Posted by: James Wapotich | December 5, 2016

Trail Quest: Adobe Trail

Sometimes a good hike is one that works out well in the end, in spite of whatever challenges might arise. In fact, it’s that same uncertainty combined with being outdoors that can lift a hike from simply getting some exercise to feeling part of something dynamic and ever changing. It also helps to not take weather predictions too literally.

My plan was to hike Adobe Trail, which is about five miles roundtrip. The weather prediction called for rain starting in the morning and continuing through the day. However, recalling that the last time rain was predicted to start in the morning and didn’t actually arrive until the afternoon, I thought I’d take my chances. Rather than stay home, I figured if I got an early start I might be able to make it to the top of the trail before it started raining.

The Adobe Trailhead is located along State Route 166, which is reached from Santa Barbara by taking Highway 101 north to Santa Maria. Continue past Santa Maria to the exit for State Route 166 East, which is the very first exit as Highway 101 crosses the Santa Maria River.

Adobe Trail Los Padres National Forest Condor Trail hiking backpacking

Scenery along Adobe Trail

State Route 166 leads through the foothills of Temettate Ridge before crossing over the Huasna River as it enters Twitchell Reservoir, which is also fed by the Cuyama River.

Gazing out across the reservoir from the road, I can’t help but notice that it’s completely empty, just plants and grazing cattle. No water whatsoever. Twitchell Reservoir actually has more carrying capacity than Lake Cachuma, but is often empty because its primary purpose is to recharge the groundwater basin and provide flood protection for the Santa Maria Valley downstream. The reservoir is not open to the public.

Past the reservoir, State Route 166 essentially follows the Cuyama River upstream towards the trailhead, as well as all the way to the towns of Cuyama and New Cuyama.

As I continue along road, I look for the landmarks that will help me pick out the trailhead, which is easy to miss. Just past Tepusquet Road, on the right, is Pine Canyon Fire Station, on the left. Roughly four miles past the station, on the right, is the Willow Spring trailhead marked with a sign. From here, I know it’s just two more miles to the Adobe trailhead, which is on the left. Parking is found at the trailhead.

At the parking area, I gather up my gear and notice that there is a fair amount of frost on the ground. To the south, I can see grey clouds continuing to build and crowd the sky, but where I am it’s sunny, and to the north there is still plenty of blue sky. Perhaps the storm will skirt past me to the south.

From the trailhead, the trail quickly gets to work climbing away from the Cuyama River, following a series of switchbacks that lead through sparse chaparral composed of mostly coastal sagebrush, purple sage, yucca, and buckwheat. As the trail climbs, it offers views back down towards the river.

After about three-quarters of a mile, the trail branches. The trail to the right continues uphill along the ridge, while the trail to the left leads into a side canyon. The two trails meet up about a mile later.

Having read that there’s a spring in the canyon, I opt to take the trail through the canyon, saving the ridge route for the hike back out. This worked out well given the relative steepness of the ridge route.

As the trail continues, it transitions into chamise and black sage, and then joins the small creek in the canyon. Here, the trail enters a stand of coast live oak and arrives at the spring. Under the oaks is a cattle trough, fed by a pipe, that catches the slow drip from the spring. Nearby is a second, overturned trough.

Past the spring, the trail follows the dry creek up the canyon, which proves to be one of the more scenic parts of the hike.

The trail then climbs out of the canyon, where it meets the ridge trail. From here, it leads uphill through wild grasses and canyon live oak. As I continue along the ridge, the wind starts to pick up. With each passing cloud and alternating clear sky, I find myself questioning and then praising and then questioning my choice to try beat the storm, until the storm arrives.

The rain begins quickly and doesn’t waste any time settling in. I slip on my rain gear and continue uphill, and within a few minutes arrive at what looks like a jeep road. Looking at the map, I realize that I’ve reached the top of Adobe Trail. The rain is cold, but light enough to keep hiking.

I turn right onto Twin Rocks Road, having heard that there’s a cattle pond that one can find, plus an off-trail route that can be used to make a half-mile loop hike back to Adobe Trail.

Twin Rocks Road descends along a ridge between two canyons, passing through more oak savannah. As I continue, I start to see the earthen dam and dry pond through the trees, in the canyon on my right.

Arriving at a fairly large oak tree overlooking the pond, I continue off-trail, descending towards the dam and quickly join a well-established cattle trail that crosses the dam. On the other side, the trail is less distinct; apparently, the cattle are not able to agree on a single route. I opt to follow a trail leading uphill in a straight line from the dam. The trail soon becomes more established and eventually wraps around the hillside, linking back up with Adobe Trail. The intersection is marked with the trunk of a charred oak.

From here, I make the return hike. As I descend back down the ridge, I start to notice a lot more bird activity. It is still raining, but I suspect the rain might be letting up, since the birds always seem to know about these things in advance. And sure enough within 20 minutes the rain stops completely, and for the balance of the hike, it’s just overcast.

With all of its simplicity, Adobe Trail is also part of a larger route called the Condor Trail.

Back in mid-1990s, Alan Coles envisioned a route across the southern Los Padres National Forest that could be through-hiked, similar to the much longer Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails. The route utilizes existing trails and roads, and as the concept grew and began to take hold, the idea was expanded to create a route that now traverses the entire Los Padres National Forest, connecting both the southern and northern portions of the forest.

Starting in the south at Lake Piru, Condor Trail travels through Sespe Wilderness to State Route 33 in Ventura County. From there, it continues through Santa Barbara County, passing through the Dick Smith and San Rafael Wilderness areas before arriving at State Route 166.

As it approaches State Route 166, Condor Trail follows Willow Spring Trail. From there, it continues along State Route 166 to Adobe Trail and follows it to Twin Rocks Road and continues through the national forest in San Luis Obispo County. The trail then leaves the forest and follows California Coastal Trail up to the northern portion of Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County, where it reenters the forest. The trail ends at Botchers Gap.

Last year, Brittany Nielsen, 30, from San Diego, became the first person to backpack the entire 421-mile route. She started at Lake Piru in May and 37 days later arrived at Botchers Gap. She was supported by “trail angels” who left food and supplies for her at prearranged locations along the route.

Condor Trail was also included in the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced by Representative Lois Capps and Senator Barbara Boxer in 2015. If the act passes, it will add close to a quarter-million acres of new and expanded wilderness areas and designate an additional 159 miles of creeks and rivers as National Wild and Scenic rivers within Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument, as well as make Condor Trail a National Recreation Trail.

Meanwhile, Adobe Trail still makes for a nice day hike, even with a little rain.

This article originally appeared in Section A of December 5th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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