On the Rim of the World to Big Bear Lake
WE were now on the beginning of that famed American scenic drive known as 101 Miles on the Rim of the World. It is one of the three routes into Big Bear Valley, as well as one of the most difficult. For 101 miles the trail angles along on the every backbone of the towering mountain range, through forests of virgin pine, past beautiful mountain lakes, uphill and down, along water courses, and past mountain torrents that make the eyes of the trout fisherman bulge with anticipation at the thought of the thousands of finny gamesters that inhabit the sheltered pools beneath the rocks. For much of the distance the desert, as well as the fertile lowland valleys, is in full view, but the road finally growling and roaring on upgrade, between great rocky crags that seemed to tower into the very heavens.
For eleven miles our road went up and up. Sometimes we caught glimpses of the fertile valley we had quitted thousands of feet below as we wound around curves where we turned completely around in the length of the machine. Several times we toured along directly above the road that we had traversed only a moment before, and we even encountered the dust that we had stirred from the road below as it was borne up the mountainside by the wind. We stopped several times to rest and let the motor cool as well as to quench our thirst from an icy torrent that roared down from crag to crag. The air became colder as we climbed higher, and gradually the palms of the valley shaded into scrub oaks and thorn buck, and finally into gigantic pines.
On one particularly stony and tortuous grade where our sidecar wheel hung on the edge of a thousand-foot precipice we met a big touring car coming down. There was not room to pass. The car was driven by a big portly moon-faced man with bronzed cheeks, a broad permanent smile, and the tang of the mountains all over him. He was the sole occupant of the vehicle. “Hold on a moment,” cried the man, as he slid his rear wheels to a stop, and we began backing down the hill toward the next turn-out. “You’re loaded heavier than I am,” he said, “let me do the backing up.”
An Advocate of the Golden Rule
WITH the remark he had his machine in reverse, and was on his way. He had to back fully a thousand feet up a hair-raising grade, and around a dozen dangerous turns before we finally came to a niche in the wall where we were able to squeeze by. We thanked the man for his kindness. “Don’t mention it,” he answered, “I’m an advocate of the Golden Rule.” And with that he was on his way again down the mountain.
After passing the touring car we had a climb on less than four miles before coming to the top of the mountain range, where the view that greeted us simply beggared all description. We stood in the midst of a cluster of gigantic pines with a dozen or more varieties of wild flowers growing all about. On one side was the fertile valley, nestled far below the great banks of fleecy white clouds that floated up the mountainside. Behind us was the Mojave Desert, stretching away apparently into infinity, appalling in its silence, its cloudless sky and its blaze of purple and lavender coloring. A robin warbled forth his cheery carol from a pine tree overhead, and down over the canyon by which we had ascended an eagle wheeled and circled on motionless wings. The point on which
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It was nine o’clock when we reached Thousand Pines, and although we traveled at a leisurely pace—sometimes in high gear, sometimes in low, with stops for photographs and admiration of the scenery we arrived at Squirrel Inn at noon. This, according to a check of our speedometer and maps, put us thirty-eight miles over the Rim of the World, and one hundred and eight miles from home.
As we pulled up in front of the inn an old negro mammy, whose burden of fat was about as much as she could bear, began pounding a gong that hung on a tree trunk in front of the building. The gong met with instant response in the form of a dozen or so rusty-looking hillbillies and girls on horseback who came scurrying up out of the woods.
“Forty cents, an’ good eatin’s, too,” responded the old negress in reply to our query as to the price of a meal. We agreed that we couldn’t go very far wrong for forty cents for a meal in these war times, so decided to lunch at the inn rather than stop to make camp and cook our own food. It was a good bet, too, for the meal proved to be an excellent four-course dinner. The old negress, we learned, was the cook. We are still wondering how it is possible to serve such a meal in such an isolated region at a figure apparently below cost.
This Two-Week Trip Cost $30; Read On and See If You Can Think of a Finer Investment for the Money.
Some Record-Breaking Grades
LEAVING Squirrel Inn we were informed that it was twenty-four miles to Green Valley, the next point of civilization. The distance is probably not more than five or six miles by airplane, but before we got there we were sure that it was the longest twenty-four miles we had ever traveled. The road was so tortuous that a speed of about twelve miles an hour was the fastest that could be attained with any degree of safety, while more often we jogged along at a pace of six or eight miles an hour.
Fortunately a projecting ledge enabled us to pass, and after reaching the crest we stopped to let our motor cool. We walked back, and chatted with the motor party. They were traveling the same as we were. Time and destination were no essential objects. They were out to enjoy themselves and had left all their worries, grouches and troubles at home.
Just over the top of the bill we found a rude sign on which was scrawled “Four Miles to Green Valley.” We went on and were glad to find about three miles of the distance downhill. The other mile was across a beautiful valley of meadowland where scores of wild-looking range cattle were grazing.
Green Valley consists of two buildings, and the family of George Tillett, the forest ranger, deputy sheriff, game warden, storekeeper, and principal citizen of that thriving community. George was out of town when we called, so his daughter Ethel, a pretty miss of about twenty summers, clad in kaki trousers and heavy spiked shoes, sold us some gasoline and oil, and issued the necessary permit for the building of our camp fires.
Leaving Green Valley, we rattled around the base of Fawnskin Mountain, and then climbed up and up for miles before finally coming to the rim of Dead Man’s Canyon. This great rocky gorge is well named, for dead would be the man who attempted to descend by any route other than the gossamer trail that angles down its wall. The view from the top is one that literally sweeps the first-time tourist off his feet by its beauty and grandeur. One brings his machine to a stop on the very brink of a thousand-foot ledge where he may turn on his heel and view a hundred thousand square miles of country at a glance. Far below and away at the right as far as the eye can reach are the red stone walls of the canyon with the great pine trees at the bottom appearing like clusters of moss. To the left is an apparently endless panorama of mountain tops with forested valleys between them, and far off on the horizon Little Bear Lake is to be seen, a vision for the lover of nature.
After descending the wall of Dead Man’s Canyon our road led out into the forest again, and after several miles came to the headwaters of a rushing mountain stream. Consulting our maps, we learned that this was Clear Creek, one of the streams flowing into Big Bear Lake. For the next twelve miles our trail followed the stream, crossing it no less than a hundred times, sometimes losing it for a little way, but always coming back to cool our tires in another shallow ford.
In Beautiful Big Bear Valley
THE sun was getting low and red in the western horizon when we came to a point where Clear Creek, together with our trail, entered a wide boulder strewn canyon and began going down grade. We zigzagged back and forth among the rocks for several miles and then around a ledge where
We went up the hills in low gear, and came down the same way, using the motor as a drag, and with brakes set so tight that on some of the steepest grades we came down with our rear wheel sliding. The trail zig-zagged up hill and down, along watercourses and across canyons with an apparently utter disregard for the topography of the country. We forded numerous streams and crossed others on corduroy bridges that gave us excellent samples of the vibration cure for rheumatism. We finally came to one long steep grade hung on the side of a perpendicular wall which seemed like a sort of reserve that the devil might have held back to surprise us with. It was a frightful pull, and we were barely able to make it.
About half way up we caught up with a man and his family with a bulging load of camp duffle in a big twin six automobile. The machine had simply refused to budge another inch up the grade, and their youngsters were carrying the supplies to the top of Big Bear Valley, with its beautiful lake and towering snow-clad mountains, burst suddenly into view.
The first glimpse into the valley is simply bewildering. From the ledge on which we had stopped the tops of the giant pines slopped away toward the lake like a carpet of green moss. The indigo blue of the lake had given way in the center to the golden reflection of the most glorious sunset. Beyond the lake was another carpet of green that shaded away into the snow and glistening ice of the mountain tops.
There is but little twilight in the mountains. It became dark almost as soon as the sun had set, and even before we reached the lake shore. But the darkness was of short duration. It had scarcely become complete when the full moon rose big and red over the snows of the eastern mountains and in a few moments the light was almost like day.
“Wha-hee,” came a shout from the forest as we passed a point some five miles around the shore of the lake. “Wha-who,” we shouted back. Then there was a perfect chorus of “Wha-hee and “Whawho’s” from a hundred yards back in the woods where a camp fire was burning. We had stumbled onto the camp of a party of friends; the call “Wha-hee” and the answer “Wha-who” being the salutation of Los Angeles newspaper men with whom we had long been associated. Then someone called us by name and shouted “Come on up, supper is ready.”
After shaking hands all around we were soon seated on a log in front of the campfire, where with sheer animal delight we proceeded to reduce the contents of huge tin plates loaded with fried trout, corn bread, and beans. Two hours later we had our tent up, and with our blankets spread on a bed of pine needles, began renewing acquaintances with that fine natural sleep that brands motoring, the mountains, and the pine woods as the unrivaled competitors of doctors and sanitariums.
A Toothsome Breakfast
WE were awakened at sunrise by a Whisky-Jack that fled down from the pine tree overhead and began pecking and scratching around on the ridge of our tent. Then came a volley of epithets from Scottv, the camp cook, about the “infernal chipmunks,” that had invaded the commissary tent. Shouts of “Wha-hee” and “Whawho” also indicated that other members of the party were awake, so we decided to crawl out.
Oh, what a glorious morning! The air of those high altitudes is fairly fragrant in its freshness. The lake looked like a mirror, while the mountains, the rocks, and the pine trees seemed to have a softness and color about them that we had never seen before. Even the sunlight falling in diffusion through the pine needles took a warmth and crispness that we had never experienced in the lowlands.
After Scotty had served all hands to several rounds of bacon, flapjacks with honey, and coffee, we decided to try our hand at trout fishing. Accordingly we adjourned to the brook back of our camp, and our eyes could literally have been knocked off with a stick as we gazed into the crystal pools and there beheld dozens of the fine speckled gamsters darting to and fro or lazily flapping their fins in some sheltered nook behind the rocks. The way those fish bit made it seem a crime to take them from the water. Our fly would no more than strike the pool before a fish would have it, and then would come the sport and tussle of getting him into the net. In less than an hour we had all the fish the law allowed us. It might be mentioned, too, that trout taken from an icy mountain pool, dressed and dropped into the frying pan are as different from market fish as T-bone is from round steak.
The next morning we motored around the lake, rented a boat, and tried our hand at lake fishing with splendid success. Our first strike was a four-pound salmon-trout that was gaffed and hauled into the boat after a twenty-minute tight. We landed several more, weighing two and three pounds each, and rowed across the lake at noon with all the fish that we could legally catch in one day.
There is an abundance of game in Bear Valley so that beside the canned and salt meat of our larder we varied our diet from the fish we caught with an occasional squirrel or rabbit. It was only necessary to walk into the woods a few rods to get a shot at one. On one foraging trip Scotty bagged a raccoon, and we had a delicious roast for supper that evening. We saw dozens of deer and could have easily had fresh venison, but out of respect for the law refrained from shooting any. Quail and grouse were also plentiful, but they, too, were protected by law. The surface of the lake teemed with wild fowl, and old mother Mallards were frequently seen swimming about followed by whole fleets of little Mallards. There were also vast flocks of wild geese, brants, and coots, as well as countless snipes, plover, curlews and other short birds.
We motored into the back country over some of the most inaccessible trails, and then set out on foot picking our way with map and compass, when our machine could | go no further. In this way, we penetrated into some of the wildest portions of the valley. On one of these expeditions we tramped back into Horse Thief Canyon, i desolate, forbidding region in which human beings are seldom seen. Here we came upon a herd of antelope. They scurried off up the canyon at our approach, and were followed almost instantly by a mountain lion that sprang from behind a rock near where the animals had been feeding. We opened fire with our pistols, but the great cat made his getaway apparently not frightened.
A Tour of Exploration
FORTUNATELY, our camp was unmolested by varmints. Two owls made the night hideous until we shot them. Wolves gave us several nocturnal concerts, but kept their distance. The real pests of the camp were the chipmunks and ground squirrels. These harmless little fellows made systematic foraging expeditions into our commissary every time our backs were turned. They would undoubtedly have carried away every morsel of food we possessed had we not taken measures for keeping them out.
After camping for five days on the lake near the mouth of Red Ant Creek we decided to motor out for a little tour of exploration. We put up enough food for lunch, threw a shotgun and a small canteen of water into our sidecar and were off up the valley. We toured around the north shore of Baldwin Lake, a beautiful body of slightly brackish water almost as large as Big Bear Lake, and after crossing a long range of cattle country, followed a rocky little trail until we came to Doble, an old deserted mining town.
Doble, as we afterward learned is the site of the once famous Gold Mountain Mine, out of which millions of dollars worth of gold was taken before the lode vanished. In its mining days Doble was once the third largest post office in California, and for several years is said to have practically controlled the vote of the State. But when the gold disappeared the population did likewise, and now the post office at Doble opens up only on Tuesdays.
We toured north out of Doble over a rocky little sand trial that bore a rudely scrawled sign reading, “To Cactus Flats Via Shirt Tail Pass.” The country became wilder and more desolate as we entered the pass. We concluded that it was probably so named because the miners of early days traveling over it on horseback had seen their own shirt tails flying in the breeze as they rode up and down the grades and around the sharp curves. Certainly Shirt Tail Pass was never intended for anything on wheels, much less a motor vehicle.
Some Thrills in Shirt Tail Pass
WE had not gone far down before we realized that there was no such thing as our ever getting back up. The grades became so steep that we could not hold the machine back without sliding to rear wheel, and the curves were so sharp that we had to lift the sidecar around them. To assist our brakes and prevent the destruction of the rear tire we cut a small sage tree and tied it under the chassis of the side car to serve as a drag. It served the purpose admirably, but we coasted down the hill followed by an avalanche of rocks.
It was fourteen miles to the bottom of the Shirt Tail, and by this time we were doubtful if we had sufficient fuel to get back to camp by the circuitous route that we would have to take. We faced the prospect of a night on the desert, stranded without food, and with less than two quarts of water in our canteen.
Then almost as if by the hand of Providence a jackrabbit jumped up in the road ahead of us. He hopped along a few paces and then stopped. We stopped too. Under ordinary circumstances we would have disdained to shoot at a rabbit with anything but a pistol, but not so this time. “Our lives may depend on that meat,” was the word that was whispered simultaneously as the wife handed out the shotgun. A second or two was consumed for a deliberate aim. then the roar of the piece went echoing through the hills, as the smoke cleared away the rabbit lay quivering in the trail. In another minute he was tucked away in the sidecar. We were not to go hungry that night.
Our trail now led uphill again, and as we toured on for mile after mile the country became more barren, wilder and desert like. According to our maps, the route over the Shirt Tail would bring us out on the Baldwin Lake and Victorville Road some twenty miles out in the desert. If we could reach this road we could get back into Bear Valley over the Johnson Grade, a comparatively easy journey, and even if our fuel supply gave out we would soon be able to get aid from passing motorists. A peep into the gasoline tank brought home the truth of our worst fears. We had less than a quart of the precious liquid. But we went on. determined to reach the traveled highway if it was within our power to do so.
A Night on the Trail
WE later encountered some stretches of heavy sand which make low gear work necessary, as well as delaying our progress, and we knew only too well what this would do our scant fuel supply. The sun was getting low. and as it sank into the bank of lavender purple haze of the western horizon the motor fired its last shot. The gas tank was bone dry.
The outlook was cheerless in the extreme, but we resolved to make the best of the bad situation. We tore up some sagebrush, made a tire, and began preparations for cooking our rabbit. We had a package of salt in the side pocket of the car, and in searching for this we discovered a can of beans in the seat compartment where in the haste of our departure they had been overlooked. With the finding of the vegetable our spirits aviated, but we decided to save the beans for the morrow.
On a crude spit whittled from a piece of buckthorn, on which we turned it with a screw driver, our rabbit roasted beautifully. We ate it with a relish such as we had never experienced even with a Thanksgiving dinner. While it was a supper that was lacking in some of the essential details, it was far better than no supper at all. We ate only half of the meat. The balance was carefully wrapped in a paper and packed away for further needs.
We then scraped out a shallow trench in the sand and lined it with sage leaves. Then with a sip from the canteen we turned in for the night with our coats and the sidecar cover and flood mat as our only bedding. It was one of those dry, cloudless desert nights with no dew, and a sky so clear that we saw millions of stars we had never seen before. All of them seemed so low in the heavens as to be in actual danger of bumping against the mountain tops.
A wolf howled off in the distance, and a burrowing owl screeched and hooted from a point startlingly near. But a death-like silence soon reigned over the desert, and we slept soundly until daybreak.
We could spare no water for toilet purposes so we scrubbed our hands with stand, combed our hair and let it go at that. We then heated our beans in the can and proceeded to breakfast. It was an elaborate menu—beans and cold sliced roast rabbit.
We were sitting opposite each other on pieces of sage log finishing the last bites of the food when with the calmness of a person excusing herself from the breakfast table, the wife’s hand crept back toward the automatic pistol in her belt. Then speaking softly but sternly she said, “If you value your life don’t move.” Goose bumps rose on my flesh, and for an instant I wondered if the girl had gone mad. But then noticed that her eyes were focused apparently at my feet. “Don’t more, don’t move,” she murmured.
By this time the pistol was in her hand, and its black muzzle swung slowly around toward me. A chill shot up and down my spine. “Don’t move, don’t move,” she murmured again, and in the fraction of a second that followed, but which seemed like hours to me, the muzzle of the automatic crept downward until I fancied that its front sight was pointed at my feet. Then the weapon flashed. Sand was thrown over me by the shot. Something squirmed against my shoes, and a sigh of relief from the wife told that the danger was past. There in the very spot where my feet had rested was the writhing form of a rattlesnake. We thank God for the hours and ammunition spent in pistol practice. The wife’s bullet had shattered the reptile’s head. A couple more bullets made sure that the snake was dead. It was of the cottonmouth desert species, the most venomous serpent known. It was four feet long and had ten rattles.