Cleveland National Forest
"Jim Smith was a talkerno ordinary talker. . . a man given to blasphemous eloquence. When he started cussing. . . he could peel paint off a stove pipe."
The canyon was named for James T. Smith, who was known as"old cussin' Jim" because of his colorful language. A beekeeper who settled in the north fork of Trabuco Canyon, he enlarged a house built in the 1870s and planted figs.
When government surveyors plotted the canyon they chose "Holy Jim," rather than "Cussin' Jim", to place on their maps. They thought this was more appropriate.
The trail to the falls is not difficult. It crosses through Holy Jim Creek many times, rising gently until you reach the fork. At the fork, take the trail to the right for about 1/4-mile. Allow at least 1- 1/2 hours for a relaxed round trip. For the 5 -mile trek to Main Divide, take the left trail at the fork.
Stop 1: Holy Jim's cabin.
Remnants of the stone wall are all that remain of Jim's 1870 house. The house was burned to the ground along with the hundreds of bee hives from which Jim made his living. The original fig orchard was also burned by the fire, but as can be seen, subsequent generations of figs have survived and are numerous in the canyon today.
Stop 2: The Talking Mountain
Looking northwest up to the ridgeline you can see Santiago Peak, or the "talking mountain", named for the many electronic antennaes and transmitting stations at the summit. From Santiago Peak, cellular telephone and microwave signals are transmitted all over the Los Angeles basin.
Santiago Peak was called Kalawpa by the Luiseno Indians, who knew it as the home of a powerful spirit. Later the Spanish named it Santiago Peak, however at 5,687 feet above sea level, it is easily recognized by the local residents who call it, together with its neighbor Modjeska Peak, "Old Saddleback."
Stop 3: Wildfires and Downed Trees
In July of 1908, two hunters failed to extinguish their campfire at the junction of Trabuco and Holy Jim Canyons. The escaped fire swept through both canyons and charred over 4,000 acres. The hunters were apprehended by the Forest Service and fined for the damage their carelessness had caused.
The downed tree you see before you was burned in this fire. Downed trees provide one of the greatest resources in the forest for animals. The slow decomposition of the wood may take up to 500 years to "melt" back into the soil. Meanwhile the log provides
Colonization site for termites, carpenter ants and beetles
Fungi-an important food for wildlife. The downed trees in a forest are as valuable as standing trees.
Stop 4: Picnic Rock.
In the stream you will see a structure made of fieldstone and cement spanning Holy Jim creek. This is a weir or "check dam," created to provide deep pools for fish. The gap in the check dam can be closed off, blocking the water flow and creating a pool behind the dam. The numerous dams were built in the 1950's by California Department of Fish and Game. Picnic Rock is a popular spot to pause on the way back from the falls.
Opposite "Picnic Rock," on the eastside of the trail, is an ancient oak that may be 500 years old.
A short way beyond Picnic Rock is a mulberry tree growing alongside the trail that produces delicious sweet berries during June. Smith may have planted the tree, probably he enjoyed the berries and possibly took them to town to sell.
As the trail rises and bears west, a fork in the trail appears. The left fork leads to the Main Divide Road, a difficult, hot, and dry 5-mile hike. For the short 1/4 mile hike to the falls, take the right fork and follow the creek until you reach the falls.
In the spring months you may see swarms of ladybugs covering the foliage along the trail.
Beekeeping The chief source of income during the early days of the American settler period came from beekeeping. A single beekeeper could maintain up to 100 stands of hives. Honey thefts and hive damage by bears were common in the canyon, and were a significant factor in eliminating the grizzly bear in this area.
Last of the Grizzlie Cussin' Jim's place was one of the last bee ranches in operation in the canyon. Thus, it was a frequent stop of a grizzly bear who was called "the honey thief." During 1907, this old honey thief destroyed 30 bee stands in Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyons. A trap was set for the honey thief, the bear was caught, but escaped with two hunters close behind. The hunters tracked the bear throughout the canyons for a month. The honey thief was finally brought down near the mouth of Trabuco Canyon - he was the last grizzly in the Santa Ana Mountains Forest.
Summer Cabins The cabins visible along the Trabuco and Holy Jim Creeks are privately owned butlocated on National Forest system land by Special Use permit. Most were originally constructed in the 1930s. In the early years of the National Forest, the cabins encouraged the nearby town dwellers to visit the forest for recreational get-aways.
Bear Spring - Main Divide Road Named for the many sightings of grizzly bears in the area, Bear Spring is marked todayby a tank and horse trough, built by the Forest Service for fire fighting and livestock.
Public Land In 1893 President Benjamin Harrison set aside the 50,000 acre Trabuco Canyon ForestReserve to protect the water supply for Orange County. In 1908, the Reserve was combined with other federal lands to become the Cleveland National Forest.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication