After the Thanksgiving feast, our family is always ready to get outside to burn off some of those heavy calories and take in some crisp autumn air. Phoenix Lake is one of our favorite destinations for its quick access, gentle trails, and easy camaraderie among the community members who enjoy the lake. There is a stream and picnic benches at the base of the dam for the very young and old to linger, and the hike around the lake can be taken slowly or briskly depending on your mood.
After climbing the road to the dam, we like to hike clockwise around the lake, starting along the Bill Williams Fire Road. This flat road can also be a treat for young cyclists who want to bike ahead of their parents; if you plan just an out and back to the end of the road. At the end of Bill Williams Road, the narrow Gertrude Ord Trail goes right, around the lake up the stairs.
The trails meanders through oaks and manzanitas, and passes by some pretty native roses. The roses aren't flowering this time of year, but the petite leaves, and bright orange rose hips provide the landscape with cheery color and texture. The wild rose, Rosa californica, is considered by many a keystone species in the native landscape. The flowers support many pollinating insects, and the rose hips that follow are an important source of food for birds and mammals. I always think that the rose's presence alongside Phoenix Lake is strong evidence that recreation along this trail is in harmony with nature.
The trail eventually transitions from the sunny oak woodlands into a creekside shady environment, complete with redwood trees and ferns. The small creek feeds Phoenix Lake from Fish Gulch, and near the entrance to the lake the shallow waters have transitioned into marshes. The marsh is full of reeds and cat tails that provide shelter, nesting site and materials for hundreds of Red Winged Blackbirds. Fairfax photographer Donald Kinney (whose photos you can see at right) has taken some amazing photos of the cat-tails around the lake. Kinney has a new book out just in time for Christmas of prints of Lagunitas Creek, another of our favorite destinations in winter. We're already planning who will get one for Christmas.
Fantastic photography aside, the hike rounds out by a return along a fire road that passes alongside the marsh area. The sights and sounds of the vibrant marsh community are worth lingering for. We often give the kids a mini-lesson on ecological succession as we enjoy the marsh. The excursion to Phoenix Lake will leave you settled and peaceful for the rest of your holiday weekend. Enjoy!
See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.