If it weren't for the San Bernardino Mountains, Los Angeles probably would have sprawled all the way to Phoenix a long time ago. It takes a formidable wall of rock to contain a city the size of L.A., and the San Bernardinos are that.
And the national forest, with its towering oaks and manzanitas, serves as an oasis that protects these mountains as well as those of the San Jacinto Range to the south. Today, rangers have their hands full as the forest receives more visitors than either Yellowstone or Yosemite national parks.
Hikers can explore over 500 miles of trails that penetrate not only the forest's mountain pines, but that also meander through a beguiling landscape of desert flowers. It is this seeming incongruity that makes this forest unique, where desert cactus is juxtaposed against snow-peaked mountains in the distance. And it is the forest's big bodies of water, like Big Bear Lake, that serve as a recreational oasis for parched and thirsty southern Californians.
We can thank President Benjamin Harrison for setting aside 737,280 acres in 1893 to stop the depredations of sheep and the ravages of forest fires that were destroying the mountain watershed. Thank you, Benjie, you're the man.