California State Route 38 is a fifty-nine-mile State Highway located entirety in San Bernardino County and a component of the Rim of the World Highway. California State Route 38 begins at California State Route 18 at Bear Valley Dam of the San Bernardino Mountains and follows an easterly course on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. California State Route 38 briefly multiplexes California State Route 18 near Baldwin Lake and branches east towards the 8,443-foot-high Onyx Summit. From Onyx Summit the routing of California State Route 38 reverses course following a largely westward path through the San Bernardino Mountains towards a terminus at Interstate 10 in Redlands. Pictured as the blog cover is California State Route 38 at Onyx Summit the day it opened to traffic on August 12th, 1961.
Part 1; the history of California State Route 38
California State Route 38 (CA 38) is generally considered to be the back way through the San Bernardino Mountains to Big Bear Lake of Bear Valley. Big Bear Lake lies at an elevation of 6,743 feet above sea level and is accessed by most via CA 18. The development around Big Bear Lake is tied to the finding of gold in nearby Holcomb Valley by William F. Holcomb and Ben Choteau during May 1860. The Holcomb Valley Gold Rush led to an influx of miners who established the town of Belleville. During the prime of Belleville, it was the largest community in San Bernardino County and drove the migration of additional settlers into the San Bernardino Mountains. Despite Belleville declining drastically by 1870 an established population did center itself around Bear Valley.
During the Holcomb Valley Gold Rush a trail along the Santa River Canyon to the southern flank of Bear Valley was established. During 1888 the Mentone & Big Bear Valley Toll Road Company obtained franchise toll rights to construct a Stage Road from Mentone to Thurman's Ranch. From Thurman's Ranch the Mentone & Big Bear Valley Toll Road ended and travelers would have to continue via burro or on foot to the vicinity of Seven Oaks in the Santa Ana River Canyon. From Seven Oaks travelers could continue the established trail to Bear Valley.
During 1899 Gus Knight partnered with local businessmen in Redlands to form the Bear Valley & Redlands Toll Road Company. The Bear Valley & Redlands Toll Road would be constructed through the Santa Ana River Canyon to Hiram Ranch. From Hiram Ranch the Bear Valley & Redlands Toll Road ascended via Clark's Grade where it entered Bear Valley just west of Big Bear City. A photo of Clark's Grade can be seen Big Bear History Site from Rick Keppler collection here.
During 1910 San Bernardino County opted to purchase all of the franchise toll roads to Bear Valley and improve them. By 1915 San Bernardino County completed work on what was known as the "Rim of the World Highway." The Rim of the World Highway ascended from San Bernardino via Waterman Canyon to Bear Valley via Lake Arrowhead. From Bear Valley the Rim of the World Highway descended via what the Bear Valley & Redlands Toll Road to Redlands.
The entire Rim of the World Highway can be seen on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map. From Pine Knot Lodge the Rim of the World Highway can be descending Clark's Grade and the Santa Ana River Canyon towards Redlands. Notably the earliest iteration of the Rim of the World Highway can be seen passing through Holcomb Valley.
The earliest component of CA 38 to enter the State Highway System is the segment north of Big Bear Lake. Said segment of roadway was added as an extension of Legislative Route Number 43 (LRN 43) as part of 1917 Legislative Chapter 697. The earliest definition of LRN 43 was as follows:
"...beginning at a point in the Waterman Cyn at the termination of the pavement of the San Bernardino County highway system, thence following the meanderings of the road known as the "Crest Drive" into the Bear Valley, ending at a point directly opposite the most easterly point of Bear Lake."
The earliest iteration of LRN 43 can be seen as a plotted highway north of Big Bear Lake on the 1918 California Highway Commission Map.
CA 38 on North Shore Road is adorned with "Scenic Highway" placards.