The Dolason Prairie Trail begins high and ends low, and so, of course, it returns from low to high. Thus is contrast determined as the theme of the trail.
From enclosed forest canopies we entered the open meadows of Dolason Prairie, once a pasture for Dolason’s sheep.
Sloping steeply down the mountain, it gave the sheep and maybe more importantly the shepherds and now hikers stupendous views over the mountains of the Coast Range. We crossed the meadow in the light of an overcast sky, then reentered the darkness of the forest.
Human history contrasted with evolutionary history. The Dolason sheep shed, now on the registry of historic places, stands empty but not dilapidated. At a break in the woods on the other side of the Dolason Prairie, pearly everlasting, a Cretaceous-era flower was in bloom.
Under the redwoods farther down the trail, carpets of tall, waving ferns catapulted us into the Carboniferous Era. I half expected to find ghosts of twenty-inch lizards and dragonflies with 30-inch wingspans scuttling and flying through the ferns.
At one step I would come across something familiar – St. John’s wort, a hard fungus I see frequently on tree trunks in my own woods – and at another step I would find something mysterious What made those clumps of dirt amidst the sorrel?
Beauty from the hand of nature was all around us. Then suddenly, miles beyond the Dolason sheep shed, beauty from the human hand made a startling yet fitting appearance: a wooden bridge high over a small brook splashing through roots and over rocks into little emerald pools in the dark shade of the redwoods. If only all structures created by human beings were such an enhancement of the natural beauty around them.
We encountered the big and the small – sweeping views and the minutia on the forest floor; the giant redwoods and a flicker flying among them. We walked past upright redwoods magnificent in their structures,
and fallen redwoods showing the deep red wood within the bark carapace.
And then after all that earthiness came water. I knew the trail ended at Redwood Creek, but what I had envisioned was something like Emery Creek, which we crossed on the beautiful bridge. What I found was a large, open gravel bar where a river-size creek made S-curves against the woods on the opposite shore. The current was slow, the river deep enough to swim in, and the people far enough down the river that my hiking partner and I were alone on the bar. Before taking the long trail back up the mountain, I took to the water.