Posted by: James Wapotich | February 16, 2015

Trail Quest: Nichols Adobe Site

While little remains of Nichols’ “Squat” Adobe, the hike to the site provides an opportunity to explore the Santa Ynez Mountains near Gaviota. The adobe site is roughly a mile east of Gaviota Peak, near the top of the San Onofre Creek drainage, and can be reached via Gaviota State Park.

The hike to the site is about 8.5 miles roundtrip, and offers some great views of the Gaviota Coast. Along the route, one can add on relatively short side trips to Gaviota Hot Springs and Gaviota Peak.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north, past Gaviota State Beach, to the Highway 1 exit. From the exit, turn right and double back along the frontage road, which ends at the trailhead. Parking is $2.00 per vehicle, per day. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.

Squat Adobe Camp Nichols Trail Los Padres National Forest Gaviota hike

Squat Adobe in an image from the Los Padres National Forest Archive

Squat camp adobe trail hike Los Padres national Forest Gaviota Peak

The site as it appears today, looking in more or less the same direction as the archive image, with Gaviota Peak in the background. The two white arrows point to the approximate location of the southeast and northeast corners of the adobe.

From the trailhead, the hike follows Gaviota Peak Fire Road. The unpaved access road makes its way up the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and provides a drawn out, but steady climb to the top of the mountains.

At about the quarter-mile mark, the road branches. The road to the right, also know as Trespass Trail, curves around to the south, before turning east and becoming more of a single-track trail. The trail then makes its way up the front of the Santa Ynez Mountains toward Gaviota Peak. The route along Trespass Trail is longer, and in several sections overgrown, but can make for an interesting loop when combined with Gaviota Peak Fire Road.

For the hike to the adobe site it is easier to stay to the left, and follow Gaviota Peak Fire Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. A quarter mile past the intersection with Trespass Trail, Gaviota Peak Fire Road crosses a small side creek. It’s here, on the right hand side of the road, that one can find the beginning of the short trail that leads to the hot springs.

The unsigned trail leads through a thriving mix of riparian plants before arriving at a pair of small concrete pools. The pools are said to have been built during the depression as part of a WPA (Works Progress Administration) program. The upper pool is the more inviting, although the temperature could best be described as warm. Nevertheless, the site makes for a scenic detour.

Continuing past the turnoff to the hot springs, the road transitions out of the riparian plants and continues through an open grassy hillside, and then returns to shaded oak woodland.

Squat Camp Los Padres National Forest Hiking Gaviota

The meadow at the Squat Adobe site

As the road continues to climb, it starts to transition into chaparral, with one of the more noticeable plants this time of year being ceanothus. This hearty shrub is currently in bloom, with its little, white flowers, at times, filling the air with a subtle, perfumed scent.

At about the 1.5-mile mark, the road leaves Gaviota State Park and enters Los Padres National Forest, becoming West Camino Cielo Road. The boundary is marked with a weathered, wooden forest service sign.

At about the 3-mile mark, the road arrives at the top of the mountains. From here, a side trail, on the right, continues steeply to the top of Gaviota Peak where one is treated to nearly panoramic views of the area. From this intersection, looking southeast one can actually see the grassy meadow where the adobe site is located. At one time there was even an old road that cut across the front of the mountains to the site; the route has since become badly overgrown.

From the turnoff to Gaviota Peak, continue east along West Camino Cielo, which now travels along the top of the mountains, and offers great views of the coast, and out towards the Channel Islands. To the north, from the road, one can catch glimpses of the San Rafael Mountains including Grass Mountain, Zaca Peak and Figueroa Mountain.

Squat Camp Los Padres National Forest Hiking trail gaviota

Northeast corner of Nichols ‘Squat’ Adobe

The route along the top of the mountains can at times feel like a bit of a roller coaster, as it climbs one rise and descends down the next. As the trail descends down the first of these small hills along the ridge, you may notice a rusted metal sign buried in the brush on the left hand side.

The sign marks the beginning of the 1.25-mile long Campbell Trail. The trail follows the small canyon and creek that parallels the ridge, and rejoins the road at the top of the canyon, past the turnoff to the adobe site.

Campbell Trail was built in the late 1970s by Bruce Campbell, who worked for the forest service. The trail is no longer maintained by the forest service, and has become so badly overgrown that it requires pushing through thick chaparral and at times crawling under brush in order to follow the route. Roughly midway along the trail is Corrie Meadow, which is also marked with a metal sign, and was named after Mr. Campbell’s daughter.

Continuing east along West Camino Cielo, the road gradually makes its way towards the next high point along the ridge, before descending towards the eastern end of Campbell Trail. The turnoff to the adobe site is easy to miss, but is before that next high point. The turnoff to the site is on the right, and follows a trail that descends down the front of the mountains, following a ridge line that’s more or less perpendicular to the road.

The half-mile trail down to the adobe site follows an old road cut that led to the adobe. The road has since become so overgrown that it is now essentially an overgrown single-track trail. The route descends somewhat steeply, before then turning west and continuing to the site.

When the trail does arrive at the site, the first thing one notices is an open meadow, tucked in by a small rise. The adobe site is difficult to locate, as it is now hidden amongst the chaparral. The site is in the southeast corner of the flat, near the oak trees, but not underneath them.

Campbell Trail gaviota Los Padres national Forest hiking

A view of the small side canyon traversed by Campbell Trail

According to local historian E. R. “Jim” Blakley, the one-room adobe was built by Juan Save in the late 1800s. Mr. Save was the owner and manager of Oak Park Dairy in Santa Barbara, but also owned the land where the adobe is located.

Mr. Save later sold the adobe to Charles T. Nichols, who in 1910 became the owner of the nearby Las Cruces Inn. Mr. Nichols is said to have used the site for running cattle. The adobe was later used by G. Raymond Cornelius of Solvang, until the wooden roof burned in the 1955 Refugio Fire. Once exposed to the rain, the adobe walls quickly eroded, until little remained of the structure.

In 2004, the Gaviota Fire burned through the site. Regrowth from the fire is evident along the trail, and has helped conceal what’s left of the adobe. However, one can still find the waist-high remains of the northeast corner of the adobe, hidden amongst the coastal sagebrush and yerba santa,

The site is said to have acquired the name Squat Camp or Squat Adobe because none of its residents lived there for any extended period of time; their occupancy seeming more akin to that of a squatter.

Near the ruin are several large oak trees, which offer a shady place to rest before making the return hike.

This article originally appeared in section A of the February 16th, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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