High above the north shore of Big Bear Lake, Amber Woodyard, a local guide, stands on one of her favourite trails. The air is fresh, clean and cool, scented by the pine forest that sweeps downhill toward the still, blue water. The view is breathtaking: in the distance, she points out the contours of Mount San Gorgonio, known locally as Old Greyback, the highest peak in Southern California. In the foreground the heavily forested hillsides look much the same as they would have done to this land’s early explorers. But the most remarkable thing about the view is not so much what we can see as what we can’t: a freeway. Take a look in any direction, and from here, it’s hard to believe that the bad-tempered, traffic-clogged arteries of Los Angeles are even on the same planet, never mind less than 100km away. I can’t hear a thing.
“The wilderness is what attracts people here,” says Woodyard, as her dog, Carly, scampers around her well-worn hiking boots. “It’s just so beautiful, and yet so close to LA. Where else in the world can you wake up by the beach and be up in the mountains in the afternoon?”