According to the terms of the Forest Service lease, owners may not live in their cabins full time, John Jones explained recently during a quiet morning in the canyon. Because he is president of the Cabin Owners Assn., he and his wife, Georgie, are the official exceptions to that rule, Jones added, diplomatically refusing to discuss the possibility that other owners may, perhaps, interpret that rule rather loosely on occasion.
Since retiring and moving to the canyon from Norwalk five years ago, the Joneses have had no trouble keeping busy, they said. A glance around their small, homey cabin suggests why.
Take the fixtures and appliances. The hand pump in the sink, the propane lights hanging in a wagon wheel in the living room and the big wood-burning stove probably haven't been referred to as "labor-saving devices" since the turn of the century.
Plenty of Knickknacks
And just dusting and admiring all the knickknacks in the house must take hours. Dozens and dozens of the hats and caps John Jones collects hang from beams in the living room, and coffee pots of every description dangle overhead in the kitchen. Everything from antique toys and tools to a couple of old birds' nests and a pair of mummified crows' feet decorate the cabin's rock wainscotting, and a partially skinned cow skull eyes the room from a door ledge upon which 14 coiled rattlesnake hides sit.
"It's a hobby of mine," Jones said, pulling down a buzz-tail skin that's longer than some men are tall. "I just pick 'em up with my hand. Shhwooop."
Mainly, though, the canyon is a good place to sit back and catch up on the things for which people elsewhere sometimes don't have time, Jones said. For instance: "I hadn't read a book in my life before I moved up here; now I've read hundreds."
In contrast to the Joneses, Mike and Kathy Milligan, who live around the bend in Holy Jim Canyon proper, have pushed the rustic life about as close to modernity as the constraints of the canyon allow. A powerful generator and elaborate battery setup lets them make use of electric appliances or watch video movies on their VCR (commercial television station beams don't penetrate most parts of the canyon). There are limits, though.
No Microwave Oven
"Mike keeps trying to get me to buy a microwave, but I keep saying no," Kathy Milligan said. "Then (the other cabin owners) would really throw us out. They already call this the 'canyon condo,' " she said, gesturing to the interior of the cabin that Mike, who manages real estate investments, built.
For the most part, cabin owners keep to themselves, the Milligans said.
"But if there's ever an emergency, everyone's there," Mike said.
"That's right," Kathy agreed, describing the time recently when Georgie Jones anxiously used the hand-crank phone network that connects the Joneses' cabin with eight others (though not with the outside world) to track down a neighbor who's a registered nurse.
"Georgie's cat was having kittens," Kathy explained.
Probably the best example of this community cooperation is the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, membership in which is automatically extended to anyone who has a cabin in the canyon. With the new roof beams in place and the 1949 GMC pumper back in the fire barn, the volunteers who John Jones had roped into working one recent weekend stood outside for a while talking.
"These are the mountains everyone forgot about--they all went to Big Bear," said Dewie Foulk, whose parents, back in 1939, bought the cabin he now lives in a good part of the time. "But I grew up running in these hills. Holy Jim has always been my place to hang out. Now I'm coming out of a bad divorce and a bad business partnership, and I just came back here to hang out again."
Over the years, public interest in Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyon's Big Cone spruce stands, waterfalls, springs and abandoned mines has waxed and waned, Foulk continued, adding that the peak probably came in the early '70s when, by Foulk's account, "hordes of hippies" set up permanent residence in two Forest Service campgrounds in the canyon, allegedly breaking into local cabins on occasion.
That situation led to what Foulk refers to as "the great redneck-hippie wars"--"We'd go out at night (to the campgrounds) and open the valve on the side of the fire truck; there'd be dogs, kids, sleeping bags all washing down the road"--and a decision by the Forest Service to raze the campgrounds.
Foulk said that with the exception of occasional visits by rowdy dirt bikers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, the flow of visitors to the area now remains steady and fairly peaceful. Earlier in the day, for instance, a parade of seven dirt-encrusted passenger cars had rumbled by. They were filled with well-mannered members of "the Chinese Hiking Assn." ("Where is the gas station?" one woman inquired to the amusement of the volunteers, who are accustomed to driving miles to the nearest gas station.)
Hasn't Changed Much