Lake Bon Tempe - Fairfax
Head to Fairfax for a moderate four-mile
loop that gives you a chance to see birds on Lake Bon Tempe and views from
Rocky Ridge while hiking through the chaparral.
Start from the parking lot below the Bon Tempe Dam and walk up to the dam.
There are almost always double-crested cormorants there. The solid black
ones with yellow-orange bills and “chins” under are adults, while the ones
with a pale neck and breast are juveniles. I have seen bald eagles from this
dam more often than any other spot in Marin. After an absence of many
decades, bald eagles returned to nest in Marin in 2008. Benjamin Franklin
did not approve of the choice of the bald eagle as our national symbol
because it likes to steal fish from other birds. When I led a class on this
hike, we witnessed a dramatic sight — an osprey chasing a bald eagle that
had tried to steal its fish. On another recent hike I heard distressed crows
raising a ruckus, and saw a bald eagle in a tree eating a member of their
Turn right after crossing the dam, and turn left on Rocky Ridge Road. This
heads uphill, fairly steeply at first, gaining about 500 feet in 1.8 miles.
Views east to Pilot Knob, the Bay and Mount Diablo get better as you climb.
When I did this hike at the end of January I saw dozens of orange and black
California tortoiseshell butterflies that had just emerged from hibernation.
They will lay their eggs on the California wild lilac, which the emerging
caterpillars feast on, sometimes defoliating the bush.
After passing Stocking Trail on your right, you begin to move off the
serpentine and out of the chaparral. Look for the new bright green leaves of
star lilies. Turn left on the Lagunitas-Rock Spring Fire Road and head
downhill. At the junction with the Berry Trail some hound’s tongue was in
bud and will probably be in bloom by the time this goes to print. Descending
the Berry Trail I noticed the new leaves of wavy-leaf soaproot. This hearty
plant often grows right in the trail. It lives up to the “wavy-leaf” part of
its name, so you won’t confuse it with iris or star lily leaves. Miwoks used
this plant for many things in addition to using the root for soap. It could
also be used to make glue. The mashed bulbs could be thrown in a stream
where the organic compounds called saponins interfered with fishes’ uptake
of oxygen, making them easy to catch. The fibrous covering of the bulb was
used to make brushes to brush ground seeds or acorns out of a grinding rock.
The tips of the new leaves were eaten as salad greens.