Hit the Road

More summertime fun in Big Bear

Holloway’s Marina on Big Bear Lake hasn’t even opened for kayaking yet — the water is too cold, according to the manager — but she is kind enough to bend the rules for us.

This female mountain lion is one three sisters brought to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo in 2002 after their mother was shot by a rancher. One of the triplets died at age 2 from a form of cancer, but the other two, Cascade and Canyon, are doing well but cannot be returned to the wild. The zoo had its origins in 1959 after a fire devastated the San Bernardino National Forest and many animals needed rescuing. Most were rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Zoo supporters are raising money to move the facility to a roomier, 10-acre parcel nearby. [Photo by Jerry Ondash]The Big Bear Alpine Zoo has a dozen timber wolves, which can live in captivity up to 18 years (six to eight in the wild). In 2009, nine pups were born at the zoo. Although the zoo had a breeding permit, all of the wolves have been fixed. [Photo by Jerry Ondash]If it’s action adventure you want, Action Aqua Flight at Big Bear Marina offers  flyboarding, which allows riders to soar above the water. Promoters say that it is easier to fly than comparable jet pack rides. An industrial-type hose connects the flyboard to a Waverunner, which creates the pressure. Flyers can reach up to 15 feet. The instructor controls the height, and the flyer controls the direction. [Photo courtesy of Action Aqua Flight]The Knickerbocker Mansion, built in the early 1900s, is an intricate part of the history of the Big Bear area. It was constructed by William Knickerbocker, a woodsman who arrived in the region in 1901 to mine for gold. Tales about “Knick” rival those of Paul Bunyan. The bed-and-breakfast is just a few blocks from the heart of the town of Big Bear Lake. [Photo by Jerry Ondash] Stan Miller, owner of the Knickerbocker Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Big Bear Lake, felt compelled to save the historic log home when it was threatened by foreclosure and destruction. The long-time sound engineer welcomes guests when he’s not on the road with singer Neil Diamond and other big-name artists. [Photo by Jerry Ondash]

She sets a couple of brightly colored kayaks in the water and we climb in — carefully. I check; yes, the water is cold, but on this cloudless morning, the lake and surrounding countryside look as if they are in high-def — perfect for an hour’s paddle.

It’s hard to imagine that this manmade lake was once a valley. Big Bear Lake was created when a damn was built in the late 1880s. It took a while, but the valley eventually filled with snow run-off, which the lake depends on even today.

“The lake was considered one of the great wonders of the world back then,” Jim Lyon, a local historian and search-and-rescue leader, told us earlier.

With Big Bear’s ski slopes now barren and daily temperatures rising (at 6,750 feet, it rarely gets over 80 degrees here), area residents and businesses are gearing up for spring, summer and fall. The activities list is nearly endless and there’s something for everyone, regardless of age or interest.

Our serene hour on the lake brings us across the path some coots, black-feathered, yellow-beaked birds that bob on the water. They probably take for granted the beautiful 360-degree view, but we don’t. The mountain peaks around us, still frosted with snow, look like a painting. A bit later, we come across some “fishermen” with wicked looking crossbows who are hunting for the lake’s biggest pests — carp. It’s open season on these invasive fish and these guys are on the hunt.

Of a bit different temperament is Stan Miller, owner of the Knickerbocker Mansion. A sound engineer for singer Neil Diamond (and other big names) for 45 years (he’s still at it), Miller arrived in Big Bear 14 years ago to find the historic property in foreclosure.

“It had sat empty for years,” he explains. “I felt I had to save it. It would’ve been bulldozed. We don’t have much history in this country compared to Europe. We need to preserve what we have.”

The mansion was built by the first damkeeper, William Knickerbocker, a woodsman who arrived in the region in 1901 to mine for gold. Tales about “Knick” rival those of Paul Bunyan. He eventually married, had five children and built the mansion from logs he felled himself.

Miller made some expensive additions and modifications to transform the 4,500-squaqre-foot log home into a welcoming bed and breakfast. We spent two nights in the spacious-but-cozy third-floor “penthouse,” complete with a wood-burning stove. It was the perfect location to witness a spectacular thunder and lightning storm that produced more than an inch of hail on our large deck. All signs of the storm had disappeared by morning.

The weather was perfect during our visit to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, originally a rehabilitation facility for animals that were injured in the devastating 1959 wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest. A few of the animals were too injured to return to the wild, and the facility became their permanent home. Today, the zoo continues its rehab mission and returns 90 percent of the animals to the wild. Still, its current residents represent 85 species of birds and animals, including a three-legged black bear named Hucklebeary, who devoured several heads of lettuce while we watched.

A stroll through the grounds provides an up-close-and-personal experience with bears, mountain lions, wolves, bald eagles and all sorts of smaller mammals and birds.

For information about activities, dining and lodging at Big Bear Lake, visit bigbear.com, or call (800) 4-BIG-BEAR (800-424-4232).

Stay two or more nights at a participating lodge and get a gas card worth $50 to $100, and qualify for a drawing for a $500 gas card.