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DOWN AND DIRTY

Silverwood Lake's quiet allure

March 11, 2007|Scott Doggett | Special to The Times

Hesperia, Calif. — IT seemed like a scene one would encounter only in wilderness hundreds of miles from the nearest human: a bald eagle soaring above jagged bluffs, riding thermals with barely a flap of her outstretched wings, the bluest sky and cotton-ball clouds as a backdrop. But the location was just a couple of hours' drive northeast of L.A. -- Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area.

Soon the eagle and other birds that winter at Silverwood Lake will migrate to Canada's Northwest Territories, but on this day in late February she's scanning the man-made reservoir for a fish to take back to her nest. And she's not the only one fishing.

From boats and a rocky shoreline and the wooden planks of a small marina, dozens of people bundled in warm clothing defy blasts of 40-degree wind as they make repeated attempts to convince a fish that a hook and a hank of hair are edible.

The 2,400-acre recreation area in the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest, home to mountain lions and black bears, contains two sweeping beaches, 11 miles of paved bike trail and nearly three miles of maintained hiking trails (including part of the Pacific Crest Trail), but this morning nearly everyone here is hoping to land a black, striped or largemouth bass, a rainbow trout or a big ol' catfish.

A half-mile or so from the lake, about 25 recreational vehicle campers and a handful of tent campers occupy three dozen of the 136 campsites at the recreation area.

As campsites go, these are nothing special; they lack the privacy found at other campgrounds and many have slope issues. Many of the nearby trees are dead and black, victims of the catastrophic wildfires that swept through in 2003.

But most of the campers were return visitors or first-timers craving the quiet.

Besides good fishing, the birding is terrific (221 known species), the bike paths are smooth and offer picturesque vistas and rides through stands of ponderosa pine, white fir and black oak, and waterskiing is permitted on the lake. But the scorched trees are a sad sight.

The fishing can be great, especially from February through early June (when there are few boaters), and there's nothing quite like seeing a bald eagle in flight; they visit the lake from November through March.

Major grunt: RVers and car campers aren't divided at this campground, and RVs tend to be a little noisier than many car campers like.

Campsites 66 to 75 are on flat ground amid mature trees and beside a large grassy area that's perfect for picnics and tossing Frisbees or balls.

View-wise: Campgrounds with the best views are the handful set aside for bike and hike campers, followed by sites 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 18.

Be advised that sites 3, 4, 8 and 9 slope too much to be comfortable; 32, 33, 47 and 48 are directly under power lines; and 34 to 47 sit amid dense scorched brush.

Sites 81 to 89 are in a manzanita forest; the deep-red trunks are a pleasing sight.

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Setting up camp

BASICS

Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area has 136 campsites, each with a table, barbecue grill and access to bathrooms and showers. Day use fees: $8 for parking, $8 for boat, $3 for dock fishing. Campsites: $25 May to midSeptember; other months, $20.

DRIVE TIME

The recreation area is at 14651 Cedar Circle, Hesperia, Calif. From L.A., take Interstate 10 east to Interstate 15 north and then onto California 138. The drive takes about two hours.

INFO

To reach the park, (760) 389-2303; www.parks.ca.gov. To make reservations, call (800) 444-7275; www.reserveamerica.com.

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