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Carefree in the Canyon : Hiking in Ed Davis Park takes visitors through diverse scenery, from lush woods to desert-style terrain--and all just a hop from the freeway.

June 09, 1995|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard writes regularly for The Times

NEWHALL — To be in two places at the same time has pretty much been ruled an impossibility. But maybe the next best thing would be to spend half a day enjoying the wide variety of landscapes that all lie within the same park--Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon. When you first enter this little-known wild area near Santa Clarita, you'll find open grassy meadows with a rushing stream. Hiking along the park's mountain trail, you'll feel the contrast of moving through lush, shady woods filled with trees and vines, and rugged, desert-like terrain offering vistas of the surrounding mountains and canyons.

A few hours in the park will allow you to commune with nature and clear your head. Ironically, the park is not far from the rat race of one of Southern California's busiest roads, the Golden State Freeway.

9 a.m.: An information booth near the parking area can provide background about the park and its natural wonders.

The mountains of the park were pushed up from a warm sea about a million years ago. The Earth's movements exposed large oil deposits, which attracted some of the canyon's first humans. The Tataviam Indians used the petroleum for medicinal purposes and to waterproof baskets.

Towsley Canyon was named for oilman Darius Towsley, who arrived at the end of the Civil War. The park within the canyon was named for former state Sen. Ed Davis, who authored legislation in 1989 that provided funds for the purchase of Towsley Canyon by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for use as public parkland. The legislation also added the Santa Clarita Woodlands to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's expanded Rim of the Valley Corridor.

From the information booth, cross a small bridge stretching across Towsley Creek. A gravel path leads through a picnic area to the Sonia Thompson Nature Center. The center is usually locked, but visitors may ask a park ranger to open the facility, which offers extensive information through hands-on exhibits. Here, you can touch wild seeds, fossils and rocks, snakeskin, rabbit fur and the skulls of an opossum and a gray fox. In addition, a stuffed great horned owl "flies," suspended from the ceiling; a bobcat, ears alert, seems to hiss, and a huge mountain lion looms, seeming to prowl along a mountain ridge. Footprints of animals are painted along a wooden shelf so you can identify tracks on the trail in the park.

In the center of the room, a topographic relief map of the Santa Susana Mountains offers a sense of the geographic proportions of the region. Historical articles, including reproductions of Native American artifacts and 19th-Century ranchers' tools, add perspective to the natural exhibits.

10 a.m.: Just east of the nature center, a sign notes the start of the Canyon View Loop Trail, a winding two-mile path that gradually ascends to approximately 2,600 feet. Hikers shouldn't be intimidated by the trail's length or height because the walk passes painlessly with so many delights to see.

On the incline for half of the route, shady and cool because of abundant flora, you'll pass through spots so thick with trees, grasses, moss and other vegetation, you may feel as if you're journeying through another part of the country. At certain points, you'll step out of the shade and see expansive views of the canyon. Heavy rains have fostered an enormous bounty of plant life, including wildflowers, purple sage and yerba santa. You'll also see and hear an array of songbirds.

At the top point of the route, you'll see the freeway as well as Santa Clarita and land far beyond. You might also notice circling red-tail hawks.

From here, you'll descend into Wiley Canyon along a different kind of trail. It's sunnier, with higher temperatures and vegetation more in tune with desert landscapes. Small lizards scuttle across the trail.

You'll connect with Wiley Canyon Trail, a wider dirt path, at the bottom of the hillside. If you're warm, you can splash your hands in the stream flowing here.

Continue along this trail another half a mile or so until you reach the dirt road leading back into the park.

11 a.m.: About a tenth of a mile south of the park entrance, a small paved road leads to a covered wagon with a sign declaring, "Moe's Trading Post." Moe's is part petting zoo, part antique and memorabilia shop and part Native American craft store. A large corral is home to an odd assortment of barnyard bedfellows, including a potbellied pig, chickens, turkeys, pygmy goats, a peacock and pigeons. Native American jewelry and art as well as antiques and collectibles are for sale in the small store.

While shop hours are posted as 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, appointments to check out Moe's Trading Post during the week may be made by calling (805) 255-7969.

11:30 a.m.: For lunch, you can drive a few miles north on the Golden State Freeway, and by taking the Lyons Avenue exit, you'll find what is affectionately known as "Hamburger Hill."

You can have your lunch here at a Burger King, McDonald's, Jack in the Box and others, or you can pick up lunch and head back to the park's picnic areas to eat.

Food always seems to taste better eaten outdoors.

Better yet, pack a picnic ahead of time so you won't have to leave the peace of this natural setting.


Where and When

What: Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon.

Location: 24255 The Old Road, Newhall.

Getting There: Take the Golden State Freeway north and exit on Calgrove Boulevard. Turn west, drive half a mile to the entrance of the park and turn right. Travel another half a mile on a dirt road until you reach the parking lot near the nature center.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily.

Call: (805) 255-2974.

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