March 7 2016 05:25 PM

Hidden San Diego journeys out to Cuyamaca

Dyar House ruins
Photo by Jessica Johnson

A trip to Cuyamaca, which isn't far from Julian, can be a full-day adventure. Spotting wild turkeys added a fun touch for me—they let us get relatively close even though they don't trust humans. Because Thanksgiving.

One reason for visiting the 24,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was to explore my old sixth grade campground. But portions of it had burned down.

What remains is a gorgeous stone structure. You can't go inside—it's hollowed out and the floor is filled with beams, all courtesy of the 2003 Cedar Fire. But it's worth a long look.

The Dyar House was built in 1923. It's believed to be made from the same hand-cut native stone that was used to build the Lassator's Green Valley Ranch. In 1870, gold was found nearby and the Stonewall Mine was established. The mine was incredibly rich, but had gone bust by the time of Ralph Dyar's purchase. He dismantled the mine buildings and used some of the wood as ceiling beams for his house.

The two-story house had six bedrooms upstairs and two full baths on either end of the hallway that ran the length of the home. There was a wood-burning furnace in the basement, and the heat was pumped into each room through vents. The family entertained the likes of Will Rogers and actor Leo Carrillo at the ranch.

The Dyars made a deal with the state of California to take over the ranch and open it to the public. The state used the home as a small lodge for paying guests.

Since the late '60s, the Dyar House had served as a museum, library, gift shop and headquarters to the park—until the fire. Thankfully, most of the museum displays were saved before the structure was wiped out.

Artifacts from a 1970s dig at Barrel Springs, south of Palmdale, were stored at the Dyar House. Among the thousands of artifacts were lanterns, pottery and scales used during gold mining. The Barrel Springs collection had been moved in 2002, ironically, to avoid the Pine Fire.

Dyar House Ruins · Cuyamaca Rancho State Park · 13652 Hwy 79 · Julian, CA 92036 · 760-765-0755

To get more details about these and other out-of-the-way spots in San Diego, go to


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