LOCATION – OLD DAM KEEPER’S HOUSE – BIG BEAR, CA

I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. About 1 and a half hours outside of Los Angeles, Big Bear is defiantly the more commercial and thus tourist popular destination in the area. Sadly, this means crowds on weekends can be insane with traffic jams lasting 30-45 mins on the entry to the lake and parking very hard to find.

My wife and I spend a lot of time up in the nearby areas since we purchased a cabin at Lake Arrowhead, about 20 mins west of Big Bear Lake. This thankfully gives me more options to visit Big Bear mid week when its a lot quieter.

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And its a beautiful area well worth the visit. The lake is amazing, as is the town with great restaurants and shops. There are loads of places to stop and take photos, and once Corona is under control here in the US, I plan on spending more time up there to write a proper in-depth article.

Shot with the Hasselblad 503cw and 80mm Planar f/2.8 with Ilford FP4+ ASA125 and orange filter

However there is one lesser known, and I think one of the better photography spots at the lake, the Old Dam Keeper’s House. Built in October 1890, the historically listed cabin was built using hand-cut granite blocks from the same quarry that provided the stones for the original dam at Big Bear.

The panoramic views from the house is amazing and well worth the trip alone.

For nearly a century, this was the home to over a dozen damn keepers and their homilies who, from the amazing vantage point looking out over the lake, kept an eye on the marvel of man-made engineering that at the time was the largest dam in the world.

One of the more colorful characters, the first damn keeper, was Bill Knickerbocker. A local legend who had moved west from Pennsylvania in 1870 was a tree cutter that had a reputation as strong man! One story tells the tale of his trips into the local general store, where he would purchase 100-pounds of quarter-side beef and then walk the four miles home with it thrown over his shoulder!

After the water district purchased the lake in 1977, and the water would no longer be released for irrigation, there was no need for a resident dam keeper. The Cabin has collapsed upon itself, but still offers amazing views of the Big Bear Lake and the structure, made up of its awesome large stones offer wonderful opportunities for photos.

shot this location with both my Hasselblad 503cw and 80mm Planar f/2.8 lens on a number of film stocks along with the digital Leica MP240 and 28mm Summaron lens. My photos were taken in the late October fall season and an amazing fresh snowfall in early November. To me, these are the best times of year up here.

One of the great perks of this location is it is hidden off a small access road that is closed to traffic. Being away from the main road, it seems to go quite unnoticed from the throngs of weekender tourists making it a peaceful and wonderful location for photography.

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