Up the N202 Trail

After a few false starts trying it on my own, I found some friends from the dog park who were willing to take the back road up to Big Bear, one of whom knew exactly how to get there.

Where I live is in the Morongo Basin which, as the name implies, is like a dinner plate up three thousand feet (1km) in the mountains and is surrounded on all sides by higher mountains. Near the top of one of those mountains, to the west, is the ski and resort town of Big Bear, which also features a lake. Actually, there are two lakes, one a reservoir, but because of the drought, it's dried up.

There are, of course, a couple highways up there from various directions, and they are all nice mountain routes with all the curves and trees you'd expect. But there's also a well known trail from the SW part of the basin to the summit, N202. I'm not sure exactly, but it may be a fire break or fire trail, or just an offroad trail and until the 1950s was the only way to get to Pioneer Town. There's now a nice paved road to get there from Yucca Valley, the biggest town in the basin and only several miles farther SW of Pioneer Town.

So, if you don't feel like driving around to the north or south of the mountain range that's topped by Big Bear mountain and have something that can make the twenty mile climb, you can take the direct route up N202.

I'm told that one woman used to make the trip twice a day to get to work in her Chevy Nova, but I think you'd be more comfortable doing it in something with some ground clearance, something like a Jeep.

We all have Jeeps, but the guy who knew the route chose to ride shotgun in the Jeep owned by the other guy, a much newer and nicer Jeep than mine, I might add, and also a few models up the scale from my vanilla one.

After we assembled in Pioneer Town, we headed off to Rimrock, a small community a couple miles north, and the end of paved roads and the start of trail N202. In the distance we could see the mountains we were to tackle, and I patted Rama's dashboard and scratched my pups' ears, wishing us all luck.

We turned left, got to the end of the pavement, and began the journey.

As you can see, the trail starts off easy enough, just a dirt road, really, and stays like that for several miles as it passes by the occasional home or ranch.

There is some traffic, though, but no bad ruts or anything that threatens your suspension. The trail gets slowly, but progressively, rockier the farther up it you go, but neither of us needed to use 4WD on any part of the trip. There were no soft patches, and half the trip was no worse than maybe a poorly maintained dirt road. We kept climbing, but not too high for Joshua Trees to flourish.

Thee scenery out the driver's window, when I tired of looking at "White Leader' (as I called him on my walkie-talkie) looked like this. They usually referred to me as "Yellow Tail," by the way. I figured any eavesdropping militia types might enjoy hearing calls to White Leader, and this area seemed to me like the kind of place they might set  up a compound.

Beyond the limits of the Joshua Trees, we stopped to look around and let the dogs explore. The part of the world that we stopped at looks like this, and here you can also see the guys I traveled with. Eric, the one in the hat, was the one who'd taken this trail in the past and was our guide.

I think one of Tte main reasons Eric had picked this spot for us to look around was because of unusual rock formation in its vicinity

Refreshed after our short stop and anxious to see what else we could discover up the trail, we all got back in our Jeeps and continued climbing.

After some more climbing and probably a stop or two to make sure our kidneys and bladders were still working, we came to the only part of the journey that scared me: an old, abandoned copper mine. The only thing that scared me about it was that my tiny, little pup Sami would want to investigate. If you look closely enough to see her, you'll see she was excited as could be about it. I was worried all the time we were at that spot that she'd get inside and go beyond some boards set up just inside the entrance to keep anything larger than a five pound (3kg) pup out. None of us could get on the other side of the blockade to rescue her, and there were lots of nooks and crannies for her to get stuck or trapped in. Even in the best of times, she's not real good about coming when I call her, but she never ventured more than a couple feet (1m) inside. When not worrying about her, we humans tried to figure out why whoever dug this mine out decided to do it at that particular spot and not a few feet to either side.

Outside the entrance to the mine were some animal tracks. I thought they might be goat, but was corrected and told they were deer tracks. I never saw anything larger than a bunny during the trip, but I'm not much of a wildlife expert or spotter.

Onward and upward! About a third of the route was over patches of fist-sized rocks, which gave me my only concern. I didn't worry about Rama being able to get over them or anything, but that's the kind of thing that can rip a tire to shreds if you're not careful. Over those parts we drove like a pair of little old ladies. Also, as you can see if  you examine the pictures, were many skull sized rocks that we tried our best to drive around. This one, sitting out all by its lonesome, was easy to see and avoid.

Near the end of the trip was the only hazard, only it isn't a hazard at all any more. Before they set up this concrete bridge, there was a gully to traverse, which was especially nasty when it was filled with flowing water. Now it's just another spot to stop and let the dogs out.

After crossing the bridge, we kept climbing, but once again near some private property, some of which showed signs of one of the other things Southern California is famous for that isn't celebrities

On the top of a ravine, I was able to grab a quick shot down toward where I live. Landers and the rest of the basin is on the other side of those mountains in the back, but it looked a lot prettier than the picture shows! This happens a lot when I take a photograph.

We finally near the end of the drive, the outskirts of Big Bear, and what remains of the Baldwin Lake reservoir after ten years of drought. You can't see them here, but around the "shoreline" are lots of homes that I'm sure people paid a pretty penny for. I felt sad for them, but with any luck the water will return and they'll once again have a use for their docks.

After over three hours of driving, exploring, and climbing another three to four thousand feet (1km), we got our first view of Big Bear Lake. In the foreground you can see an elevated walkway that now looks pretty useless since there's no water under it. Big Bear is resort spot, filled with shops and eateries and is quite a bit cooler than the desert down below. We stopped at the informative Discovery Center (I bought an atlas) and looked at exhibits of stuffed birds, bears, and other animals, and I learned (but shouldn't have been so surprised) that the underlying mountains and land were all just part of the same desert where I live before being lifted up by activity along the San Andreas fault.

Okay, after suffering through all of that, here's some pics of my pups. It's never very easy to get a good shot of Sami because she's quick and runs around a lot, but she was there with Vinko, who takes his time, looking around to see if anyone's dropped some beef jerky or a steak, and does his best to look like a dog. She tries to blend in with the landscape.

And, after all that, they thought it best to rest up for our next adventure!