For the weekend of 4th of July, we've made a short trip to Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino mountains. Big Bear is the most densely populated area in a National Forest, and it showed... both the village and the lake were pretty crowded. It reminded me of the alpine villages of Ruhpolding and Reit im Winkl in high season, with some (maybe charming) Greek rural messiness mixed into it. :P
Unfortunately, the region suffered from a pretty bad heat wave just the weekend we visited, so our hiking activity was somewhat limited (usually, it's much colder there in summer, which is the reason why we went there first place.)
We started a hike to Gray's Peak at 8am in the morning and that was ok, temperature-wise, and crowd-wise, too - the trail makes a turn around a ridge after some 20-30 minutes of hiking and the constant buzz of motor boats and jet-ski's on the lake fades away.
The flora couldn't be more different from the Bavarian and Austrian alps that I've hiked for such a long time. The forest is light and there's usually a lot of space between the trees (which are tall pines, somewhat similar to Laguna Mountains), but where there's grass and humid forest soil in the alps, there's a bed of gravel and granite bolders in this mountain range. Quite unusual for my eyes. Here's a photo:
Strange Forest (NIKON D700, 1/100s @ ISO 200; f/8, 30 mm (in 35mm)
Late in the afternoon, we paid a visit to one of the oldest Lodgepole Pines in the world: the approximately 450 years old "Champion Lodgepole Pine" near Bluff Mesa and we have to admit: it's not quite as spectacular as the hiking guides and descriptions make you think it is. But here's a photo, anyway:
Champion Lodgepole Pine (NIKON D700, 0.8s @ ISO 200; f/8, 24 mm (in 35mm)
The small pine on the right is about 2m (7 ft.) tall, the big "twin-tower" in the background about 33m (110ft.)
Since this short short hike is on the south side of the hills surrounding Big Bear lake, it's more lush and green than the sun-dried north side of the Gray's Peak hike, and reminded me much more of the European alps. It keeps filling me with wonder and fascination how different the landscape and vegetation around here is within very very short distances: between the dry gravel forest floor of the first picture to the lush green meadows of the second one it's just a 30 minute drive.