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Good things from our government exhibit A: national and state parks. Yesterday, I visited Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in California. Gorgeous.

The name Cuyamaca is taken from a Kumeyaay word meaning Rainy Place. The Kumeyaay are the local Indian tribe. 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.

California Quail
California quail, the state bird

Join me below for pics and a tour.

Even in a drought, 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.

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. The stalks are also edible but they taste best right before they flower so this one's not good eating anymore.


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.

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. I didn't take too many pics on this last leg of the hike, except for when I came upon a few pretty little California quail.

California Quail

All in all, a perfect day.

Originally posted to Jill Richardson on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:35 PM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching and Backyard Science.

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