Blackstone Canyon Creek, Marinwood's tributary to Miller Creek.
Hike: Blackstone Canyon is a true gem
Myriad small waterfall can be found at Blackstone Canyon.
Photo by Wendy Dreskin
By Wendy Dreskin, IJ correspondent
Posted: 04/16/17, 3:45 PM PDT, Marin IJ
Blackstone Canyon offers panoramic views. Photo by Wendy Dreskin
In the Marinwood subdivision with street names like Opalstone and Rhinestone, Blackstone Canyon is the true gem. The trail follows Blackstone Creek, which tumbles downhill on its way to join Miller Creek, eventually flowing into the San Pablo Bay. April is the perfect month to enjoy this hike — the stream is still bubbling its way down myriad small waterfalls, but crossings are easily managed and the wildflowers are putting on a show you won’t want to miss.
The trail starts with the stream on your right and a lovely little meadow dotted with bright yellow buttercups on your left. In about a 10th of a mile there is a bench in memory of Frank Zedek. The sun filters through the new green leaves of buckeyes and oaks, and makes the water sparkle in the pools in the stream. Chain ferns and lady ferns grow almost in the stream, while moist banks are decked with wood ferns and maidenhair ferns.
The path climbs slowly, crossing the stream many times. There is a fallen tree across the path that could be an obstacle for less-agile hikers. I saw my first Sara orangetip butterfly of spring here. Unlike some butterflies that have many generations and fly from spring to fall, this small white butterfly with bright orange wing tips delights us for just a short time each spring.
The understory becomes mostly sticky monkeyflower bushes with their orange flowers and Douglas iris just before you come to a small old dam, about a mile from the start of the trail. This is the end of the official trail, but many hikers continue on a social trail.
Cross the stream and take the trail that continues uphill. Madrones join the oaks and bays, their white blossoms wafting a delicious honey scent. In some areas the tiny white urn-shaped flowers have dropped and carpeted the trail as if the trees were expecting a woodland bride. The trail has some steep sections, but soon you are rewarded with views of the San Francisco Bay and Mount Diablo. At times the woods open up to grassy meadows with purple blue dicks and maroon pin cushions. California ringlet butterflies, which use grasses as a host plant, dance over the meadows.
The trail emerges on Queenstone Fire Road where there is a panoramic view of Mount Tamalpais, the Bay Bridge and San Francisco to the south, White Hill and Pine Mountain to the southwest, the Marin County Civic Center and Highway 101 corridor to the southeast. The green hills are bursting with California poppies, and sprinkled with the pink of native checkerbloom and small introduced storksbill flowers.
Hilltops are the singles’ bar for some species of butterflies. Watch for anise swallowtails as they “hilltop,” patrolling an area while waiting for a female to fly uphill into their territory. I also saw dozens of the large iridescent blue/black pipevine swallowtails, and as I descended Queenstone there were tiny delicate silvery blue butterflies around the non-native woolly vetch they have adapted to using as a host plant.
At the bottom of Queenstone Fire Road, turn left on Miller Creek Road and stroll half a mile through the subdivision to Blackstone Drive, then Valleystone Drive, to complete the three-hour loop at a leisurely pace.
Miller Creek is named for James Miller, who brought his family to California by covered wagon in 1845, became a prominent rancher, and built a home called Miller Hall in what is now Marinwood. The creek is home to threatened steelhead. If you are interested in protecting and enhancing the Miller Creek Watershed, contact the Miller Creek Watershed Stewards at www.millercreekwatershedstewards.org
From Highway 101, take the Lucas Valley Road exit and head west. Turn right at Las Gallinas and go north to Blackstone Drive. Turn left on Blackstone Drive and left on Valleystone Drive and park at the end of the street. There are no facilities and dogs on leash permitted.
Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.