Monday, April 21, 2014

A Hike in the Mountains at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

The name Cuyamaca is taken from a Kumeyaay word meaning Rainy Place. I'm assuming that they named the Cuyamaca mountains long before the Spanish arrived and the Spanish just adopted the term. Relatively speaking - for San Diego - the Cuyamacas ARE a rainy place. Of course, since it's San Diego and it's April, it was perfectly sunny when I visited yesterday.

Yesterday I decided to try out the Dyar Spring/Juaquapin Loop trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. It was supposed to be 5.9 miles with 800 feet elevation gain, running water, deer, coyotes, and tons of wildflowers. What more could one ask for?

Following Jerry Schad's directions to the parking lot and trail head, I got there with handwritten instructions for the hike (taken from the Afoot and Afield book, which I didn't want to lug with me). There was a map at the trailhead, which made it clear that the options for hiking are nearly endless, and my instructions described just one of the possible routes. I was to start on the Harvey Moore trail, continue on the Dyar Springs Trail, and take that to the Juaquapin trail.

At the end of the hike, Schad said to go left at all remaining junctions and you'll end up where you started. He didn't bank on me taking a wrong turn. Thank god I have a good memory and a good sense of direction, and I was using the GPS on my phone with the Backpacker app. In total, my more creative route ended up as 6.26 miles with 1130 feet elevation gain, and it was a lovely hike.

The trail was surrounded by wildflowers, mostly Summer Snow (in the Phlox family) and Checkerbloom (a Mallow)

Summer Snow
Summer Snow


The Coast Live Oaks and Black Oaks were all showing signs of new growth, and some were flowering too.

Coast Live Oak
New growth on a coast live oak

Also blooming was plenty of gorgeous ceanothus, both in a light purple and in white.



Before long, I ran into brilliant red paintbrushes, bright magenta wild peas, yarrow, and golden yarrow. I always get ticked off that golden yarrow is named for yarrow since the latter is medicinal and the former isn't, their foliage looks nothing alike, and they aren't even in the same genus. But, you have to admit, their flowers do look extremely similar aside from the color.

Yarrow. Real yarrow, not golden.

Wild Peas
Wild peas

This area probably burnt in the Cedar Fire in 2003, and 11 years later it's still recovering. The vegetation is doing well, but there's no shortage of dead, burnt trees hanging around.

The Trail

There were plenty of lizards out but - alas - no rattlesnakes.


Some parts of the trail are a bit frustrating to walk on. The first bit is a bit rough on the feet, although eventually it flattens out and becomes easier. A lot of the trail is quite narrow, making it hard to use trekking poles. Horses use the trail but - and this is the best part to me - bikes are banned.

Lots of mountain mahogany was blooming.

Mountain Mahogany


This is definitely ceanothus, which is extremely hard to get a picture of. If you're ever bothered by stagnant air and you want a strong breeze to cool you off, take out your camera and point it at some ceanothus. As you attempt to focus, the wind will come along to thwart every effort.



The yucca was also in full bloom. These flowers are edible - after you boil them and pour off the water three times - and they taste great in burritos.


There were plenty of mountain violets:

Mountain Violet

Before too long, you round a corner and you are treated to a view that is simply stunning. On either side of this photo (but not in the photo) were tall, dead tree trunks. That became important later, after I took my wrong turn. I found myself going back past this place in the wrong direction, and I recognized it.

The View

Despite the remaining souvenirs from the Cedar Fire, the regrowth is beautiful, and in this portion of the trail, fragrant. You're walking along smelling flowers each time you breath in, and everywhere you look are white ceanothus.


Another common plant along the trail are manzanita. Some are still blooming, but many already have their "little apples" growing on them. The berries start out green, then turn blush, and later turn red.

Manzanita Berries

Manzanita Berries

After 2.22 miles, I finally reached the turnoff for the Dyar Spring Trail. This trail appears to have less traffic, and at some points it's pretty narrow and has more deer tracks than human ones. Right as I turned, I came upon some gorgeous peonies. We've only got one type that grows here, and it's appropriately named the California Peony.


Before long, I also ran into some deergrass. And only a few feet beyond that, I saw two mule deer. They were gone before I could grab my camera. I walked a few more feet, past another clump of shrubs, and there was another mule deer (or perhaps the same one?) staring at me with those beautiful dark eyes they have. That one, too, did not want to be photographed. I sat down and ate lunch there, hoping the deer would return, but they did not.

Continuing on, I saw a strange-looking flower I could not identify. After checking my San Diego plant bible (the James Lightner book), I'm gonna say it's one in the Aster family called Mule's Ears:


The trail goes through a meadow, with some stunning views.

The View

At last I passed Dyar Spring, which is just about the tiniest trickle ever, marked with a sign with the words almost entirely worn off and totally illegible. You continue past Dyar Spring a ways and then turn when you reach the Juaquapin Trail. I did that.

I thought I remembered the instructions saying to turn left at every junction from that point on. It turns out you're supposed to take the Juaquapin Trail a ways, past the turn-off I took (a shortcut back to the Harvey Moore trail) and THEN do the go-left-at-every-junction thing. But I went left at the shortcut. Then I went left again at the next junction. Then I reached the Harvey Moore trail and thought I really oughta be going right. None of the trail signs made it clear which way was back to my car, so - as instructed - I went left. Then I found myself looking at the very same mountain and two dead trees I photographed earlier. So I pulled out my GPS. I had completely made a loop, and I was now going in the wrong way, away from my car. So I turned around and ultimately reached the car.

Before I got there, I came upon a few pretty little California quail.

California Quail

All in all, the hike was 6.26 miles with 1130 feet elevation gain. I brought 2 liters of water and needed almost all of it. I did not go very fast, stopping often for photos and lunch, and the whole thing took 3 hours and 40 minutes.

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