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Here and there amid the gently undulating folds of San Diego County's highest elevations, crystal-clear water charged with sweet-tasting minerals seeps to the surface, wetting the ground and nourishing grasses and year-round greenery. At Dyar Spring, midway around the Cuyamaca hike described here, the water gurgles from a low pipe, attracting insects, hummingbirds, and weary hikers who might enjoy dashing the cold stuff across face and body.

East Mesa, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

To start this 6-mile (three-hour-long) hike, drive to the large Sweetwater River bridge parking area, mile 4.8 on Highway 79 (6 miles north of Descanso) in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. On foot, take the wide and well-worn Harvey Moore Trail south and east across a hillside, passing first through a belt of oaks and pines, then later through chaparral.

After 2.4 miles, turn left (north) on the Dyar Spring Trail and enter the domain of East Mesa, a rolling, oak-studded meadow. Several shallow ravines indent the meadow's surface, some still soggy as a result of last winter's inordinate El Niño precipitation.

At a point about 0.8 mile north of the Harvey Moore Trail, the trail veers obscurely left (northwest) in the grass and passes near Dyar Spring, on the left. A steeply sloping rock outcrop juts nearby, offering good elementary rock-climbing practice (for kids, anyway), and doubles as a pleasant spot for lunch or a snack.

Back on the trail again, go northwest over a small rise and descend a chaparral-covered slope. Arriving at an oak-shaded saddle, stay left (south) on the Juaquapin Trail and continue downhill along a grassy draw leading toward the west bank of Juaquapin Creek.

The Juaquapin Trail then stays near the creek and starts bending right, northwest around the brow of a ridge. Stay right where a trail branches left (south) toward the Harvey Moore Trail.

Thereafter, stay left at two more trail junctions. That route will take you expeditiously down along Juaquapin Creek and back to your starting point.

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