A less busy back door to Phoenix Lake – Marin Independent Journal

If you’d rather spend your time hiking than waiting for a parking spot in the Phoenix Lake parking lot, try Kent Woodlands’ Tucker Cutoff Trail. This four mile hike takes you through multiple habitats – oak, bay, and madron forests, sequoias, and even some chaparral. The hike begins opposite a fire station gate, exactly where the road sign points to Crown Road in one direction and Phoenix Road in the other direction. There is no sign at the beginning of the path, just a break in the guardrail at the beginning of the path.

As I descended, I paused to watch an Anna hummingbird sip nectar from the orange blossoms of a sticky monkey flower and marvel at the blooming shirt. I always like to stop and smell the sage, and this trail features both California sage and jug sage. As the path turned to sequoias with their undergrowth of tanoaks and hazelnut trees, I discovered some hazelnuts that had already formed. Both the western sword fern and the less common California sword fern grow along this trail, sometimes side by side so you can compare them.

After 0.3 miles, turn right on the signposted Tucker Trail. Californian angelica, a late bloomer, is now showing its white flowers on tall stems. (Note that this is not the Angelica sinensis, sometimes called the dong quai, used in Chinese herbal medicine, or the Angelica archangelica, which has long been grown as a medicinal herb in Europe.)

When you reach a sign saying Harry Allen Trail, bear left to get to Phoenix Lake. At the signposted junction with Bill Williams Road, you can walk around the lake in either direction. I turned left and found myself surrounded by a loveliness of convergent ladybug beetles. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use this wonderful catch-all word for years, and while I’m not sure how many ladybugs make up a beauty, I can tell that these were pouring by at a rate of about 400 per minute.

Photo by Wendy Dreskin

California sword ferns grow in Marin.

Turn right on Gertrude Orr Trail. Along this trail I noticed the webs of gauzy dome spiders. These spiders spin a web in the shape of an igloo and hang under the top of the dome.

Take the unmarked staircase to your right and stop to discover the tiny, delicate white flowers of the alum root. Miwoks ate the spring leaves boiled or steamed. At the bottom of the stairs a pale swallowtail was drinking nectar on blackberry blossoms, and two Lorquin’s admirals were sitting in a pasture, their host plant.

Cross a bridge and turn right on Phoenix Lake Road. Acorns are already forming on the black oak opposite the Yolanda Trail. There’s nothing but mud where Phoenix Lake should be at this point. One hiker I spoke to said, “If anyone has a question that we are in a serious drought, bring them here.”

Turn right to cross the dam. From the dam I watched a Caspian tern fly persistently back and forth over the remaining water. I could imagine it saying to itself: “There must be a fish here, I must have overlooked it.”

As I turned left on Harry Allen Trail, I saw a blue Acmon butterfly nectarizing on buckwheat flowers. This -inch butterfly can use buckwheat as a host plant, but this was a male that was only interested in the nectar. A gap in the guardrail and a bright yellow hydrant mark the end of the path on Crown Road. Turn right to complete the loop.

To reach Crown Road and Phoenix Road, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to College Avenue. Turn right on Woodland Avenue. Turn right on North Ridgewood, left on Goodhill Road, then left on Crown Road. Continue until Crown Road becomes Phoenix Road. Note: The navigation system in my car and MapQuest make it look like you could take Upland Road to Crown Road to get to this intersection, but you will find a gate on the other side of a fire road. If you land on the fire road just past Coronet Road, you can park and take the short fire road to the starting point of the hike. Dogs on a leash are allowed, but note that there are many poison oaks along the way.

Wendy Dreskin has been leading the nature / hiking course Meandering in Marin at the College of Marin since 1998 and teaches other nature courses for adults and children. To contact them, go to wendydreskin.com

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