Although I see Bald Hill out the window, I had never climbed it, so I decided it was high time to address the omission. With the idea of hiking a new trail for the new year, I started from Lake Phoenix.
Lake Phoenix was built before the existence of the Marin Municipal Water District, at a time when there were competing private water companies. The land where the lake now stands belonged to the Porteous family whose property extended to Deer Park in Fairfax. They lived in the area now called Hidden Meadow. (The redwood log cabin, which now stands on the shore of the lake, was built around 1894 for the ranch overseer.) After the death of her husband, James, in 1887, Janet Porteous leased part of the owned by Marshall Ranch, which sold products under the Hippolyte Dairy name, and was part of the Lezzini family.
When Porteous died in 1904, his heirs sold the property to the Marin Water and Power Co., which owned it until MMWD took over in 1916. Arthur Foster, president of Marin Water Co., had wanted to build a dam near present-day Alpine Dam, but it was controversial and it faced litigation by the county. Buying the land allowed him to build the Phoenix Gulch Dam instead in 1905.
Climb up to Lake Phoenix Dam from the parking lot, appreciating how full the lake is from the fall rains. The concrete weir you see replaced a wooden weir that was in use until 1984. In 0.1 mile, at a signed junction, turn right onto Worn Spring Trail. (I heard it was incorrectly called Warm Spring, but although there is a spring, it is not a warm or even hot spring.) The trail is named after George Austin Worn, who married Annie Ross in 1863. She was the daughter of James Ross, who acquired a land grant for Rancho Punta de San Quentin, where the town of Ross now stands. She received a large dowry, and she and Worn built a house called Sunnyside, where the Marin Art and Garden Center now stands, and owned a cattle ranch on Bald Hill.
Worn Spring begins in oak and laurel forests. Look for bay trees that are blooming and look under the chestnut trees for chestnut trees that are already growing. As the road climbs you get views of Mount Tamalpais and the treeless upper slope of Bald Hill. The sunny climb makes this hike perfect for this time of year, but not a good choice for the summer.
In about 2 miles you get a spectacular view of the bay and San Francisco. The MMWD terrain ends in a panel, below the 1,141ft peak. Acquiring Bald Hill was among the goals of San Anselmo’s first general plan in 1976, but 60 acres at the top are still in private hands. In 1990, San Anselmo, Ross, and the Marin County Open Space District launched a joint campaign for a bond measure to raise the funds needed to purchase the acreage at the summit, but voter support faltered. dropped a frustrating 180 votes short of a two-thirds majority. necessary for the measurement to pass. More recent attempts to acquire the summit have also failed.
I had planned a lunch with a view, but even if the panoramas were exceptional, the wind was too. So I snapped a few photos and headed back down to Lake Phoenix, the descent feeling remarkably shorter than the ascent.
To reach Phoenix Lake, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Lagunitas Road and follow it to the small parking lot in Natalie Coffin Greene Park in Ross.
Phoenix Lake is a popular spot, so plan to get there early, especially on weekends, or be prepared to wait for a parking spot as the parking lot tends to fill up quickly.
Wendy Dreskin has run the Meandering in Marin Nature/Hiking course at the College of Marin since 1998 and teaches other nature courses for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.