not for the public), we admitted defeat and turned back, trying a few detours without luck. We could look up specific directions back in the room and stop by tomorrow on the way out. Maybe we'd catch that movie after all. It was a pleasant drive and then some, at least.

But we only lasted a few minutes back in the room before we decided to go back out and try again. Oh, outdoors! I've missed you sooooo much!

The ship wasn't far from the hotel, just a right turn down a road and up to Holloway's Marina. (We passed cabin after cabin for rent, and pictured ourselves in each one.) The marina is half boatsy and half RV park, and no one was around at the edge of dusk except one employee going about his business.  

To the south, looking back to shore, blue skies:

Big Bear Lake - Holloway's Marina (Looking Left)

The northwest view was far more grey in the setting sun:

Big Bear Lake - Time Bandits Ship at Holloway Marina

Yes, that's the ship. I could tell as we walked toward it that "ALL THAT" wouldn't be lettered across the prow. Even so, it's the ship.

Big Bear Lake - Mike with Time Bandits Ship

There's Mike, giving us a sense of perspective. (Believe it or not, I actually lightened this photo. We were - just like the title of Time Bandits' director Gilliam's book - "losing the light." Also, I have a lot to learn about exposure.)

In the photo above, Mike is standing next to this weathered pirate statue:

Big Bear Lake - Pirate at Holloway's Marina

For the sake of perspective, below is a clip from the movie where the boat is featured. (I don't know why it's on the cover of the DVD, really. It's not that big of a part - they should've used the map for the cover design. If I were senselessly rich, I'd have that map recreated as a mural on the ceiling of the rotunda entrance to my library. Or maybe the prop is somewhere, and I could hang it on the wall. This is why I can't daydream about impossible riches; I get too mired in the details. Like, just because I'm rich doesn't mean I'll know how to find someone who knows what happened to the map, so how am I going to sort that out? Should we get a personal assistant? Could I ever really trust an outsider to do that job? Wouldn't they be offended when I was there telling them about all of the little things they were doing wrong when acting as my representative? I have a critical but well intentioned nature - who can get that and get the oil changed in the car? And if they didn't, would they then retaliate in small ways, thinking I owed it to them for being so high maintenance? It's a difficult time to be in a position of power, however small, in this era of entitlement. I think I'll just print off a copy of the map and tack it to the fridge instead. Money is stressful.)  

If you look at the ship in that clip, especially around 5:40, it's hard to reconcile it with this:

Big Bear Lake - Time Bandits Ship is Underwhelming

No scooped sides, no spikes, different paint, nancy railing... surely Roadside America wouldn't lie? I guess not. I wasn't feeling it, but it was very fun to notch the experience. (You can tour the lake on it every day at 2 p.m., and sometimes other times, but we arrived too late in the day to go.)

We watched the fish in the water play, looked over the boats, and meandered back to the car, spirits still high.

Big Bear Lake - Mike at Holloway's Marina

Mike snapped photos from the passenger seat as we made the drive back to the hotel again, not at all sick of the sights.

Here's a ski slope that turns into a water park in the summer:

Big Bear Lake - Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

No vacancy at the Cozy Hollow Lodge? I'm not surprised, with such an adorable sign! (The word "adorable" is about as unavoidable as "cute" when driving around BBL.)

Big Bear Lake - Cozy Hollow Lodge

We were still ready to explore; it was getting dimmer, although not really darker (does that make sense?), and we weren't really sure where to go. We drove to the gates of the Big Bear Marina, at the end of the Village:

Big Bear Lake - Evening Coming

Going back further east, we turned at a light and found a ski resort, just right there.

Big Bear Lake - Snow Summit in Summer

Big Bear Lake must be stunning in the winter, but how our car would ever make it up the mountain is a question mark.

Back at the hotel, we still weren't hungry, but we stopped at Stillwell's to see how late they'd be open.  

Northwoods Resort - Mike at Stillwell's

I forget the exact time, but it came down to "not very late." We put on the TV in the room and took turns with the wifi. Eventually, our late lunch/early dinner wore off. Hmm. Where to?

We walked across the parking lot and around the corner, remembering a pizza place there.

Big Bear Lake - Village Pizza

The clock said 9:30, and the sign said they closed at nine. Dang. Well, what about the Quiznos we passed?

Big Bear Lake - Inside Quiznos

This must be one of the prettiest Quiznos on the planet. (Friendly staff, too.) I almost want to start a site called and see if anyone can top it.

The walk in the brisk night air was worth the cussing up the mountain to get here. Big Bear Lake has a high school; I wondered what it would take to transfer there. (Probably less cussing.)  

And so passed an evening of satisfactory sandwiches, bad television, decent wifi, and good Kindle reading.

Northwoods Resort - Breakfast Voucher

The next morning we took advantage of our free breakfast at Stillwells. I decided to go a la carte so I could have exactly what I wanted. (Usually I give whatever sausage or bacon is included to Mike, but he'd just had the bad reflux/whatever episode in Texas and was avoiding known triggers.)  

Northwoods Resort - A La Carte at Stillwell's

Breakfast wasn't bad, but those had to be the driest potatoes ever plated. And I know I ordered a la carte, but the three plates were strange to me. Free is nice, though.

We waved goodbye to all the little shops we never got to visit. We waved to the long-closed drive-in, with trees growing in front of the screen:

Big Bear Lake - Old Lake Drive-In

We were sad to be driving out. Excited that we were only a couple of hours away from San Diego, but sad to go without knowing when we'd be back. Since leaving Michigan 25 years ago, I can easily count the number of times I've been around really proper forest, not counting drive-bys and big campgrounds where no one ever gets near the woods. Let's see, a few days north of San Francisco. A couple of weekend camping trips to the Texas Hill Country. This overnighter. Okay, I'm done. That's it, and it's just not right.

My ongoing climate drama swooshed aside, time to get hyped about San Diego! Antiques Roadshow! Woohoo!

I remembered our 15-minute drive up the mountain and wondered what it would be like coming down the west side. Longer? Shorter? It looked about the same.

It was nice to be in downhill mode, that was for sure. It didn't stop people from whipping around us on blind curves, though. (Later we even got a rude honk when we pulled to the side to let some people pass. Grrrr - if I'm going the speed limit, get over it! Especially if it's downhill, just out of the fog, and with switchbacks every half-minute. Grrrr!)  

As we started down the mountain, Mike suddenly exclaimed, "Look at that!" Filling the valley between two mountain tops were... clouds! We were driving above the clouds! We'd never seen anything like it. Of course all of the places to pull aside and take photos were in the opposite lane, and it just wasn't safe to stop anywhere else, let alone U-turn. The view as we drove around the curve of the valley was just astounding, though. Clouds!  

Eventually Mike started to try to take photos. This shot is from a less dramatic part of the drive and doesn't do the view justice, but just to give a hint of how amazing it was:  

Big Bear Lake - Clouds to the Left... Lower Left

Eventually we were between mountains, winding around and around, passing Lake Arrowhead, which is supposed to be ritzier than Big Bear, but we didn't get to see that side of it.

What we did see were clouds, right in front of us.

Big Bear Lake - Never So Glad to Follow a School Bus

I've never been so happy to see a school bus. I could blame going the speed limit on its leadership, and when it pulled over to let cars pass, so did we. It was a caravan of two busses and us, except for the first time they pulled over and we were left leading the pack through the fog. (Something we remedied at the next turn-out, where we waited to reunite with our big orange friends.)  

The fog! The clouds! Sometimes we could hardly see anything but the lights of the bus in front of us. We couldn't stop remarking on how the drive was so neat, it was like being on a ride, like the start of Pirates of the Caribbean (California version), perhaps. The road was smooth, the car was happy, the bus was setting the pace, and the world was impressing us.  

From 6000 to about 4000 feet, the mists were at their best. Naturally, 4000 feet is when we decided to turn on the video camera. If you want to pass judgement on me for needing to clean the windshield, here's two minutes and 25 seconds of opportunity:  

Short version? Big Bear Lake was a revelation. I can't wait to visit again.  

Big Bear Lake - Mists

Big Bear Lake - Piney Mists

06 July 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)