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Alone and freezing: Poison oak and the icy breeze are worth a solo trek along the Adobe Trail this spring

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If you take a deep breath, you’ll miss the turn like I’m doing right now. Wistfully staring at the open gate, I’m driving by it at 60 miles per hour with a semi-truck bearing down on me from behind.

It’s about 20 miles east (ish) from Santa Maria along Highway 166, the second of three trailheads within a few miles of one another. And right now, with cool weather and lavish green hills, is the time to get lost along one of them. Los Padres National Forest land in these parts gets hot, dry, and brown almost as soon as summer hits.

LESS TRAVELED:  Highway 166 meanders through the valley below the Adobe Trail in Los Padres National Forest. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • LESS TRAVELED: Highway 166 meanders through the valley below the Adobe Trail in Los Padres National Forest.

The particular path I’m seeking is the Adobe Trail, and I just parked the only car in the dirt parking area. The reviews are mixed. One website says it’s a mellow hike, and one blogger said the trail kicked his ass. But it’s 2.6 miles one direction and all I can see is green.

Right through the rusty metal gate is a path that climbs. Highway traffic is sporadic and the muddy rush of the Santa Maria River fills the gaps as breezes whip through grass. Switchbacking higher and higher, the trail continues its ascent for three-quarters of a mile. I guess mellow depends on your definition. Pin pricks of purple and yellow cover the path, and tiny heads of orange fiddleneck are only beginning to show. Purple, pink, and white shooting stars wave their heads as my breathing begins to labor.

PURPLE POWER:  Shooting stars scream, “Spring is almost here!” in patches of white, pink, and purple along the Adobe Trail, which heads into Los Padres National Forest from Highway 166. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PURPLE POWER: Shooting stars scream, “Spring is almost here!” in patches of white, pink, and purple along the Adobe Trail, which heads into Los Padres National Forest from Highway 166.

This is what I’m talking about! Finally, a break in the rain. A chance to bask in what a winter of wet can bring to (almost) spring. Highway 166 stretches toward Cuyama, getting smaller as I go higher. And abruptly, the overgrown path veers into a canyon, descending toward the faint trickle of a seasonal stream. Poison oak greets my grateful footsteps, hovering under the shade of live oaks next to the trail that cuts back and forth across the stream for half a mile before rising once again through fragrant sage and chaparral.

And rising, and rising, and rising. No switchbacks. Only steady ascent for about a mile up a grassy, oak-studded ridgeline. Gray and white bark, leafless scraggles, and broken branches play moody and black against the cloudy skies. I muse that these trees are probably dead, lost causes to the drought that starved them of the water they needed to survive.

WATER?:  Yes, it’s here. It’s finally here. This seasonal creek is flowing through the canyon that Adobe Trail drops hikers in and out of on its way up to Twin Rocks Road—which is more of a Jeep trail than a road. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • WATER?: Yes, it’s here. It’s finally here. This seasonal creek is flowing through the canyon that Adobe Trail drops hikers in and out of on its way up to Twin Rocks Road—which is more of a Jeep trail than a road.

Rain threatens the end of the day as I turn back from the Adobe Trail’s apex at Twin Rocks Road—which looks like an old 4x4 trail—into the icy wind and down the slope. Every direction is the same. Hills, green with life; snaggle-toothed oaks; and the soft breath of a cold breeze sweeping across the grass.

Editor Camillia Lanham is grateful for public access to federal lands like the Los Padres National Forest. Email her at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

FIND THE ADOBE:  	The Adobe Trail is about 5 miles round trip, although my iPhone’s step tracker seems to feel that it’s closer to 7, with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Get to it by driving east on Highway 166. About 20 miles from Nipomo, look for a dirt parking area on the left.
  • FIND THE ADOBE: The Adobe Trail is about 5 miles round trip, although my iPhone’s step tracker seems to feel that it’s closer to 7, with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Get to it by driving east on Highway 166. About 20 miles from Nipomo, look for a dirt parking area on the left.

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