Posted by: James Wapotich | March 31, 2018

Trail Quest: The Trails of Edgar B. Davison, Part 1

In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act was passed which allowed the President to create forest reserves on land in the public domain, the forerunners of today’s national forests.

In 1897, the Forest Service Organic Administration Act was passed, which defined how the reserves would be administered and the criteria for their creation. The purpose of the reserves was to protect and preserve timber resources and the water supply within those areas. The act also allowed for the hiring of rangers and other personnel to administer and manage the reserves, as well as opening the land to public use.

In 1898, Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Reserve was the first reserve created in our local area. A year later Santa Ynez Reserve was created. In 1903, they were combined into a single reserve. In 1906, San Luis Obispo Reserve and Monterey Reserve were created. Two years later, forest reserves became national forests; San Luis Obispo Reverse was combined with Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake and Santa Ynez Reserve, to create Santa Barbara National Forest. In 1919, Monterey National Forest was added to Santa Barbara National Forest, and in 1938, its name was changed to Los Padres National Forest.

Ranger Edgar Davison Fir Canyon Davy Brown Trail Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Section of trail orginally built by Edgar B. Davison through Fir Canyon

Among the duties of those early rangers was fire suppression as means to protect the local watersheds and resources. This included building and maintaining trails to provide access to the backcountry. They were also responsible for ensuring that no illegal grazing of livestock took place and that people with homestead claims within the reserves were fulfilling the requirements laid out in the 1862 Homestead Act.

In 1898, Ballard resident, Edgar Billings Davison became one of the first rangers in our area serving in the Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Reserve. He had helped build both the schoolhouse and church in Ballard.

His patrol area included the trails along the north side of Figueroa Mountain down to and including Manzana Creek.

Davy Brown Creek Trail Fir Canyon Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Small cascade and pool along Davy Brown Creek

From Ballard, he would bring in his supplies by wagon to where the road ended or became impassable and from there load up his pack animals and ride up one of the canyons to reach the top of the San Rafael Mountains. From there his route typically led him over Mount Bliss, later renamed Ranger Peak, and down into Munch Canyon where he headquartered at the cabin of C. E. Munch.

At that time the route through Blue Canyon was considered inaccessible, but he found a way to build a trail through the canyon and later renamed it Fir Canyon, after the bigcone Douglas fir that can be found there.

Davison called the new route Blue Point Trail, likely a reference to the large out-cropping of serpentine at the top of the canyon. The trail is better known today as Davy Brown Trail and connects from Figueroa Mountain Road down to Davy Brown Campground.

Blue Point Fir Canyon Davy Brown Trail Figueroa Mountain Serpentine Los Padres National Forest

“Blue Point” near the top of Fir Canyon

About a mile from the top of the canyon, Davison built a cabin, which he also used a base for patrol and trail maintenance, depending on which part of his area he was working in.

The cabin site, as well as the trails he built and patrolled can still be visited today. A hike along the length of Davy Brown Trail is about six miles round trip. The hike can be made into a partial loop hike with a visit over to Willow Springs, which adds another half-mile. A map of the trails around Figueroa Mountain can be found on Los Padres National Forest website,, under Maps & Publications or here.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 to Los Olivos and turn onto Figueroa Mountain Road and continue a mile past Figueroa Mountain Campground to the pullout for Davy Brown Trail.

Conifers fir canyon davy brown trail hike Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara County

Fir Canyon conifers

From the trailhead, the trail leads down into Fir Canyon and quickly enters a mixed forest of grey pines, coast live oak, canyon live oak, and bigcone Douglas fir, with an understory of ceanothus, manzanita, and scrub oak. It is a place of vitality, that benefits from its elevation and location on the north side of the mountain. The creek has water flowing intermittently year round, and along the creek are alder, willow, and maple, all of which make for spectacular scenery in the fall.

About a mile from the top of the canyon the trail arrives at the intersection with Munch Canyon Connector and Willow Springs Spur Trails, both of which were built by Davison. Here, on the west side of Davy Brown Creek, Davison built his cabin.

Nothing remains of the cabin, but there is a commemorative plaque set in a serpentine boulder marking the site.

As a ranger, Davison was paid $60 per month and was required to supply his own horse and pack animals, gear and supplies. He was expected to put in an 8-hour day doing patrol and trail maintenance. House keeping and time spent feeding and taking care of his animals was to be done after hours. He was also required to keep a daily diary of his activities and whereabouts, which he had to ride into town each month to mail to his supervisor for review.

In his first week as a ranger, Davison fought and controlled a fire burning in Fir Canyon. As part of his fire suppression activities, he would clear cones and needles away from the base of pine trees, as well as clear space between the trees. He also posted fire warning notices at various locations in town and along the trails.

Roberts' Miner Cabin Fir Canyon Davy Brown Trail Los Padres National Forest Figueroa Mountain

Roberts’ Cabin site in Fir Canyon

Continuing from the cabin site down through Fir Canyon, the trail soon arrives at a second cabin site. This one an old miner’s cabin, set against the hillside near a small clearing along the creek.

Here, the rock type changes from Monterey shale which dominates the upper portion of the canyon to serpentine related material. In the creek are rocks and boulders with a subtle blue color, which is likely how the canyon originally came to be known as Blue Canyon.

As the trail descends it starts to transition into chaparral and the views open up out towards Hurricane Deck. The trail is steep at times and can be a workout hiking back up.

At about the 2.25-mile mark, the trail arrives at the intersection with Willow Springs Trail. From here it’s less than a mile downstream along Davy Brown Trail to Davy Brown Campground.

Cascade pool Fir Canyon Davy Brown Trail Los Padres National Forest

Cascade and pool along Davy Brown Creek

Just past the intersection, look for a short side trail that leads to the creek. The trail arrives at the top of a medium-sized cascade and pool that usually has some water in it year round.

From here, Davy Brown Trial, starts to level out and can make for a pleasant hike, except for the poison oak, down to Davy Brown Campground.

Returning along Willow Springs Trail provides a chance to see more of Davison’s handiwork. The trail doubles back along the creek from the juncture and then follows a ridge between two side canyons as it steadily climbs uphill.

As the trail nears the spring, an empty water trough can be seen from the trail. It’s hard to tell if the spring is flowing or not, but just past the trough the trail arrives at the juncture with Willow Springs Spur Trail, which leads over to the cabin site to complete the loop.

From this juncture, Willow Springs Trail continues to the top of the San Rafael Mountains. The trail wraps its way around the mountain westward and ties into Catway Road. This mile-long section of trail was also built by Davison.

Hurricane Deck Davy Brown Trail Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Hurricane Deck is seen from Davy Brown Trail

When Davison first starting working as a ranger, the best route to Zaca Lake was to continue down Davy Brown Creek to Manzana Creek. And from there, follow Manzana Creek downstream to Sulphur Springs Trail and ride the trail to the top of the mountains at Cedros Saddle and continue down to the lake.

As part of his trail work, Davison built a more direct route from Willow Spring along the top of the San Rafael Mountains, likely following a route similar to Catway and Zaca Ridge Roads. The route he built with Ranger John Libeu cut across the southern face of Zaca Peak, just as the route still does today, and along Zaca Ridge and down to the lake.

In 1901, Davison was laid off as a ranger. He worked various jobs, while hoping to be reinstated.

A year later, not only was he reinstated, he was also given a raise. With a salary of now $75 dollars a month he felt he had the means to marry his sweetheart, Grace Lyons, who was a school teacher in Ballard.

The couple honeymooned at Davison’s cabin in Fir Canyon.

This article originally appeared in section A of the March 19th, 2018 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Manzanita blossoms flowers Fir Canyon Davy Brown Trail Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara County

Manzanita blossoms

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