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Take a nippy dip in the shallow pools of Cuyamaca's Harper Creek

On a bud-bursting spring day, Harper Creek's shallow, jewel-like pools invite tactile exploration — with more than just the fingers. Slide into one of the pools this month (assuming we get a decent amount of rain), and let the shock of cold water give rise to a yelp or a scream. Later in the season the water warms up quickly and becomes clogged with algae. By summer, in an average year, you will find only dry, sun-blasted slabs of water-polished rock here.

Harper Creek lies in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, not far from the Indian Museum and park headquarters, eight miles north of Descanso on Highway 79. You can park for up to two hours next to the park office and museum or for a longer time in several turnouts along Highway 79.

From the office and museum, walk east around the buildings of Camp Cuyamaca (school camp), descend to the sandy bank of the Sweetwater River, cross the sluggishly flowing river, and climb up to East Side Trail on the far side. Follow East Side Trail northeast across a grassy meadow. After about three-quarters of a mile, the trail turns briefly east and then crosses the Harper Creek. At this crossing, leave the trail and follow a side path along the left bank of the creek. The trail soon peters out -- but you can continue, with caution, by treading the rocky lower slopes of the narrowing canyon ahead.

The stream water flows over bedrock slabs, often streaked with mineral deposits, and collects in small pools, two or more feet deep, fed by mini-waterfalls. A gray-green mantle of lichens clings to the exposed rock above the creek. High on the slopes to either side are belts of chaparral, chiefly mountain mahogany, punctuated by the erect stalks of blooming yuccas. The best pools for immersion are about 0.1 mile up from the point where you leave East Side Trail; but the creek remains interesting looking for another 0.2 mile up-canyon.

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On a bud-bursting spring day, Harper Creek's shallow, jewel-like pools invite tactile exploration — with more than just the fingers. Slide into one of the pools this month (assuming we get a decent amount of rain), and let the shock of cold water give rise to a yelp or a scream. Later in the season the water warms up quickly and becomes clogged with algae. By summer, in an average year, you will find only dry, sun-blasted slabs of water-polished rock here.

Harper Creek lies in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, not far from the Indian Museum and park headquarters, eight miles north of Descanso on Highway 79. You can park for up to two hours next to the park office and museum or for a longer time in several turnouts along Highway 79.

From the office and museum, walk east around the buildings of Camp Cuyamaca (school camp), descend to the sandy bank of the Sweetwater River, cross the sluggishly flowing river, and climb up to East Side Trail on the far side. Follow East Side Trail northeast across a grassy meadow. After about three-quarters of a mile, the trail turns briefly east and then crosses the Harper Creek. At this crossing, leave the trail and follow a side path along the left bank of the creek. The trail soon peters out -- but you can continue, with caution, by treading the rocky lower slopes of the narrowing canyon ahead.

The stream water flows over bedrock slabs, often streaked with mineral deposits, and collects in small pools, two or more feet deep, fed by mini-waterfalls. A gray-green mantle of lichens clings to the exposed rock above the creek. High on the slopes to either side are belts of chaparral, chiefly mountain mahogany, punctuated by the erect stalks of blooming yuccas. The best pools for immersion are about 0.1 mile up from the point where you leave East Side Trail; but the creek remains interesting looking for another 0.2 mile up-canyon.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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