"You wanna go to a place where there isn't a lot of people?" my friend asked.
"It's a surprise," he said.
It was summer. We packed up our fried chicken and a bottle of water, our hats and sunscreen.
"Don't forget your hiking shoes," he said.
It took us about an hour from Los Angeles to drive up California 18 around the south side of Lake Arrowhead going east. The lake was much bigger than I had expected, but we didn't stop.
We turned onto Hook Creek Road to the village of Cedar Glen. It's a charming little mountain town with a grocery store, gas station, neighborhood stores and a restaurant, the Hook Creek Inn, with lace curtains and a country atmosphere.
Sweet as Pie
I expected the grim tourist-trap behavior that waitresses in such locales are wont to demonstrate, but no, she was as sweet as pie. And the pie, lemon meringue, oh, was it delicious! Then we expected a fat price for such loveliness. No, the prices were lower than they are in the San Fernando Valley.
It was easy to forget the city even in Cedar Glen, surrounded by the thick pine forest. After our pie and coffee we set out for Crab Flats, continuing on Hook Creek Road, a winding dirt road, for about three miles that seemed like six. The road is full of holes and rocks, but it is passable without a four-wheel-drive vehicle if you're careful.
Then the creek became evident on our left. We drove on and parked at the end of the road near a natural bathing pool surrounded by large, slippery rocks and a small beach, but there were other people there. We wanted solitude.
We followed the creek back to where we had parked our car, grabbed our gear and hiked down the hillside to a stream secreted in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sounds and Scents
The only sounds we heard were our footsteps, the birds announcing our arrival, the quiet tremolo of the water traveling over the rocks. Our nostrils were filled with the aroma of pine and the damp smell of mud and moss. Water striders skimmed the clear water.
I walked out to investigate, stepping into the cool water to test it for swimming, but it was too shallow and the silt on the bottom was easily stirred. I looked down to watch the little clear fish, almost invisible in the pool, then I saw it . . . gold!
We spent all day like upside-down L's with bottle in hand collecting layered golden mica bits. We reached in slowly, carefully, to keep from disturbing the bottom. Sometimes we would reach down for the gold flakes, but the water distorted our perception and our fingers would come up empty. Fun.
Our minds were so occupied with the capturing of the gold bits that we forgot what it was that we had come up here to forget. It was similar to collecting seashells at the ocean: They are treasures when you find them, but when you get them home, no one seems to understand their value and you can never explain.
When our stomachs growled we stopped for lunch. Seated on the warm rocks, we took off our hats to feel the breeze that occasionally crossed our brows.
A bird with a topknot came by to see what we were having for lunch. We shared our biscuits with him. I stopped eating for a moment.
"Do you hear that?" my friend asked.
"I don't hear anything."
"Exactly," he said.
The creek travels down to Lake Arrowhead where there are about a dozen wading pools, waterfalls and a natural rock slide. In winter, the pool at the end of the road is crowded with trout, a fisherman's paradise.
In spring the wildflowers change the landscape into a watercolor painting. Farther up the creek are camping facilities at Fisherman's Camp. But where we went, there is no overnight camping, no drinking water and no toilet facilities, and no people, which is precisely why we went there.
After you drive all that way, what is there to do there? Nothing. Dream, meditate, heal your tangled mind. Then the sound of the wind in the trees and the need to put on a jacket tells you it's time to go home.
You pack up the car, murmur a private goodby to the creek, and wind down the road to Cedar Glen where you have to stop once again at the Hook Creek Inn for coffee and a snack and a friendly, "Come back soon, folks!"