Posted by: James Wapotich | April 7, 2018

Trail Quest: The Trails of Edgar B. Davison, Part 2

In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act was passed, which allowed the President to create forest reserves on land in the public domain to help protect timber and water resources.

Edgar B. Davison was instrumental, along with other local citizens, in pushing for the formation of what would become Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Reserve. Davison’s articles in the local press about the reserve helped generate interest in the idea and his political contacts helped keep the proposal on track.

In 1898, Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Reserve became the first and largest forest reserve in our area, encompassing more than a million acres and Davison become one its first rangers.

Big Flat Munch Canyon Trail hike Sunset Valley Davy Brown Campground Edgar Davison Los Padres National Forest

“Big Flat” along Munch Canyon Trail

Additional reserves were created in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey counties that were later combined and eventually became what is now known as Los Padres National Forest.

Davison’s patrol area included the north side of Figueroa Mountain down towards and including Manzana Creek. With his pay, he was required to provide his own supplies, pack animals, and food.

Davison would bring in supplies from Ballard by wagon as far as he could and then ride up one of the canyons on the front side of Figueroa Mountain until he reached the top of Ranger Peak, which at that time was known as Mount Bliss.

From there he would ride down through Munch Canyon to the cabin of C. E. Munch, which he used as a headquarters. In his first years as a ranger, Davison built the trail through what is now known as Fir Canyon, providing a better route over the mountains. Near the top of Fir Canyon he built a cabin, which he used in addition to Munch cabin depending on which area he was working in.

A variety of loop hikes can be made using the network of trails on the north side of Figueroa Mountain. A hike from the top of the mountains near the backside of Ranger Peak, down through Munch Canyon and returning through White Rock Canyon is about nine miles roundtrip and provides a chance to see some of the trails Davison patrolled.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 to Armour Ranch Road. From Armour Ranch Road, turn onto Happy Canyon Road and continue to Cachuma Saddle, where it meets Figueroa Mountain Road. Turn left onto Figueroa Mountain Road and continue to the top of the mountains and look for East Pinery Road on your right. A map of the trials around Figueroa Mountain can be found on Los Padres National Forest website,, under Maps & Publications or here.

East Pinery Road is currently closed, but parking can be found at the pullout near the gate. Continue along the unpaved access road a short way to the beginning of White Rock Trail. The road provides great views out towards Hurricane Deck and the Sierra Madres Mountains, and to the east San Rafael Mountain. The route is shaded by a mix of canyon live oak, coulter pines, and bigcone Douglas fir.

Waterfall Munch Canyon Trail Figueroa Mountain Edgar Davison Ranger Los Padres National Forest

Small waterfall in Munch Canyon

East Pinery Road continues another mile past White Rock Trail where it ends in a loop. As part of his work, Davison planted pines along this ridge as well as along Zaca Ridge.

White Rock Trail leaves the road and descends down into White Rock Canyon transitioning into a mix of chaparral dotted with canyon live oak and coulter pines. As the trail continues it transitions from Monterey shale into serpentine rock and arrives at the site of chromite mine.

At the site, one can find a variety of mining equipment and dig holes. Further down along the trail are rusted bed frames, a water heater, stove, and refrigerator, and even the remains of trailer that served as the base camp for the mining operation.

A short ways past the mine, the trail arrives at the intersection with Munch Canyon Trail. Continue left on Munch Canyon Trail as it heads west through mostly chaparral before joining Munch Canyon and continuing down the canyon.

Chromite Mine White Rock Canyon Trail Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest hike

Equipment at Chromite mine in White Rock Canyon

The trail is slightly overgrown but still followable. Look for an off-trail route at one of the creek crossings that leads down to a small waterfall. It requires a bit of rock scrambling, but is not that far from the trail.

From here, Munch Canyon Trail starts to ride above the creek and soon arrives at the intersection with Munch Canyon Connector Trail which leads over to Fir Canyon. Davison built this trail to connect to the cabin and trails he built in Fir Canyon.

When Davison’s pay went from $60 to $75 a month in 1902, he felt he had the means to marry his sweetheart Grace Lyons, who was a schoolteacher in Ballard. The two were married in the church that was built by both their fathers. Both families were early Ballard pioneers.

The newlyweds honeymooned at the cabin in Fir Canyon, riding over the mountains from Ballard. In her book, Beans for Breakfast, Mrs. Davison recalls how a skunk moved into the cabin during their first week and from that point on the couple slept outside under the stars. Mrs. Davison would often join her husband on patrol.

A writer and historian, Mrs. Davison wrote a regular column for the Santa Ynez Valley News, as well as articles for the Santa Barbara News-Press, and is credited with helping create the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society. She is also the author of The Gates of Memory, which describes the early days of the Santa Ynez Valley.

White Rock Trail Edgar Davison hike Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Scenery along White Rock Trail

From the intersection with Munch Canyon Connector Trail. Munch Canyon Trail continues down Munch Canyon through mostly scrub oak and ceanothus, dotted with the occasional grey pine. As the trails continues it starts to follow an old road cut.

The trail then arrives at a locked gate, where it branches. To the left is the connector trail that leads over to Davy Brown Campground. The trail may have been built by Davison as he replaced the old trail through the canyon. As part of his patrol route he would often ride down the canyon to Manzana Creek, and from there either ride up through Lost Valley or down to Sulphur Springs Trail and over to Zaca Lake.

From the intersection, continue along Munch Canyon Trail to a second gate. Here, the trail arrives at the intersection with Sunset Valley Trail at the edge of large, open meadow dotted with valley oaks, which Davison called Big Flat.

At the lower end of the meadow is where C. E. Munch built his cabin. Munch homesteaded here but later gave up his claim. The land became part of the forest reserve and the cabin served as a base for Davison. The cabin was later removed, along with Davy Brown’s cabin, by the forest service.

Munch Canyon Trial continues across the meadow and meets Sunset Valley Road. The road was built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps and leads from Cachuma Saddle to Davy Brown Campground and ends at Nira Campground along Manzana Creek.

From the meadow, continue along Sunset Valley Trail. The trail is mostly level as it continues up the valley under a canopy of oaks transitioning into ceanothus as it makes the final push out of the valley at arrives at Sunset Valley Road.

old car rusting jalopy wreck White Rock Trail hike Figueroa Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Rusting jalopy along White Rock Trail

From here, continue along Sunset Valley Road as it follows Fish Creek upstream to the White Rock Trailhead. From the trailhead, White Rock Trail follows one of the small tributaries of Fish Creek upstream, winding its way up the canyon. Along the way the trail passes the remains of a rusting, old jalopy that managed to get itself stuck there.

The trail then crosses over into White Rock Canyon and continues up the backside of the mountains before arriving back at the intersection with Munch Canyon Trail to complete the loop portion of the hike and make the return to East Pinery Road.

Davison retired from the forest service in 1909, to spend more time with his family. The Davisons had five children and often lived together in the mountains until the kids reached the age where they needed to go to school.

Davison become the caretaker of Oak Hill Cemetery in Ballard, planting the redwoods that are still growing there. The house where they lived in Ballard is still standing and recently became the county’s newest historical landmark.

Davison passed away in 1949. A plaque honoring his service can be found at the Fir Canyon cabin site and another at Oak Hill Cemetery.

It’s said that when people wanted to rename Mount Bliss after him, he instead suggested it be called Ranger Peak, in honor of the service given by all forest rangers.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 2nd, 2018 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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